Fake Nouns and Real Starts: An Immigration Story

My grandfather worked on the Pennsylvania railroad and returned to the homeland. My aunt had her two children in the states, returned to the homeland and then lived with us again for several months before calling her emigration quits for good. My uncle mourned his passed wife and got so drunk one night at one of my parents' house parties, he threw up his teeth. He, too, returned to the homeland. Another aunt raised her family in Australia before returning to the homeland. Their chosen emigrations were temporary like it was supposed to be for my dad.

A few years ago I learned, instead, the irony of his immigration story.

Photo credit: brain pickings


My dad first left Greece at age 18 for Australia, lived with his sister and nephews, opened a successful jewelry shop and moonlighted as a boxer until his mother became ill. He went back to Greece and returned to Australia when she began to mend.

Meanwhile, his sister living in New York was getting married and invited my dad to attend the wedding. He queried the embassy for a visa. Denied. He needed to have been in Australia for a longer period of time, but he had gone back to Greece that one time.

The second time he queried the embassy when the appropriate amount of time had passed, including his sister's wedding, a staff member of the American consulate, hesitant to grant my dad a visa to visit America, did so under one condition.

He made my dad hold up his right hand and swear he would not stay in the United States. My dad looked him straight in the eyes, held up his right hand, and said, "I promise."

In a hotel lounge in New York City, my dad watched wrestling beside an actual wrestler. He asked his acquaintance how to get into the wrestling business. The friend told my dad where a few wrestling managers would be that night. He met them, "dressed to kill." They didn't take him seriously. He was in a suit. And short.

Under those criteria, wrestling began for my dad in Mexico, until his natural abilities revealed him to be sufficient enough for WWE (WWF) wrestling. From Mexico, he journeyed to Tennessee. Arriving at the hotel his manager arranged for him, he gave the concierge his name. But, his name didn't exist to the concierge who said, "I have a room booked under the name, Mike Pappas."

"That's it," my dad said.

Mike Pappas started fighting at Madison Square Gardens and making the drop kick and other acrobatic moves famous. Under that auspice--a fake name--a world-traveling wrestler was born.

By the time he met my mom, he, despondent, had wanted to leave America, but they fell in love and married quickly. He stayed in the United States, defeating his promise to the consulate.