Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
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Tuesday 31 July 2012

Reverse migration (Greek language maintenance in the diaspora - 5)

This post is the fifth of a series that have been written specifically for the Hellenic New Zealand Congress, which will be holding a conference some time next year.

For the previous part, click here.

Reverse migration happens for a number of different reasons, among which are included when conditions in the homeland improve or when immigrants are forced out of their adopted homeland for political reasons - both have applied to Greeks at various points in history. In my own case, I spent the first 25 years of my life in New Zealand where I was born, and have now spent the next 21 in Greece, the country of my cultural heritage and my parents' homeland.

I left New Zealand in 1991. Apart from a trip home to see my parents, another to attend my mother's funeral and one more with my husband to visit relatives, I have not been back to New Zealand to live on a long-term basis. It is not a clear-cut case to say I dropped the Kiwi part of my identity and simply became Greek. The Kiwi part of my identity is the 'foreign thing' that people I associate with detect in me. Part of it can be attributed to language: I now speak Greek with only a hint of an accent, but it is clearly discernible. But language is less of a marker than other characteristics.

For a start, when I came to Greece, I carried less cultural baggage with me than my parents did when they went in New Zealand. Although I had fairly good Greek language skills, the only tangible element that still singles me out as some kind of foreigner is my spoken Greek. When I first arrived to Greece, I spoke Greek with a marked accent (less so nowadays, but people who don't know me suspect that I am a Cypriot-Greek!), my vocabulary was limited (less so nowadays), I made syntax errors (I still do sometimes), and I was less fluent in general when speaking Greek (I am more fluent now). Although my writing skills were not so developed (as they are now), this was not so much of a problem (the most writing that people all over the world do once they leave school/studies is to fill in an application form or use txtmsging).

People of Hellenic descent have been travelling to and from the homeland for many centuries. For me, it is a source of pride that we have always had a reference point in the world that we can call a homeland (for example: Jews did not have this until 1948). But even in the same country, we are not as homogeneous as foreigners like to make us out to be. Greeks themselves distinguish other Greeks through a number of ways, mainly:
- islanders vs mainlanders
- urban vs rural
- northerners vs southerners
- γέννημα θρέμα Greeks vs 1922 refugee stock vs diaspora-born
These categorisations of the Greek identity are not made for the purpose of discrimination, nor do they denote class. They are simply a way for one Greek to understand another Greek's background. This system helps them to classify people (we all use various systems to do this).

Naturally, I am considered a diaspora-born Greek, something my Greek accent gives away. But my Greek accent isn't the only part about me that was foreign. Discernible differences in attitude are prevalent through many subtle and often taboo factors, which do not necessarily make me a Greek New Zealander per se: I am simply a 'New World Greek'. My attitude towards promptness, for example, shows that I do not have the same concept of time as do most Greek citizens. I run on the time the clock says - Greeks run on Greek time (an event starts a bit later than the time stated). There are many other similar examples of attitudes that I hold which have a global 'New World' character, but are not generally upheld in Greece (eg health and safety regulations, tax declaration, etc).

Reverse migration also comes with its problems. In the beginning, the returnees are happy to be back 'home'. As they establish themselves back home, they begin to compare infrastructure, attitudes, systems, etc between the homeland and the land they left and they feel despondent about certain aspects of life in the homeland, because they weren't used to living in this way in their adopted country. At this point they have to make a choice: Either they will stay in where they are and tolerate the aspects of their homeland that they initially found unsettling, or they will return to their adopted homeland. Not everyone is happy with what they find: some people do in fact re-migrate.

It is not until I had children that I realised, subconsciously at first, more consciously later on, that a person like myself with dual identity (and dual citizenship, which I secured for my children, in the same way that my parents secured it for me) was in a position to pass on some identity traits to them. What I will pass on to them is difficult to gauge at the moment, because they are young. But what is certain is that I am not passing on a national identity to them, ie I am not trying to mould them into New Zealanders.

For a start, they were born and are being raised in Greece. They have a Greek father and we live in close proximity to their Greek grandmother. They visited New Zealand at a very young age, and do not remember anything from that time. They have only recently begun to connect the people I am associated with from New Zealand. I stopped displaying Kiwi trinkets in the house as soon as I realised that I would have to constantly dust them, so there are very few NZ mementoes lying around. In fact, I have placed all those Kiwi bits and pieces in a big silver ... thing (a cousin bought me, whose purpose I truly have not worked out) which gets moved about once a year (to be dusted).

But every now and then, my children ask me if I am really Greek (yes, they really do ask me this). They ask me how it is possible for me to have been born in New Zealand and call myself a Greek at the same time. In time, I am sure they will learn why and how this happened. Right now, they are too young to understand (plus, they lost their grandparents too early in their young lives, so they are missing some links to their present).

Although there are some Greek-New Zealand functions held in Greece (and Crete, notably the Battle of Crete commemorations), I don't attend them, mainly because I don't have the time to do this. After work and school, there are extra-curricular activities, Saturdays are for housekeeping and Sundays are for having a rest. I used to feel guilty that I didn't make an effort to go these events, until I realised that I probably wasn't interested in what they had to offer. In other words, they didn't express my identity. I've been down that path before; that's why I moved to Greece!

This is not the only thing that I have passed on to my children from my Kiwi upbringing. Although they do not and will not have a Kiwi identity, I believe that they will have a global identity, which is a direct influence of their mother's dual nationality. My New Zealand identity is being expressed through its global nature. It is not being compromised, since I didn't really have a New Zealand identity to begin with; I just had a New Zealand accent...    

That's one thing that I have actually passed on to them, quite unintentionally - a Kiwi accent in their spoken English. Although I realise that this is a fluke, I am also quite proud of the fact that I have helped them to speak, read and write English, especially when I know that I am the only person they speak English with in their daily lives. I could have sent them to private English classes instead of spending money on CDs, DVDs (to date, I have never bought/used a pirated DVD because we prefer quality recordings rather than to watch sub-standard pictures), books and other material to make sure that they learn, not just their mother's native language, but a global one at that. On top of that, I make a conscious effort to speak to them in English (from when they were babies - and I used to get an earful from their grandmother who felt that I was being purposely rude to her when I did this in front of her). English has a purpose in their lives, which obviously makes it easier to learn it: they are surrounded by English signs and English users.

My New Zealand odds and ends: the plates are used, the cookbook, buzzy bee and paua shell are being kept for sentimental reasons, but everything else needs to be trashed soon.

But they are not learning English because their mother is a New Zealander. They are learning English because I want them to. The example is being set in the home, in exactly the same way as when I was young. My parents wanted me to learn Greek, and they set the example at home: as I mentioned in a previous post in this series, the importance of using a language in the home should not be underestimated. It's very easy to claim that it is easier for my children to learn English in Greece than it is for my children to learn Greek in New Zealand, but I would disagree: the findings in my Master's thesis suggested that second-generation females used Greek more often than males when speaking to children, even in cases of intermarriage. So it's all a case of conscious effort (which usually rests on the female.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I cook New Zealand treats in my house, such as afghans, banana cake and gingernuts. My family is well adjusted to accepting other people's food. But they are entitled to their own opinion as long as they taste it: my husband doesn't like any of the above, but my children don't mind them (although they would prefer something else).  I do yearn for pineapple lumps, Roses chocolates and store-bought gingernuts, and it's absolutely ages since I've seen a Christmas cracker. But all these are now available by mail order if I were really desperate: the world is more connected these days, so there is no need to fear a loss of anything.

The advice I give to the diaspora who are worried that the conscious sense of Greekness that they feel is not being passed on to their offspring is that they must remember that many members of an immigrant community are assumed to be members solely because of their ancestry. But:  
"Such people have never lived in Greece (they only come here for a holiday)... Greek immigrants' offspring usually knows little about the achievements of modern Greece, and more about the myths and legends of ancient Greece. They are simply left with a Greek name, and maybe some recipes from their mothers and grandmothers. They have no concept of modern Greece, nor do they fit in the modern Greek spectrum, and yet they are Greek...
Hence, they do not have a firm idea of how they got to be where they now find themselves, and more significantly, it does not bother them, which allows them to live their life freely and momentously. This is not a bad thing - after all, our individual identity is not shaped just by our ancestry alone. Apart from who raised us, our individual identity is shaped by where we live, the education and political systems into which we were indoctrinated, and our own very own unique personalities. Identity also changes over time - elders die, people move into new circles and, like their immigrant ancestors, they may become 'transnationals' themselves (note how I avoid saying 'immigrants', even though that is what they really are). That is when they may realise that:
"... they are on the verge of losing an integral part of their identity. When you lose any sense of your past, you are locked in the present, and when that crumbles, you have nowhere to turn."
I will close this discussion on a very personal level by likening migration with the the life cycle of the olive tree, after bearing witness to the effects of a catastrophic fire that burnt down my husband's olive grove: 
"The roots of the olive tree are humble ones with great depth, too profound to be obliterated once and for all. Those roots form the olive tree's past, and their experience tells the tree how to get over a present catastrophe in order to continue to have a future, in the same way as people who know their history well. If you do not know your past roots, you will have only your present rootless, soiless foundations to help you cope in an uncertain future."
I personally don't like patriotism because it borders on nationalism and in Greece, just lately, we have seen the negative effects of this. Integration is important in the New World, but deep down inside, I know that this also signals the beginning of the end, because of the inevitable effects of assimilation. If I were living in New Zealand now, I would not be the Greek woman that I am today. Greece has made that of me. The connection with the mother country cannot be underestimated.

In the next part of this discussion, I tell stories about estranged Greeks - what happens when the Hellenism runs out?  

If you are interested in language/cultural studies, you may also want to read the following:
- Greece is that thing
- Blame it on the frappe
- Crete, not Athens
- I am Greek

You can find more of my writing about identity and New Zealand throughout my blog.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Monday 30 July 2012

Identity conflict (Greek language maintenance in the diaspora - 4)

This post is the fourth of a series that have been written specifically for the Hellenic New Zealand Congress, which will be holding a conference some time next year.

For the previous part, click here.

In 1990, I submitted my Master's thesis and was awarded my MA with distinction. In that same year, New Zealand celebrated its sesquicentennial.  It was one of those moments in my birth country's history which gave people something to smile about. But the problems had already set in and New Zealand was about to undergo a change of direction. As an Arts major, I was having serious trouble finding a job. After a short-term stint working on the first New Zealand Dictionary of English under Harry Orsman's direction, which finished some time in early 1991, I remained unemployed for a few weeks. During that time, I bought a one-way ticket to London, leaving New Zealand in June. After spending a summer travelling through Europe, I eventually made my way to my parents' homeland, arriving in Athens in September of that year. By February 1992, I found employment (through Greek-New Zealand friends) at a publishing house which produced English language coursebooks. The owner also ran a private language school for teaching English to school-aged children, with nearly 1000 students. Since that time, I have lived and worked in Greece on a permanent basis in the field of English language teaching, first in Athens and then in Hania.

By coming to live in my parents' homeland, I went through the process of reverse migration. One of the reasons this takes place is when conditions in the homeland have improved since the time of the immigrants' departure1. Before going through reverse migration, people have probably gone through an identity conflict - they don't feel happy with the identity they are expected to live up to in their adopted homeland or country of birth. This has an effect on their integration in the wider community. At first it is not discernible; when it becomes apparent, it is difficult to reverse its effects.

When I lived in New Zealand, I called myself a Greek New Zealander. I subconsciously believed that this meant that I was born and raised in New Zealand, while my parents were Greek immigrants. I spoke the Greek language, ate Greek food, was a member of the Greek Orthodox church, attended Greek cultural events, and thought of Greek culture as the roots of my past, amongst many other things which I did not share with many other New Zealanders. Interestingly, I could never bring myself to call myself a 'New Zealander' or a 'Greek' alone. But I had no qualms calling myself a Greek New Zealander, because New Zealand was known to be a multicultural country. At the same time, I also knew that some of the attitudes held by my parents were not compatible with mainstream society. Therefore, I did not try to perpetuate them, and I purposely avoided confrontations where the differences would be accentuated.

Since I could feel the differences, I knew that they were very real. This is unlike my Kiwi counterparts who did not perceive differences, apart from the more obvious low English language skills associated with immigrants. But I knew there were more differences than that, and these differences were not discussed openly among Kiwis - it felt politically incorrect to claim that people were different in a culturally diverse country which aimed towards a common melting-pot set of standards2. In other words, I was a kind of 'closet Greek'. Hiding one's sexual orientation was never encouraged throughout my time in New Zealand; but hiding one's cultural differences was (in my point of view) encouraged. 

This used to be a very taboo subject area, but is now being talked about more openly, as New Zealanders are now being encouraged to explore their roots. A Ph.D. thesis by Greek-New Zealander Athena Gavriel (2004) has been based on this very discussion: "We are different and the same: Exploring Hellenic Culture and Identity in Aotearoa New Zealand3". Gavriel has written some very moving poetry on the same subject: "Not being a part of the majority culture, adds another dimension to the often asked question, 'Who am I?'" She mentions the dilemmas faced by the immigrant of choice:
Visions of a better life
Draw you across the seas, the oceans...
To a far off shore,
Thousands of miles away in the Pacific.
Light years away from what is known and familiar.

To make a new life,
A better life,
For you and yours...

No longer the olives,
The ouzo,
The ringing of church bells,
The bustle of sheep or goats being herded along dusty village roads.

Somewhere on distant shores,
The olives and pines still stand.
Rooted into the soil of your ancestors' toil,
Calling you home.
... as well as those of the fleeing refugee:
I did not want to come here!
I did not ask to leave
My home
My family
My friends
In my mind are memories from my youth,
Of happy times, playing on miles of beach, hiding in orange groves...
My friends,
My family,
My home,
My land.
In the darker spaces are memories of the guns,
The shouting and screaming
The terror, the blood, the missing and dead…
My friends,
My family....
Left… not discarded
Expelled from the place I love,
Memories shattered ...
In pieces ...
Left carelessly... here and there...
Seashore, orange grove, playground, home, land…
Fragments remain...
And I am called home… in my dreams, in my memories,
Called home ...
How do I get there?
This partly shows that the first generation (in particular, but not only) did not assimilate well into the Kiwi lifestyle, which can be attributed to carrying too much cultural baggage. Later generations were better assimilated - but (I would argue) only when they reached adulthood, and not necessarily as children, because there was still a long way to go before the boundaries of tolerance were found. Through Athena Gavriel's poetry, we get a clear statement of the conflict she feels when she thinks about her Greekness in relation to mainstream society:
To say because I am Greek I must have this or that quality, attitude or value,
Is to say that of all the colours of grains of sand on a beach,
Greeks are only the grains of one colour.
The sand has its consistency and colour because of its composition.
To separate the grains makes it something different,
No longer the sand of that beach.
Greeks are Greeks because of each and every one’s uniqueness and similarities.
Sand on one beach is different in consistency and colour
To sand on other beaches,
But we are all apart of the ocean of life, and connected to it
Through the grains of our humanness.
Does it matter which beach we belong to or come from?
Yes and no.
To acknowledge my Greekness, is not to deny my humanness,
My Cypriotness, my Kiwiness, my Pacific home.
To acknowledge my humanness, is not to deny my Hellenic roots.
Nothing is straightforward or clear cut,
It is all different and the same.
Hold it together,
Ying and yang,
Soft sand from hard rock.
Stark dry rocky Mediterranean shores
Washed by sapphire blue seas
Tree clad lush Pacific shores
Washed by deep green seas
Hellenes are there too.
For some immigrants, there is no choice available to return to their former homeland. In my case, there was. Although many parts of Greece where the Greek immigrants to New Zealand were from remained undeveloped, with, at the most, improved roads and basic amenities (water supply, electricity and phone line), Crete was one of the few places that saw great development, mainly in the tourist sector. Hence, conditions were markedly improved since my parents' time, and there were many employment opportunities in the area when I arrived. What's more, I was not the alone in deciding to cross three continents in only one direction to come to live in my parents' homeland.

1For Greece, this happened at about the time of her entry to the European Union (and the rest is history, as the whole world now knows).
2This discussion borders on the Paul-Henry effect - what makes you a New Zealander and what doesn't.  
3 If anyone knows how I can get a copy of this thesis in electronic form, I will be indebted.

In the next part of this discussion, I discuss reverse migration - what happens when  immigrants and/or their children, who were born and/or raised in the New World, decide to return to live in the homeland?  

If you are interested in cultural studies, you may also want to read the following:
- Caramel milkshake
- A shopping trip
- Saragli
- Greek girl in London

You can find more of my writing about identity and New Zealand throughout my blog.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Sunday 29 July 2012

Greek language maintenance in the diaspora - 3

This post is the third of a series that have been written specifically for the Hellenic New Zealand Congress, which will be holding a conference some time next year.

For the previous part, click here.

From the combined lists of membership in Greek special-interest groups in the Greek community of Wellington, I chose a random sample of 64 households whose members were tested on their Greek and English language skills through a questionnaire asking people about their Greek language use (this project formed the basis of my Master's degree). Where possible, all members of the household were interviewed, in an attempt to include an equal number of subjects to represent age, sex and birthplace. The latter was very important - it was necessary to interview Greek people born in New Zealand in order to ascertain Greek language maintenance past the first generation.

In total, 91 people were interviewed, close to the mark of 100, which was thought to be representative of a community of 2,500 people given the time-frame I was given to complete the study (I had to collect and analyse the date, as well as write the thesis in the space of a year). Of the people chosen through the random sample to be interviewed, some people knew me (and they all agreed to participate), I introduced myself as a friend of a friend to some others (and got 85% participation from them), while others were not known to me (I got 30% participation from them). As you can see, it pays to be an insider...

The steps in the process of my study, with a proposed time-frame for interviewing the subjects.

The results of the survey were not surprising: although there was a high degree of language maintenance among the sample, it was found that with each succeeding generation, Greek language proficiency decreased. Older people had better Greek skills overall, but which generation people belonged to was the only significant variable that could predict Greek language maintenance - in other words, the later the generation, the lower the Greek language skills.

Positive but insignificant differences were found among males and females (females used Greek more often than males when speaking to children, even in cases of intermarriage), different occupations, participation in Greek-related events, attending Greek church regularly (the church environment is seen as an appropriate setting for speaking Greek), making return journeys to Greece/Cyprus, attending after-hours Greek school classes, living near other Greek people, and/or having predominantly monolingual parents and/or grandparents.

The later the generation, the less likely the subject will speak Greek with their family members. The Greek language was mainly used when speaking to older family members. The results showed a clear shift towards the use of English for each succeeding generation. Between the same generations, the same language was used: the first generation used Greek, while later generations used English. At the same time, there is a tendency for the young age groups in the second generation to use Greek to their children, suggesting that there is a greater awareness of language maintenance in this group and that more Greek may be spoken to children when they are young.

 It has been over 20 years that I conducted my anonymous survey. I diligently kept all my notes of the people that took part in my survey. The names of these people carry great meaning for many Greeks who were born or raised in Wellington. Some names remain in the community, while others have been lost, due to death, intermarriage or departure of the family. After 20 years, I believe I am not harming anyone in revealing the names of those people who took part in my study; as a tribute to them, I have made this tag cloud (and I can now throw away all those old-fashioned computer printouts with the holes on the sides that have yellowed with age).

Apart from the fact that a conscious awareness was evident in the second generation to pass on tthe Greek language to their children, the results generally do not bode well for the maintenance of the Greek language among the community members in Wellington, as is to be expected, given that linguistic and cultural assimilation is deemed inevitable. But the findings of the survey also revealed some very positive attitudes towards the Greek language and culture. The less one is competent in Greek, the less one feels it to be a core value for Greek identity. But with each succeeding generation, there is:
- a more strongly expressed belief in the need for the Greek language in New Zealand,
- more desire to maintain the Greek culture in New Zealand, and
- more desire to be recognised as a Greek New Zealander.

So as competence decreases, the perceived need for the Greek language in New Zealand increases. Anecdotal evidence also suggested that respondents also saw the usefulness of knowing Greek for returning to Greece and having a private conversation in a public place. The Greek language was also seen as having cultural and educational value, as well as an identity marker. But knowing the Greek language was not deemed a status marker in the group - knowledge of the Greek language was a clear sign of the generation of Greek New Zealander that one belonged. Hence, Greek does not carry a 'status' in the Greek community of Wellington, therefore it will be harder to maintain the language as it does not serve a particular purpose.

The above table (split over two pages) tells us that most of the respondents were from the second generation of immigrants (including the 1b category - they were born in outside of New Zealand, but they came to New Zealand before secondary school age), more than half were under 50 years of age, and of those that were married, their spouses were also Greek. The inherent bias in the study which could not be rectified was that intermarried non-community oriented members could not be included in the study.

It should be noted that language competence can be judged by the language one uses to count with, write their shopping notes, swear, pray and when in danger. If these functions are generally performed in Greek, then the Greek language is dominant; if these functions are generally performed in English, then Greek is not dominant. Although many respondents mentioned that they used both languages in these circumstances, later generations claimed to use Greek less often.

In terms of Greek language maintenance, a few things do help: visits to Greece or Cyprus help maintain links with Greek language and culture, participation in Greek-related activities is useful as it provides exposure to the language and culture, and the importance of using Greek in the home should not be underestimated. Hence, language maintenance is both a societal and an individual phenomenon.

hania st wellington new zealand
The Greek Orthodox church of Wellington, located on the street renamed Hania St, in Mt Victoria.

A few other non-linguistic comments made by the respondents are also worth noting:
- what it means to be a New Zealander, as opposed to being a Greek,
- whether it is possible to be a Kiwi when you also call yourself a Greek,
- traditional Greek attitudes must make way somehow for more modern thinking to suit the environment of New Zealand Greeks,
- the Greek Orthodox church must make some modifications if it wishes to remain an established church in New Zealand (eg use English in the services).

These points all underlie a conscious idea of identity. Specific mention of the Greek identity in the first two points shows that they are in conflict. Mention of culturally-specific attitudes in the third point shows that people realise that some Greek attitudes are not harmonious with the Kiwi lifestyle. Concerning the language used in the Greek Orthodox church, as mentioned in the fourth point, English is now also used in some parts of the service (it wasn't when I was living there!) although the last time I was in New Zealand (2004), I noticed an absence of young people attending Sunday church services.

Greeks in New Zealand are generally well-integrated members of mainstream Kiwi society. This shows to what extent their establishment in New Zealand is successful. But even in my days, there were some Greeks (like myself) whose visit to the homeland took on a more permanent form.

In the next part of this discussion, I discuss identity conflict - what happens when immigrants and/or their children, who were born and/or raised in the New World, do not fit into mainstream society?  

If you are interested in language/cultural studies, you may also want to read the following:
- English language examinations in Greece
- Primary school education in Greece
- The role of the Greek Orthodox church in the diaspora 

You can find more of my writing about identity and New Zealand throughout my blog.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Greek language maintenance in the diaspora - 2

This post is the second of a series that have been written specifically for the Hellenic New Zealand Congress, which will be holding a conference some time next year.

For the previous part, click here.

Before I began my research work in 1989, there had been only one formal study conducted about the migration patterns of the Greeks in New Zealand by Ian Burnley, originally conducted in 1966 - the year I was born! Burnley's research tells us that Greek people had been coming (and going, because for many immigrants of the time, permanent residence to New Zealand was not a consideration) to New Zealand since 1870: according to the 1874 census figures, there were 41 people in New Zealand of Greek origin (only one was female). Almost all of them were located in the goldfield regions at the time. Some chain migration helped establish a permanent presence of Greek people in New Zealand, mainly in Wellington, with pockets of Greek communities in other parts of New Zealand. The post-WW2 period was when Greeks came to New Zealand in greater numbers, due to the poor economic conditions in Greece, the labour shortage in New Zealand and the successful economic establishment of other Greeks in New Zealand.

Another interesting element of Greek migration to New Zealand lies in the fact that the greatest number of Greek arrivals at any one point in time occurred in the early 1950s, with the arrival of refugees from Romania who were of Greek heritage. They were not able to stay in Romania due to the Ceausescu regime, and had moved themselves to the homeland of their Greek roots, only to find that the impoverished 'mother country' was not able to fulfil their expectations - and so, they made their way to the New World, including New Zealand, mostly coming by sea, on the GOYA. On the surface, these Romanian-Greek displaced persons were not much different from their Greek-born counterparts who were already in New Zealand: they spoke Greek and they were Greek Orthodox christians. But the truth is that they were quite unlike the more settled Greek immigrants: they had already experienced migration once before, they were better educated (most were skilled labourers), and most importantly, their origins were urban, not rural, like the established Greek community of Wellington. In other words, they had already established an urban minority community in their own right, before they came to New Zealand to re-establish themselves,* unlike the predominantly rural immigrants from Greece who had never been part of a minority community.

Burnley also reveals that in the mid-60's, a staggering 90% of the Greek community of Wellington lived in the suburbs of Mt Victoria and Newtown, even though Greek households constituted only 10% of the total number of households in Wellington. But when I picked up on the research more than two decades later, I knew that this was in fact not the case. A sizeable chunk of research was missing; I realised I would have to provide a demographic description of the community before I could continue to describe the linguistic aspects of the community. I wanted to present a picture that was representative of the Greek community of Wellington in 1990.

In order to find out approximately how many people could be included in the Greek community of Wellington, I gathered community member lists from the various Greek special-interest groups: the university students' club, the soccer club, the netball club, the regional Greek associations (ie the Akarnanian, Cretan, Cypriot, Macedonian, Mytilinian and Ionian clubs), as well as the Hutt Valley Greek community members and the main umbrella organisation associated with the Greek Orthodox church in Mt Victoria. According to these combined lists, there were 710 households. Estimating 3 to 4 people per household, this gave a total of 2500-3000 people. Intermarried females were probably not very well covered in any of the lists, having lost their Greek name. It is also important to mention that 'estranged' Greeks (people of Greek origin who do not associate themselves with Greek heritage) have not been included in this figure. But my estimate corresponds with the 1986 census figures for those who stated Greek Orthodox as their religion: 2508** people (Table 2).

Census figures do not always reveal the truth. People are often asked to state where they are born and not what their cultural heritage is, which is a more subjective notion. Even when they are asked about their cultural heritage, they may be asked to choose from a pre-defined list using general notions (eg 'European', rather than 'Greek'). Stating one's religion is even more controversial - your parents may have indoctrinated you into a specific religion, but when you are at an age where you can take part in a census, you may have your own views about that issue. The telephone directory could have been used in a similar way (to locate Greek names), but names are deceiving; I was worried that I would be picking up on a remnant of people's heritage rather than an integral part of their cultural upbringing.

By 1986, census figures showed that there were approximately 1000 people in New Zealand who stated that they were born in Greece or Cyprus. Their offspring were not included in these figures, as they had been born in New Zealand. Neither were those 1950s immigrants of Greek descent who had been born in Romania and other parts of Eastern Europe (Table 1).

The above map shows how I marked the households on my combined lists. 85% of the total households (710) could be mapped in the area bordered by the Kent Terrace running to the coast, and southwards from Adelaide Road to the coast (Island Bay), and then eastwards to the coast. The remaining 15% of addresses were located mainly in the Hutt Valley (north of the map) and on the west side of Adelaide Road. It was hypothesised that those who lived beyond the central Wellington-Greek area would not be maintaining the Greek language at home.
The tables below show in which suburbs the households were located. Nearly 80% were situated in the same general area, while a significant 11.7% were clustered in the Hutt Valley, which forms a part of the Greater Wellington area outside the central city. It is noteworthy that in some suburbs (notably Hataitai and Mt Victoria), there were contiguous households - Greeks neighboured Greeks.

In order to show where Greeks were living in Wellington, I marked the addresses of the households on the special-interest lists on a map of Wellington. Of the 710 households, 559 fell in the same general area. Greeks now lived predominantly in Miramar (where a Greek Orthodox church was also operating), a move away from Mt Victoria (where the main Greek Orthodox church was and still is located), with Island Bay, Hataitai, Kilbirnie, Lyall Bay and the Hutt Valley (with its own Greek Orthodox church) also being well-represented (see maps and tables above).

Interestingly, the Greek state keeps its own records about the Greek population in New Zealand. They used similar sources to my own - but they did not update their sources, so they do not include my own research. That is one of the perennial problems of the Greek state - it is always lagging behind ...

It is now more than two decades after I completed my research. The Greek community will have changed somewhat since then. A new survey needs to be carried out, preferably all over the country, to identify possible cases of growth in numbers through new arrivals due to the European economic crisis. The Greek communities of New Zealand will be plagued by the same problem throughout their development: they are very small and less connected these days. But as I mentioned in a previous post, language maintenance can still be successful when the aim is correctly focussed.

* This led to rifts among the older and newer groups of immigrants, which I won't delve into here.
** Figures often quoted for the Greek community of Wellington are often in the range of 4,000-6,000. In 1990, I came to the figure of 2,500-3,000 using statistically reliant sources. Few people quote my figures - but no one to date describes the way they work out their inflated figures: a case of Greek statistics?  

In the next part of this discussion, I discuss the findings of the data that I collected about Greek language maintenance in the Greek community of Wellington.  

If you are interested in attitudes held in the Greek-New Zealand identity, you may also want to read the following semi-fictional short stories depicting life in New Zealand:
- Sandwich
- Roses chocolates
- The picnic
- The little envelope

You can find more of my writing about identity and New Zealand throughout my blog.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Greek language maintenance in the diaspora - 1

Marking one's cultural identity has always been as an important way to show diversity of mankind, but never more so than in our times, when globalisation is demanding that we all aim to be 'one'. According to last night's Olympics opening ceremony, this is theoretically possible in a multi-cultural world, but it also entails a certain amount of loss - what are we willing to forfeit?

This post (the first in a series) has been written specifically for the Hellenic New Zealand Congress, which will be holding a conference some time next year.

A year before I left New Zealand, I completed my Master's thesis on the subject of Greek language maintenance in the Greek community of Wellington. At the time (1990), it seemed that the community had become stagnant, as Greek emigration had halted by the early 80s, and the community was already into its third generation, which meant that it had become diluted through intermarriage and fewer ties with the home country.

The dilution of a diaspora community in a New World country (ie the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) is a natural outcome of the complete assimilation of a migrant community into another country. It cannot be halted or suppressed; if it were, this would constitute a breach of freedom of expression and a violation of human rights. The generational differences in an immigrant family are often heightened by the language differences between the generations. Grandfather and Grandmother speak English with a strong accent and non-standard grammar; Mum and Dad speak their parents' native language in the same way that their parents speak English; the children speak English fluently, and their grandparents' language hardly at all. The latter may understand a simplified form of the native language, but they rarely use it in communication with family members. The final stage of assimilation/integration comes when the fourth generation exhibits no knowledge of the immigrants' language. This process is accelerated rapidly when intermarriage is involved - the native language often disappears before the appearance of the third generation.

Language is not the only aspect of an immigrant group that is difficult to maintain. On leaving their native homeland, immigrant groups carry a huge amount of cultural baggage with them: exotic food, different clothing styles, another religion, non-global attitudes and perceived values, anatomical differences, entertainment, sports, among others. Some aspects of the Old World (ie their former homelands) are easier to dispense with than others (eg clothing styles), but many aspects of the immigrants' cultural identity stay with them forever, the most significant one (in my opinion) being the image they carry in their minds of their homeland. The country they left behind will continue to change and adapt to more modern times, but the immigrants will remember that country as what it was when they left it, possibly even resisting its inevitable adaptation over time.

The immigrants of the early to mid-20th century left their homeland for political or economic reasons, rarely out of a sense of wanderlust. The countries they left behind were very beautiful ones with a rich culture and very old history stemming back much further than the history of the country they now find themselves living in. As an example, I like to think of my own Cretan roots. The island of Crete is where the first European civilisation was developed 6,000 years ago, in contrast to the first traces of human settlement in New Zealand, which took place about 700 or so years ago.

In many cases in the past, immigrants never returned to their home country, although this is now less often the case, due to the greater connectedness of the global world. Distance was once a dividing factor - some countries were just too far away from the New World for immigrants to return there regularly.  Nor is it the case any longer that immigrants are lowly educated - the Greek immigrants of today, for example, are often university graduates who decide to leave Greece because her economy has been crippled by the global financial crisis and they cannot find work in their own country. These days, emigration of one's own accord, not based on persecution or war, is usually a choice rather than a necessary evil. Chain migration - where the emigrant then helped another family member to emigrate, and so on, like a chain - is less likely these days: educated Greek migrants choose countries that need their skills. In most cases, in fact, it is difficult for Greek migrants to choose the country where they will migrate - they often don't fulfil the pre-requisites for emigration*. Those that end up leaving Greece these days are usually dual-passport holders - in other words, they have citizenship in more than one country, and this facilitates them in being fully accepted into the 'new' country. The reasons people are choosing to migrate these days will have repercussions on the way immigrant communities will develop: they will more likely show a trend towards integration with mainstream society rather than distancing themselves from it.

The above scene from Zorba  the Greek (1964) depicts the Crete that my parents left behind in the years that each one decided to emigrate to New Zealand. The homeland was constantly on their mind throughout their life. One never made it back, while the other came back to a Crete he did not recognise. The irony is that their children now live in Greece. The scene above also shows one of the most popular songs to come out of the film, but there were also some other compositions which were equally as good, but they didn't get the same attention - I prefer the music in the link below, which shows how the same area in the film developed in modern times. 

The desire to maintain certain elements of the immigrant language and culture in an immigrant group is often viewed as 'sentimental' and 'nostalgic'. It is a direct outcome of being uprooted, in a sense. But maintaining the immigrant language and culture is generally not deemed 'necessary' or 'vital'. Hence, many aspects are dropped over the generations. But the interconnectedness of the world today, notably through the internet, has greatly influenced identity issues. Many people in the New World are not conscious of their immigrant past, and do not necessarily view their ancestors' homeland as the one that represents their identity. But there are large numbers in most immigrant communities who make a conscious effort to maintain some of their family's customs, which are often interpreted as signs of their cultural heritage. Some may even believe that there is a chance that they will return to their homeland, 'once the troubles are over'. It is these subsets of community members who will battle with their inner feelings as to how they can maintain their migrant heritage, not those who have become disinterested in their history or estranged from the community, due to inevitable assimilation or personal choice.

And that is the crux of the issue of language and cultural maintenance in an immigrant community: it's done for sentimental reasons, it is optional and it is highly regarded by a only subset of the community. Once language/cultural maintenance in a well-established (and well-assimilated) immigrant community is seen for what it truly is (a sentimental way to keep in touch with one's ancestry), it is easier to deal with it more appropriately. What is the reason behind the desire to keep our language and culture alive beyond the immigrant generation? Is it because we want to pass on some of that heritage to the next generation? Is it because we feel the need to express ourselves through our cultural heritage? Is it because we still have a strong community group whose needs must still be catered for? Maybe none of these apply in the case of Greek New Zealanders in the third millenium; what may be the case instead is that Greek New Zealanders want their heritage to be incorporated into the cultural diversity of the New Zealand make-up. Each case requires a different approach in order to have a successful outcome.

I initially embarked on my research on a purely sociolinguistic basis. I was interested in studying to what extent the Greek community of Wellington (where I lived) had maintained use of the Greek language, for the purposes of attaining a Master's degree. As I delved more into the socio- rather than the -linguistic aspects of the community, I saw the need to describe the community as it stood in 1990, almost 20 years after the last wave of Greek immigrants came to New Zealand - my own parents had been there 25 years or so by then. Being a community insider made it easier for me to access data that could be deemed confidential (eg name and address lists). It also allowed for more open discussions which would not have been possible with a community outsider trying to conduct the same study.

That last point says a lot about Greek identity - when I was viewed as 'one of us', I had more success in my work than when I was viewed as 'who is she and what does she want from me'. Now that Greek New Zealanders are more integrated into mainstream society, and I have been away for more than two decades, I can't imagine having the same success in doing a follow-up study...

*The global mass media portrays Greeks as 'fleeing' their country - this is far from the truth. Greeks generally do not have any place to flock to that is willing to accept them without their being able to fulfil the immigration requirements.

In the next part of this discussion, I discuss the data I collected on Greeks in New Zealand, and the Greek community of Wellington, which is the group I based my research on.  

If you are interested in the Greek-New Zealand identity, you may also want to read about:
- Food memories from the 1980s
- Food, migration and identity
- the Cretan Association of New Zealand 
- an image of Crete that my mother left behind when she emigrated in 1963
You can find more of my writing about identity and New Zealand throughout my blog.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Doing it like TGI Friday's

Greek Food Blogs is organising a Greek food bloggers' cooking event, in conjunction with TGI Friday's Greece. The challenge is to create a recipe for TGI Friday's Greece that will be used in its main menu if chosen by the judges. TGI Friday's menu is based on American recipes and cooking techniques, which are radically different to my own cooking style.

Before you submit your recipe, you have to learn to cook in the style of TGI Friday's. By looking through the TGI Friday's Greece menu, I notice a heavy emphasis on meat-based dishes that are accompanied by a range of colourful salads and toppings. Most importantly, the meats are usually served with some kind of spicy sauce or piquante dip. That's quite different to what I cook in my kitchen on a daily basis, which is usually based on seasonal local food, not very much meat and what our garden supplies. But I liked the idea of a foodistic challenge, especially now that the garden is so full of high quality fresh produce.

Upon request, a mini cookbook based on TGI Friday's Greece menu was sent to me, containing recipes for TGI Friday menu staples such as wings, ribs and fajitas. My biggest worry about cooking American food in my Mediterranean kitchen was that I would not have the right ingredients at hand. When trying out a new recipe, I often look to replace unusual ingredients with local seasonal products, and prefer not to spend money on imported non-Greek food. However, there are some items that are always found in my kitchen (eg soya sauce) because I use them often, but there are a number of items that I don't stock at all (eg cider vinegar), while a number of items (eg fresh coriander) are difficult to source where I live. I knew I wouldn't be able to source all the ingredients in the recipes supplied to me, so I decided to adapt the recipes to suit my Mediterranean kitchen supplies.

I also set myself an additional facet to the challenge: can I cook a new recipe, learn a new cooking technique, use whatever is in my kitchen, cook the meal after work with no previous preparation and keep the meal frugal, without compromising on taste and quality? I printed out the recipe (on my new printer-scanner, after being dutifully served by my former eight-year-old model) as soon as I got home from work just after 3pm, and checked the ingredients and method. (Then I whipped up a boureki and a batch of tomato sauce, drove off to our fields to pick a crate of oranges and fill up our empties with ice-cold spring water, and then returned home to take the kids to the beach, while the boureki in the oven and the tomato sauce on the element were cooking at the lowest possible point, all part of a typical lazy Greek's summer routine.)

I began cooking the meal at about 8pm. I decided to cook the wings recipe, replacing the wings (a cheap commodity in Crete) with some tasty German sausages that I had in my fridge, whose expiry date was due very soon. This meant that I could cheat on time, because the wings needed special preparation and a longer cooking time. The sausages were simply drained and dry-fried on a pan, so that they became crispy-burnt on some parts.
The recipe then called for a pico de gallo, which sounded very exotic, but it was actually a fresh colourful salad, consisting of tomato, peppers and onions of all colours. It just so happened that on the previous day, I had harvested a number of coloured peppers from our garden - how convenient was THAT?! While the sausages were cooking, I set about chopping up the salad ingredients into little cubes. All they needed was to soak in a little lemon juice, before being strained when the time came to use them. The recipe also called for fresh pineapple pieces as part of the salad, something which we never buy: fresh fruit is never missing in our house in the form of oranges, apricots, melon and watermelon (we don;t grow the last two). I omitted this step, but made up for the colour (maybe not the sweet taste) with the brilliant yellow pepper.

The recipe also called for a spicy meat glaze made with whiskey. This was the most daunting part for me: I've never made such a sauce before. The ingredients for the sauce included tabasco sauce, soya sauce, onion, cayenne pepper, brown sugar, whiskey, cider vinegar and beef stock. The cider vinegar was replaced with a light home-made red wine vinegar, and the beef stock was omitted (I simply added water). The point was to make a sauce as thick as syrup, which would be used both as a sauce and a topping. The ingredients needed about 20 minutes to reduce to a syrup.

The final look of the plate involved skwering the chicken wings (so I skewered the sausages),cooking them in some of the syrupy sauce, plating them with more sauce and topping them with the salad. This all looked good, but the plate looked a little empty, as I was serving this dish as a main evening meal and not an appetiser. I had some mini-pita bread rounds in the freezer, which I toasted lightly int he same pan I cooked the sausages. I also have a lot of eggplant in the garden at the moment, so I sliced a small one and fried it. (The aubergines were sitting on the kitchen worktop for three days, and had shrivelled slightly, which makes cooking them much easier, as they did not need to be salted and drained - Cretan garden-grown aubergines re much sweeter than commercially grown aubergine).  

Just after 9pm, the dish was completed, and the plate looked full. It was very tasty, as judged by my eaters, who asked me if I could make it more often. Yes, I suppose I could, although I wasn't happy about the addition of sugar in our main meals. I wonder if I could make the same sauce with honey as a healthy alternative.

Post-script: My husband particularly enjoyed this meal, and I was very glad I to have been able to offer it to him - he'd been stuck on the roof of our house all morning under a fiercely hot sun (we're renovating, and in Crete, renovating usually entails the house owner taking an active part in the work), and was too hot and tired to eat at lunch time (which consisted of a leftover meal - not very enticing if you are too tired to eat). After leaving for work in the afternoon, he realised that he would either crash the car or fall asleep at the wheel if he continued working, and he was surprised to find this meal ready and waiting for him. Just another day in the life of another lazy Greek.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Greece: First impressions (Ελλάδα: πρώτες εντυπώσεις)

These days in Greece, little five-minute TV spots are appearing in between programmes, showing some of this season's tourists to Greece talking about how much they have enjoyed their Greek holidays. The spots are all based on real-life experiences of tourists, and they are all dated (since June 2012) to add credence to their testimony.

In a similar manner, bloggers and social networkers come across friends' notes about places that they have recently visited, and their recollections form instant updates on what is happening in the country they are visiting. I recently read the very moving comment made by Australian tourist Alf Hodges, a facebook friend who is visiting Greece for the fourth time in 31 years: in other words, from the year Greece entered the EU to the year Greece's presence in the eurozone is being questioned.

Alf gives us his very first impressions of his Greek holiday, as he arrives in Athens:

- Standing on the hotel roof garden, feeling mesmerised by the floodlit Parthenon. It NEVER dims. And then a gush of the most fragrant air - grilling meat, oregano, and a hint of lemon.
- The sight of the Acropolis slopes with those dark cypress trees, the olive trees and the retsina-redolent pine trees.

- Athens is CLEAN. The air is clear and somewhat fresh.
- Walking along those marble-tiled streets, with those blue and white street signs: Nikis, Kydathineon, Ermou ...

- Sprays of bougainvillea hanging over those narrow lanes with yellow, ochre and white walls.
- My first taste of Greek tomatoes! I had forgotten what tomatoes taste like! Add oregano, olive oil and feta... and you are in heaven.

- A sudden, psuedo-angry burst of "Oxi!" from the table next to me. Or the shrill granny's voice calling down the lane "Ella! Ellatho!"

- First bread - dribbled with oil, sprinkled with oregano, still warm... and that hard crust and soft, slightly elastic inside
- Climbing Lykavitos Hill and remembering those cactus spines sticking up like spears as you climb the trail.

- The city a lake of concrete under the blazing sun, surrounded by those hills and Mt. Hymettos.
- Grilled sardines and grilled mushrooms, Alpha beer, retsina...
- A couple of koulouria vendors still sticking around Syntagma Square.
- The meat market doesn't seem to have changed in Athenas Street

- The first meal at a taverna: the waiter tilts his head slightly to one side, smiles and says "Parakalo".
Endless carafes of wine and a huge spread of Egyptian-Greek food (Alf is at a friend's place in Athens), capped off by the dolmadakia the size of your little finger, but superb and lemony, rolled by a little old island lady. Liver and onions, felafel, skordalia, salad...

A flood of memories, Alf writes. We have been amazed at how well cared-for everyone and everything looks: the people, the buildings, the public spaces. We're genuinely impressed with the care and upkeep of the buildings around the Plaka - it all looks so spotless. People are so generous, helpful and polite - from the waiters, to the people in the street - when we ask for help. Outdoor tavernas and kafeneions are full during the day and evening. Despite what they talk about, you would NEVER know there was a crisis. Still seems safe to my eyes. Maybe it's the season? Many Greek tourists everywhere - more than foreigners. Our taxi driver today said tourist numbers are down. 

Alf and his partner later visited Litochoro, which Alf described as: A very smart little spa town in the mountains at the gateway to Mt Olympus. Most accommodation is about 40 Euros a night! I have no guide book, no maps...I knew I'd forget something, and with age, who wants to spend half a day searching for a few Euros less? The train from Kalambaka to Litochoro was superb - quiet, fast, ...nothing like the Greek trains I remember - slow, noisy and smelly! 

The Greek crisis is a political, social and economic one. This does not affect the weather, the sea quality or the food - on that last point, I would say the food has improved since the crisis broke out.

Alf finishes his message off by telling us that he has gone native: Using more Greek as the days go by - I even find words coming out of my mouth without thinking. Greece seems more European/Italian than ever before. Must go - the taverna calls...

If you have fallen in love with Alf's descriptions and photos of his trip to Greece this month (Athens, Meteora, and the islands of Chios, Lesbos and Limnos), there's still time for you to book a Greek holiday this year - prices have fallen, so it's all the more affordable these days. 

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Monday 23 July 2012

Greece, the weed of Europe (Το ζιζάνιο της Ευρώπης)

When newspapers splatter sensational headlines about Greece on their front pages, to the likes of: 

Euro exit talk risks self-fulfilling prophecy,

as they did today, the writers are ignoring reality. The European continent is sinking further down the drain; detracting attention from the problem in order to turn people against the scapegoat is a show of ignorance. To treat Greece like a weed in the Eurozone that needs to be eradicated is only causing the problem's proliferation. It's already a trying time for most people living in Europe without the need to point the finger at any one country.

Aesop's tale about the vegetable garden is particularly telling at this moment: A gardener was watering his crops when a passer-by asked him why all the weeds looked so fresh and healthy, while the plants he was growing were weak and wilted, or needed support to improve their growth. The gardener answered:

"Earth is mother to the weeds, so they proliferate and thrive on her love and attention, but Earth is only a step-mother to the plants that I am growing. I am burdening her by adding new species. Nourishing her own stock, she causes them to grow faster than the orphans which I plant."

The purslane, amaranth and nightshade spring up on their own every summer and continue to grow well despite being unattended; even when I pull each one out by the root, these weeds are never eradicated. Tomatoes do come up on their own from time to time (the seeds having lain dormant in the soil during the winter), but without man's help (they need training on a support rod and fertilisation), they will not provide crops, unlike the weeds which can be picked as they sprout, and need no help at all to grow.

And so it is with Greece, the weed of Europe. She is stomped on, hindered from growing, and attempts are made to make her disappear. She has been told to sell her islands, to open 'gyros' bank accounts, to leave the eurozone and basically to go to hell. But she doesn't seem to be going anywhere. She's staying put right where she is, seemingly thriving in some ways, even without any support beams.

The moral of Aesop's fable is that a mother is biased towards her own children rather than her foster children, and nobody can replace a real mother, as Gunther Grass warns:
Geistlos verkümmern wirst Du ohne das Land, dessen Geist Dich, Europa, erdachte.
(Deprived of spirit, You will perish without the Land, whose spirit created You, Europe.)

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.