I identify as a white, cis-gendered woman currently occupying Haudenosaunee land. With this, I must acknowledge the influence and privilege that this has on my and my family’s experiences. 

My Grandfather (right) doing one of his favourite things: greek dancing.

What is your plan? Your dream? These are questions asked more often than not. There are thousands of variations to the same ends. Reflexive and fluid, finding permanence in an ever-shifting world seems to be a far-off conception, some unattainable dream. I find myself returning to this thought often when around my grandparents. Immigrants who drew up their own vision of identity and meaning independent from what is traditionally known. Where is home when you are physically separated from the place in which you were born and grew? Your youth’s structures remain as you travel across the world with only memories storing all you have known. 

My Great-Grandmother Katina and Grandmother making dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) together.

The date was August 1st, 1969. Nicoletta and Yianni Papazahariou arrive with their one-year-old daughter, Katerina, and the moment their feet grace Canadian soil, these identities seize to be. They are now Nicole, John, and Catherine Papazahrious. Leaving behind their native language to start anew. A family arriving with all but one another. Souls bursting with dreams of the future grounded in abandoning the fear that may have held them back in Greece. They left family, jobs, youth, the safety net of their own language. All were hoping that this leap of faith would land them a greater future for their child, for me. 

The stories of immigrants are some of the greatest ever told I have learned. There is never a dull day hearing of the journeys that somehow resulted in my being here. From my Grandpa literally jumping ship on his way to becoming a priest (yes, this did happen) to my Grandma once telling a service worker that “Your husband isn’t home” to his surprise, stories of joy have connected us deeply. My youth comprised of these – an effortless compilation of love, grit, and the struggle of making it. There wasn’t a moment untouched by the power of lived experiences. 

May 25th, 1964 – My Grandparents wedding day in Athens, Greece.

It wasn’t all rosy. My family didn’t come with an education or knowledge of the language to support them. The struggle to make it in a world that was simply not designed for them was evident. There were sleepless nights and breakdowns on street corners. There were broken promises and lost relationships. Sacrifice is as much a part of their story as hope. 

My mother would be told by her teachers that she must have learning disabilities simply because English was not their first language. She would go on to be accepted into the gifted program and skip a grade just a few years later. My Grandmother began a small business doing manicures, pedicures, and a slew of other services, only to be employed by some of the city’s largest names. My Grandfather would begin as a taxi-driver and become a well-known chef featured in local papers. 

My grandparents (right) with a friend.

They took a thought – to move across the world – and made a life out of it.

To say I am grateful for the opportunity to live the life I was granted is an absolute understatement. I have bore witness to strength that seems to be fit for fictitious characterizations of the human experience. The power of a dream has been the fuel of my ancestral lineage for centuries. It all complies into the life I lead today. 

There is this unspoken conception of the lives of immigrants to Canada. The “immigrant’s dream” per say. The notion that immigrants come to Canada for not only a better life but for greater success. It is all in pursuit of this stability and innovation promised in this new world. Those born from these individuals are to take the opportunity they are given and make an impact, to create change. 

From left to right: My Grandmother, Mother, Grandfather, Great-Aunt Lia, and her daughter Sandra in 1969 when they first immigrated.

It would be a lie to say I do not feel the pressure of this weighing upon me. To know that my being is the result of a desire for an unknown future being to garner greater opportunity does not come free from challenge. Here I am, nineteen years old and completely and utterly lost in my future. I am meant to be destined for greatness. That is what the immigrant’s dream dictates, yet I struggle to picture myself ever truly reaching any conception of “greatness.” 

My time has been consumed with this question of purpose. How could it not? It has always lingered in my mind – the notion that they came here for me to do great things, but this too is subjective. The image I hold is that of great fame or success, and being completely candid, that is just not me. I run from attention rather than crave it. Any conception of greatness linked to attention in any form is one that I am glad to forget. 

Perhaps the answer lies outside the realm of practicality. The easy to grasp norms that I have gravitated to. My Grandmother never made it past sixth grade, yet all who meet her are quick to comment on her brilliant wit. Conventions are not the key to the immigrant’s dream. 

December 22nd, 1971 – Christmas celebrations in their new home.

If I am to take all the stories, I have been told. With all the lessons provided in trips to church and afternoons in the garden, the truth becomes blazingly clear. This conception of a better life is to simply live as I have been taught to reach this greatness. Each of these stories is the product of living without regret; abandoning a world’s constraints limiting life to a strict script is the liberation promised by a better future. 

With time it will all fall into place. The realities of pursuing my own dreams will materialize, and I will determine my role in fostering a greater world, but I will do as my grandparents did for now. I will live my story without constraint and let go of any preconceived notions of the immigrant’s dream. The wish that my grandparents have for me is to experience the beauty that is existence, and that is exactly what I plan to do.






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