Moving Truths: Mariah Papadopoulos

The Moving Truths series showcases pieces of writing by Faculty of Arts students on the topic of Global Migration.

In 2019, the Faculty of Arts ran a writing competition related to ‘Hard Truths’, an exhibition of prize-winning photography from The New York Times. Students wrote creative and journalistic pieces responding to the following questions: 'What has your life experience and the experience of those around you taught you about global migration? What needs to change?' Moving Truths, a new online series, showcases student entries from the competition, alongside profiles of each student author. Explore Moving Truths to learn more about our global community and discover the powerful stories our students have to tell.

Master of Journalism student Mariah Papadopoulos submitted a piece called "Migration and Memory" in which she explores the larger story of her grandfather's migration from Greece. Get to know a bit more about Mariah, below, and scroll down to read her competition entry.

Five Quick Questions with Mariah

Student author Mariah Papadopoulos is pictured

Where would you like to travel? "I'd love to travel to Spain as I'm currently learning Spanish. It would be great to explore ares of Italy off the mainland, so Sardinia and Sicily are also on the list. And my family are from Greece so I am always keen to visit there."

Of the places you've lived, which is your favourite? "I've only ever lived in Melbourne. If I had to live abroad, it would probably be somewhere in Europe. For now though, Melbourne is home."

Who or what inspires you? "Books about travel and photographs of destinations around the world are great sources of inspiration for me. Delving into different cultures allows me to get inspired by imagining how life might be different in other societies."

What are you studying or working on right now? "I'm currently undertaking my masters in Journalism, working on some interesting audio and podcasting work, as well as some print pieces for a publishing subject. Learning languages is something I really enjoy doing so I've also started studying Spanish."

How are you coping during the COVID-19 lockdown? "I'm coping with the lockdown by laying low and trying to stay positive during this time at home. Between studying, spending time with my family, keeping in touch with friends and allowing time for reading and painting, I've got plenty to do, which is great!"

Thanks Mariah!

"Migration and Memory" by Mariah Papadopoulos

My brother and I were ten and twelve when my grandfather was diagnosed with dementia. He was one of my four grandparents, all of whom migrated to Australia from Greece during the 1950s. Their stories match those of so many others in Melbourne and around Australia. For some, more familiar still may be my family’s experience of dealing with the onset of my grandfather’s disease, and the decade-long struggle that followed.

My childhood was punctuated by time spent with my grandparents. Before his diagnosis, my paternal grandfather would pick us up from primary school with the Greek radio playing in the car. When we spent weekends at my grandparents’ house, he would walk with us to the corner milk bar and buy us tiny toy cars. Later, we’d wake him from his afternoon nap by squealing excitedly that Popeye was about to start. On religious holidays, he stood outside with our father and uncles looking after the spit roast, beckoning us over to try a piece of the slowly roasting meat. These memories are his life at its most idyllic. They are the latter parts of the story that began when he left Greece in search of a better life, and found it in Australia. They are the memories my brother and I cherish. But they are not the whole story.

As a child, I was not equipped to understand the emotional hardship that came from leaving Greece. My grandparents left behind their family, without knowing when they would meet again - an overwhelming heartache in itself. They also left behind a homeland, a shared consciousness. A community with which they could share both daily rituals and ancient culture. Australia provided a home for them, and they brought their traditions and customs.

But controversially, the feeling remains, even generations later, that the transplant of our ancestors’ culture here is nothing like the original. That feeling of loss persisted in a community which set migrants apart from Anglo-Saxon Australians. In many ways, it still does.

My grandfather was himself descended from migrants. His own grandparents were from Pontus, a region in Asia Minor which was home to an ethnically Greek community. They were displaced from their home, Trebizond, because of a forced population exchange. Muslims in Greece were told to pack up their belongings. They travelled east, to Turkey. The Pontians were expelled suddenly, and without mercy.

By the time my brother and I were old enough to begin looking into Pontian history, my grandfather’s memory was already fraying. He never spoke to my brother and I about what his ancestors suffered when they were forced to leave the region. For some time before the official population exchange, death marches, sexual violence and ethnic cleansing were inflicted on the Pontic Greeks. Their homes were looted and burned, and they were herded in their thousands into the Turkish interior to die. Those who survived fled to mainland Greece, Syria and America, among other places. Their descendants now make up the Pontian diaspora.

This is the cultural landscape from which my grandfather’s story emerges. Migration was in his past and his future. Kastoria in northern Greece, where he grew up, remains the home of many Pontian families. My brother and I were familiar with Pontian culture through my grandfather, but I did not piece together his story until I was much older, after his death.

My grandfather carried with him the generational trauma of his own grandparents’ experience of migration. His experiences dealing with intolerance when he arrived in Australia compounded this, as is the case for many migrants today.

Now, globalisation means that the displacement of populations is recurrent. To better understand these dynamics, we need to amplify the voices of those who have already engaged in the complex experience of migration. Much of my grandfather’s history was lost to us when his memory began to disintegrate from dementia. My brother and I will never hear his story in his own words. But there are so many who are still in the midst of similar plights. Understanding their hardships presents us with the opportunity to right the wrongs of those before us.

Migrant stories teach us history, but also empathy. Paying heed to migrants’ experiences is part of our responsibility to educate ourselves, and to monitor our leaders’ decisions. Above all, however, it may help us ease the burden of those who will inevitably find themselves migrating in the future.