Manhasset professor writes, edits essay collection
Award-winning educator and author Dr. Vicky Giouroukakis’ latest book release, Growing Up in an Immigrant Household and Community: Essays by Descendants of Immigrants, captures actual life experiences of those growing up in an immigrant household and community in the United States by the very individuals who, in many instances, straddled two worlds in finding their identity in America.
A first-generation American of Greek immigrant parents, Vicky Giouroukakis teaches and writes with a commitment to and passion for diversity, cultural inclusion, and excellence in education. She is a university professor at Molloy University and School of Education and Human Services. She has been teaching for the past 25 years. After beginning her career as a New York City High School English teacher, she moved on to teach at Molloy and recently assumed a new position as director of graduate and postgraduate programs.
“Growing up the daughter of immigrant parents is like straddling two worlds, the world of my parents and the world in which I was born,” Giouroukakis said.
Her parents, both from different parts of Greece, came to the US in 1969 in search of a better life. Her mother, raised with two siblings by a single mom in occupied, post-WWII Greece, arrived with no understanding of English. Her father went to work immediately at a pizzeria in Astoria. They moved back to Greece for a time, and then returned to the United States, where he opened his own business. This collection is something of a tribute to them. As Giouroukakis tells it, “I grew up in Astoria, New York, and my parents are immigrants from Greece. They felt very blessed to be in this country for all the opportunities that it afforded them. I was on sabbatical this past year and worked on this book; it was my sabbatical project. I always wanted to write about the immigrant experience and was motivated to accomplish my goal after the passing of my mother. I wanted to find a way to honor her and her life. She came to this country with limited English language proficiency and few resources. She worked extremely hard and made sacrifices so her children could have a better life than she did. I wanted to find a way to celebrate her and my dad, who was also hardworking. I wanted to find a way to honor my parents, and people like my parents, immigrants who came to this country and enriched this country.“
Written as first-person essays, the collection was solicited by editor-author Giouroukakis through social media and other personal networking, with an overwhelmingly positive response.
“I started writing my own stories about my experiences growing up in this type of environment. And then I thought, wouldn’t it be great if other people contributed their stories? So I put out a call on social media for contributions in the fall of 2022, and I tagged some of my friends and colleagues. And people responded positively; 30 authors contributed essays to the book. These are authors from all walks of life, different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, different experiences, education levels, professions, and so on,” said Giouroukakis.
The connections she made proved to be enduring, with some of the essayists becoming good friends. Giouroukakis cited this as one of the side benefits of the project. “Some of (the contributors) I had never met prior to the book being published. Cindy Li, one of the essayists who contributed a piece (about growing up) Taiwanese, lives in California, and we still haven’t met, but we’ve been communicating via email. The beautiful thing with this book is that I was able to bring all these people together…I love bringing people together, connecting them. I think with this book, I formed a family with all this wonderful group of people.”
When asked for some of her favorite moments in the essays, Giouroukakis mentioned several. One is an essay by Aida Zilellian called ‘On Being Armenian.’ “She writes about being raised in an Armenian household. She felt like she had, in her words, ‘a hollow sense of identity.’ She felt invisible because a lot of her classmates hadn’t heard of Armenia or the Armenian genocide. Her parents wouldn’t let her experience a lot of ‘American joys’, like going trick or treating or doing sleepovers, because they wanted to protect her from marrying an American. And it was only after her parents divorced and remarried that she was able to break away from her community. She ended up marrying an American and eventually came to understand how important culture was to her.”
Food is also a common thread in many of the essays. Because culture is deeply connected to food, cuisine becomes a touchstone for people trying to bridge that divide. Giouroukakis spoke about a particular food-related story in the collection. “Cindy Li, who lives in California, wrote about how rice is the glue that brings a family together. You know, rice is sticky by nature and they use rice in Asian cultures to make so many different foods. In her essay, she begins with the time when she and her brother went to school and they brought food made of rice. It didn’t agree with her brother’s stomach and he puked. Then the kids were making fun not only of the food they brought to lunch, but also the fact that her brother had this incident. Later on, obviously, as she got older, she realized how important her culture is to her and her family.”
Despite their different backgrounds, all of the essays touch on a common human experience, identity, and the meaning of home. They show that no matter where or how you grew up, people have more similarities than differences. Giouroukakis states, “we’re all children of immigrants, so everyone can relate to this book. And despite the diversity of experiences we all have, if you read the essays, there are things that we have in common, like tradition, friendship, love, food, rituals, and family.”
Growing Up in an Immigrant Household and Community: Essays by Descendants of Immigrants is published by Kendall Hunt Publishing Company and available for purchase through Barnes & Noble and Amazon.