2009 Scholarship Recipient

Alexis Keramaris

My Family’s History on Kythera

    My grandfather, Vasillios Chlentzos, was born in 1900 in Christoforianika, Kythera.  His parents were Diamantis Chlentzos and Yanoula Koulentianos.  Diamantis was a ship’s carpenter who fought in the Spanish- American war for the Americans.  Yanoula was the niece of the priest Dionysios Koulentianos for whom the main street of Christoforianika is named after.  At the age of two my grandfather immigrated with his parents to the United States through Ellis Island and settled in Oakland, California.  They subsequently lived in Salinas, San Luis Obispo, and Los Angeles.

Knowing family history is a privilege not many people have.  Most can trace their families back one or two generations.  My mother is very interested in genealogy and has traced our family’s residence on Kythera back about ten generations.  I’ve been to the island three times, and seeing street names named after my great-great grandfather is so motivating.  I know very few others my age- or any ages for that matter- who get to have this kind of experience.  

Although the history of my family is interesting, I focus more on the living Kytherian elderly.  These people have seen and been through so much that the wisdom they hold is amazing.  Greek culture is very much tied into tradition.  I am able to know and experience many of the traditions my ancestors have gone through.  I have visited the ruins of what was my grandfather’s home in Kythera, and have walked through the narrow streets that were once the village in which he lived.  I feel very privileged to have this honor.  

One of the best things about the island of Kythera is that it has maintained a sense of its original state.  Many, if not all Greek islands are tourist-oriented but somehow Kythera has managed to avoid the commercialization of other islands.  In the Sunday market, there are still yiayias who sell lathi and psomi.  It is still possible to find the most beautiful secluded beaches, and there are still villages with full time residents, such as Zaglanikianika.

I am a good candidate for this scholarship because I am very aware of my Kytherian background and the ties I still have to Kythera today.  In my artwork, I portray images of the elderly, many of which I base off elderly Kytherians I meet.  I am interested in the celebration of age, not the condemnation of it.  In our western society, age is seen as appalling, yet when I go to Greece, and visit relatives, they are cherished and are major contributors to society.  I try to communicate the differences in these two ways of living through my artwork, which centers around the cultural differences of Greece and the United States.

 Su   © KSOCA 2012