This is the fifth and final installment in a series of “Athenian Stories” from Gazmend Kapllani as a complement to our Greek issue this month. In these short dispatches, Kapllani documents the experience of immigrants living in Athens, one of the most diverse cities in southern Europe. Links are available at the bottom of the page to Kapllani's other Athenian stories featured this month. —Editors
My name is Katerina. I was born in Athens, at the Alexandra Birth Clinic. In 1988. At that time my parents were living in America Square. My father came to Greece from Ghana when he was seven. I don't know how he came. I know he lived here with his family. Later on he met my mother, who had come to Greece from Kenya. They got married and had me. When I was five my parents divorced. My father emigrated again to Sweden. Now he's a Swedish citizen. My mother and I stayed here.
I have really nice memories of preschool. I had a great time with the other little kids. Then came elementary school. In the beginning the other kids wouldn't touch me, because they were afraid of turning black; they were always asking me if the color of my skin came off. I would go home and bombard my mother with questions: “Mom, why am I black while everyone else is white?” She would tell me that people are like flowers, they come in all different colors. She told me that in Africa precisely the opposite thing happens: in Africa most people are black and only a few are white. She told me that the same blood flows in everyone's veins. Bit by bit the other kids started to get used to me. But when we fought they would call me names. I should say, though, that I had wonderful teachers. Then in middle school the racist stuff didn't happen as much. And in high school the only kids who bothered me were the ones from Albania and Russia. I know all the bad names for black people in Albanian and Russian.
In middle school, my girlfriends and I were inseparable. We were all the kids of immigrants. One of them was Maria, whose parents were from Albania. Every time we would go over to her house, she would argue with her mother. None of us ever knew why, because they were speaking in Albanian. One day things got really ugly. I see Maria turning bright red with rage. At one point she shouts at her mother: “Shut up, you stupid Albanian, shut up!” We were stunned. Afterward I learned that the fight was about me. Her mother didn't want black people in her house. And it wasn't just that. We often ate at Maria's house, and afterward her mother would take my water glass and the plate I had eaten off of and throw them in the trash. I was really shocked when I found that out.
I think everyone has some degree of racism inside. The more insecure we are, the worse the racism gets. Racism is ignorance, fear, envy. And self-interest. When you've got someone beneath you and you won't let him raise his head. Life has taught me that whoever has to deal with racism gets messed up, gets filled with hatred for others. That's the bad thing about racism, it sticks to its victim, too. I was lucky because I had a mother who would talk with me for hours about these things. She didn't give the hang-ups and hatred a chance to put down roots.
But the worst kind of racism is the kind that wears the face of the law. That's what I want to talk about now. Everything started a few months ago, when I turned eighteen. Until then I was a dependent. But after my birthday I had to go and get a residence permit. They asked me for a passport from Kenya, since I had kept my father's last name. I had been so naïve as to believe that when the children of immigrants who were born in this country turn eighteen, they become Greek citizens. I consider myself Greek, as much as a child of Greek parents is considered Greek. When the others heard that they practically burst out laughing. That's how I learned that, even though we were born here, we're still considered foreigners. That's why they don't even include us in the municipal rolls. We were born here and the state treats us as if we just came yesterday! I remember a clerk who told me: “Do you understand Greek, girl? We need a passport from your home country.” And I answered her: “Ma'am, I speak Greek better than you do. Greece is my home country, not Africa, so I guess that means you owe me a passport!”
There isn't even a Kenyan embassy in Athens. I've never been to Kenya. Now I have to go there with my father. But I don't know if they'll give me a passport, because they only give them to people who are born there. Besides, in order to get a Kenyan passport I first have to have Greek identification papers. And if I go to Kenya I can't come back to Greece, because I don't have any papers. Right now I'm illegal. They can deport me, I'm at the mercy of every police officer I see on the street. But where would they deport me to? I have no other country than Greece. I have to carry my birth certificate with me to show that I was born at the Alexandra Birth Clinic, in Athens, in the summer of 1988. I feel like an actor in some comi-tragedy, and I don't know how it's going to end.
In Sweden, my father has been driven crazy by the situation. He wants to bring me there but I can't travel. I don't have any papers. My boyfriend Argyris and I thought about getting married, at the very least so that I could get papers, but we can't. I'm illegal. I can't register for a tax identification number, I can't take entrance exams for the university. I can't go to college. Because I don't have papers. And I was born at the Alexandra Birth Clinic, in Athens, in the summer of 1988.
I feel humiliated. I feel like someone has destroyed my dreams, my personality, my future. I feel like I've been pushed to a permanent margin. Isn't it inhuman, that we kids who were born here should be made to feel like outcasts with no country to call their own? Why do you think it's happening? Can anyone answer me?
The accounts in this series were originally featured, in Greek, in Ta Nea and the Athens Voice and on Gazmend Kapllani's blog at http://gazikapllani.blogspot.com/
Links to other posts in this series:
An Athenian Story from…Nigeria
An Athenian Story from…Afghanistan