By now, anyone who claims to be Greek has seen the blockbuster hit “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” So lets take the main premise of the movie, “Greek girl marries a ‘piece of dry toast'” (OK, not really just a WASP), as the topic for this month’s version of “Aphrodite’s Bedroom” the page that explores relationships, love, sex, marriage, “ta poulakia kai i melisses” in Greeklish.
The Greeks pride themselves so much on being Greek that they want to keep that ethnic pride in the family. They so staunchly believe that their culture is superior that they force their daughters (and sons, but not as badly) to marry Greek. In fancy terms, the Greeks are endogamous ( from the Greek “endo” meaning “inside” or “within” and “gamo” the root for “gamete,” “gamos”, “generate,” and the Greek for “fuck” the ubiquitous “gamoto!”) In all fairness, I thought the parents of the girl in the movie were pretty lenient for not giving her more heat for going off with a xeno. Personally, I know I would have been beaten with a zoni (OK, not! just confined to weeks in my bedroom, all communique with the guilty party funneled through a screener (ie. Baba) with the written version slipped on a looseleaf paper under my bedroom door.) I know other girls whose families threaten disownment if they should marry outside their culture.
How strict are Greek families for “keeping it Greek” in regards to Greek marriage? How would your parents react if you brought home a xeno? an Ispanyolo? a mavro?(!) an Evreo? Post your responses on our message board.
Let’s take this issue and analyze it from all sides, pame!
It’s a Good Thing
Intercultural marriage for the same reasons it can create be a bad thing can be a good thing. By forcing one culture to come into intimate terms with another (literally sometimes we have cases where we are sleeping with the enemy), both are forced to open up to allow the other in. It’s a picture postcard world that could be sent to the UN–a dinner table surrounded by whites and blacks, Greeks and Turks, Catholics and Orthodox. Even if the extended families might have a problem with things at first, eventually they will be changed (let’s hope.) I have heard of in-laws who become intimate friends and stay that way even years after their kids divorce.
THE ARGUMENT FROM BIOLOGY
It has been a long-held theory of mine, one that has some biological backing, that the farther one marries from one’s one gene pool, the stronger, hardier, smarter, and prettier one’s offspring will turn out. (It works on everyone except my mother.)
It makes sense. Look at the cases of Thalassima, schizophrenia, Down’s syndrome that happen to those groups who continually marry to their own. (Is it just me or do other girls feel that most people on Kefalonia are trelli because of generation after generation marrying the chorgiotopoula on the same corner of the chorgio?) Tay-Sachs plagues the Jews, sickle cell anemia the Blacks, and Thalassima anemia the Greeks.
It’s Not So Good a Thing
First of all, marrying within your culture keeps things simple. There’s no confusion around major holidays. The script to follow is ingrained in everyone–we make Basilopita for Protochronia, tsourekia for Pascha. There’s no negotiating which language the kids will speak–every kid goes to Greek school–no exceptions. On Sundays, there is no deliberation between St. George’s Orthodox Church with Papa Spiro officiating or Mt. Zion Synagogue, the honorable Rabbi Libowitz presiding.
SECOND REASON :
Secondly, it creates less in-law misunderstandings and clan warfare. There is less “What kind of people eat lamb intestines–fried!–and make cow bowels into a soup?” and “How come those people kiss each other’s cheeks in the air when they should alternate three times?” There is no clash of wills over whether Marianna will take confirmation or communion.
At other times a girl’s insistence to marry outside her ethnos has caused mayhem. I have heard of shocking soap opera scenarios surrounding the gonios attempts to keep their daughters from marrying a xeno. A member of my family had her parents entangled with Order of Protections against her proposed partner, an Irish-Italian mutt. Many rumors circulate in the grapevine about the so-called “Eleni” who married a Muslim and had to be disowned and later pronounced “dead”; her family still refuses to acknowledge her presence even after she’s given them grandchildren.
And then there’s those extreme cases you read about on the third page of the Post about some Vlacho Kefaloniti who brutally beat up his daughter with a leather belt and later strangled her by her own hair (Gulp!)
Intercultural marriage creates such havoc sometimes that it ultimately leads to the intended couple’s break up. The maelstrom of trouble hybrid marriage can wreak on both sides of the family is not worth the joy of the actual couple’s love. A friend who suffered great heartbreak over an impossible inter-cultural affair swears never to date anyone outside her Greek heritage to avoid “stenachorgies.”
Depending on which node on the spectrum of family open-mindedness one comes from, there are real risks in forming a union with someone outside one’s cultural pool. Perhaps these marriages, because they have to fend against so much conflict, are more volatile than those same-culture ones.
THIRD REASON :
Thirdly, marrying within the culture continues the culture. This is why parents and grandparents I suspect harp on it so much. They do not want to see Hellenism adulterated or diluted to the point that they can’t speak Greek to their grandchildren (O Theos na filai). Endogamy ensures that the culture will be kept “pure.” It is especially treacherous if a woman marries out of culture because a woman gets lost in the gambro’s culture more often than a son does. She will probably adopt the manners of her assumed culture and there goes giagia’s investment.
Parents see a woman not marrying Greek as a loss of their cultural investment in her. “Och!” they say, “Our blood, all those years in Greek school, our ethimata–they will all be lost when she marries that piece of dry toast.” In a way, they are right. “But,” the other side says, “that’s the chance you take for living in a heterogenous nation such as the ol’ US of A.” Check out the column to the right for their side of the issue.
It is What It Is
Then there’s the camp that argues: “Hey, that’s what you get. You come to this country, a very large one with many kinds of people, a slew of cultures. So you can’t expect your kore to marry a vlacho from your chorgio on the back side of Lefkada (no offense to anyone from Lefkada.) Although it might seem that way if you grew up in Astoria or Bay Ridge, the Greek community does not exist in a bubble. At some point, you or your children will come across a xeno or xeni. They will be exposed to different cultures, races and yes, colors, especially in this cosmopolitan city whose zip code 11372 boasts the most culturally diverse plot of land in all the world. Whether at school or at work, and try as hard as parents might to keep their children within a closely-knit Greek parochial school with Greek clubs and functions, the great possibility still looms large that their gio or kore will meet a xeno, might go out with him or her (known or unbeknowest to them) and yes, might fall in love and wind up marrying that person. It comes with the turf.
“If they wanted their kids to marry Greek,” my cousin adamantly argues, “they should never have left Greece.” It’s not fair to us to drag us to this country with the pressure that we must marry Greek or else—?
What can you do? Ti na kaneis? That’s the risk a parent has to take when they come to this country.
What is your point of view? Post your opinions in the comments! Let’s talk about this.