Greeks are travelers. And sometimes when they travel to foreign exotic places they fall in love. Then, they get married. And then, they have babies. And then that baby grows up to be a half-Greek half-whatever hybrid mix. In that case, issues of identity become a bit harder to explain. Or does it? We have covered the issue before in our “Demi-gods and Half-Bloods” article. But what happens when you are Greek and African? Or Greek and Philipino? Or Greek Dominican? When a Greek marries a person from the so-called “third world,” the added dimensions of race and economics come into play. In the next series of articles, we will be profiling Hellenes of a radically different mix. For this month’s Greek Girl profile we had the pleasure of interviewing Anneta Koromvli Mukuka, an architecture student at the Parsons School of Design of mixed Greek and Zambian heritage. She tells us that being Greek is something that goes beyond skin deep.
Greek Am Girl: Tell me a bit about yourself and your family.
My mother is Greek and my father is Zambian. My mother is from Tsagarada and Sami, Kefalonia. She studied architecture at the Metsovio Polytexnio and then moved to the United States to do her Masters at Berkley. My father grew up in a true African village. He studied social work and political science at the University of Zambia and was the only one to receive a full scholarship to study at any American university for further studies. He first attended Columbia University and then transferred to Berkley where he met my mother. After many years they both went to Zambia and got married and had three children; my older brother, my sister and me.
I am 20 years old. I have spent my childhood living in Zambia and for holidays I would travel to Greece. I had a truly African childhood and I loved every second of it. I have always loved playing sports and have participated in almost every sport team. I enjoy being active and a member of my committee. I am studying architecture at Parsons in NY.
Greek Am Girl: How Greek do you feel? Explain why and how.
I feel a hundred percent Greek in every way. I grew up attending Greek school many times a week. I danced, and still do, Greek traditional dances since I was quite young. I love and cook Greek food. I have grown up hearing and speaking Greek because it is my language. I truly feel connected with Greek Orthodoxy. I am in love with my country and my home in Greece. Whenever I travel to Greece I feel so happy to be there at home. However, it is not simply all these things that make me feel Greek because being Greek is simply who I am. My mother has always made us feel a hundred percent Greek. Therefore, I have no other way than to feel completely Greek.
Greek Am Girl: What is it like to grow up as a Greek African? Which culture do you identify more with?
Growing up being both Greek and Zambian has been rewarding. It is great to know that you have two homes and cultures in this world. I couldn’t pick which culture I identify with the most because I feel that this doesn’t apply in my situation. I definitely had more of a Greek upbringing than a Zambian one; however, living in Zambia influenced me a lot. The mixture of speaking Greek not Bemba (my father’s language), going to Greek school, being Greek orthodox, Greek dancing and playing with malegens (Zambian tool that is made from wood and rope) and stones, climbing trees, being wild and barefoot everywhere, creating mud pies and pools has combined within me and makes me feel equally Greek and Zambian.
Greek Am Girl: What are some conflicts you experienced as a Hellene of mixed cultural descent?
The biggest conflict, and probably the only one, I experience when I am either amongst Greeks or Zambians relates to my skin color. Once the Greeks see me they assume that I am not Greek and there is some racism, however I must say that once they learn that I am Greek and that I indeed speak Greek everything changes for the better. When I am around Zambians they might call me a ‘musungu’ which basically means white person which is again racist. But of course every Zambian loves hearing that I am one of them and they are always intrigued to learn of my dual heritage. It is understandable for people to make immediate assumptions, however the racism present on both the Greek and Zambian sides is so terribly wrong. If the Greeks call me black then I have every right to be called white too, but who would ever call someone who is truly both Greek and Zambian and is brown skinned white? And who said white is better? Those who are racist and inhumane.
Greek Am Girl: How do you keep the Greekness in you alive? Why is it important to hold on to your cultural roots?
I always feel close to my roots and culture. I love Greek dancing and I do it as often as I can with my sister. Yesterday we danced sirtaki, kalamatiano and pendozali at one in the morning in the basement of the university residence building just because we truly miss dancing and feel so happy and lighthearted when we do it. And of corse we feel truly Greek! I speak Greek constantly whether it is when I call home or to my sister. I even think in Greek sometimes. I always try to go to church and keep my religion alive. I have placed several icons in my dorm room because it is a part of who I am. The only cuisine I know who to cook very well is Greek and Greek food is almost the only food I eat.
It is important because my roots make up who I am. Therefore, if I lose sight of where I have come from on both sides then I am losing myself. My roots keep me humble, grateful, knowledgeable, friendly, understanding and help me appreciate other cultures and see the world from a better perspective.
Greek Am Girl: What is the best thing about being a Greek African? What is the worst?
The best thing about being both Greek and Zambian is that I have become an individual who deeply cares for how their roots have shaped who they are.
The worst thing is that so many people, especially in the US, do not want to believe and see that I am both my cultures and both colors. However, I never feel bad about being both Greek and Zambian. Even if someone degrades me racially I remember that this is how I am and this is how God created me. No one can change that and no one has the right to make me hate where I come from and what I look like.
Annetta’s talented older brother, Eleftherios, mixes Greek music with pop and Zambian folk strains
; quite a rising star gathering from the following. This video features scenes from the traditional Zambian countryside