Πορτραιτα Ομογενων

Αnastasia Kakagiannis

Εducated with a focus on communication and creative advertising, bright and innovative, Anastasia is an exceptional personality – atypical of the younger Hellenic Canadian youth – with both her feet steadfast on reality, with impressive skills and a drive to reach her dreams within a balanced approach based on both her Hellenic and Canadian Heritage.

Anastasia has been involved with the Greek Community of Toronto’s theatrical group from an early age and it was at that age that she realized what it means to be born a Helene. For her, the sense of pride and understanding of who and what you want to be, defines your major quest in life, and she is thankful to Canada for facilitating this for people of other heritage backgrounds.

Singing, writing and performing are Anastasia’s preferred ways of exploring culture, emotions and her own personality, a way to script her own «narrative» of the world. With an amazing voice, having sat with important mentors and a love for both Greek and English songs, Anastasia is both a performer as well as a creative spirit. She keeps perfecting her expressive talents, this time focussing on emotions and messages that above all are important to her and cultivate a deep communication with her audience.

Anastasia was the youngest female director in the Greek Community of Toronto’s history and has both fond and constructive memories from her volunteer experience. What is surprising though, and characteristic of her generation is that she welcomes others’ point of view within an inclusive team spirit approach, appreciates the value of other people without the prejudice on age, experience or skills that the older generation and more “experienced” members use as excuse for not trusting youth; she welcomes a more inclusive board of directors which respects its members and utilizes their experience and skills regarless of their age and keeps a goal oriented approach to all her activities – which is a product of her Canadian based education.

Is there a “self-gain” from volunteering with the community? Anastasia based on her experience is the last person to “cast the stone” on “self-interest” because what each person gains cannot be compared to the time and effort devoted. Everyone’s contribution counts and regardless of the direction and activities, volunteers are there to be respected.

Anastasia is happy to see “young blood” enter the Greek Community because in this way the Organization will become more representative of contemporary Greece. Such a renewal is always good news especially when it blends harmoniously with the older and more experienced community members.

Is “Ithaca” for Anastasia the same as “Ithaca” for her parents? Anastasia is positively negative. “Ithaca” cannot and should not be the same as the previous generation of Greeks who came to Canada to fulfill their dreams and afford their families a better life. “Ithaca” for the new generation should be different, yet strongly based on the foundations and values that the previous generation has laid. Values acting like sturdy granite “bases” for seeking your true purpose in life, your own “narrative” over the cacophony or harmony of other peoples’ narratives.

Are we optimistic of the wit, talent, adaptiveness, diligence and appreciation of our roots that this new generation of Greek Canadians have achieved and live by? I think that we should be proud of them. Above all, we should trust them. Don’t you think so?                       Tassos Theodoridis, May 11, 2017

T.T. Please give us a short backgrounder of your education, professional qualifications etc.

A.K. I chose to pursue a career in communications, or as I like to call it “story-telling”, because almost any narrative in life is essentially about perspective and the message that can be communicated along with it. From a young age, I fell in love with the arts and during my high-school career, when faced with the decision to choose an academic direction, I felt that communications was most versatile in allowing me to merge these interests in the future.

I simultaneously completed an Honours BA in Communication Studies from York University and diploma from the award-winning Creative Advertising/Business-Strategic program at Seneca College. My time at Seneca was particularly influential for me as we had the privilege to compete regularly in competitions, work on real client briefs from large organizations and brands, and directly collaborate with renowned advertising agencies such as Leo Burnett & J.W.T, to name a few. This experience allowed me to truly explore who I could be professionally while instilling in me the mantra “If it is to be, it is up to me” advocated regularly by our program coordinator and faculty.

T.T. Anastasia, it is quite challenging to grow up in a Metropolitan city where the quest for cultural identity is an uphill battle for every hyphenated Canadian. Please talk to us about how you learned to position and identify yourself culturally within multicultural Toronto and the role that volunteerism played in this battle.

A.K. The quest for cultural identity is truly never-ending, at least this is what my experiences have taught me thus far. It is an ongoing negotiation that takes place, as we change and travel throughout various phases of our lives, and discover new facets of ourselves.

Volunteerism, in particular my involvement in the Greek Community of Toronto cultural programs, was instrumental to helping me find confidence and resonance with who I am and where my heritage stems from. The explicit moment in my life when I truly began to feel in my heart what it meant for me to be Hellene, and understand the complex mosaic of what that meant, was during a performance in Sarnia with the GCT theatre group at the age of 13. The theatre show we were performing was about a group of young adults of Greek descent from Canada travelling the world, namely to Greece, spreading the message of love and peace in honour of the Olympic flame and spirit. Discipline, ethos and integrity were also some of the underlying themes of the show represented contemporarily through dance and movement allowing these Greek-Canadians to be able to appreciate the heritage and hard work of their descendants both in Greece and in Canada. As I had lifted my arms during a shuffle step on stage, a surge of energy had come over me as though something had clicked; and indeed, I had made a deeper connection that repositioned my perspective of Greek identity for the rest of my life. What I realized in that moment was that Hellenism was not simply defined by what I was learning in books, or at Greek school, but rather by an array of concepts such as freedom, justice, democracy, respect, courage and paideia.

Therefore volunteerism, primarily theatre, dance and music in my teen years, allowed me to live first hand what this identity meant onstage and sparked my interest in wanting to soak up as much understanding about every cultural element of my Greek heritage. As my knowledge expanded, so did my sense of pride and understanding of who and what I wanted to be. I would  also like to mention that as Canadians we are incredibly fortunate to live in a country that allows us, and encourages us, to be who we are and celebrates diversity, setting the foundation for all youth to explore who they are and appreciate their heritage.

T.T. You’ve been actively singing and performing for over a decade at numerous community functions. Please tell us about how music has become an expression of yourself. Do you prefer singing material in Greek or English? Who is your role model and, how did volunteerism contribute to your musical journey?

A.K. Music and singing give me a way of communicating with people in a way that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to with dialogue; I can speak from my heart, learn more about myself and in turn, learn more about human experiences and emotions. I am fortunate enough to have worked with former Nylon, Micah Barnes, as my coach and friend. From the start of our collaboration he encouraged me, at 17, to begin co-writing with lyrics on all my material and believed that it would help liberate my singing as I had begun my training from an opera and classical background. Co-writing my material was a way I was able to make sense of my most personal experiences and emotions at that time, and as I began to feel more comfortable, I began to write about earlier experiences that were very difficult for me, such as bullying, depression and of course, heart ache. The writing process taught me that it’s okay to not be perfect and to focus on your message; it is a lesson I carried into my singing later on. I hope that one day I’ll be able to release the bundles of songs I’ve written to my audience and allow us to have a deeper connection and dialogue through music.

I enjoy singing in both languages equally. For me, the importance truly is the song selection and not about the language. Earlier on, I would perform songs that were very commercial and I felt that other people wanted to hear. As I’ve come to understand myself better, I am more selective of my material and I focus more on the message and feeling I want to communicate. However, I will admit that the Greek language is unparalleled because of the spectrum of emotions it can express with specificity and depth.

It is very difficult to choose just one role model. I admire many artists for various reasons -for their talent, message and even marketing strategy, so this is difficult to answer. However, Celine Dion, a fellow Canadian, has been an artist and vocalist I have admired at every stage of my life. I’ve observed her for as long as I remember myself and for me, she is the definition of class and grace. I admire how she has remained true to herself and to her talent at every stage of her career without conforming to the limitation of how a woman should be to sell her records and performances, all while remaining open to many musical styles.

Volunteerism, namely my experience with the board of directors of the GCT, helped me tremendously while I was on my journey on the Voice of Greece. As a director, I had to quickly learn how to manage and respond to Greek media in Toronto during positive and negative circumstances and this was vital for my experience on the show. I felt very comfortable talking to media during press conferences and interviews because I had the stress and practice within the Community and was able to communicate clearly and purposefully what I wanted to. I knew how important it was to be active in the narrative and story that media outlets create and therefore, I was able to answer and probe questions that I felt were representative of who I was in that moment rather than have journalists create their own stories about me. Of course, you cannot control everything written about you, but I feel I managed media well because of prior experience with the GCT.

T.T. Please expand on your experience with the Greek Community of Toronto on an executive level; what made you become part of it and the major challenges if any, that you had during this volunteering period.

A.K. I had the honour to serve the historic Greek Community of Toronto as the youngest female director in our Community’s history for three and a half years and it truly was a developmental experience. The decision to submit my name for elections was actually quite easy for me. I have always believed that if you truly want to change anything you have to be willing to experience, set an example and advocate for it yourself – this is what I tried to do, and it was as simple as that.

Naturally when there are various ages on a board of directors there is a clash of approaches and ideas; the division of young and old that the GCT and other diasporic communities experience. This was a major challenge as it was difficult to approve ideas that could be focused on youth because they were being reviewed with other ideals in mind. However, the disappointing opinion of this divide is that younger people do not know how to govern or innovate simply because they are young in age and furthermore, their age makes them unreliable. My experience working with young people and a young board only confirmed that young people are just as capable when treated as equal members of our community at all levels. I am extremely happy to see fresh and young faces on the board now, and I look forward to seeing younger volunteers for all initiatives within our large and proud community in the future.

T.T Would you advise a person your age to get involved in the Community with volunteer activities? How would you persuade a person who considers volunteering to be a “useless chore” or an opportunity “for personal gain”, to get involved in the Community?

A.K. In my opinion volunteering for personal gain is not a valid thought process or critique of any volunteer. As with any kind of involvement in any organization, networking is a by-product and should not be confused with “personal gain”.  It is much easier to watch on the sidelines than to be actively involved in creating change and new vision for the Greek Community at large. I would invite any person who expresses passionate criticism to reach out to the current board and share their ideas and proposed solutions. Through dialogue and good will, new ideas can prosper and new initiatives can be established as long as we are willing to work together, be inclusive and keep an open mind.

The Community is an organization made up by its membership and the Greek population residing in Toronto at large. It is collectively ours to mould and upkeep. However, it is important to note that volunteerism, while very fulfilling when approached openly and diligently, may not be for everyone. Depending on the level of engagement, each volunteer will sacrifice time, resources and energy. I personally think this should be respected regardless of the fact that we may not always agree with the direction and activities.

T.T The Greek Community of Toronto lately has seen a multitude of cultural and educational renewals with theatrical, dancing, singing and literary events. People from all walks of life in Greece have immigrated – once more – to Canada in search of a better future for them and their children. It seems that your parents’ saga is being repeated in your years, this time. What are your feelings about this, and what would you advise these new immigrants to Toronto to pursue as goals to find fulfillment and happiness?

A.K. A conglomeration of ideas and efforts from Greek-Canadians and new Greek immigrants is vital in making our community and its programming relevant, authentic and multi-faceted. Regarding our community, I believe we should welcome and help in incorporating new Greeks, emigrating to Toronto due to the economic crisis, because they are likely to be much more open minded, creative and grasp the educational know-how in assisting us to construct an even more interesting and dynamic community reflective of Greece today. Merging this approach with existing initiatives, I believe will help to bring more young people into our programs and events as the community gradually changes to reflect what Diasporic Greek-Canadians and new immigrants feel today. Only one thing is certain; we have a lot to learn from each other.

Finding fulfillment and happiness is a journey that each person needs to embark on individually. I am certainly not an expert in this domain as I am on my own journey to finding these things as well. What I can advise is that new immigrants stay true to what their dreams are, and invest in themselves in whichever way they are capable of. Furthermore, it is critical that we remain open-minded, keep a strong network of positive people around us and focus on progress rather than on specific accomplishments, as the destination of our goals and desires can change along the way.

T.T. Lastly, what is your “Ithaca”? How different is it from your parents’ “Ithaca”, if at all?

A.K. I believe that many Greeks, like my father, who emigrated to Canada and other countries around the world share a similar ‘‘Ithaca’’ searching and yearning for new opportunities to provide for themselves and offer more options to their children and families. I must say that I am eternally grateful for the journey my parents chose together as I would not be in the position to have lived the experiences and learned what I have thus far but I do not feel that this narrative resonates with my own ‘‘Ithaca’’. Reason being that I had many opportunities in my lifetime that were not realities for my parents and grandparents resulting in me having other dreams and aspirations, such as completing my studies, travelling and of course, pursuing the Arts.

‘‘Ithaca’’, for me, is a combination of the choices we make and the lessons we learn along the way. Perhaps it is a state of stillness, contentment and warmth within our life. “Ithaca” is a concept – and while I cannot point out what I feel my ‘‘Ithaca’’ is, I can hope that my journey will be a long one.

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