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The Greek-American fabric

By on February 16, 2014
Dimitri C. Michalakis

Dimitri C. Michalakis

The Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York has a wonderful overview of the history of the Greeks in the United States and a comprehensive list of some eminent names.

Besides the usual names, among the trivia on the list, did you know that at least half-Greek are pop star Kelly Clarkson, actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler of The Sopranos, and for sports buffs, former Yankees Tino Martinez and Clay Bellinger and former Lakers sixth man and coach Kurt Rambis (Kyriakos Rambidis)?

The first Greek in the United States was a Don Teodoro (dubbed by the Spanish) who came to Florida in 1528 with the expedition of Panfilio de Narvaez and left his bones in Pensacola, Florida.

A whole flotilla of Greeks (mostly from Mani) came to America in the 1700s to establish plantations near present-day New Smyrna Beach, Florida, and later emigrated to St. Augustine and became established there.

Nearly half a million new Greeks arrived in the States by 1917 and another 70,000 more by 1924, a third wave from the mid ‘20s to the mid ‘40s consisted mostly of the “picture brides” for the single Greek men already living here.

Today there are Greektowns in practically every major American city, Greek Americans in all walks of life (some of the hottest young comics are Greek—Tina Fey, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis) and non-Greeks still hanker to be a part of a large, noisy, ethnic family like the one in Big Fat Greek Wedding.

I had a group of cousins who I first met when I returned to Greece in 1964 and I met them in the village in Chios where they had grown up. “You know, cousin,” said one of them to me one day up in the mountains with the sea murmuring at our feet, “you know, cousin,” he said, “if I go to America, all I want is a bicycle: a red bicycle.”

Well, he and his family came to America shortly afterwards, everybody went to work, the cousin who wanted a bicycle became the most spectacular pizza-twirler on Long Island (all the girls from the nearby beach came to watch and admire) and he skipped the red bicycle but he went on to own a fleet of Lincolns and Cadillacs and Mercedes, and boats, and planes, and palatial homes, and am empire of pizzerias that has involved and enriched the whole family and made the rest of us cousins the mere poor relations.

All it took was back-breaking work seven days a week and practically round-the-clock.

My father came to America as a graduate student during the Eisenhower years and not only got a doctorate from Columbia but went on to administer and establish some of the eminent Greek parochial schools in Canada and America.

The Greeks in America not only made their mark, but they very much are integral part of the American fabric that holds the country together and makes it preeminent in the world.

About Dimitri C. Michalakis

Dimitri C. Michalakis is Editor in Chief on NEO Magazine.