Half-Fish, Half-Woman: The Hybrid Creature of the Greek-American Identity
Koukla, if you clicked onto this page, you are a Greek-American girl. The one half of you to the left of the hyphen is Greek; the other half is American. This can create polla problemata. That little hyphen can become the twisted rope in a perennial tug-of-war between the two cultures, the two poles that you run to, back and forth, back and forth, the two foundations that you were fashioned out of. Which do you identify with more?
It’s like living in two different worlds. You know how it goes—stuck on the “N” train in rush hour traffic half-way between 49th and 42nd Street on a grey, below-zero Monday morning, freezing your bun off, you get visions of the turquoise, crystal-clear beaches outside your giagia’s white-washed stone house in Zakinthos. You look around to the blank, empty faces of the poor miserable souls around you, and you harken back to the Friday night, actually Saturday morning 2:30 am in Disco Dream where you and maria and Stacy met those hot Italians, the ones who bought you the Summer Breezes that sent you gyrating to the top of the bar where Kostaki, the bartender, treated everyone to a string of sfinakia under the ceiling of your thighs. How easy it was to connect there!
Dodging the buffets of briefcases and the blows of doubled-over morning edition New York Times squeezed under stiffened elbows as the massive exodus charges to escape the closing doors, the eternal question creeps into your head again and again—“Ti sto dialo kano edo?”
You remember the apogevmatakia when you’d gather bronzed and brazen at the Kafenio and sip frappe, share a Marlboro, and talk about everything from Papandreou to the new Metro, to whether or not Socrates was a pousti, talk about everyone from Gus the Rat to Bougouklaki, or talk about nothing at all just gia na chalarosete. As you rush off into the bowels of the greasy, water bug infested NYC subway, 20 minutes late to your corporate post, you wish—“Ach! If only I were in Greece right now!”
If only it could be so easy. When you are in America, you think about Ellada, and when you are in Ellada, well, you bitch and complain about it because it isn’t Ameriki. Doesn’t any public restroom have free toilet paper in Athens? Can anything be cashed on time? Is there no one who updates boat schedules in Pireaus for the benefit of the tourists? What’s the use of having traffic signals if no one bothers to follow them? Is there not one honest taxi driver that takes you from point Alpha to point Gamma without going through the remaining 22 letters of the alphabet? These people here don’t work. They just complain about working. So narrow-minded. They don’t think in terms of long-term. Everything is “live for today.”
While you love Ellas, you are proud to be an Ellinida, you couldn’t possibly live there for more than four weeks. There is something foreign about the place. Plus, you aren’t really accepted there, really. To them, you aren’t an Ellinida, you are another Amerikanaki—a turncoat to the cause of Ellinismo. Your parents forsook their country by pimping themselves for the seductive American dream. You have sold your pschi to the American dollar. You are sweet, but stupid. You work too much; you have been sucked into the capitalistic black hole. You waste your life working for someone else, when the purpose of life “den eine i douleia alla i zoe” (is not work but life itself).
Your cousins, although they’ll never admit it, hold a grudge against you; they speak with a latent malicious undercurrent of rivalry under their tongues. You are not “in” and they let you know it without so many words. You speak Ellinika with a funny accent; you confuse your ousiastika—“fanella” for “fallen” and your rimata, ksechase to. You have given up your seat at the Agora; you are no longer a citizen and cannot vote. You do not exist, except for a random summer here or there. You can’t recite the Pater Imon without tripping on the 6th line. You no longer fit in ekei. So, tin a kaneis?
You cannot live there and you cannot live here without the siren songs of Monastiraki, ochtapodaki, and sfinaki haunting you. Face it, kopella mou, you are neither pure Greek nor pure American. You are this strange hybrid creature—those beasts from your mythology, half-human, half-horse, half-fish, half-woman, half-man, half-goat. You were born out of the blood of the Medusa, from the drops that fell from Chronus’ detached testicle, and frothed out of the sea. You mingle two completely opposed elements—sea and earth. You have more in common with Anjali, the Indian dorm mate, another minority spit onto the great US of A than with Marika your cousin in Thessaloniki.
You belong to this estranged subculture called “Greek American.” It spends 5/8ths of its time struggling to get a share of the enormous portions of the rich American pie while the other 2/8ths it spends strung out on a psatha on some beach in Mykonos recuperating. You’re forced to marry within your limited gene pool so that your “cultura” and “glossa” don’t disappear. And so, you have become a very selective, unique species native to a certain space, captive of a certain time, isolated on an island or two, surrounded by others who hyphenate their identities too.
Who knows what the future holds for you and your kind? Will it die out and disappear—becoming so isolated and clinging to its own that it implodes? Or will it adapt to the larger environment, mate with the other rare breeds, and become unrecognizable from its original form?
Your identity is an artificial construct in a way. You were created out of circumstances. The product of someone else’s choice, way back when at a time before you even knew that your last name was tampered with. What creates your identity is the combined force of two contrary cultures impinging on a point in time outside your control.
So here you are. On the “N” train going to work on a gloomy Monday with dreams of Myknonos in your head. You can never go back, except in spirit and in memory. This sea-change has made you into the weird creature that you are. Your grandchildren and their children’s children will hear your song in the turquoise-blue, clear fathoms of their sleep and wake up crying.