When you’re a minority, many folks are curious about your heritage, but they don’t quite know how to inquire. They don’t want to say anything that could be construed as offensive, so they skirt around, delicate as a doily.
And, of course, I’ll take the opportunity for some good-natured fun. Here’s how the conversation usually goes:
Where are you from?
Houston, but I spent most of my childhood in St. Louis, Mo.
Interesting. Where are your parents from?
Both were born in Houston.
How nice! What about your grandparents?
San Antonio and Arkansas.
Then, I throw another curveball.
My grandfather is fluent in Spanish.
By then, almost everyone caves.
What’s your heritage?
Oh, my heritage? I’m Chinese. Why didn’t you just ask?
Truth be told, real Chinese people are probably angry that technically, I rank among them. I’m as American as you could get. The only Chinese words I know are associated with ordering food. And the only cultural carryover in my family are the strange Chinese remedies my grandmother would try to give me as a child. There was that stinky brown liquid for bumps and bruises and, even worse, that nasty salty prune for sore throats.
I never wanted to be sick or injured at her house.
And if you had met me as a child living in Texas, you would have had a conversation with a little Chinese boy with a Texas accent.
So, truthfully, being Chinese isn’t exciting. And certainly, I’ve got nothing on the Greeks.
In my 11 years with the East County Observer, I have attended St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church’s annual Greek Glendi 11 times. It ranks as one of my favorite East County events of the year, and sitting down to interview Glendi organizers and volunteers is one of the best perks of the job.
You see, much like the Chinese, friendship and goodwill is most immediately shared through food. And it is downright rude to refuse anything. A few years ago, my wife and I had started a no-carb diet just a few weeks before the Glendi. When I visited St. Barbara that year, I told Glendi chair Denise Chimbos I couldn’t eat anything because of the diet. If there were a record playing, the needle would have been pulled off like in the movies. Everyone turned to stare.
Then, Chimbos took me into another room with a buffet and ordered me to fill my plate. Afraid, I complied.
Every year, the Glendi offers four days of authentic Greek culture and celebration. There’s the food, prepared by restaurateur and Executive Chef Popi Ameres. There’s the performances by the St. Barbara Hellenic Folk Dancers and the live bouzouki music. And then there’s plenty of booths at which patrons can buy Greek groceries to take the culture home with them when they leave.
But, none of that would mean anything without St. Barbara’s most important ingredient: love. Glendi organizers have prepared and produced 28 festivals out of the purist of intentions: Raise money for the church and share their culture with the community. It’s always warm and inviting; there’s nary a salty prune in sight.
Every year, my wife and I agree we were supposed to be Greek.
So, if you’re new to the area or maybe haven’t yet been to the Greek Glendi, make the trip this weekend. Perhaps you’ll see my family and me there digging into a plate of pastitsio or slice of spanakopita.
And although I can’t offer much in the way of Chinese culture, if you want to talk chicken fried steak or football, I’m your man.
IF YOU GO
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 9-11; noon to 8 p.m. Feb. 12
WHERE: St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, 7671 N. Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota
COST: $4 per adult; free for children under 12