“These were the people with guts. Legendary is the word.”
-Merle Booras (Oral history recording, 2007)
By Noah Carandanis
Stories are the threads with which the tapestry of humanity is woven. They bring people together, teaching and granting empathy and knowledge to those willing to listen. At the Hellenic-American Cultural Center and Museum (HACCM), stories are the lifeblood of its work. Focusing on the Greek-American experience in Oregon and Southwest Washington allows museumgoers the chance to enter into a very localized story. There are legends within this community, and the Oral History Project (OHP) ensures that their mythology will be preserved for future generations.
As someone who has a family with deep roots in the Greek-American community of Oregon I knew that the opportunity to interact with the oral history archives at HACCM would provide the possibility for me to honor the roots of not only my family, but of every family recorded in the project. The wonderful thing about the OHP is how personal every interview and transcript feels. It is as if those crumbs of wisdom and charming family stories escaped the confines of a Thanksgiving dinner table.
When I was formally introduced to the interviews and materials that comprise the oral history collection, it was overwhelming to say the least. The OHP includes 85 interviews and that number continues to grow with every month that marches by. I was struck by the sheer amount of love and care that has gone into this project. Community member’s stories are not treated as simply facts to be recorded and filed away, but rather as entire histories and legacies which deserve to be experienced and learned from. My heart would ache when stories of tragedy and grief were shared, and it would likewise flutter with every romance and marriage story shared. This is the benefit which is inherent to the historical method of oral history; facts and statistics take form in the lived experiences of community members which I can still talk to on any given day.
When people trust HACCM with their stories, the entirety of history benefits. The railroad stories of Greek immigrants in Oregon and Washington expose larger trends in the universal Greek-American experience. Greek festivals, social fraternities and sororities, and church communities are all expressions of the stories and lived histories of the people participating in those events. I am humbled by every photo of a past community member I see, because I know that the community I cherish now is built on the foundation of those immigrants.
History is a sacred subject because we all have the ability to create it. Regardless of class, race, gender, or creed we all have the inherent human right to history. The diversity of experiences allow people from all walks of life to glean wisdom from these stories. Oral histories also have the ability to preserve so much more than the written word. The laugh of a relative who has passed on, the accent of a prominent community member, or the soft glances of a married couple are all preserved within the HACCM archives.
I challenge us all, whether we are of Greek descent or not, to add to the rich tapestry which makes up the Greek-American experience. Connect with old family members from years past and enter into a conversation with their stories. Interact with the stories of people you may have seen around the community but have never had the chance to talk to. Reexamine what constitutes a “Greek” upbringing in America and how that label fluctuates and expands. The Oral History Project allows us all to create and interact with history. The voices of past, present, and future Greek legends will continue to ring out through this project, and they deserve our attention.
About the author
Noah Carandanis is an undergraduate student at the University of Portland studying philosophy and political science. He is a lifelong member of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox community in Portland, Oregon. For the summer of 2023 he worked on archival analysis for the Oral History Project at the Hellenic-American Cultural Center and Museum as a summer research intern.
About the project
HACCM collects the oral histories of community members who can speak to the Hellenic-American experience of the Pacific Northwest. Our oral history committee is actively collecting new interviews, and if you are interested in participating, please contact HACCM. Funding for oral history research in 2022-2023 was provided by the Oregon Cultural Trust.