The Greek Diaspora to the United-States: How did the Greek-Americans in the 1920s appropriate their space in New York City?


Published on

Study of the Greek migrant community in the USA in the 1920s on three levels: through organizations aimed at helping newcomers, through the Church, and through the Greek-American newspapers providing news about the mother country to Greek migrants.

Published in: News & Politics
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

The Greek Diaspora to the United-States: How did the Greek-Americans in the 1920s appropriate their space in New York City?

  1. 1. Institut du monde anglophone Année 2013 – 2014 M1 Études internationales – études anglophones The Greek Diaspora to the United-States How did the Greek-Americans in the 1920s appropriate their space in New York City? GALLORINI Marguerite Madame LE DANTEC-LOWRY Séminaire A7 627 “Lieux, passages, migrations aux États-Unis depuis le XIX° siècle”
  2. 2. Table of Contents Introduction I) Greek-American organizations, stepping stones for Greek immigrants 1) The AHEPA, help to assimilation 2) The GAPA, help to cultural retention II) The Greek Orthodox Church, meeting point of Greek communities nationwide 1) The influence of the Church in the American society 2) The Church, place of cultural retention 3) The variation of the Church's social space III) Greek-American newspapers, meeting point between American life and life back home 1) Function of Greek-American newspapers for Greek communities 2) Two major papers of the Greek-American press scene: the Atlantis and the National Herald Conclusion Bibliography
  3. 3. Introduction The United-States represent the largest Greek community abroad, with 1 to 2,5 million Greek-Americans1 . The Greek curiosity for the United-States can be traced back as far as the 16th century at the time of the first explorers, but it made itself clearer only from the 19th century with the migration flows caused by the Greek War of Independence (1821 – 1832). Greece town in Monroe County, New York, was even named so in 1822 in tribute of this contemporary struggle of Greece to get its independence from the Ottoman Empire2 , which was settled with the Treaty of Constantinople in 1832. Then, many merchant families traveled abroad to get funds for organizing the new Greek State. They mainly settled around the Mediterranean, and afterward with economic success, some of them went as far as the United-States. Most of these immigrants were men, sent abroad to make money for the family back home. They were often from rural backgrounds, but once in America they mainly found small jobs as dishwashers or shoe-shiners in big industrial cities like Chicago and New-York. During the Balkan Wars of 1912 – 1913, many Greeks returned home to fight for their homeland, those whom had stayed following closely the events through Greek-American newspapers such as the Saloniki and Hellenic Star in Chicago, and the Atlantis and the National Herald in New-York. However after the war, most of them went back to the United-States where they had more opportunities in the cities, and there they started building small businesses, like diners, barbershops and so on. Their wives followed, and therefore these new Greek families soon made up ethnic enclaves, revolving around their Greek Orthodox Church and traditions. In this paper we will try to identify, through a thematic approach restricted to the 1920s' period, how the Greek-American ethnic community managed to stay connected to their mother country and culture while assimilating into the American society; in other words, how they appropriated their new American surroundings to feel more at home, by setting up specific institutions and organizations, therefore regulating their life and social space. Instead of overlooking many features composing Greek-American enclaves such as the well-known Greek restaurants and the like, we will focus on a few specific elements that were of great importance at that time for the Greek-Americans, namely the two main associations of the time – and of today –, the AHEPA and the GAPA; we will then focus on the place occupied by the Greek Orthodox Church in Greek communities; and finally we will stop on some Greek newspapers of this period to see how they represented a real meeting point between the American life of Greek communities and life in their homeland. 1 J. Gibney, Matthew; Hansen, Randall. Immigration and Asylum: From 1900 to the Present, Volume 1/3, 2005, p. 273 2 The Official Site of Greece, NY
  4. 4. I) Greek-American organizations, stepping stones for Greek immigrants The American Dream was an ideal for many foreigners at that time, and the Greek population was part of them. But as many other migrants, when they arrived in the New World, they were not welcomed with open arms. As had happened with the Irish settlers in the 19th century for instance (with the famous signs in front of shops reading “No Dogs, No Irish”), Greek immigrants were also rejected. At the time of rapid industrialization in America, Greek communities did not manage to follow up the pace, and failed at every organization they tried to set up, adding to the dislike of the first settlers: “the people of America […] had an antipathy for dark, uneducated foreigners. Greeks were boycotted and persecuted, called "Dirty Greeks," and run out of small towns.”3 This led them to build strong communities in big cities like NY, where they tried to start afresh. 1) The AHEPA, help to assimilation This bigotry brought about the birth of the AHEPA, the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association. It was founded on July 26, 1922 by eight naturalized Greeks. It is the “oldest American-based, Greek heritage grassroots membership organization”4 . As is said in the Saloniki-Greek Press: This organization adopted Americanism and fought to break down and conquer the prejudice that so hindered the progress of the Greeks in America. It strove to clear the path for the successful progress of the Hellenism of this land. The Ahepa became a living symbol, both to the Greeks and the Americans. As time passed it became apparent that the objectives of the Ahepa were being realized. The last stubborn resistance was overcome by the honesty, kindness, and sincerity of the Greeks. The American people began to regard the owner of the Greek restaurant in his neighborhood and his Greek fruit peddler as respected friends. The Greeks won a place for themselves among the Americans, and their biggest aid toward this end was the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association. Released from their bonds, the Greeks of America took courage and faced the future with hope and determination to succeed5 . Therefore the AHEPA managed to favor the integration of Greeks into the American system, principle at the basis of the organization's Constitution, which set “to emphasize loyalty to the United-States; to develop appreciation of citizenship under the state and federal governments; to promote clean politics by upholding the ideal in civic and social matters”; “to uphold the public school system of the United States”6 . Therefore this association is truly, since its founding, a transitional place where Greek-Americans went to 3 "The Ahepa and the Gapa (Editorial)", in Saloniki-Greek Press, August 11, 1935 4 "History and Mission" in the AHEPA information pamphlet 2013, p. 2 5 Ibid 6 "Ahepa", in Greek-American News, May 1st , 1936
  5. 5. get help from their peers, in a familiar environment; but they did so in order to assimilate better into the American society, since they learned its values and system there. As all ethnic enclaves, this was a stepping stone between a migrant's past and future, to start a fresh life with a more incremental change, rather than a cultural shock. 2) The GAPA, help to cultural retention Soon after was created the GAPA, the Greek-American Progressive Association, on December 17, 1923. The latter had less problems to develop, the main work of awareness about Greeks having been done by the AHEPA prior to this. The aim of this association was – and still is: […] to promote understanding between Greeks and Americans, and among the Greeks themselves. It strives to preserve the Greek language, and Greek religious and social practices, or customs, from obliteration.....For this purpose it maintains a youth auxiliary, the aim of which is to prepare Greek youth to maintain its Greek heritage in America. There is such a strong tendency on the part of our youth to become assimilated with the American youth that the value of the G. A.P. A. can easily be seen.7 Therefore we can see a major difference drawing itself between the two associations: while the former aims at assimilating Greeks into the American society, the latter wants to foster Greekness, to maintain the values of the Greek culture alive in the mind of young Greek-Americans who assimilate too much into their new country. It is thus more of a place of cultural retention than acculturation. Besides, it can be seen from the governance of the two associations in itself: while the AHEPA is an English-speaking organization and does not require its members to be part of the Greek Orthodox Church, the GAPA on the other hand allows only orthodox applicants to be part of the organization (Americans are honorary members only), and a particular emphasis is made on the use of the Greek language8 . 7 "Greek-American Progressive Association", in Saloniki-Greek Press, September 18, 1933 8 Ibid
  6. 6. II) The Greek Orthodox Church, meeting point of Greek communities nationwide The Greek diaspora being vastly widespread, the Greeks abroad did not have many things in common with one another; but the main “traditional unifying factor” for all Greeks of the world remained religion. Indeed “when Greeks found themselves together abroad, they founded local church communities that became the focus of their communal life. Those church communities played a fundamental role in reproducing a religious, linguistic, and national identity.” They also contributed in “facilitating the immigration of new members”9 : this is a phenomenon observed with many other immigration stories, such as the contemporaneous Great Migration of Afro-Americans in the 1910s, whose communal life revolves greatly around the Black Church too. 1) The influence of the Church in the American society The first Greek parish appeared in NY in 1892. The Orthodox Church in the US, like other churches, played an important role in helping Greek migrants to find their feet in this new country. It became a sort of familiar refuge amidst the destabilization of the culturally different American surroundings; so one could pose the problem of whether it was helping immigrants to “Americanize” or if, on the contrary, it contributed to the promotion of the culture of origin, and so more to a cultural retention. In America, the Greek Orthodox archbishops' role in the social and political life of the area grew over time (and is still influential nowadays: see Annex 1); it is also worth mentioning that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America was and is headquartered in NYC. In the 1910s and 1920s, Greek-American communities as well as the Church were profoundly divided over the political Greek issues back home. But the Church's political influence has grown, especially on a transnational basis, since 1931 thanks to its unification process, when the Patriarchate appointed the “legendary Archbishop Athinagoras”: he managed to unite the various US Greek congregations and parishes into the Greek Orthodox Archbishopric of North and South America (based in NY)10 . Since then, the influence of the Orthodox Church in the US has been both felt on a local level, by helping new Greek immigrants, as well as on a national level, by helping and asserting the interests of the broader Greek community throughout the US. 9 Gibney; Hansen. Op. Cit., p. 274 10 Roudometof, Victor. Globalization and Orthodox Christianity: The Transformations of a Religious Tradition, Routledge studies in religion, 2013, NY, p. 126
  7. 7. 2) The Church, place of cultural retention At the same time, the Church on a strictly communal basis was also a place where Greekness was taught so that it would not be forgotten by the young Greek-Americans (an aim similar to the GAPA's). The second and third generations of Greek immigrants were targeted in particular: indeed, as Professor Mary C. Waters says, language assimilation follows a three-step model, where the first wave of immigrants speak only their native language, the second generation is bilingual, and the third speaks only English11 . Indeed the second generations were much more exposed to the English language, thanks to the powerful acculturation tool of American education: so the Orthodox Church, like the GAPA, tried to limit this fast assimilation by, for instance, teaching young Greek-Americans on Sundays about faith and their ethnicity. The global aim of cultural retention was reinforced with, for instance, charitable institutions which offered language classes in Greek12 . 3) The variation of the Church's social space Another element to consider is the fact that the social importance of the Orthodox Church varied depending on the waves of immigration from Europe. Between the mid-1920s (with the Quota Act's implementation) and the recovery of immigration in the mid-1960s, the settled Greeks were assimilated better and faster into their host society, and therefore this time saw a lessening of the Orthodox Church's influence on a local level, since the functions it provided for the immigrant group were less needed13 . So the space occupied by the Orthodox Church is interesting in that the Church can be seen at times as an “active institution”, a place needed by immigrants to get a feeling of belonging; and sometimes, such as the post-1920s period, as more of an indicator of Greeks' assimilation, making this social space therefore less substantial. 11 Waters, Mary C. “Immigration and Assimilation Today" 12 Roudometof. Op. Cit. p. 127 13 Ibid
  8. 8. III) Greek-American newspapers, meeting point between American life and life back home 1) Function of Greek-American newspapers for Greek communities Greek-American newspapers had an important role for Greek immigrants, just like the previous institutions that we saw in the first two parts. S. Victor Papacosma, in his article, clearly writes: The first newspapers kept the immigrants abreast of events in Greece while facilitating their adjustment to strange surroundings with articles on American life and mores. Since virtually all these journals supplied editorial opinions representative of factions in Athens, Greeks in America continued their favorite sport of politicized debate in their new setting. Social and commercial news of their own locale and of other Greek centers in America created a feeling of community and identity. No restaurateur or coffeehouse proprietor could expect to preserve his Greek clientele without a steady supply of the latest papers. The natural impulse to maintain ties with Greeks and Greek issues spurred the process of self education for these Greek-Americans, most of whom had very little schooling, by motivating them to read their language with greater facility14 . As the figures in the Annex 2 show, the period with the highest number of Greek-American publications in circulation, during the first half of the 20th century, was in the 1910s/1920s. The location of immigrants and the number of Greek-American publications in these locations show a clear link between the two, the growing Greek communities sparking a demand for information adapted to them: New York, having the largest concentration of Greek immigrants, has therefore seen the highest number of Greek newspapers with not less than 39 different publications emerging since 1894, and Chicago comes next with more than 20 journals. We also see, in this Annex, the same phenomenon as for the Orthodox Church: The dramatic decline in the 1930's is attributable in large part to the economic difficulties of the Depression and the restrictions of the 1924 Quota Law, but also to the increased assimilation of Greek immigrants and their children, which decreased the demand for Greek papers. This "Americanization" process accounts then for the continued decline until the 1960's, when, with new legislation, large groups of Greeks again headed for American shores. These new immigrants have breathed some life into the faltering Greek language newspaper industry with the founding of new journals15 . 14 Papacosma, S. Victor, "The Greek Press in America", Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora, 5, n°4, winter 1979, p.45 15 Ibid, p.46
  9. 9. 2) Two major papers of the Greek-American press scene: the Atlantis and the National Herald Two newspapers in particular had an important place within the Greek community, especially in NY where they were based: the Atlantis and the National Herald (Ethnikos Kyrix), the two longest-surviving Greek- American newspapers16 . They had notably, along with other brief newspapers of the time, been of great importance for the immigrants to follow the development of the Balkan Wars in 1912/1913; it was also very much important to politicians or organizations, which could appeal to the population for funds only through the press. The Atlantis was founded in 1894 and published as a daily newspaper from 1904, and was of conservative/republican stance. It was widely recognized as a family paper, since it was set up by two Greek brothers, Solon and Demetrius Vlastos (Solon, for the anecdote, being also an exarch of the Greek Orthodox Church). As for the National Herald, it was founded in 1915, and was a liberal newspaper. The two papers reached their peak of circulation at the same time, in the 1920s, with “daily press runs of around thirty thousand”17 . In 1926, they even shared up to 70 000 readers18 . Their respective political stances were interesting, since it meant that they shared between themselves the main part of the press space in NYC: they influenced greatly the opinion of the Greek-American community in the US, whether it be over American issues (like over mayoral elections in NY, or later over the presidency of Roosevelt and his New Deal), or over Greece-based ones (especially during the time of reconstruction in Greece after the Balkan Wars in the 1920s, and the struggle for power between King Constantine I and Prime Minister Venizelos). But, however antagonistic these two newspapers were, it is worth mentioning the fact that they did agree, at least, on the American cause, during WWI and beyond. An agreement encapsulated in J. P. Xenides's comment in 1922: “Whatever bitter differences and quarrels newspapers may have among themselves, they all defend the United States Government.”19 Therefore here again, we get a fine view of how Greek-American newspapers could both convey a sense of Greek belonging throughout its immigrant community, as well as a sense of belonging to their new American society. This phenomenon is also called “transnationalism”, and it applies to someone who is in-between two nationalities, belonging to two societies: here, the newspapers provided the Greek community with a particular space attributed to them in the US, tied to both the host country and the home country. 16 Moskos, Charles C. Greek Americans: Struggle and Success, Transactions Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1989, 2nd ed. 2009, p. 38 17 Ibid 18 Papacosma, p. 54 19 Xenides, J. P. The Greeks in America, New York: G.H. Doran Company, 1922, p.110
  10. 10. Conclusion When looking at the space appropriation of Greek immigrants in the United-States, we see that it was not only about physical space, but – even more – about social space. The fact that Greek-Americans managed to bring over their Orthodox Church, to start with, was already a major step towards the building of a Greek community on the American soil. Setting up their own institutions such as this one, was a way of saying that they intended well on making this New World their own, so as not to feel merely like guests. This was rendered all the more difficult since Greek newcomers were not welcomed by the first settlers, who wanted to protect their own territory from these foreigners. In order to achieve such a goal of assimilation, as well as protection, a form of general organization was needed: so were created two main associations, chronologically the AHEPA and the GAPA. They both set up awareness campaigns about Greeks in order to break the stereotypes over them, and aimed at helping Greek immigrants to assimilate better into the American host society. However, the oblivion of Greek ethnicity was feared, so the GAPA focused further on the promotion of the Greek language and culture than the AHEPA. But Greeks were not only known for starting Greek restaurants or other such businesses: many Greek newspapers saw the light in this period. Indeed, the Greek-American population increasing tremendously in the 1910s and 1920s, just before the Quota Act of 1924 restricted this, and this created a high demand for news and information relevant to this community, which did not necessarily have the same needs as the other former settlers. Therefore in kiosks of New York, next to The New York Times started appearing journals such as the Atlantis and the National Herald, providing news on the American society as well as the Greek one – the latter was all the more important that the Greek society was right in the middle of the reconstruction of its State. These two particular newspapers being politically opposed – but not on the greater American cause – they embodied the main journalistic Greek-American scene, and represented the two main currents of opinion within the Greek community over many issues. But later on all these institutions, especially the Orthodox Church and Greek newspapers, started declining slightly after the immigration restrictions. Indeed the flow of Greek immigrants waned substantially, making the Americanization of already settled Greeks easier, and therefore creating a lesser need for specific Greek news – a need that was beforehand a major indicator of Greek communities' longing feeling of belonging somewhere. They all remain though, and this is a good indicator of how much, still nowadays, is present the Greek- American community in the United-States' social and political space.
  11. 11. Bibliography Primary sources Articles Articles from the Saloniki-Greek Press, 1933 and 1935 and Greek-American News, 1936, taken from the website of The Newberry, Chicago's Independent Research Library Since 1887, <>, accessed on November 8, 10, 25 and December 1 and 8, 2013 On-line resources The Official Site of Greece, NY <>, accessed on October 20, 2013 Pan-Macedonian Association USA, Inc.'s website < 1912-13-and-greek-american-community&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50>, accessed on November 15, 2013 Other AHEPA information pamphlet, 2013, provided by Basil Mossaidis, Executive Director of the Order of AHEPA Secondary sources Books Gibney, Matthew J. Hansen, Randall. Immigration and Asylum: From 1900 to the Present, Volume 1/3, Santa Barbara: Abc-Clio/Greenwood, 2005 Roudometof, Victor. Globalization and Orthodox Christianity: The Transformations of a Religious Tradition, New York: Routledge studies in religion, 2013 Moskos, Charles C. Greek Americans: Struggle and Success, Transactions Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1989, 2nd ed. 2009 Papacosma, S. Victor, "The Greek Press in America", in Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora, 5, n°4, winter 1979 Xenides, J. P. The Greeks in America, New York: G.H. Doran Company, 1922 On-line resources Waters, Mary C. “Immigration and Assimilation Today” on the website page “Teaching American Politics” of Harvard, <>, accessed on December 10, 2013
  12. 12. Annex 1 President John F. Kennedy meets with clergymen from the Greek Orthodox Church. Archbishop Iakovos of America (far left); President Kennedy; Patriarch Benedictos of Jerusalem (center, presenting gift to President Kennedy). October 6th , 1961 – © Photo by A. Rowe Source: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum <>, accessed on October 28, 2013 President Barack Obama Welcomes His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America to the White House for the 188th Celebration of Greek Independence Day. March 25th , 2009 – © Photo by D. Panagos Source: Orthodox Christian <>, accessed on October 28, 2013
  13. 13. Annex 2 Source: Papacosma, S. Victor, "The Greek Press in America", in Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora, 5, n°4, winter 1979, pp. 47-48