Georgios Xiros

Transcript of Georgios Xiros
Interviewee: Georgios Xiros
Interviewers: John Sistanich, Jared Edmonds, Dorothy Nygren
Place: St. Gertrude Parish, 6412 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago, IL 60640
Date: April 13, 2015
Time: 29:21 minutes

Copyright © 2015 Edgewater Historical Society

JS: Today we have Georgios Xiros at St Gertrude’s on April 13, 2015, and he is from Greece. Is that correct?

GX: Yes.

JS: So could you tell us a little bit about your early years in Greece?

GX: Huh?

JS: Your early life in Greece?

GX: Well I was about 18 years [old] when I first came to this country. I graduate high school over there. What do you want to know everything? Like what? What is interesting?

JD: Basically we just want your story, so whatever the prompt means to you is what we want you to answer. That’s part of the deal. So early life, as in what do you remember about your country?

GX: I remember everything.

JS: So what are the things that stick out in your mind about your early life that you like in Greece?

JS: First I had been in school. I was good in school. In Greek school, I never went to an English school. That’s why my English not so good. When I came in this country I was busy working. Started work and I never went to school. So whatever English I learned just talking to people. My patriots and my family did not speak English. Worse than mine. Never learned English. They came from Greece. They started work. They never went to school. I learn English from them. So (laughs) Broken English, right?

So about me, I went to school. First school how you call it? Start when you are like six years old ‘til twelve. I was a student and the best. Then I went to high school - another six years. I was also good for another reason. When I first start high school it was 1/2 day. Six hours a day. Then the other half of the day I was going to work with a newspaper. A local newspaper. I come from a small city. It was good working for the newspaper. It was typesetting. I don’t know if you know what typesetting is ? The letter together one by one. I’m talking fifty years ago.

DN: How old were you at the time when you had this job?

GX: Twelve. From twelve to eighteen [years of age].

DN: What year were you born?

GX: ‘48

DN: So this would have been in 1960?

GX: Yes.

DN: You said you lived in a little city?

GX: Yes.

DN: What was the name of the city?


GX: Aigion.

JS: We gathered you were a good student.

GX: A good typesetter. I was good at writing. When I was fourteen I started writing. Not about politics but about sports, theaters, movies, stuff like that but after another two years when I was sixteen, I started writing about everything.

JS: Ok so you went to school until you were eighteen and then it sounds like after that you started to make your trip to the United States. Correct? So could you tell us a little bit about what made you come to the United States from Greece? How you got here? Who you came here with?

GX: Movies. I saw a lot of movies and I always wanted to come to this country and I mean it. Movies you know. ‘50s or ‘60s. The music was different. So I just got my mind. I am not going to college I want to go to the United States.

JS: So who did you come with? Who did you travel with? Did you travel with anyone or were you by yourself.

GX: By myself.

JS: Ok.

GX: On a boat.

DN: What year?

GX: 1965.

DN: Do you remember the name of the boat?

GX: Oriental Explorer.

DN: Did you leave from Piraeus or Athens or….?


GX: No I had to go to Europe. To Belgium to get the boat. So I travel from my city to north Europe. I’m eighteen years old

DN: That must have been quite an experience for you!

GX: It was.

DN: Could you tell us a little about it?

GX: Well I didn’t speak the language. Well I took some lessons English. But actually I never went to school. I paid money for my family for nothing. I went out with friends or girlfriends. So it was nothing. In high school I took some French lessons. We didn’t care. Not only me but my friends. I was taking everything else - for example philosophy, psychology, mathematics, but nothing language. But now I speak French because I used to live in France also for some time in my life.

JE: Were you in France before you came to the United States.?

GX: After I went back to Europe.

JS: Just a little bit more about your childhood? Your favorite memories? Brothers, sisters, family?

GX: How old?

JS: Your earliest memories.

DN: Do you have any brothers or sisters?

GX: Two sisters, one older, one younger.

DN: So you have the distinction of being the older brother for one and the younger brother for the other one. As the older brother you had to look after your sister, but as the younger brother, the other sister was telling you what to do.


GX: Exactly. The older one was my boss. She was my boss. For example now I’m sick. I have a terrible problem in my back. I need surgery. I don’t want to do it. Maybe I’m a coward. Then I don’t want to do no surgery. I live with pain.

DN: I’m sorry to hear that. Are your sisters with you? Are your sisters with you in Chicago?

GX: She used to be but she was smarter than me. She saved money. She went back and that’s it. She stayed there.

DN: So she went back to Greece?

GX: She went back.

DN: Is that your older sister?

GX: My older.

DN: And the younger one?

GX: My younger one - she’s still there. She owns property and a house. She never worked in her life. I was smart. I came in this country and look how I am now. Well I don’t blame nobody but myself. I don’t know if I tell you what kind of job I used to do. Not yet right? I was a cook. I worked in restaurants

JS: It’s a lot of work. Ok so let’s backtrack a bit. We got the part of your story about how you got to the United States but we didn’t quite finish it. So we talked a bit about the early life and about how you went from Greece to the northern part of Europe, Belgium, and then you got a boat to the United States right? The Orient Explorer? You went to Belgium to …


GX: Port New York

JS: New York?

GX: Port New York. It’s in New Jersey. It’s a small sea port in New Jersey.

JS: Could you tell me how you got to be from Port New York to this community- Edgewater?

GX: No it took me about forty-five years to get here. I’m only here ten years.

JS: Ok can we maybe go over it piece by piece. Step by step. Where did you go after Port New York and then can we just …

GX: I took the Greyhound bus. The other Greeks. My patriots. I hear there are a lot of Greeks that own restaurants and it’s easy to get a job. When I came to this country I didn’t have the mind to grab the purse of the old lady or cheat or steal. I know come here and have to work. That’s what I did.

JS: So what neighborhood did you originally move to?

GX: Skokie.

JS: Could you tell us a timeline of the neighborhoods you moved, piece by piece. You were Skokie for how long then you moved to …

GX: It’s going to be a long story. I went to Skokie when I was 18 years old. And I came to Edgewater about ten years ago. Forty-five years. Very long story.


JS: Ok that’s fine we will just summarize it. So when did you move to Edgewater?

GX: Ten years ago.

JS: So that’s 2005ish.

JE: What brought you here? Rent or Friend or ?

GX: There is a building in Sheridan and Hollywood. It used to be owned by Greeks. Hellenic Foundation. By then I was sick already. Back and legs. I could not be working anymore plus some other problems. Till then I was always healthy. I never have been sick; I didn’t know much about what to do. Then the Greeks owned the building that I am still in now. By the way that building is not owned by Greeks anymore. They sell it about five years ago and it’s another company who owns the building. That people they help me and they put me to live in that building. That’s how come I got in this area now.

DN: You mentioned the Hellenic Foundation helped you.

GX: Yes

DN: Are they still helping you?

GX: No because now I get sick and I get a small check coming. I pay my rent. Well, my income is very low. You know what SSI means. My apartment belongs to Chicago housing and I pay ¼ of my income for rent.

DN: The Hellenic Foundation helped you move into that building? They found it for you and helped you apply for it and whatever you needed to do. But once you got there you are responsible for paying your own rent?


GX: Yes. You know who helped me to get all this the SSI and doctors you see that lady who brought me in?

DN: Mary Ann Collins?

GX: They used to have a social worker here named Mike Miller. He helped me to get all that. He was working for Heart to Heart with Mary Ann. He’s not working anymore. He used to be a lawyer and is retired. And he did that other job to help people. So it happens I met him and he helped me a lot.

DN: You met him once you moved here? Once you moved into your building you found Heart to Heart and Mike?

GX: I met Mary Ann. She is the first person then I met Mr. Miller.

DN: So they made a big difference in your life by helping you?

GX: I had no idea because all my life I didn’t… I never need something. I need money. I went to work and make money. That’s all. I didn’t know about social service plus I never been sick. I have no idea how it is to be sick. I had flu or cold. I was very healthy.


JS: Now that we’ve established how you kind of got here and who helped you along the way, can we talk about how you feel about this neighborhood in general? How do you feel about Edgewater? How do you feel about the community? How you feel about this area or Chicago, or America as a whole. Can you just tell me a little about that?

GX: Well, I like this area. First of all it’s clean, as compared to other places I have seen. For example, New York City, Manhattan. Here it looks clean, one thing. We don’t have too much crime, second. We have some kind of something everywhere.

DN: Do you feel that people that are in Edgewater are helpful and welcoming to you? Do you feel if you need something….

GX: Everywhere I went. People are so welcoming.

DN: Everywhere? New York? Everywhere.

GX: Because they think I was a good person, honest. For example…(inaudible). So everybody trusted me.

DN: So you feel that if you’re a good person, you can reach out to people and they can help you?

GX: Yeah, both. OK. Don’t forget, I never needed any kind of help, besides to get a job. Nothing else. No help. But after…like I said to her to help me a lot. I need that kind of help. But first, like I said before, I didn’t know what to do; how to survive after that. I was very sick .When my back started hurting, it was worse than now because it was something new. I could not work at all for example. I could not use all my leg. So it was very hard.

DN: So it must have made you feel very good to find Heart to Heart?

GX: Yes.

DN: And to find the help that you needed when you needed it.

GX: When I needed it. I was lucky, I said. Otherwise, I would be dead and I mean it.

DN: Did you have a question?

JE: Yeah, I did. Do you identify more as, do you see yourself more as an American or Greek? How do you see yourself?

GX: Well, now I’m here. I feel more American. But, I don’t forget Greece. Like Monday, Yesterday it was the Greek Easter. I don’t forget that. So I celebrated Greek Easter, before doing nothing. I live alone; I maybe cook a little of….

DN: So you don’t do the red eggs and bake the cake?

GX: No I don’t do that. I have done the cake, yes, a big one.

DN: Do you go to St. Andrew’s for anything? It’s a Greek Orthodox Church.

GX: No.

DN: No. So St. Gertrude’s is your…

GX: No, I don’t go to that church. Too many other people go. They have plenty, they don’t need me.


DN: Do you feel at home here in Edgewater?

GX: Yes, I feel at home everywhere. But, I was telling you about the Greek Easter yesterday. That answers your question also. Sunday before this one was Catholic Easter. I celebrate that too. I am (inaudible) maybe. I celebrate two Easters. One after the other. And now with a few words I celebrate every American holiday and every Greek holiday. So, when I’m here I’m American and when I go back to Greece I feel like a Greek, but I never forget this country.

DN: So you feel both.

GX: Yes, I can say that.

DN: What is important about your Greek heritage do you think? To hold on to?

GX: My Greek heritage?

DN: Your Greek heritage. Things you learned as a little boy in Greece that you think are important to remember.

GX: Everything, history, my life with my parents, school, sports, my work in the newspaper, I can never forget that. I was a child and I met very important people like writers. They were my teachers. They came to visit my boss and I was talking to them man to man. Because many of them they write for the newspaper also. So, that’s all I remember.

DN: Because you are the product of your life that started off in Greece.

GX: Pardon me?

DN: You are a product of your life that started off in Greece. So you are all the things from the time you were young they just keep building up as to who you are, it’s a part of you.

GX: Yes, and it’s a good thing I don’t forget those.

DN: Why is that?

GX: I can remember what happened to me from since I was five years old and then…

DN: Why do you think it’s important not to forget those things.

GX: It’s very important not to forget those things.

DN: Why?

GX: Why? I don’t know. Your life, your mind it’s full of something very, very important. And me, I don’t have a reason to forget something. I cannot forget my parents because they were nice people, good people. If I forget them I think I’m lost. How can I ever forget that? And my other relatives, they were all very nice people.

DN: I think that’s a very good answer George.


GX: I hope so. That’s how I feel.

DN: When you have gone back to Greece and come back the United States, have you brought any back with you? For memories of your life in Greece.

GX: You mean when I went back there and I came back here?

DN: Yes

GX: What I brought here with me? Not much, not many things. I went with two or three suitcases full of clothes, nice clothes. Expensive. Like suits and raincoats and ties and silk shirts. But I came back with two suitcases full of Greek books.

DN: Greek books?

GX: Greek books. Because I cannot read well in English. So I had to buy Greek books. So that’s how I came back, two suitcases full of Greek books.

DN: Because reading is important to you.

GX: What?

DN: Reading is important to you.

GX: Very important to me. To read and to write also.

DN: I’m curious about the books you brought back. Were they historical? Or philosophical? Or…

GX: A little bit of everything.

DN: A little bit of everything.

GX: Like for example, from American writers like Hemingway, John Steinbeck, or even Russian writers. Like Dostoyevsky.

DN: Do you have any more questions you would like to ask? John?

JS: No, we don’t have any more questions for you. Do you have any questions for us?

GX: I think I just don’t know who you are, what you want with the questions you have asked me, and I want to wish you good luck

DN: Thank you. I do have one more question George. I’m curious about why when you were eighteen, you decided you wanted to leave Greece and come to the United States.

GX: I didn’t decide to leave Greece. First it was my decision to come to this country. And I told you why, too many movies.


JS: Movies…Just seeing what America was like in the movies and you just wanted to come here to…

DN: So the life that you saw in the movies of America made you want to come here?

GX: Yes

DN: But you went to Belgium first, now why did you go to Belgium?

GX: I went to Belgium to get the boat to come here. After, I went back to Belgium and I lived there. Some time, some year.

DN: So when you were eighteen, you could not get a boat from Greece to come here?

GX: From Belgium to here…From Belgium. I had to travel from Greece to Belgium to take the boat to come here.

DN: So did you live in Belgium for very long before you came here?

GX: No, after here, I went back to Greece and then to Europe again. And then Belgium, I went and I lived there for some time and I owned a business with my girlfriend.

DN: OK, so I think I’m beginning to understand now. So, you saw these movies…

GX: Yes

DN: And that wanted to make you come here.

GX: Yes

DN: So, you came here by way of Belgium. But you didn’t stay here forever. You went back to Greece.

GX: No. I didn’t stay. I got married here, in Chicago, and in those days it was different. We the Greeks we had to go to the army if we wanted to or not. It was hard, different than now. Now, if you want to go the army as a young kid… But in those days it was a big difference. So I had to go back.

DN: You had to go back to be in the army because when you came here you were on visa or something?

GX: I was eighteen; you go the army at twenty.

DN: I see. So you went back to Greece and you were in the army in Greece for how many years?

GX: Two.

DN: Two years. And after being in the army for Greece, did you come back to the United States?

GX: No. I went to Belgium. France first. I lived for about one year in France. Then Belgium, but on and off for about thirteen years. But not all the time. I came back here, then I went back there and all that. And you know why; women. (Laughter)

DN: Now we’re getting behind the real story I think.

GX: So that’s why I went back and forth all the time.

DN: I see, I see. You have had a very interesting life George.

GX: Yes, I think it was. And I started to write about all this.

DN: Oh, that’s great. That’s wonderful.


GX: Yes I imagine. But I never finished it. And before I finish, a cousin of mine who has to do things with television and stuff, she brought me in touch with Greek TV station. And they wanted to buy my stuff but I was writing. But they don’t pay. They pay something but not much.

DN: But not enough. So are you a U.S. citizen now?

GX: No, I’m not.

DN: But you’re a resident.

GX: Yes.

DN: Well you have had a very interesting story, and I want to thank you so much for sharing it with us.

GX: Thank you very much.