I was, I am, I shall be

Last July 4 was the happiest day of my 23-year-long life.
That’s when Greece captured the Euro Cup title (that’s soccer, ladies and gentleman) with a win over Portugal—giving the team of blue-and-white the distinction of being the most unlikely of squads to have ever won an international tournament.
“Impossible Is Nothing” is what Adidas appropriately attached to posters for Greece’s win (one such poster hangs in my kitchen).
But not another soccer column, you beg. Not more dribble on a sport that isn’t hockey or fishing. But read on and you’ll see this column won’t just deal with the greatest sport in the world, but also touch on the lack of Canadian pride in this country and how it pales in comparison to the pride felt by people in foreign lands.
But let’s go back.
Go back to the Luz Stadium (the Stadium of Light) in Lisbon, Portugal. Go back to the column I wrote after Greece’s win headlined “I am . . .” Go back to July 4 where a team of nobodies with six-syllabled last names shocked the soccer world:
I am a member of the Greek soccer team. . . .
I was there, waiting to receive the victor’s medal as I stood in line behind my teammates. I was there to lift the Euro Cup trophy over my head and give it a gentle kiss like a father does to his newborn child.
I was there, with tears streaming from my eyes and pride oozing from my over-inflated heart as I ran to the corner of the stadium—where the Greek fans were—to give them a final bow.
My friends, I was there.
But I also was “there” a couple of weeks ago where Greece not only went winless in three games in the Confederation’s Cup in Germany, but scoreless, too.
Sure, teams have gone winless at this tournament before, but never has a team not been able to score a goal. Brazil 3—Greece 0, Japan 1—Greece 0, and Mexico 0—Greece 0.
All we wanted was one measly goal. We needed that goal. And when that goal didn’t come, the Greek media started to pounce on fourth-year head coach Otto Rehhagel like a fat kid on a Smartie.
“Rehhagel is out of control—he has shown his dark side,” screamed the Greek national newspaper Ta Nea. “He is not an untouchable pope,” reasoned Apogevmatini while Eleftherotypia offered a dire forecast for Rehhagel’s prospects if Greece’s already shaky qualification bid for next summer’s World Cup derails in autumn.
“We are back to the precarious times before Rehhagel,” ran its editorial, continuing: “If he doesn’t get a result in the qualifying match against Kazakhstan, he will face some dramatic consequences.”
But that was the same paper that wrote: “An absolute miracle. Can you believe it? Read our lips, drenched in champagne and sweet Greek wine: Greece was champions of Europe! They abolished the rules of football, sport, society, gravity, and logic.”
“Olympus has new Greek gods. Now tear down the walls to welcome the heroes home,” proclaimed Sportime after last year’s Euro Cup triumph.
But things now don’t look good for the land of souvlaki and Opa! chants.
Greece currently is third in its World Cup qualifying group with Ukraine and Turkey ahead of them, and essentially will need to win their last three games to have a shot at moving on to the World Cup—and try to do there what they did in Portugal.
I was there, at the Omonia Square in Athens, laughing as I ran down the street with a Greek flag serving as my only layer of clothing, jumping into a fountain, and watching the Acropolis and Parthenon light up as they were draped by the bright glow from fireworks.
My friends, I was there.
That day a year ago helped remind me what I am.
It reminded me of my priority of keeping my culture alive. It helped me understand why my parents enrolled me in Greek school, why I went to a Greek church, and why, even when we could have gone elsewhere, we always went to Greece for vacation.
But that day also sparked a question I’ve been asked and have pondered for quite some time—am I Greek, or am I Canadian?
It took only a day before I draped the back seat of my car with the Greek flag—a flag that I ran down Scott Street with after last year’s final whistle. But would I have done the same if Canada were to have won the World Cup?
So let’s get away from soccer and touch on a subject I’ve discussed, argued, and debated about with friends, family members, and dads of girlfriends.
Mrs. Breland, who was my Grade 10 Social Studies teacher, taught me that Canada was a “cultural mosaic,” where people of different nationalities were able to intertwine and co-exist, while our neighbour to the south was a “melting pot,” where they were assimilated into a certain way of thinking (think the “Borg” of Star Trek).
But even before that lesson, I always had embraced my Greek culture. I started Greek dancing at a very young age, wore the country’s traditional army uniform (essentially, it’s a skirt) to school every March 25, which is our Independence Day, and did my best to speak the language at home.
We Greeks are a very passionate people, and so it boggled my mind the scene I saw on Friday for the Canada Day parade held here (or lack of parade).
Canadian flags were sparse. Smiles were lacklustre. And celebrating a country that has been heralded as the “best in the world” by the United Nations for many years was menial.
Now, I’ve never been to Greece to celebrate its Independence Day, but I guarantee you they do it with more pathos than this country could ever see. They, and I’m talking about Europeans in general, do everything with passion.
They may be loud. They may be crude. But God, do they know how to enjoy life. “You Canadians live to work while we work to live,” my uncle said the last time I went to the land where democracy, philosophy, and mathematics were born.
And he’s right.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Canada and I’m not saying that you don’t, but we’re sure pretty bad at showing it. And I think I’ve found a reason for that.
Maybe it’s because of that “cultural mosaic” mentality where people understand they are only starting to plant their roots here (and realize their family tree started elsewhere). Why many have trouble showing a full-blown appreciation for this country because their admiration is cut between two countries or more.
I love the opportunity Canada has provided for me and my family, and for that, I will always be thankful to this great land. But like most who came over from other lands for a chance at a better life, my parents can’t wait to get back to their true home.
Many people are like that. They come over, work hard, and make a good life for themselves and their family, but hope to return to where it all started. Thus, Canada is essentially a means to many people’s ends.
Yes, I was born in Canada, but my aorta is in Greece—and it will always be that way.
So what am I—Greek or Canadian? How about we just stick to Greek-Canadian, so that way Canada Customs doesn’t give me a harder time than I expect they will already give me.
My friends, I was there. I have always been there. Since I was born and until I die, I will be there.

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