Stavros Dorizas was juggling his time between working the register and preparing food for the lunchtime rush when the immigration officer entered the restaurant. The fear was real then as the officer appraised the line of workers and picked out a young waiter to check his ID.
Dorizas turned his back to the officer and began slicing tomatoes, his hand shaking as it cut through the juicy red flesh. He did not cry out when the knife slipped and cut his hand. He could not move to clean the mess the blood was making as it poured from the wound. After what felt like an eternity, the immigration officer finished with the waiter whose papers seemed in order and left.
â€œI was illegal, but he thought I owned the place, so he didnâ€™t check my ID,â€ said Dorizas recalling that day over forty years ago. â€œThose are the things that remind you from time to time that youâ€™re illegal.â€
Born on the island of Kefallinia, off of the Grecian coast, Dorizas joined the marines at age 15 and jumped ship two years later to look for work in the United States. He spent the next 13 years working his way through the Chicago restaurant business as an illegal immigrant. From bus boy to waiter to manager, Dorizas learned the trade, and managed to keep from getting caught until he found a way to become a citizen.
â€œIt was scary, but most of the time you didnâ€™t really think about it,â€ said Dorizas. â€œEvery once in a while you get reminded, and you get scared, but after a while you forget again, and go on with your life.â€
It would be hard to imagine Dorizas spending much time hiding in fear. The self-proclaimed life of the party, whose philosophy is to live life to its fullest, seems almost nostalgic when he speaks of his youth as an illegal in America. Luckily for Dorizas, he found love and legality together.
â€œI never wanted to marry to get citizenship. But I fell in love with an American woman, and I decided to apply.â€
Dorizas moved to Canada to put in his application, and a year later was granted citizenship. Today he laughs at the ease of the whole process in comparison to today. â€œWhen I went to get a social security number, they asked me if I had a birth certificate. I told them yes. I never had my birth certificate of course, but they believed me. You could never get away with that now,â€ he said.
Finally Dorizas was able to put the skills that he had developed working illegally into his own project, a Mediterranean restaurant called Amphora in Rogers Park, which he headed for 38 years before deciding to sell the property and strike out on a new path.
â€œMy regret with the restaurant is that it took me away from my family too much. I was working all of the time, and as time went by my wife and I drifted apart, and I realized that I wasnâ€™t spending enough time with my kids.â€
Now at age 67, divorced and unemployed, Dorizas is making an effort to do that which he never had time for when he owned Amphora. He said that he has come to understand the importance of family and maintaining his Greek identity. When he first arrived, he was determined to find work and make a life for himself. â€œThere were no jobs where I came from. No opportunities.â€
Now that he has the freedom to travel between countries, he has a new appreciation for both Chicago and Kefallinia.
â€œYou see, I have two homes. My home is here, but when I go to Greece I feel at home too. Itâ€™s very difficult to wonder whether I want to be here or there. I have family in both places, and my girlfriend is here, so it is very hard,â€ he says.
He shrugs his broad shoulders as his mouth curves into the smile of one who has weathered many of lifeâ€™s storms. He has lived a life fulfilled.