Growing up as a Greek Australian in Melbourne is not an unusual thing. Growing up as a child with one Greek parent and one British, well, that seems to puzzle many people!

The English genes, from my father’s side, within my make-up have attributed to my fair skin and light hair, which has evoked the comment “but you don’t look Greek” more times than I can remember.

Being a child from a mixed marriage, I do not think that there is any acceptable excuse for the newer generations to shy away from their heritage.

I have spent time with Greeks who are fully immersed and involved with their culture, as well as those who only have their surname to prove they belong to the Greek community.

Zoe with her younger brother Michael on the island of Ithaca.

Zoe with her younger brother Michael on the island of Ithaca.

It honestly hurts me to see this beautiful and interesting culture fade in our Western society.

Being a third generation Greek, I have only ever seen this lack of youth in our community. For some families, maintaining their Greek culture proves to be an impassable hurdle, and has left many families slowly losing touch with their heritage. Attending church, even at Christmas and Easter, has become a rare occurrence for the younger generations.

As a member of the Ithacan Philanthropic Society, I regularly attended Greek dancing classes with my brother, Michael, since we were very young.

Much to our dismay, none of the other children were interested, and so it was just my brother and I performing in front of the crowd of children at the Christmas celebration for years on end.

Despite Greece’s recent economic and political struggles, I do love the country immensely. I love the food, the lifestyle, the religion, the night life and even the cats … I’m not ashamed that I cry when I leave Greece after a lovely holiday, or that I feel homesick for months after my return.

There is so much more to Greece than taverns and ‘Zorba’, just as pizzas do not encompass the entire Italian culture. I want the full Greek culture to be respected and celebrated in our Australian society, not just the stereotypical things.

Maybe the younger generation needs to understand that Greece is not just the place yiayia and pappou came from, or a place for holidays.

That it is incumbent upon Greek- speaking parents to ensure their children don’t lose the language, that it is our responsibility to not lose touch with where we came from.

Recently it was revealed that the number of students formally learning the Greek language in Victoria has also readily diminished; fewer than 300 students completed VCE Modern Greek in 2015, while 3,080 students completed VCE Chinese.

Thanks to my parents, John and Georgina, I have not and will not lose this connection I have with Greece and its culture.

But what will happen to the next generation, when my peers become parents and don’t speak Greek, don’t attend church and don’t dance?

What chance do their children have of ever feeling that part of them is Greek?

* Zoe Stokes-Paizis completed her work experience at Neos Kosmos this week.

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