Learning across ethnic lines from my Greek-American brother and Miss USA Rima Fakih
I was once walking down South University with a tall, dark and handsome friend who remarked what it must look like, what would people say, what if my family found out.
We were just walking, but after we parted ways on the corner of South University and Forest, I realized that danger was much closer than he realized. My Greek American brother Evan worked right there, two doors down. (Of course, I confessed instantly the next time I saw my Greek American brother Evan, who guessed the restaurant we had had lunch and then explained in brotherly fashion what my friend’s real intentions had been. “Really?”)
My children are one-eighth Greek, and when I first met Evan and his family, I had a lot of questions about Greek culture and language. I was also trying to decide whether to enroll the children in Greek School in addition to Chinese School. Evan told me stories about how empowering it was to learn Greek dance at Greek School, and I told him stories about what a bad student I was at Chinese School. We quickly realized that our experiences at Greek School and Chinese School were basically the same, just a different language. We started joking that we were family, and it was always a good feeling when Evan would defend me anytime he caught anyone giving me grief, “Hey, that’s my sister.”
When I inadvertently gave my son the same name as Evan’s father, “You named him after my dad?” the bond was complete.
The scheduling never worked out for Greek School, but the children and I felt proud to contribute our tiny little check to the construction of the beautiful new St. Nick’s. I tried to read the children Greek mythology, which I loved as a child, but it was often too bloody and full of warfare for my children. I taught the children what I could remember about Greek philosophy from my former life as a philosopher—arÃªte, akrasia. I learned about Greek and Greek-American history, and I took the children to Hellenic Week at the University of Michigan. The children take pride that Ypsilanti is named after a hero in the Greek War of Independence.
Every year, we go to the Ya’ssoo Greek Festival to watch my daughter’s classmate dance. There, I like to study the names of the sponsors hanging from the ceiling on big banners—solid old family businesses from all over town whose names I know, but who I had not known were of Greek descent.
Greeks were once considered as unassimilable as Chinese, Jews and Irish. As I learn about how other ethnic groups have come to America and made their way, I learn more about my own experience and possibility.
I was so excited when Arab-American Rima Fakih from Dearborn (and U of M grad) recently won the title of Miss USA, because it shows that there are other ways to be beautiful, that blond and blue eyed is no longer the only way that one can be considered beautiful. (I grew up under the shadow of Farrah Fawcett.) Still, I was taken aback by the eruption of right-wing accusations of terrorism, political correctness, and affirmative action. Do they really find raven-haired women so hideous that there is no other way that one could possibly win something so admittedly subjective as a beauty pageant? If this gorgeous young woman’s looks are so offensive to some, then what would they say about me and my looks and my successes in this (my) country?
The Ya’ssoo Greek Festival continues today.
Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is editor of IMDiversity.com Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for AnnArbor.com, and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at franceskaihwawang.com, her blog at franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.