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Greek-American Stories: Big vs Small

It’s a real treat when I look up and see a tiny sparrow fight off a hawk, more than seven times her size, coming after her nest. And, the sparrow succeeds in chasing away that nasty feathered chauvinist marauder. The phrase, “the bigger they are, the harder, they’ll fall.” comes to mind. That’s just a tiny example. What about tackling a massive giant chemical corporation like Monsanto (inventor of Roundup!) that dared move into land in Campeche, Mexico where a little 56-years-old, indigenous woman, named Leydy Pech, kept bees, bees that had been part of the Mayan culture for centuries. They were her sole livelihood. There were other bee keepers besides regular farmers in the vicinity.

Monsanto began installing transgenic soybeans in the year 2000 and spread out with a vengeance for the next ten years. The bee population decreased, their products were contaminated as was the water supply due to the presence of GM soy pollen. Leydy united with other bee keepers, non-government organizations, environmentalists, and other indigenous land owners and formed a group called Sin Transgenicos. (No GMOs) She filed a lawsuit against the Mexican government to stop the transgenic soybeans plantings. With irrefutable proof, she and her group organized educational workshops, petitions, and protests, proving that GMOs are harmful, besides the fact that they are being planted with dubious agreements. November, 2015, Mexico’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the government must consult indigenous people before planting anything. They had rights, too! In 2017 Monsanto’s permission to grow genetically modified, ‘anything’ was effectively cancelled and to add to the victory, Leydy Pech was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize last year, 2020 – equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Monsanto’s lawyers and stockholders were shocked to learn that a little woman had defeated so huge and powerful a corporation. Again, an example of, ”he bigger they are, the harder they’ll fall.” Amen!

Yet, there’s the opposite side to being a ‘hard faller’; There’s the meek guys who do not challenge those ‘big guys’, preferring to stay back, accepting being powerless against the big guys. That brings to mind great uncle, Dimitri Pantazis who had arrived in America from Limnos before the Great depression and found work in a soda factory in Brooklyn. But, despite his lack of education, his mind formed ideas on the dispensing of cigarettes in a more creative way. He was by nature a very gentle, soft spoken, very religious man, but his mind was active and clever. He worked on his ideas in a garage next to the private house he’d rented. For months his imagination tried to figure a way of having packs of cigarettes fall into a tray after placing coins in a steel chute besides them. After a time, he succeeded in producing a rudimentary contraption and he kept improving it until he had created a practical model that, actually, dropped cigarettes after inserting coins. His Greek pride swelled.

With very limited English, he sought information on what must be done to bring attention to his invention. He was told by his foreman that it required money – lots of it. He had very little, needing to support his wife, Aristea, my grandmother’s sister, and their 11 children. Two men who had heard about it came forwarded and introduced themselves as investors. They informed Uncle Dimitri that a patent is needed before locating a corporation willing to examine it. They’d gladly represent his invention. And, gladly, he handed over his invention. He waited for word. A few months later, he got word that tobacco companies were about to come out with a new, revolutionary vending machine that would make getting their brand of cigarettes easier.

What actually happened was the pair that had approached Uncle Dmitri, registered the patent in their names. “Hey! Little immigrant nobody!” Of course, Uncle Dimitri was heartbroken and sorely disappointed. After a few investigations, that, also, cost money, he could not produce credible evidence that he was the inventor; neither blueprints nor rough sketches were ever placed on paper that would doubtless prove he was the inventor. Uncle Dimitri went into decline, immersing himself into religion with fervor. So, here, the phrase, “nice guys finish last,” applies. Sometimes, being ‘nice guy’ doesn’t bring happy results. Perhaps, another phrase would aptly apply. “When you’re right, choose to fight!” I think that comes from my Greek ancestors who did just that – often!

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