Monday, April 19, 2010

Marching in the Greek Independence Day Parade in NYC

Culture and ethnicity play a large role in my every day life.  Somehow my Greek and Armenian heritage influences my cooking and food choices, how I think and what activities I do, the colors of my surroundings, and possibly the colors and subjects I chose to paint. 

Each of us has an inherited background that makes us who we are, no matter what country we, or our ancestors, hail from.  We all carry those genes with us.  To some people, nationality is just something in our past, but to many people it's life today.

Second and third generations of Greek, and Armenian, Americans are holding fast to their culture, jumping in it full body-they speak the language, they dance the traditional dances to the original music and instruments, revel in the newest music in the hotspots of today, eat and cook the foods, totally embracing the culture and living the life. 

We try as best we can to visit the country of our parents, grandparents, and our great-grandparents birth and immerse ourselves in that world.  It's cool to be us.  I'll tell you about the Greek side for now.  The Armenians have a whole other story that needs it's own space.

A proud part of the Greek heritage is attending or marching in the Greek Independence Day parade in cities where there are large concentrations of Greeks like New York, where if you want to do something Greek you can do it any day of the week!  The war for Greek independence began March 25, 1821 when the Greeks organized to revolt from the 400 years of occupation and oppression by the barbarous Ottoman Turks.  An influential Greek writer and intellectual, Rigas Feraios, wrote a poem about national pride with the often quoted line:
"Better one hour of free life, than forty years of slavery and prison"
It's a proud moment in Greek history and every year we celebrate with various gatherings and events.  This past Sunday was the largest parade in the US on New York's Fifth Avenue.  I've marched in this parade since I was a little kid attending Greek afternoon language school, a must for kids of Greek descent.  When my kids were small we marched, even had one of them in a stroller (maybe that was a no-no, but I did it anyway!)  Lately, as members of a dance group we get to march in different authentic costumes.  I love it! 

We march early in the parade in the first of three battalions of participants, from 64th Street to The Metropolitan Museum of Art at 79th Street.  Most of the Greek churches and schools participate, along with national societies from every region of Greece, university student's societies, youth and fraternal organizations.  The whole community comes out for this event and the past three years it has been televised.

The Grand Marshalls of this year's event was a popular NY TV newsman Ernie Anastos and United States Marine Corps Reserves Colonel Matthew Bogdanos. Many other New York dignitaries start off the parade  marching and later sit in the reviewing stands to watch. 

Politicians, our mayor, the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church, and other invited guests attend.  The highlight of the parade, for me anyway, are the Evzones who are the national guards of Greece.  They stand guard in Athens at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and they march with pride and flourish.  Each soldier stands over six feet tall and they're dressed in the traditional Evzone uniforms, carrying their rifles, it's just amazing to see them marching in file, coming down the avenue every year.

There were hundreds of people, but I did see some friends in the crowds while I was marching.  My kids were marching with a different group this year and I missed seeing them because we were stationed ahead of them, darn! 

Here I am in full costume with my sister, ready and waiting to go!  I'm wearing the bridal dress of the nomads of Greece, who were know as the Sarakatsani.  My sis is wearing a costume from the Peloponese peninsula.  Cool, right?

It was a sunny, but windy cold day on Sunday, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I can't wait to do it again!

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