If you are on Facebook or Instagram, no doubt you have seen it–posts from Growing Up Greek Style. This is an Instagram community with close to 24K followers and over 115K followers on Facebook. If you measure success by followers, it is a few thousand shy of another major Greek entertainment site that builds community by posting deep blue visions of the Aegean isles or Zorba the Greek dancing xasapiko. But it is it’s meteoric rise to that number in less than a year’s time that makes it a phenomenon of success. And you wouldn’t guess from following it that behind it is a 40-something Greek Aussie gal from Adelaide who started it all after running full circle from rejecting to embracing her culture.
“Growing Up Greek Style is all about the passion, the kefi and the love for Greece you carry in your soul,” Ms. Growing Up Greek Style, its founder who insists on keeping anonymous says.
The site started as an Instagram account where Ms. Growing Up Greek Style would post pictures and memes of what it means to grow up Greek. At the suggestion of her sister, she created a Facebook page of the same name. It was there that the community blew up. Although there are 2 to 3 administrators running the site uploading an average of 2 to 3 posts daily, they are all volunteers running on passion.
The irony is that Ms. Growing Up Greek Style grew up in the 80s before the tech craze so she has trouble downloading music on her iPhone and even using Skype. I had to call her directly on her cell during her break at work as she isn’t familiar with navigating Skype or Viber. “I can get around creating a meme or manipulating a photo or taking a short video though,” she comes to her own defense.
Now in her early 40’s, Ms Growing Up Greek Style rejected her culture in her youth. “I wanted to fit in with all the other Anglos in my world,” she explains. “I felt embarrassed eating my mortadela and feta sandwiches.” Her Anglo friends couldn’t understand why she couldn’t go out and be a “normal” Aussie girl who went to parties and talked to guys. That’s because she grew up in a traditionally Greek home with strict house rules. She remembers her mother telling her, “Ama se doune sto dromo na milas me agoria tha se lene poutana, (If they see you on the street talking to boys, they will call you a bitch.” She was one of three sisters whose overprotective father kept them from dating. Being a self described good girl who didn’t want to deal with all the drama that comes with breaking the rules, well, she didn’t.
It was only after maturing into an adult that she realized the bravery that her parents displayed by coming to Australia. “Think about it,” she explains in a thick Australian drawl, they left their families, their homes to come to a new country where they knew no one and could not speak the language so that they could start from nothing. It is understandable that they were afraid of losing their children, esp their daughters.”
Why did she start the site? “Because I wanted to connect to my culture in a fun way to remind those of us first and second generation Greeks about our culture and what we went through growing up. Mostly though it has to do with the passion and the love of Greece and Greek culture that I carry in my soul.” she cites.
Sometimes children of the Diaspora come full circle and wind up falling in love with the past, their roots and their cultural identity. This is one reason for the site’s popularity.
While it carries a sizable percentage of native Greek followers, the majority tend to be the sons and daughters of the Hellenic Diaspora. “We didn’t want to make the site just geared towards Australians,” she explains.
She also tends to keep away from politics because “you run the risk of offending people with differing opinions.” Not that the site is afraid of making political statements. The site has run posts that inform about Greek history such as the War of independence, the Pontian genocide with its death marches, the Junta of 1974 (about the period her parents left to migrate to Australia,) and even about the Elgin marbles, a cause close to her heart. But the community’s purpose is to unify instead of divide. “I wanted to make it really fun, ” Ms Growing Up Greek explains.
The secret of the sites success? I think it is a combination of having a female perspective, tapping into the need of a Diaspora community to connect to its culture over social networks and it’s content that tends to be creative, funny and endearing. There is definitely a woman’s touch to the postings which feature the nurturance and warmth of the yiayia and Mother.
“If you look at our wall,” she cites, “you can definitely tell which post was posted by our male administrator and which by our females.”
Ms. Growing Up Greek Style actively reconnects to her cultural roots by going back to Greece every so often and taking snapshots of her mother’s village in Lesbos. “I was there for the 1st of August where they have a tradition of welcoming the month of sun and summer by children jumping over traditional bonfires on the beach. I posted videos of it and there are so many local traditions from all over Greece that our followers just eat it all up,” she remarks. “Greek people outside of Greece love to see snapshots of this day in Santorini or this day in Lesbos; it keeps them connected.”
But Growing Up Greek Style, especially if you are a woman, has a price. What’s the worst thing about being a Greek Australian woman? “The sexism that comes with being raised a girl,” she confesses. She sees how her in-laws put their Greek sons on a pedestal “just because they have balls.” Now that she is a mother to a girl and a boy, she refuses to follow that script.
“I raise them equally, they both have to do chores around the house, one washes dishes, the other dries them.”
What’s the best thing about growing up Greek? “Our rich culture,” she says. “The traditions, our food, our religion–the churches the monasteries. And of course our kefi, the drive to have a good time and enjoy life.”
To illustrate this point she brought up an anecdote from about the time she was shopping around for banquet halls to host her wedding reception. “The first thing I did was check out the dance floor to see that if it was very big and good for dancing. The banquet hall owner started laughing and said, ‘When the Italians come in to book a wedding, they look over the menu, but when the Greeks come to book it’s always about the dance floor if it is large enough to dance on.’ That’s just what we feel is important.”
Can the site ever run out of steam? “While there are only so much you material you can work with, I mean how many times can you post about what our parents told us growing up,” she says, “I think Greece is such a rich country that there will be other facets to explore.”
But I have a different theory for its staying power. As long as there is a deeper longing in the Diaspora community to stay Hellene to reconnect to its roots and its ancestral past, Growing Up Greek Style will continue to grow. It captures the zeitgeist of a Hellenic immigrant community growing older and realizing the richness of returning to its roots. As such it has unleashed the power of social media to bring together a physically disparate community under the banner of the golden years of growing up Greek in a traditional family. And doxa to Theo it has done just that because no where else on the Internet can you laugh as deep or sigh as profoundly when viewing such posts as:
[follow id=”Username” ]