Home Uncategorized Adrianna Weston – Solonaki / Full biography

Adrianna Weston – Solonaki / Full biography

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Adrianna’s story is a tale of resilience, independence, and the

struggle to find a sense of belonging in a foreign land.

Adrianna Weston was born in Kandanos, Crete and has been living in Aotearoa since 1963. She is the third of six children born to Emmanuel and Athina Solonakis. Adrianna left Greece around the age of 16, inspired by neighbours and relatives who had immigrated to various countries. She recalls her life in Crete as beautiful and simple, despite her father’s paralysis after the Second World War and the hardships it brought to her family. The family lived off the land, growing their own food and raising livestock. Adrianna helped with domestic chores and farm work. She describes her community as strong and supportive, with everyone helping each other. She also mentions her love for sports and her dream of owning a nice car.

Adrianna always wanted to look ahead and strive for more. She had visited the Greek capital, Athens and the city of Chania before, but she wasn’t satisfied and wanted to explore more of the world. Her father, who was bedridden, encouraged her to travel, showing her pictures of beautiful places. She mentioned how she and her siblings bought their father’s first radio by selling logs, which opened up their world to current affairs and global news.

She initially wanted to go to America, but due to restrictions, she could only choose between New Zealand and Australia. Her decision was influenced by her cousin who was already in New Zealand. Adrianna’s parents were educated and would read letters from their neighbours in Australia, which painted a positive picture of life there which influenced her decision to leave Greece. Before her departure, her village threw a party for her, a tradition they did for every girl who was leaving.

She decided to immigrate despite the traditional expectation for girls her age to marry and start a family. Her decision to leave was not easy for her family, especially her mother, who accompanied her to Athens for her departure.

She and other girls from her village attended a school organized by DEME (Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration) for two months to learn about the lifestyle and appliances used in New Zealand. They also learned English and cooking. Adrianna stayed with her uncle during this time and later boarded at the school. She was accepted to go to New Zealand after a year and a half of preparation, despite the possibility of being rejected due to health issues.

Adrianna left Greece with the intention of returning after ten years, hoping to earn enough money to do so. She admits that she might have left because she didn’t have a dowry, which was a significant factor in getting married in her culture.

Adrianna mentions her limited knowledge of world events and the adventure of going to an unknown place. She talks about her first plane ride and her first encounter with a black man. She describes her job at the laundry and her initial difficulties with the food. She also mentions watching television, particularly Coronation Street.

Adrianna mentions that she found the New Zealanders to be friendly, although she didn’t interact much with nurses in the hospital where she worked. She mixed with other girls she worked with, including Greeks and people from various backgrounds such as Maori and Yugoslavs. They would gossip and exchange stories, but Adrianna notes that the Greeks were sometimes told to be quieter. On weekends, Adrianna had time off and would go for walks, attend church, or socialize with her hostel mates. She worked five days a week and later moved on to work at Ford Motors.

She reflects on the challenges faced by Greek immigrants and the stereotypes they encountered.

She discusses her interactions with men during her younger years and her lack of knowledge about relationships and sexuality. She mentions an engagement that was arranged without her full consent and her decision to leave that situation. Adrianna also mentions her correspondence with her brother, who supported her choices. She also shares her work history, including running a coffee shop.  Eventually, she meets Tom at a Greek restaurant where she worked part-time and they get married six months later in 1964. She talks about their wedding in a Greek church. She also touch upon their relationship dynamics. Adrianna expresses that their marriage was good overall although theyhad no children together. Tom wanted to move back to Greece, and they even bought a section in Athens with plans to build a house there. However, Tom suffered a heart attack and was unable to work. Despite this, they still visited Greece to sort out the building plans. Upon returning to New Zealand, Tom had another heart attack and passed away. Adrianna then took his body back to Greece for burial, as per his wishes. 

She talks about her unusual lifestyle compared to other Greek women, including her love for hunting and her equal partnership with Tom.   After her husband Tom’s death, she felt isolated and abandoned by her Greek community. She spent six months in Kantila in Greece, Tom’s village, before returning to New Zealand. She continued running her café with the help of friends until she couldn’t manage it anymore. She sold her house and café, bought an apartment in Roseneath, and started a new business selling shish kebabs.  Adrianna felt that her friends distanced themselves from her after Tom’s death, possibly due to her status as a widow and a successful businesswoman. She also felt alienated by the Cretan community after marrying Tom, who was from Akarnania, mainland Greece.

Eventually, she met her second husband, Roger Weston, through a mutual friend. Roger, a New Zealander, was introduced to Adrianna while she was running her shish kebab business. Despite their cultural differences, they clicked instantly. Adrianna describes Roger as very nice and less possessive than Tom and talks about their decision to get married after Adrianna was diagnosed with breast cancer, and Adrianna’s involvement in the Greek community and the Cretan Association. She describes her experiences attending events related to the Battle of Crete and the bond between New Zealand and Crete.

Adrianna talks about being invited to Hamilton for a special event related to the veterans, her role as the first female president of the Greek community in New Zealand, and the decline of the Greek population in the country. She also touches upon the challenges of maintaining Greek language and traditions among the younger generations and expresses her mixed identity as both a Cretan and a New Zealander.

Adrianna shares her experience of being financially independent. She used to have a lot of money but has also lost a significant amount. Adrianna believes that if she had stayed in Greece, owning a cafe and being financially independent would not have been possible. She emphasizes the importance of her independence and states that she wouldn’t go back to Greece if she didn’t have to do it. Although she loves Greece, she considers her current location as her home. Adrianna mentioned that she had cancer, but in remission, and she still looked forward to the future. Sadly, she passed away in 2022