Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

“Roots are not in a landscape or a country or a people, they are inside you.” Isabel Allende

It came this week. As did the tears the moment I saw the foreign writing. I took a breath, tried to control my emotions. Where had all this sentiment come from? I couldn’t articulate it. I have had difficulty at the best of times explaining to others why I have wanted what had just arrived. It’s a feeling. One of wanting to belong.

The faux-leather cardboard was cool in my hand. I stroked it, afraid to glance inside. Was this really mine? Had it finally come? It had been months, and if I think about it, likely years.

Others had tried to help, became frustrated, but would not give up either. They found the links that needed to be found (ancient birth certificates, old marriage certificates registered not just in one country, but in three). When told they still didn’t have the right paperwork, they battled the bureaucracy, wrote letters, appeared in front of officials to make my case. After all their efforts, here it was.

I opened the flap, stared into the face. It motionlessly gawked at me.

Hair tucked back behind the ears and off the forehead as was mandated, no smile. The person was barely recognizable to me. And yet, the alien letters spelled out a name. My name.

Above the picture, the words were in English. Passport. And at the top of the page, Hellas. Greece.

Yes, this was my passport. My Greek passport.

In the one plus year that it has taken to secure my Greek citizenship, and now my Greek passport, I’ve been asked many times why I wanted this. Why go through all this trouble for a piece of paper? I’m not exactly sure anymore.

I’m stubborn. So when roadblocks are put in my way and believe me there were plenty, I double my efforts. They won’t best me, I tell myself, and then pitch forward.

But my mulishness played a very small role in this effort.

The truth is, I’ve pined for my roots my whole life, felt as though I belonged somewhere else. I missed my extended family, wanted to know more about them, understand my culture and its role in who I’ve become.

And yet I know I didn’t have to go through all this trouble and expense to know who I am and where I came from. As Allende says, “roots are inside you.” I get that. Still.

I’ve argued that having this documentation would allow me to travel home (or at least what I’ve always considered to be home) as often as I want. I could now stay as long as I wanted. And yet, inside of me I wonder how often will I truly do this. Besides, how am I going to communicate in my bad Greek at passport control? They will see my passport and speak to me in Greek. When I open my mouth, they’ll know I’m no better than a wannabe.

And maybe that’s true. I don’t know. And frankly at this point, I don’t care.

I have my Greek citizenship and passport. Right now, that’s all that matters.

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