Early on July 12, I left LAX Airport to meet my family in Crete. This trip would include one wedding, three generations and 55 relatives on the island of which we originated. On July 14, Amy Tzagournis and Pat Cleary wed on the island of Crete. The Southern California, Redondo Beach-based couple were surrounded by friends and family who had traversed the globe to share in their special day. Relatives from the states, Athens and even Bristol, England came to celebrate. Following the wedding festivities, our group made a point to visit the true origin of the Tzagournis family – Ano Viannos.
Ano Viannos is a village southeast of Heraklion. My great-grandfather Adam Tzagournis grew up in this small village before coming to the United States at 17 years old. There are around 1,500 residents who live in Ano Viannos. During World War II the Germans occupied the land and inflicted severe casualties to the people and their crops, due to their support for the Cretan Nazi resistance. A large part of the village was bombed down. Knowing this history makes me realize the strength and resilience of the Cretan people. The opportunity to explore this village and island with the people that mean most to me was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
While exploring Ano Viannos, we discovered an abandoned family home filled with letters and photos from our great-grandfather Adam and several of his family members. My Great Uncle Manuel Tzagournis met us by the water where we shared a meal served family style. One of my favorite takeaways from this trip was meeting my third cousin Lulu. We had both graduated from university the year before and share a deep love for travel. However what separated us was the fact that her family had migrated to England while our family had headed to America. The Greek people are unique in their ability to remain connected with both close and distant relatives. There are not many friends of mine who can say they take trips across the world with their second cousins and great uncles or meet their third cousins on the island of where they both originated.
After Amy and Pat’s beachside wedding and vineyard reception and our treks across Crete, our family headed to the islands of Paros, Santorini and Milos. It was through these boat rides and bus trips and the sheer chaos of traveling with so many people that I truly bonded with my cousins, aunts and uncles. The trip had its fair share of mishaps, such as my papou leaving his luggage (which included his passport) on the ferry to Milos and then our luggage getting lost en route to Paris. However it was in those moments I realized that even though I may live thousands of miles away from my Ohio-raised, Buckeye-crazed family, whenever we are together it is as if I never left. There will be fighting. There will be laughing. But there is still always so much love.
August 4 marked one year of living in Los Angeles. I could not have chosen a better time to take a trek to my homeland and experience the beauty of the Greek people and culture. As the birthplace of democracy and so much more, I could not be more proud of my heritage and my relatives who still live by way of their Greeks ancestors. Although I miss being close to my Midwest roots, it makes the time spent together all the more meaningful.
Email the author: Elizabeth Tzagournis