Greek Family Essay, Research Paper
An Analysis of My Greek-American Family
Many American families loose ties with their ethnic heritage after each generation. Though I am a fourth generation American, I grew up within the realms of my Greek heritage. I am of the Pospishil and Regas families. The Greek family is one of a traditional culture. The family is extremely close, not just within the immediate family, but including aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents and cousins. Everyone takes responsibility in raising a child and in teaching values and respect for others. The children look to their elders as role models and to learn what they need to know to take on their roles for the future. Though the American Greek culture is much different than in Greece, Greek tradition plays a major part within my family, and continues to do so today.
We celebrated our Greek heritage through Religion, holidays, and feasts. My parents always stressed having dinner every night together, it was expected. Going with them to many family functions, and above all that family should come first. This means that everyone is involved with everyone else in the family. Throughout my entire life, the Porras family recognized both Easters: the Greek and the American. On Greek Easter, we had a traditional feast with dolmades [stuffed grape leaves], feta cheese [goat's milk cheese], arni psito me patates [roast leg of lamb and potatoes], and off course tsoureki [Easter twist bread decorated with red colored eggs]. This type of feast was common in our house; we didn’t have to wait for Easter. Lamb, tomatoes, fresh green beans, lemon, and olive oil were major foods in my home, but the Kourabiedes [butter ball walnut cookies] were, and still are, treated as delicacies. We attended the Greek Orthodox Church and my siblings and I went to the Greek Orthodox summer camp at Saint Dimitrio?s. When the family got together, we celebrated with Greek music and dancing. The Greek traditions live on in my generation as well as my numerous cousins?.
My family structure has changed little since my Great Grandparents immigrated to Ohio from Sparta and Crete in the early 1900?s. My family has remained fairly homogenous in terms of ethnicity, and they continue to maintain traditional roles within marriage. Most of my family still lives within 10 miles of each other in Cleveland, Ohio. In modern Greece, one can still find a very strong patriarchal society. The male and female roles of the Greek family have not changed much since the days of old. Women since the middle to late 1970’s have been fighting for their rights, but still are burden with a male dominant society. In my Greek American household, aspects of our Greek culture are interwoven into an American household.
As I was talking with my grandmother, Katarina Porras, or just Yaya (pronounced Yai-ya) after Thanksgiving dinner, she told me about the role of the women in our family. She said that gender roles of women in a Greek family are learned at a very early age. A women is looked upon, by their male partners, as evil, because Eve was deceived by the serpent and not Adam. She is to follow in the path of the Virgin Mary, and save herself for marriage. The most important role for a woman is to keep her virtue for the purification of the family’s name. The woman of the house controls all the domestic affairs of the Greek family and usually works outside the home as well. Every domestic detail is decided by the wife, ranging from home furnishings to sex. Though her husband is the prime breadwinner and controls the family economics, it is the woman who decides how and where the money is spent. She also controls the sexual relations between her and her husband; if the wife does not want to have relations with her husband, he is simply ?out of luck.? The Greek wife is definitely the head of household, while the Greek husband is the breadwinner. The different roles of each the wife and husband is a mutual agreement. According to my Grandmother, it is parenthood that fulfills a woman?s obligations to family and marriage. She says it?s an honor to rear children and continue the family name.
Both males and females in the in my family preferred to live separate lives. The men socialize with other men and the women socialize with other women. After a hard day at work, the men in the older generations of my family come together at the Ridge Road Tavern (Cleveland, Ohio) to socialize with one and another or they go bowling at the Greek Men?s Bowling League. Most of the male’s social life is done in the evening time, since they do work all day. The women either meet with neighbors for coffee and chat, the go to church functions, or they just simply socialize while doing household chores, such as sewing or preparing meals.
My great-grandmothers were very submissive to their husbands. They took care of all domestic details including finances. They also were the primary caretakers of their children. In addition, they both worked outside the home. My great grandmother, Antonia Leventis, managed to raise a family and work full time assembling light bulbs at the General Electric factory in Cleveland, Ohio. On my mother?s side, Sophia Spanos, worked long shifts as a seamstress. Usually, the oldest child took the responsibility of looking after his or her younger siblings while my Great Grandmothers were at work. When all were too young, neighbors and relatives would take part in looking after the children. This extended family was known as a coumbari. The girls in the family were instilled with domesticity. They were responsible for learning to cook, clean, sew as well as wait on their brothers and fathers. Even such a task as running bath water was considered a woman?s job. All the women immediately married after High School and assumed the roles of a traditional Greek housewife and working woman. My Mother and aunts of the third generation still assumed such learned gender roles.
Boys learned male tasks such as yardwork, and household repairs. The males, however, learned to be independent and were mostly allowed to spend their time as they wish. Both of my great grandfathers had little to do with rearing their children. Interaction with them usually took place at meals. Their boys grew up to be very much like them. All of the second-generation males finished High School and found blue-collar jobs and had working class families. My father of the third generation however was the first to attain a Master?s Degree and a high paying career. My uncles all managed to achieve middle-class status.
A strong gender parity is still found in my immediate family. My mother, although she claims that she is independent and a feminist, still exhibits most of the traditional Greek gender roles. She told me the primary purpose in her life was to raise her three children. After high school, she got her Bachelor?s Degree in Early Childhood Education at Cleveland State University. After she was married, she had children and was a stay-at-home mom until her youngest, Diane, was in middle school. This role was assumed by choice, she said. However, she was constantly pressured to find a job outside the home by both my Father and my grandparents.
Being a full time stay-at-home mom was regarded by the rest of my family as being lazy, even though she consumed herself with volunteer work such as Cub Scouts, PTA, and Girl Scouts. My mother is now working full-time as a director of a Nursery School / Kindergarten. In addition she is a rather submissive housewife who waits after my dad hand and foot. Both work outside the home around the same amount of hours but my father regards her career as just a ?job? since she is not the primary breadwinner of the house. My father however was responsible for discipline in our family much like all the fathers in our family were. He was usually authoritative. We regarded my Father as very stoic and we feared him. Punishments however were never physical and usually consisted of manual labor around the yard. My Father assumes no domestic roles in the household and would be helpless should my mother decide to leave. Such a model for marriage is akin to the duty role of the Victorian age.
Divorce is uncommon amongst my family. I was only able to find one member on each side of my family that had divorced. Divorce is looked down upon strongly in my family, and it is usually seen as the woman?s fault if a marriage ends. Gossip about Divorce amongst friends and relatives continues to flourish and divorced women are continuously regarded as inadequate.
However in my generation, our attitudes are changing. Women such as my cousins and my sister are encouraged to achieve higher education and obtain careers before marriage. This encouragement is primarily attained through my parents and Aunts and Uncles. My grandparents still expect my sister and all of my female cousins to find and marry a ?nice Greek man? and rear his children. My grandfather was almost shocked when he learned of my sister?s plans to attend the University of Florida to obtain a degree like my mother. I as well as the rest of the males in my family am encouraged to achieve a high level of education and have a successful career. Once those are attained, it is expected by my grandparents that we find a Greek woman with whom we can start a family.
Jennifer Aniston, star of the hit NBC sitcom Friends and also a Greek-American, offered humorous insight into Greek family life in a September 1996 edition of FHM magazine:
?Okay. Well, I think Greek men are… behind the times. Women are still second-class citizens, pregnant in the kitchen while the men sit around drinking ouzo and smoking cigarettes after dinner instead of helping with anything. And Greek men are well known for being philanderers. My dad is a Greek man and I love him with all my heart, but… Greek men are all about big moustaches, lots of ouzo and dancing with women who aren’t necessarily their wives. And also their moms tell them they’re perfect so they think they can do no wrong. And there’s nothing worse than a man who thinks he can do no wrong. Let’s get real. ?
Basically this quote can sum up the men and women of my family. I read this to my Mother and Grandmother and they laughed hysterically. Even though my family may seem backwards and archaic to most Americans, I still embrace our cultural traditions and hope that they will continue on to future generations. However, sometimes I wish my family would just ?get real.?