An immigration tale: Yiayia’s American dream

The author's grandmother, Stamatina, as a teenager c.1920, just after emigrating from Greece to the U.S.

The author’s grandmother, Stamatina, as a teenager c.1920, just after emigrating from Greece to the U.S.

Last week, in my piece on soccer, I wrote about several immigrant boys playing a pick up game on Portland’s Western Prom. They probably came from the neighborhood surrounding nearby Howard C. Reiche Community School.

Whenever walking my dogs that way, I wave and nod to families sitting out on their stoops in the cooler sunsets. They come from Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, and many other places, all looking for something more, something better than what they left behind.

To be sure, the immigration debate in this country is peaking once again, and sadly, there seems to be little compromise or resolution from either side of the aisle.

But for me, it’s a reminder of one immigrant’s tale close to my heart: that of my maternal grandmother Stamatina, or, as we called her, Yiayia.

This week, I told her story in my Portland Sun column, “Yiayia’s American dream.”

It remains somewhat amazing to me, that less than a century from when she landed on these shores to enter a marriage arranged back in her native village in Greece, every child and grandchild of hers is a college-educated American.

To be sure, Yiayia’s situation was far different than that of so many immigrants today – be they legal, illegal, documented, undocumented, or whatever else we are being told to call or not call them.

The labels, however, are nowhere near as important – or discouraging – as the inertia our government continues to show on this matter.

What do you think? What should be done, and is that the same as what can be done, or not? Yes, we are a nation of immigrants. We are also a nation of laws. Does one trump the other, or cancel each other out into inaction, all while the problem grows by the day?

Whenever I think of Yiayia today, I am grateful she had the chance to leave behind the poverty of her birth and give it a go in the New World in whatever way was acceptable and appropriate to her era.

She wanted to come here so badly, and do her best by her new country. And for all the other admitted motives for entering the U.S. – which are not to be dismissed or glossed over – I can’t find fault with anyone who truly holds Yiayia’s American dream in their heart.




Telly Halkias

About Telly Halkias

Award-winning freelance journalist from Portland's West End. Writes columns, features, and drama reviews for newspapers in Vermont, where he also owns a home, Massachusetts, New York and Maine.. Former weekend columnist at the now defunct Portland Sun. Longtime adjunct professor of college English/history/humanities. Has lived overseas for 15 years, and all over the U.S. Veteran. Small business owner. Published poet. ATCA drama critic. Loves all things outdoors, and Siberian huskies.