Love It, Or Hate It, You Can’t Change It
“My family is big and loud but they’re my family. We fight and we laugh and, yes, we roast lamb on a spit in the front yard. And wherever I go, what ever I do, they will always be there.”
— Toula Portokalos, from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding
It should instill a great sense of pride in you. However, some feel a sense of embarrassment about it and shy away from it. Others embrace it with open arms, and want the whole world to see it and acknowledge it. It’s a way of life found in food, clothes, religion, customs, holidays; all these elements make it what it is. Heritage is like Kool-Aid; there are many different varieties, and each kind has its own unique flavor.
“What are you?” was a question I was constantly asked as a young child. I was always reluctant to answer this tedious question because I knew the answer, but was embarrassed to say it. I wished as hard as I could that I could change the answer to what I wanted to believe. “American!” was what I usually responded to my impatient and embarrassed grandparents. With this answer always came a lecture from my proud grandparents: “Be happy to be Romanian and never answer this question with American because you’re not
American!” This question never has stopped being asked, even now, but my answer is different now.
I was ashamed of my answer to that old question. It caused a tide of red-hot shame and frustration to come over me because it did something that frightens people; it made me different. The key factor that led to my frustration was the fact that I’m Orthodox, unlike all of my other friends who were Catholic. Around second or third grade, all of my “normal” Catholic friends made their Holy Communion, I not only didn’t make mine, but I had no idea what a communion was. My religion also created other differences. The Orthodox and Catholic calendars are different, and so Easter for me always fell on a different day than the “American Easter”. I wished that I could be like everyone else and make my communion and have my Good Friday off from school. This all contributed to my feeling of being completely alienated from every one of my friends. As Toula Portokalos lamented, “When I was growing up, I knew I was different. The other girls were blonde and delicate, and I was a swarthy six-year-old with sideburns.” Greek Wedding).
Sometime in the sixth grade I remember a hurtful comment a teacher made to me, “That is so weird…” she said. After I told her about how we roast pigs on spits and have parties. At that life changing moment, I thought to my self: My whole life I was trying to be the same as everyone else, but no one ever said that one of my
customs was weird. Why should I be ashamed of them if people are so small as to call what my family does weird?
My family has always and will always embarrass me, either with their ethnic music in the car, or when my grandparents talk to me in Romanian in front of my friends. But now I realize that these small traits make my family different; difference is a good thing. If everyone did things the same way, the world would possess no spice or diversity. How boring a place would the world be if there weren’t different cultures? Half of the holidays in America wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the fact that it’s a melting pot of cultures. It’s sometimes necessary to become “Americanized”, but if no one preserves their culture, we would be robbed of the beauty of diversity.
Just as Toula felt about her family, I felt about mine. But what other family and culture do I know? Now, when I’m asked that old question from time to time I cant help but feel a sense of pride as I declaratively answer “Romanian!” I know that I’m doing what I can to try and preserve my culture and hopefully I can proudly pass it on to the next generation, as my family has done with me.
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