“All these opportunities it can take other people a lifetime to achieve and there they were, for reach in the first few years in our marriage in America.”
My name is Maria Nicholas. I am originally from Greece I came to Baltimore many years ago, actually in 73. Now I have lived longer in America then in Greece actually however we were able to visit the mother country very frequently so we have part of both worlds. I came here when I was in my early twenties. I had just turned twenty and I came because my husband and I were married he lived in Baltimore people come to America for one reason, only for better opportunities. I came to America I did not speak a single word of English so I decided with the encouragement of my husband to go to college so I went to Towson university and after I finished that I went to the university of Baltimore for my masters. These opportunities are not there in other countries. Things were made easier for us if we work hard enough, so I found myself a young lady in my early twenties, we were buying a house ,we had a car, we had a baby and I was going to college. All these opportunities it can take other people a lifetime to achieve and there they were, for reach in the first few years in our marriage in America. That was very nice, hard work but still people could control some of their lives. They could sit down and make plans about what to do next comparing to being in different places where you might not even have that opportunity later on.
I was fortunate enough to meet with people who were educated and leaders actually so Baltimore, I saw Baltimore actually through my friend Elaina’s eyes. She’s a folklorist and we worked together on a project about my village so she showed me the city of Baltimore in a way only folklorists could share and later on I was able to share that with visitors from different countries from my country in Greece I had given tours for the Smithsonian so I share my neighborhood. You know here in this neighborhood people have a charge which is an umbrella organization and under that there are many other clubs such as young people Greek schools, clubs from different islands so there is the sense of community and belonging within the neighborhood.
What was amazing was that in earlier years in the maybe the 50’s or so and even earlier than that, much earlier than that people would hide their identity. The children would go to school and try to find someone within their own community or family who spoke the language well so they can pretend that they were natives and not show that their parents were foreigners. Because at the time it was not very welcome you know so people did not want to share that information. Starting I think in the eighties people started to feel differently. In schools they started organizing events such as national day where they would invite different groups if the school had children from Greece for instance they would say it’s going to be the 25th of march that’s your national holiday, you can bring in food you can bring in flag and costumes you know do whatever you want to give that flavor, share with us your culture your tradition your histories. the children started feeling comfortable admitting that they were from a different group of people and sharing that information so that definitely was an improvement.
Every holiday such as the Easter holiday we try to keep up with the religious traditions as well as traditions for the homes so people gather in the church and they hold a Greek and we go to church and we do the different things to I guess try to relive what the life of Christ and the end of his life was all about so we have the epitaph which is the tomb of Christ that we decorate with flowers so the woman go there and get it ready and then there is the service and in the evening the priest with all the congregation and walks around the square of the church. People are holding lighten candles, they go around come back and then they knelt the epitaph and everyone gets the flower form that and they keep it for good luck throughout the year. And at midnight there is another service where we celebrate the resurrection of Christ and some people use fireworks for celebratory mood and share red eggs which they break and then everyone goes to their home and the next day there are usually big gatherings where families usually get together and celebrate in different ways.
Coming to America we bring our own traditions so you can see people on the island cook their lamb differently from the people on the mainland people in the mainland cook it with a spit, people on the island cook it in the oven. So depending on where you are fortunate enough to be a guest you will taste different recipes and flavors. We always had people who were aware of our culture and music and will like to come and attend. For the most part you ask for the inner community but many times if someone had interest for instance my friend and folklorist Elaine Eff took interest in the Olympian community will come and visit and actually record some of the happenings and she was the one who came up with the idea to do the exhibit which I mentioned earlier took place in the Baltimore museum of arts so we had distinguished people that come for one or other reason that come to document and take part in some way in the celebration there were people who were fascinated by our cultures and our traditions. I don’t know how but traditions change. Children become more comfortable with being Americans because now they are second and third generation and in order to keep up with traditions. My son for instance would go to Greece every single summer, he had the flame within him, but if you grew up here not everyone likes that.
Like I said I have been out of circulation. I’m not really sure but maybe I’m living something out I don’t know about. In my particular case coming from Karpathos in every holiday that we had we would gather in a club we actually owned our clubs owns the house here on Eastern Avenue and they would have gatherings where they play the instruments and they would sing and dance and reminisce about the old times during the time it was a good time for us because my children were young and later on my son was playing all the instruments so it was just a joy for us to be a part of those celebrations.