Greek Americans

views updated Jun 11 2018


by Jane Jurgens


Officially known as the Hellenic Republic, Greece is a mountainous peninsula located in southeastern Europe, between the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. With a landmass of 51,000 square miles (132,100 square kilometers), Greece is bordered to the north by Bulgaria and Macedonia. Nearly 2,000 islands surround its eastern, southern, and western borders. The nine major land areas that constitute Greece include Central Pindus, Thessaly, the Salonika Plain, Macedonia/Thrace, Peloponnesus, the Southeastern Uplands, the Ionian Islands, the Aegean Islands, and Crete.

The capital city, Athens, and the cities of Thessaloniki (Salonika), Patras, Volos, and Larissa have the largest populations in Greece, which has a total population of approximately ten million. Ninety-seven percent of the ethnically and linguistically homogeneous nation speaks Greek, and one percent, Turkish. The Eastern Orthodox church is the dominant religion; only about 1.5 percent of the population is Muslim, and a small percentage is Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, or Jewish.

Traditionally, Greeks referred to themselves as "Hellenes" and to the country of Greece as "Hellas." The word "Greek" comes from the Latin Graeci, a name given to the people of this region by the Romans.

The Greek flag features a small white cross in the upper left corner flanked to the right and bottom by alternating white and blue stripes. The white cross symbolizes the Greek Orthodox religion, while the blue stripes stand for the sea and sky, and the white stripes for the purity of the Greek struggle for independence. The national anthem is "The Hymn to Freedom" ("Imnos pros teen elefteeriahn "). The basic monetary unit is the drachma.


Greece is an ancient country that has been continuously occupied from 6000 b.c., the beginning of its Neolithic period, until the present. The Bronze Age, traditionally divided into early, middle, and late phases, dated from 2800 b.c. to 1000 b.c. It was during this period that Minoan civilization of Crete and the Mycenean civilization of mainland Greece flourished. These civilizations were destroyed around 1000 b.c. just as the individual city-state or "polis" was beginning to experience rapid growth. In 479 b.c. the city-states united to defeat Persia, a common enemy, but national unity proved to be short-lived. The power struggle between Athens and Sparta, the principal city-states, dominated the period.

Athens reached its zenith during the fifth century b.c., a period known as its Golden Age. At this time Athens experimented with a form of internal democracy unique in the ancient world, achieved a singular culture, and left enduring literary and architectural legacies. Socrates, Plato, Xenophon, Herodotus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus came into prominence, and in 432 b.c. the Parthenon on the Acropolis was completed. The Peloponnesian War fought between Athens and Sparta from 431 to 404 b.c. and a plague that raged through Athens in 430 contributed to bring the Golden Age to an end. For a time Sparta dominated the Greek world, but war and severe economic decline hastened the decline of all of the city-states.

Greece came under Macedonian domination between 338 and 200 b.c. The Macedonian king, Alexander the Great, conquered Greece, Persia, and Egypt to create an empire, and he carried the idea of Hellenism to places as far away as India. The Hellenistic Age that followed Alexander's rule lasted until 146 b.c. As a Roman state from 127 b.c. to a.d. 330, Greece and its city-states had no political or military power. When the Roman Empire was divided in a.d. 395, Greece became part of the Eastern Empire, which continued as the Byzantine Empire until 1453. That year the Turks captured Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium, and Greece became part of the Ottoman Empire.


Greece's declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire on March 25, 1821, resulted in the Greek War of Independence, which lasted until 1829, and began the history of independent modern Greece. Great Britain, France, and Russia assisted Greece in its struggle for independence, and Greece came under the protection of these powers by the London Protocol of 1830. In 1832 the Bavarian Otto I became the first king of Greece, and in 1844 a conservative revolutionary force established a constitutional monarchy. George I, who succeeded Otto I, created a more democratic form of government with a new constitution in 1864.

During the 1880s and 1890s, transportation, education, and social services rapidly improved. Then in 1897 a revolt against the Turks in Crete led to war between Greece and the Ottoman Empire and to eventual self-governance for Crete. A revolt by the Military League in 1909 prompted the appointment of Eleuthérios Venizélos as Prime Minister of Greece. Between 1910 and 1933 Venizélos enacted major financial reforms.

During World War I Greece joined the Allied forces in opposing Germany. After the war Greece regained much of the territory it had lost to the Ottoman Empire. But in 1921 Greece began a war against the Turks in Asia Minor and suffered a crushing defeat in 1922. In 1923, under the Treaty of Lausanne, more than 1.25 million Greeks moved from Turkey to Greece, and more than 400,000 Turks in Greece moved to Turkey.

Between the World Wars, the Greek population vacillated between the establishment of a republican form of government and the restoration of monarchy. In 1936 Greece became a military dictatorship under General Ioannis Metaxas, who remained in power until 1944. The Germans occupied Greece during World War II, and the country did not recover until the 1950s, when it began slowly to regain economic and political stability. In 1952 Greece joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and also granted women the right to vote and to hold political office. During 1952 to 1963 Alexander Papagos and Konstantinos Karamanlis each held the office of prime minister.

On April 27, 1967, Colonel George Papadopoulos led a military coup, resulting in the suspension of constitutionally guaranteed rights and the imposition of harsh social controls. Papadopoulos declared Greece a republic in 1973 and put an end to the monarchy before his government was overthrown. In November 1974 Greece held its first free elections in more than a decade. Parliament adopted a new constitution in 1975, and a civilian government was established.

The first Socialist government in Greece gained control in 1981, the year Andreas Papandreouthe son of George Papandreou and a member of the Panhellenic Socialist movementsucceeded conservative Georgios Rallis as prime minister. In 1989 a conservative-communist coalition formed a new government, and pledging that Greece would be an active participant in the greater European community, Papandreou was reelected.


According to official records, the Greek sailor Don Teodoro or Theodoros, who sailed to America with the Spanish explorer Panfilio de Narvaez in 1528, was the first Greek to land in America. The names of other Greek sailors who may have come to America during this period are John Griego and Petros the Cretan. There is some speculation that Juan De Fuca, who discovered the straits south of Vancouver Island, may have been a Greek named Ionnis Phocas.

One of the first Greek colonies was at New Smyrna near Saint Augustine, Florida. Andrew Turnball and his wife Maria Rubini, daughter of a wealthy Greek merchant, persuaded approximately 450 colonists to journey to America and settle. With the promise of land, Greek colonists primarily from Mani in the south of Greece, as well as Italians, Minorcans, and Corsicans, began arriving in Florida on June 26, 1768. The colony was an overwhelming failure and was officially disbanded on July 17, 1777, but many of the colonists had already moved to neighboring Saint Augustine, where they were becoming successful as merchants and small businessmen. A small community of Greeks also built a chapel and school there.


The first wave of Greek immigrants included about 40 orphans who had survived the Greek Revolution of 1821 and who were brought to the United States by American missionaries; survivors of the 1822 massacre of Chios by the Turks; and merchant sailors who settled in the Americas. Most of these Greeks were from islands such as Chios, and others came from Asia Minor, Epirus, and Macedonia. By 1860 about 328 Greeks were living in the United States, with the majority residing in California, Arkansas, New York, and Massachusetts.

The U.S. Greek population remained small until the 1880s, when poor economic conditions in Greece prompted many Greeks to immigrate to the United States. During the 1880s most who came were from Laconia (notably, from the city of Sparta), a province of the Peloponnesus in southern Greece. Beginning in the 1890s, Greeks began arriving from other parts of Greece, principally from Arcadia, another province in the Peloponnesus. The largest numbers arrived during 1900-1910 (686) and 1911-1920 (385). Most were young single males who came to the United States to seek their fortunes and wished to return to Greece as soon as possible. About 30 percent of those who came before 1930 did return, some of whom went to fight in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913.

The Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924 reversed the open-door policy of immigration and established quotas. The Act of 1921 limited the number of Greek admittants to 3,063, while the Act of 1924 limited the number to 100. Legal petition increased the quota, and during 1925-1929 about 10,883 Greeks were admitted. Another 17,000 Greeks were admitted under the Refugee Relief Act of 1953, and 1,504 were accepted as a result of further legislation in 1957.

The Immigration Act of 1965 abandoned the quota system and gave preference to immigrants with families already established in the United States. The new Greek arrivals usually were better educated than their predecessors and included men and women in equal numbers, as well as family groups.

From 1820 to 1982 a total of 673,360 Greeks immigrated to the United States. After 1982, the number of Greeks entering the United States is as follows: 1983 (3,020); 1984 (2,865); 1985 (2,579); 1986 (2,512); 1987 (2,653); 1988 (2,458); 1989 (2,157); 1990 (2,742); 1991 (1,760); 1992 (1,790). The 1990 Census reported the number of people claiming at least one ancestry as Greek at 1,110,373.


During the 1890s Greeks began settling in major urban areas, including the industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest. The first immigrants settled in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. The city of Lowell, Massachusetts, attracted the majority of Greeks, and by 1920 it had the third largest Greek community in the United States. Greeks also settled in the New England towns of Haverhill, Lynn, Boston, Peabody, and Manchester. The largest Greek settlement in the twentieth century was in New York. Greeks also settled in western Pennsylvania, particularly Pittsburgh, and in the Midwestern cities of Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Youngstown, and Chicago.

Small Greek communities existed in Galveston, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia, but the largest concentration of Greeks in the South was at Tarpon Springs, Florida. In the first half of the twentieth century, this unique settlement of Greeks made its living by sponge diving.

Attracted to mining and railroad work, large numbers of Greeks settled in Salt Lake City, with smaller numbers inhabiting Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Nevada. The heaviest early concentration on the Pacific Coast was in San Francisco. Today, Greeks live primarily in urban areas and are increasingly moving to the South and West. The 1990 Census reveals that New York State still has the largest population of Greeks, with the highest concentration in the Astoria section of the borough of Queens. The next largest populations are in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Florida.

Acculturation and Assimilation

Few negative Greek stereotypes persist. Greeks share the American work ethic and desire for success and are largely perceived as hardworking and family-oriented. They are also said to possess a "Zorba"-like spirit and love of life. However, many Greek Americans perceive the recent Greek immigrants as "foreign" and often as a source of embarrassment.


Greeks have an assortment of traditional customs, beliefs, and superstitions to ensure success and ward off evil and misfortune. Old beliefs persist in some communities in the United States. For example, belief in the "evil eye" is still strong and is supported by the Greek Orthodox church as a generalized concept of evil. Precautions against the evil eye (not endorsed by the church) include wearing garlic; making the sign of the cross behind the ear of a child with dirt or soot; placing an image of an eye over the lintel; wearing the mati, a blue amulet with an eye in the center; and recitation of a ritual prayer, the ksematiasma. Greeks may also respond to a compliment with the expression ptou, ptou, to keep the evil eye from harming the person receiving the compliment. Greeks also "knock wood" to guard against misfortune, and reading one's fortunes in the patterns of coffee dregs remains popular.


The Greeks "have a saying for it": In wine there is truth; You make my liver swell (You make me sick);God ascends stairs and descends stairs (Everything is possible for God); An old hen makes the tastiest broth (Quality improves with age); He won't give her any chestnuts (He wouldn't cut her any slack); I tell it to my dog, and he tells it to his tail (To pass the buck); I went for wool, and I came out shorn (To lose the shirt off one's back); Faith is the power of life.


Greek food is extremely popular in the United States, where Greek American restaurants flourish. In Greek restaurants and in the home, many of the traditional recipes have been adapted (and sometimes improved on) to suit American tastes. In Greece meals are great social occasions where friends and family come together and the quantity of food is often impressive. Olive oil is a key ingredient in Greek cooking and is used in quantity. Traditional herbs include parsley, mint, dill, oregano (especially the wild oregano rigani ), and garlic. You will find on most Greek tables olives, sliced cheese (such as feta, kaseri, and kefalotiri ), tomato, and lemon wedges, along with bread. Fish, chicken, lamb, beef, and vegetables are all found on the Greek menu and are prepared in a variety of ways. Soup, salad, and yogurt are served as side dishes. Sheets of dough called phillo are layered and filled with spinach, cheese, eggs, and nuts. Greeks create such masterpieces as moussaka, a layered dish of eggplant, meat, cheese, and bread crumbs sometimes served with a white sauce. Other popular Greek dishes in the United States include souvlakia, a shish kabob of lamb, vegetables, and onions; keftedes, Greek meatballs; saganaki, a mixture of fried cheese, milk, egg, and flour; dolmathes yalantzi, grape leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts, onions, and spices; and gyros, slices of beef, pork, and lamb prepared on a skewer, served with tomatoes, onions, and cucumber yogurt sauces on pita bread.

Soups include psarosoupa me avgolemono, a rich fish soup made with egg and lemon sauce; spanaki soupa, spinach soup; mayeritsa, an Easter soup made with tripe and/or lamb parts and rice; and fasolatha, a white bean Lenten soup made with tomatoes, garlic, and spices. Salads always accompany a meal. The traditional Greek salad (salata a la greque ) is made with lettuce or spinach, feta cheese, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, olives, oregano, and olive oil.

The national drink of Greece is ouzo ("oozoh"), an anise-flavored liquor that tastes like licorice and that remains popular with Greek Americans. Traditionally, it is served with appetizers (mezethes ) such as olives, cheese, tomato, and lemon wedges. A popular Greek wine, retsina, is produced only in Greece and is imported to the United States.


Greek traditional costumes come in a variety of styles, some dating back to ancient times. Women's clothing is heavy, with many layers and accessories, designed to cover the entire body. The undergarments include the floor-length poukamiso (shirt) made of linen or cotton and the mesofori (under-skirt) and vraka (panties), usually of muslin. The outer garments consist of the forema-palto, a coat-dress of embroidered linen; the fousta (skirt) of wool or silk; the sigouni, a sleeveless jacket of embroidered wool worn outside the forema-palto; the kontogourni or zipouni, a short vest worn over the fousta; the podia, an apron of embroidered wool or linen; and finally the zonari, a long belt wrapped many times around the waist. Buckles on these belts can be very ornate.

Traditionally, men's costumes are less colorful than women's costumes. Men's urban and rural clothing styles vary by region. The anteria is a long dress coat with wide sleeves once worn in the city. In rural areas, men wore the panovraki (or its variation, the vraka ), white or dark woolen pants, narrow at the bottom and wide at the waist, with the poukamiso, a short pleated dress. The foustanela is a variation on the old style and soon became the national costume of Greece. The foustanela is a short white skirt of cotton or muslin with many folds that is worn above the knee. It is worn with the fermizi, a jacket of velvet or serge with long sleeves that is thrown over the back; waist-high white stockings; and a shirt with wide sleeves made of cotton, muslin, or silk. The foustanela is a common sight on Greek Independence Day.


Greeks celebrate many Greek Orthodox holy days throughout the year, in addition to Christmas Day, Easter Day, and New Year's Day. Greeks in the United States also celebrate Greek Independence Day on March 25, commemorating their independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821. In Chicago and New York, cities with a sizable Greek population, people dress in traditional costumes and sing the national anthem. The program of events also includes a parade, public address, folk dance, song, and poetry recitation.


Greek music and dance are an expression of the national character and are appreciated by people of all ethnic backgrounds. As Marilyn Rouvelas stated in A Guide to Greek Traditions and Customs in America: "To the uninitiated, the music invites images of intriguing places, food and people. For the Greeks, the sounds and rhythms express their very essence: their dreams, sorrows and joys. Add dancing and nothing more need be said."

Varieties of Greek popular music include dimotika (thimotika ), laika, and evropaika. Dimotika are traditional rural folk songs often accompanied by a clarinet, lute, violin dulcimer, and drum. Laikais an urban style of song, developed at the beginning of the twentieth century, which may feature the bouzouki, a long-necked stringed instrument. Evropaika is Eurostyle music set to Greek words that is popular with the older generation.

Traditional Greek dances may be danced in a circle, in a straight line, or between couples. The kalamatianos is an ancient dance with many variations in which both men and women participate. It has 12 basic steps and is danced in a semicircle to 7/8 time. All variations are performed by the leader who stands facing the semicircle. The sirtos, perhaps the most ancient dance, is similar to the kalamatianos, but it is more controlled, performed to 2/4 time. First danced in the mountainous region of Epirus in northwestern Greece, the tsamiko, traditionally danced by men, is today performed by both men and women. It was danced by the fighters and rebels in the Greek Revolution of 1821. The hasapiko is a popular folk dance for both men and women that is danced in a straight line, with one dancer holding the shoulder of the other. The sirtaki, a variation of the hasapiko, culminates with the "Zorba" dance popularized in the movie Zorba the Greek. Although the Zorba has no roots in Greek dance history, it does capture the mood and temperament of the Greek spirit. Originating in the Middle East, the tsifteteli is a seductive dance performed by one or two people. The zeibekiko is a personal dance traditionally danced only by men, either singly or as a couple. It is a serious, completely self-absorbed dance in which the dancer freely improvises the steps.


Greek is a conservative language that has retained much of its original integrity. Modern Greek is derived from the Attic Koine of the first century a.d. During Byzantine times, the language underwent modifications and has incorporated many French, Turkish, and Italian words. Modern Greek retained the ancient alphabet and orthography of the more ancient language, but many changes have taken place in the phonetic value of letters and in the spelling. Although about 75 percent of the old words remain from the ancient language, words often have taken on new meanings. Modern Greek also retains from the ancient language a system of three pitch accents (acute, circumflex, grave). In 1982, a monotonic accent (one-stress accent) was officially adopted by the Greek government.

Greeks are fiercely proud of the continuity and relative stability of their language and much confusion and debate persists about "correct Greek." Two separate languages were once widely written and spoken in Greece: demotic Greek (Demotiki ), the more popular language of the people, and Katharevousa, the "pure" archaic language of administration, religion, education, and literature. In 1967 demotic Greek was recognized as the official spoken and written language of Greece and is the language adopted for liturgical services by the Greek Orthodox church in the United States.

Modern Greek contains 24 characters with seven vowels and five vowel sounds. It is traditionally written in Attic characters; the letters, their names, transliterations, and pronounciations are: "Αα" alpha/a ("ah"); "Ββ" veta/v ("v"); "Γγ" gamma/g ("gh," "y"); "Δδ" delta/d, dh ("th"); "Εε" epsilon/e ("eh"); "Ζζ" zeta/z ("z"); "Ηη"eta/e ("ee"); "Θθ" theta/th ("th"); "Ιι" yiota/i ("ee"); "Κκ"kappa/k, c ("k"); "Λλ" lambda/l ("l"); "Μμ"mu/m ("m"); "Νν"nee/n ("n"); "Ξξ" kse/x ("ks"); "Ωω" omicron/o ("oh"); "Ππ" pi/p ("p"); "Ρρ" rho/r ("r"); "Σσ"sigma/s ("s"); "Ττ" taf/t ("t"); "Υυ" ypsilon/y ("ee"); "Φφ" fee/ph ("f"); "Χχ" khee/h ("ch" [as in "ach"]); "Ψψ" psee/ps ("ps" [as in "lapse"]); "Οο" omega/o ("oh").

Today Greek language schools continue to encourage the study of Greek, and new generations are discovering its rich rewards.


Some of the more common expressions in the Greek language include: Ωχι ("ohchi")No; Ναι ("neh")Yes; Ευχαριστο (Efcharisto)Thank you; Καλημερα ("kahleemera")Good morning; Καλησπερα ("kahleespehrah")Good afternoon/evening; Γεια σωυσασ ("yah soo"/"yah sahs")Hello/Good-bye (informal); Χαιρετε ("chehrehteh")Greetings/Hello (formal); Ωπα! ("ohpah")Hooray! Toasts may include Για χαρα ("yah chahrah")For joy; Καλη τυχη ("kahlee teechee")Good luck. Other popular expressions are Χρωνια πωλλα ("chrohnyah pohllah") Many years/Happy birthday; Χαλη χρωνια ("kahlee chrohnyah")Good year; Καλη Σαρακωστη ("kahlee sahrahkohstee")Good Lent; Καλα Χριστωυγεννα ("kahlah christooghehnna")Merry Christmas. Expressions used at Easter are Καλω Πασχα ("kahloh pahschah")Happy Easter (used before Easter); Καλη Ανασταση ("kahlee ahnahstahsee")Good Resurrection (said after the Good Friday service); Χριστωσ ανεστη ("christohs ahnehstee")Christ has risen (said after the Good Friday service) and its response, Αλη θωσ ανεστη ("ahleethohs ahnehstee")Truly he has risen.

Family and Community Dynamics

If there is one self-defining concept among Greeks, it is the concept of philotimo, which may be translated as "love of honor." Philotimo is a highly developed sense of right and wrong involving personal pride and honor and obligation to family and community. It shapes and regulates an individual's relationships as a member of both a family and the community. Because the acts of each individual affect the entire family and community, each person must work to maintain both personal and family honor. It is philotimo that "laid the foundation for Greek success in America," wrote G. Kunkelman in The Religion of Ethnicity.

The idea of family and attachment to the Greek Orthodox church remains strong among Greek Americans. In many communities, the ideal family is still a patriarchy where the man, as husband and father, is a central authority figure and the woman a wife and mother. Children are highly valued, and frequently parents will sacrifice a great deal to see that their children accomplish their goals. Elderly parents may still move in with their children, but "Americanization," with accompanying affluence, assimilation, and mobilization, has rendered this arrangement less practicable.

Another change from traditional Greek custom is the rising number of marriages between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Greeks. The 1994 Yearbook of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America reports that between 1976 and 1992, the number of marriages between Orthodox Greeks was 35,767, while the number between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Greeks was 53,790; the divorce rate is 6,629 and 5,552, respectively.


The wedding service conducted by a Greek Orthodox priest may be said in both Greek and in English, but the traditional elements of the Greek wedding remain unchanged. The hour-long ceremony is conducted around a small table on which two wedding crowns, the book of the Gospels, the wedding rings, a cup of wine, and two white candles are placed. The two-part Greek Orthodox wedding includes the betrothal and the wedding proper. During the betrothal the rings are blessed to signify that the couple is betrothed by the church. The priest first blesses the rings and then, with the rings, blesses the couple, touching their foreheads with the sign of the cross. The rings are placed on the bride's and groom's right hands, and the official wedding sponsors (koumbari ) exchange the rings three times. During the wedding ceremony the bride and groom each hold a lighted white candle and join right hands while the priest prays over them. Crowns (stephana ) joined with a ribbon are placed on their heads, and the koumbaros (male) or koumbara (female) is responsible for exchanging the wedding crowns three times above the heads of the couple during the service. Traditionally read are the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Ephesians and the second chapter of the Gospel of Saint John, which stress the mutual respect and love the couple now owe each other and the sanctity of the married state. After the couple shares a common cup of wine, they are led around the table by the priest in the Dance of Isaiah, which symbolizes the joy of the church in the new marriage. The koumbaros follows, holding the ribbon that joins the crowns. With the blessing of the priest, the couple is proclaimed married, and the crowns are removed.

The wedding reception reflects the influence of both Greek and American tradition and is notable for its abundance of food, dancing, and singing. The wedding cake is served along with an assortment of Greek sweets that may include baklava and koufeta traditional wedding candyis often distributed in candy dishes or in bombonieries (small favors given to guests after the wedding).


The koumbari who act as wedding sponsors usually act as godparents for a couple's first child. The baptism begins at the narthex of the church, where the godparents speak for the child, renouncing Satan, blowing three times in the air, and spitting three times on the floor. They then recite the Nicene Creed. The priest uses the child's baptismal name for the first time and asks God to cleanse away sin. The priest, the godparents, and the child go to the baptismal font at the front of the church, where the priest consecrates the water, adding olive oil to it as a symbol of reconciliation. The child is undressed, and the priest makes the sign of the cross on various parts of the child's body. The godparents rub olive oil over the child's body, and the priest thrice immerses the child in the water of the baptismal font to symbolize the three days Christ spent in the tomb. The godparents then receive the child and wrap it in a new white sheet. During chrismation, immediately following baptism, the child is anointed with a special oil (miron ), which has been blessed by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. The child is dressed in new clothing, and a cross is placed around its neck. After the baptismal candle is lighted, the priest and godparents hold the child, and a few children walk around the font in a dance of joy. Finally, scriptures are read, and communion is given to the child.


The funeral service in the Greek Orthodox church is called kithia. Traditionally, the trisayion (the three holies) is recited at the time of death or at any time during a 40-day mourning period. In the United States the trisayion is repeated at the funeral service. At the beginning of the service, the priest greets the mourners at the entrance of the church. An open casket is arranged so that the deceased faces the altar. During the service mourners recite scriptures, prayers, and hymns, and they are invited by the priest to pay their last respects to the deceased by filing past the casket and kissing the icon that has been placed within. The family gathers around the casket for a last farewell, and the priest sprinkles oil on the body in the form of the cross and says a concluding prayer. After the priest, friends, or family members deliver a brief eulogy, the body is taken immediately for burial (endaphiasmos ). At the cemetery the priest recites the trisayion for the last time and sprinkles dirt on the casket while reciting a prayer. After the funeral guests and family share a funeral meal (makaria ), which traditionally consists of brandy, coffee, and paximathia (hard, dry toast). A full meal may also be served, with fish as the main course.


As stated in the introduction to American Aphrodite, "Greek-American women have been without a voice since the first Greek immigrants arrived here as wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, usually, but not always, some months behind the menfolk, making no sound, proclaiming no existence." Traditionally, the lives of Greek women have centered on the home, the family, and the Greek Orthodox church. Since the earliest period of settlement in the United States, the burden of preserving Greek culture and tradition has been the responsibility of women. Women among the first and second generations of immigrants became the traditional keepers of songs, dances, and other folk customs and often cut themselves off from the xeni, the foreigners, who were essentially anyone outside the Greek community.

Today many Greek women are seriously challenged in their efforts to accommodate the values of two different worlds. The pressure to remain part of the community, obey parents' rules, and be "good Greek girls" who marry "well" and bear children is still strong. The conflict arises between family loyalty and self-realization, between duty to parents and community and the pursuit of the "American way of life." Many Greek American girls are given less freedom than their male counterparts and tend to remain close to their mothers even after marriage. The pursuit of education and a career is secondary and may even be perceived as "un-Greek" or unwomanly.

Although Greeks tend to be a highly educated ethnic group, the pursuit of higher education remains the province of men. The 1990 Census reports that twice as many Greek men as women received university degrees, with a significantly higher proportion of men going on to receive advanced degrees.

"I felt grateful the Statue of Liberty was a woman. I felt she would understand a woman's heart."

Stella Petrakis in 1916, cited in Ellis Island: An Illustrated History of the Immigrant Experience, edited by Ivan Chermayeff et al. (New York: Macmillan, 1991).


Theodore Salutos in The Greeks in the United States wrote: "Hellenism and Greek Orthodoxythe one intertwined with the otherserved as the cord that kept the immigrant attached to the mother country, nourished his patriotic appetites and helped him preserve the faith and language of his parents." The Greek Orthodox church helped to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of the immigrant. The early churches grew out of the kinotitos (community) where a symvoulion (board of directors) raised the money to build the church. The first Greek Orthodox church in the United States was founded in New Orleans in 1864. As Greek communities grew, other churches were established in New York (1892); Chicago (1893); Lowell, Massachusetts (1903); and Boston (1903). By 1923, there were 140 Greek churches in the United States.

Today, the liturgy and spirit of the Greek Orthodox church help to keep alive Greek ethnic cultural traditions in the United States. According to Kunkelman, to a Greek American, "ethnicity is synonymous with the church. One is a Greek not because he is a Hellene by birth; indeed many of Greek parentage have abandoned their identities and disappeared into the American mainstream. Rather one is Greek because he elects to remain part of the Greek community and an individual is a member of the Greek community by virtue of his attachment to the Greek Orthodox church, the framework on which the community rests."

For many, the Greek Orthodox church is the center of community life. In the United States all dioceses, parishes, and churches are under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of North and South America, an autonomous self-governing church within the sphere of influence of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and New Rome. The Ecumenical Patriarch has the power to elect the archbishop and the bishops, directs all church matters outside the American church, and remains the guiding force in all matters of faith. Founded in 1922, the Archdiocese is located in New York City. It supports 62 parishes in the Archdiocesan District of New York, as well as the parishes in ten dioceses across the Americas.

"Orthodox" comes from the Greek orthos (correct) and doxa (teaching or worship). The Greek Orthodox share a common liturgy, worship, and tradition. In its fundamental beliefs, the church is conservative, resistant to change, and allows little flexibility. The Orthodox tradition is an Eastern tradition with the official center of Orthodoxy at Constantinople. After the tenth century Eastern and Western traditions grew apart on matters of faith, dogma, customs, and politics. East and West finally divided on the issue of papal authority.

The basic beliefs of the Orthodox are summarized in the Nicene Creed dating back to the fourth century. The Orthodox believe that one can achieve complete identification with God (theosis ). All activities and services in the church are to assist the individual in achieving that end. The most important service is the Divine Liturgy in which there are four distinct liturgies: St. John Chrysostom (the one most frequently followed), St. Basil (followed ten times a year), St. James (October 23), and the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts (Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent and the first three days of Easter Holy Week). The church uses Greek Koine, the language of New Testament Greek, as its liturgical language. The seven sacraments in the church are Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, Communion, Marriage, Holy Unction (Anointing of the Sick), and Holy Orders. The Greek Orthodox calendar has many feast days, fast days, and name days. The most important feast day ("the feast of feasts") is Holy Pascha (Easter Sunday). In addition to Easter, the "twelve great feasts" are the Nativity of the Mother of God, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Presentation of the Mother of God in the Temple, Christmas, Epiphany, the Presentation of Jesus Christ in the Temple, Palm Sunday, Ascension of Jesus Christ, Pentecost, the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ, and the Dormition (death) of the Mother of God.

The Greek Orthodox church also follows the Byzantine tradition in its architecture. The church is divided into the vestibule (the front of the church representing the world), the nave (the main area where people assemble), and the sanctuary. The sanctuary is separated from the nave by an iconostasis, a screenlike partition. Only the priests enter the sanctuary. Icons (images of saints) decorate the iconostasis in prescribed tiers. The service takes place in the sanctuary, which contains an altar table and an oblation (preparation) table. The Greek Orthodox church is filled with symbols, including crosses and icons, which create an aura of heaven on earth.

The church continues to face the process of Americanization. The American Orthodox church has many American elements: an American-trained clergy, the introduction of English into the service, modern music written for organ, modern architecture and architectural features (pews, choir lofts, separate social halls). The limited role of women in the church is being questioned. Until the second century, women fully participated in the church as teachers, preachers, and deacons. After that period, however, their roles were limited by official decree. Today women are taking more active leadership roles; however, the question of ordaining women to the priesthood has not been seriously considered.

Internal dissent has plagued the Greek Orthodox community in the United States in recent years. Dissenters have petitioned Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos of Constantinople for the removal of Archbishop Spyridon, appointed leader of the Greek Orthodox archdiocese in the United States in 1996. They claim that Spyridon ignored input from the lay community in church affairs, including the firing of three priests from the faculty of Hellenic College in Brookline, Massachusetts. A spokesperson for the archdiocese commented that this group does not speak for the entire Greek Orthodox community in America, but a New York Times article suggested that the movement against Spyridon reveals that the church is in "serious turmoil."

Employment and Economic Traditions

The first immigrants were for the most part young single men who had no intention of remaining permanently in the United States. They came to work in the large industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest as factory laborers, peddlers, busboys, and bootblacks. Those who went to the mill towns of New England worked in textile and shoe factories, while the Greeks who went West worked in mines and on the railroads. These Greeks often were subject to the padrone system, a form of exploitative indentured servitude employed in many of the larger industrial cities of the North and in the large mining corporations of the West.

Greeks in America have stressed individual efforts and talent and have had a long tradition of entrepreneurship in the United States, and many who were peddlers and street merchants in the United States became owners of small businesses. First-generation Greeks who were fruit and vegetable peddlers became owners of grocery stores; flower vendors opened florist shops. Greeks in Lowell, Massachusetts, became successful in numerous businesses. By 1912, according to a publication of the National Park Service, Lowell: The Story of an Industrial City, they owned "seven restaurants, twenty coffee houses, twelve barber shops, two drug stores, six fruit stores, eight shoeshine parlors, one dry-goods store, four ticket agencies, seven bakeries, four candy stores [and] twenty-two grocery stores."

In the 1920s Greeks owned thousands of confectionery stores across the country and usually owned the candy-manufacturing businesses that supplied the stores. When the candy businesses collapsed, Greeks became restaurant owners. By the late 1920s several thousand Greek restaurants were scattered across the country. Many immigrants of the 1950s and 1960s went into the fast-food restaurant business.

The Greek professional class remained small until the 1940s. During the first quarter of the twentieth century, most Greek professionals were doctors. The next largest group comprised lawyers, dentists, pharmacists, and chemists. A few became professors of literature, philosophy, and the classics. Although the Greeks were slow to develop an academic tradition in this country in part because of low economic incentive, a new professional class began to emerge after World War I. Today Greek Americans engage in many professional academic endeavors. Instead of remaining in family-held businesses, third- and fourth-generation Greek Americans increasingly are pursuing professional careers.

Currently, Greeks are found in almost every occupation and enterprise and constitute one of the wealthier economic groups in the United States. The average per capita income of all persons with Greek ancestry according to the 1990 Census was $18,361.

Politics and Government

Numerous Greek American political and social organizations have existed since the 1880s. These organizations often were made up of Greeks who had come from the same region in Greece. They had a shared sense of Hellenism and a common religion and language and often aligned themselves with native Greek concerns. The kinotitos (community) was an organization similar to the village government in Greece. Although the kinotitos helped to preserve Greek traditions, it sometimes hindered assimilation.

In 1907 the Pan-Hellenic Union was founded to coordinate and incorporate local organizations; to provide a means of helping Greece obtain more territory from the Ottoman Empire; and to support the return of Constantinople to Greece and the consolidation of all Greek colonies in the Eastern Mediterranean under Greek authority. It also helped Greeks to adapt to their new home in the United States. Many Greek immigrants were slowly beginning to accept the fact that they would not be returning to Greece and that the United States was their permanent home. In 1922 the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) was founded. Although the AHEPA supported the assimilation of Greeks to the American way of life, it did not relinquish its strong attachments to Greece. During World War II, the AHEPA was a major contributor to the Greek War Relief Association.

The one issue that mobilized the Greek American community to political action was the Turkish invasion of Cyprus on July 15, 1974. The efforts of well-organized lobby groups to effect an arms embargo against Turkey were impressive. The AHEPA played a leading role in these activities, along with other lobby groupsthe American Hellenic Institute and its public affairs committee, the influential United Hellenic American Congress, and the Hellenic Council of America. The Greek Orthodox church and local community organizations also assisted. Primarily because of the successful lobbying of these groups, the United States imposed an arms embargo on Turkey on February 5, 1975.

Greek American politicians were also instrumental in shaping U.S. policy toward the Republic of Macedonia, established after the breakup of the communist Yugoslav federation in the early 1990s. Greece strenuously objected to Macedonia's use of a name that also refers to a region in Greece, and announced a trade embargo against the new country. When, on February 9, 1994, President Clinton announced that the United States would officially recognize Macedonia, Greek American politicians launched an intensive campaign to reverse this policy, gathering 30,000 signatures on a protest petition. Clinton succumbed to this pressure and announced that the United States would withhold diplomatic relations until an envoy could resolve Greece's objections.

Greek political figures are almost overwhelmingly Democratic. They include Michael Dukakis, Paul Tsongas, John Brademas, Paul Spyro Sarbanes, Michael Bilirakis, Andrew Manatos, and George Stephanopoulos. Although Greek Americans traditionally have voted Democratic, their increasing wealth and status have led to an even division within the Greek American community between Republicans and Democrats.


Greek Americans have participated in large numbers in all major wars fought by the United States. Greek American men with veteran status number 90,530; women number 2,635.

Individual and Group Contributions

Greek Americans have made significant contributions in virtually all of the arts, sciences, and humanities, as well as in politics and business. Following is a sample of their achievements.


Aristides Phoutridis, a distinguished professor at Yale University, established Helikon, the first Greek student organization, in 1911 in Boston. George Mylonas (1898-1988) had a distinguished career in the fields of Classical and Bronze Age art and archaeology. His numerous books include Mycenae, the Capital City of Agamemnon (1956), Aghios Kosmos (1959), Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries (1961), Mycenae and the Mycenean Age (1966), Mycenae's Last Century of Greatness (1968), Grave Circle B of Mycenae (1972), The Cult Center of Mycenae (1972), and The West Cemetery of Eleusis (1975). Theodore Salutos (1910-1980) was a professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is well known for his studies of the Greek immigration experience. His most important work, Greeks in the United States (1964), became a model for other works on this topic.


John Celivergos Zachos (1820-1898), one of 40 orphans who came to the United States during the Greek Revolution of 1821, was associate principal of the Cooper Female Seminary in Dayton, Ohio (1851-1854), principal and teacher of literature in the grammar school of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio (1854-1857), a surgeon during the Civil War, a teacher at Meadville Theological School (1866-1867), and a teacher and curator at Cooper Union in New York until 1898. Michael Anagnos (1837-1906) became the director of the famous Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston where he promoted vocational training and self-help.


Olympia Dukakis (1931- ), a well-known film actress and the cousin of politician Michael Dukakis, has appeared in a number of roles since the 1960s. Selected films include Lilith (1964), Twice a Man (1964), John and Mary (1969), Made for Each Other (1971), and The Idolmaker (1980). Her most recent films are Steel Magnolias (1989) and Moonstruck (1987), for which she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. John Cassavetes (1929-1989) was a well-known stage, screen, and television actor, director, playwright, and screenwriter. His many film appearances include Fourteen (1951), Affair in Havana (1957), The Killers (1964), The Dirty Dozen (1967), and Rosemary's Baby (1968). He directed and produced many films including Too Late Blues (1962), A Child Is Waiting (1963), A Woman under the Influence (1974), and Big Trouble (1986). George Tsakiris (1933- ), a singer, dancer, and actor, has been in films since the 1940s. He starred in roles in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953); White Christmas (1954); West Side Story (1961), for which he won a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor; Diamond Head (1962); and Is Paris Burning? (1963). Elia Kazan (1909- ) was born Elia Kazanjoglou in Constantinople. He is well known as a director, producer, actor, and writer. His best-known productions include A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), A Face in the Crowd (1957), Splendor in the Grass (1961), America, America (1963), and The Arrangement (1969). He directed such films as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), Gentlemen's Agreement (1947), On the Waterfront (1953), and East of Eden (1954). His writings include America, America (1962), The Arrangement (1969), The Assassins (1972), The Understudy (1974), Acts of Love (1978), and The Anatolian (1982). Katina Paxinou (1900-1973), born Katina Constantopoulos, was a popular actress who starred in many films, including For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Confidential Agent (1945), Mourning Becomes Electra (1947), The Inheritance (1947), and Prince of Foxes (1945). Telly Savalas (1923-1994), a popular film and television actor, is best known for his role as Theo Kojack in the National Broadcasting Corporation's television series "Kojack" (1973). Born in Garden City, New York, Savalas starred in several films including The Young Savages (1961), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), and The Dirty Dozen (1967).


Christos G. Bastis, born in Trikala, Greece, established the Sea Fare restaurant in New York City, and became a notable collector of ancient sculpture. He donated several works from his collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and was an honorary trustee of that institution and a member of the board of trustees of the Booklyn Museum.


Constantine Phasoularides published the first Greek American newspaper in New York in 1892, the Neos Kosmos (New World ). Nicholas Gage (1939- ), born in Lia, is a journalist and writer, associated with the Worcester Telegram and Evening Gazette, Boston Herald Traveler, Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. He left the New York Times in 1980 to write Eleni, a work detailing the events surrounding the execution of his mother by Communist guerrillas in Greece in the 1940s.


In 1906 Mary Vardoulakis wrote Gold in the Streets, the first Greek American novel. Olga Broumas (1949- ), born in Syros, is a feminist poet who writes a poetry of the "body" with distinct lesbian-erotic motifs. Many of her poems capture the spirit of the Greek homeland. Her works include Beginning with O (1977), Sole Savage (1980), Pastoral Jazz (1983), and Perpetua (1985). Kostantinos Lardas (1927- ) writes both poetry and fiction. His major works are The Devil Child (1961) and And In Him Too; In Us, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1964. Henry Mark Petrakis (1923- ) is a major figure in Greek American fiction. His novels include Lion of My Heart (1959), The Odyssey of Kostas Volakis (1963), The Dream of Kings (1966), In the Land of Morning (1973), and Hour of the Bell (1976). Petrakis writes of the immigrant experience of the conflict between the old and new generations.


Captain George Partridge Colvocoresses (1816-1872) distinguished himself as commander of the Saratoga in the Civil War. His son Rear Admiral George P. Colvocoresses fought in the Spanish-American War was appointed the commandant of midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy.


Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960), a well-known composer-conductor, conducted the Minneapolis Symphony (1937-1949) and the New York Philharmonic. Maria Callas (1923-1977), born Mary Kalogeropoulou, was a noted operatic soprano. Callas made her film debut in Tosca (1941). She is remembered as a true artist for her original interpretations of Bellini, Donizetti, and Cherubini and in her roles as Norma, Medea, Violetta, and Lucia, as well as Tosca.


The first Greek American to be elected to the U.S. Congress was Lucas Miltiades Miller (1824-1902). Miller, a Democrat from Wisconsin, served in Congress from March 4, 1891, to March 3, 1893. Spiro Agnew (1918- ), a Republican who served as governor of Maryland in 1966, became vice president of the United States under Richard Nixon on November 5, 1968, and was reelected as vice president on November 7, 1972. John Brademas (1927- ), a Democrat from Indiana, served in Congress from 1959 to 1981. He became president of New York State University in 1981 until his retirement in 1992. Michael Dukakis (1933- ) was governor of Massachusetts in 1975-1979 and 1983-1991 and was Democratic candidate for president in 1988. Paul Efthemios Tsongas (1941- ), congressman from Massachusetts, served in the House of Representatives during 1974-1979 and in the U.S. Senate during 1979-1985. Paul Spyro Sarbanes (1933- ) was a Democratic congressman from Maryland who was reelected to the Senate in 1982. Gus Yatron (1927- ), Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, served in the U.S. House of Representatives during 1969-1989. George Stephanopoulos (1961- ) was director of communications for President Bill Clinton's administration during 1992-1993 before becoming senior advisor to the president for policy and strategy.


George Papnicolaou (1883-1961) was professor emeritus of anatomy at Cornell Medical College. His research led him to develop the "pap smear," a test designed to detect cervical cancer. Polyvios Koryllos was a professor of medicine at the University of Athens and Yale University. He is well known for his work in diagnosing tuberculosis. John Kotzias was a neurologist who discovered the drug L-dopa for the treatment of Parkinson's disease.


Alex Karras (1935- ) was a well-known football player (a two-time All-American) for the Detroit Lions from 1958 to 1971. He hosted the National Football League's Monday Night Football and has made numerous television appearances. Alex Grammas (1926- ) was a professional baseball player between 1954 and 1963 who played with the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and the Chicago Cubs. He was a baseball manager in 1969 and 1976-1977. Harry Agganis (1930-1955) distinguished himself in baseball, football, and basketball. Although he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns football team on graduation from Boston University in 1953, he signed with the Boston Red Sox. Jimmy Londos (c. 1895-1975), born Christopher Theophilus, won the world heavyweight wrestling championship on June 25, 1934.



Historically, the Greek ethnic press in the United States has kept pace with the needs of Greek Americans, and its presence has contributed to a strong ethnic cohesion in the Greek community. The first Greek American newspaper in the country was Neos Kosmos (New World ), first published in New York by Constantine Phasoularides in September 1897. It was followed by the Thermopylae, published by John Booras in 1900. The Ethnikos Keryx (National Herald ), which began publication in New York on April 2, 1915, was one of the few newspapers to have a significant influence on the Greek reading public. Its serious competitors in New York are Proini (Morning News ), which publishes only in Greek, and the Greek American, which publishes only in English. In Chicago the Greek Star (Hellenikos Aster ) and the Greek Press (Hellenikos Typos ), both published in Greek and English, still hold a sizable readership.

There are 27 Greek American newspapers in the United States; seven are published in either Greek or English, respectively, and 14 are published in both languages. The majority focus on community events and church news, as well as on news from Greece and the lobbying activities of Greek American politicians.

Ethnikos Keryx (The National Herald).

Begun in 1915, the Herald is the oldest daily newspaper in the Greek language in the United States. Features international, national, and local news and items about Greece of interest to the community.

Contact: Anthony Diamataris, Editor.

Address: 41-17 Crescent Street, Long Island City, New York 11101.

Telephone: (718) 784-5255.

The Greek American.

Widely read English-language publication that focuses on the political events in Greece and in the United States. Publishes a national calendar of events that lists activities taking place in the larger Greek community.

Contact: Tina Maurikos, Editor.

Address: 25-50 Crescent Street, Astoria, New York 11102.

Telephone: (718) 626-7676.

Fax: (718) 956-8076.

Greek Press> (Hellenikos Typos).

Founded in 1929 and published bi-weekly in English and Greek, Greek Press covers political, educational, and social events, as well as local and international news of interest to the Greek community.

Contact: Helen Angelopoulos, Editor.

Address: 808 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois 60607.

Telephone: (708) 766-2955.

Fax: (708) 766-3069.

Greek Star (Hellenikos-Aster).

Founded in 1904, Greek Star is the oldest continuously published Greek newspaper in the United States. A bi-weekly publication of the United Hellenic American Congregation, it appears in Greek and English and features local and international news of interest to the Greek community in Chicago. Covers news from Cyprus and Greece.

Contact: Nicholas Philippidis, Editor.

Address: 4715 North Lincoln, Chicago, Illinois 60625.

Telephone: (312) 878-7331.

The Hellenic Chronicle.

A weekly English-language publication dedicated to the promulgation of American, Hellenic, and Orthodox ideals. Features political, national, international, and local news of interest to the Greek community. Contains an Entertainment Arts and Social section.

Contact: Nancy Agris Savage, Editor.

Address: 5-6 Franklin Commons, Framingham, Massachusetts 01701-6637.

Telephone: (508) 820-9700.

Fax: (508) 820-0952.


Founded in 1917, Campana is published semi-monthly in Greek and English and features the news from Greece, with information about Greeks abroad. Covers local and community events.

Contact: Costas Athansasiades, Editor.

Address: 30-96 42nd Street, Long Island City (Astoria), New York 11103-3031.

Telephone: (718) 278-3014.

Fax: (718) 278-3023.


Competing with The National Herald, this daily publishes community news and news from Greece and Cyprus, sporting events, artistic and cultural events, and editorials.

Contact: Fanny Holliday Petallides, Publisher.

Address: 25-50 Crescent Street, Astoria, New York 11102.

Telephone: (718) 626-7676.


WEDC-AM (1240).

"Hellenic American Radio Hour" airs every Saturday, 7:00p.m. to 8:00 p.m. One of the oldest Greek radio shows in the Chicago area (75 years). Features community events, discussion of family problems, religious issues, music, and news from Greece.

Contact: Carmen Castro.

Address: 5475 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60630-1229.

Telephone: (312) 631-0700.

WEEF-AM (1430).

"Greek Orthodox Hours of the Chicago Diocese" airs every Tuesday and Wednesday, 11:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. Discusses topics related to the Greek Orthodox church.

Contact: Paula Rekoumis and Sotirios Rekoumis.

Address: 210 Skokie Valley Road, Highland Park, Illinois 60035.

Telephone: (708) 831-5440.

WNTN-AM (1550).

"Greek Cultural Radio Program of Boston," a non-commercial, one-hour program that broadcasts twice a week. Features topics relating to Greek heritage, customs, and history. In Greek and English.

Contact: Athanasios Vulgaropoulos.

Address: 143 Rumford Avenue, Newton, Massachusetts 02166.

Telephone: (617) 969-1550.

WUNR-AM (1600).

"The Other Program," a talk show where people can call in with questions; "The Athenian Hour," featuring cultural and news events; "Hellenic Voice of Massachusetts"; "Let Us Sing," playing selections of Greek music.

Contact: Jane A. Clarke.

Address: 160 North Washington Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02114-2142.

Telephone: (617) 367-9003.

Fax: (617) 367-2265.

Organizations and Associations

American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA). Founded in 1922. The AHEPA is dedicated to the preservation of the Greek national identity in the United States. The oldest Greek fraternal organization in the United States has a membership of more than 500,000 members, with many chapters across the county. It engages in numerous charitable, publishing, and educational activities. It includes the Daughters of Penelope, a women's auxiliary; the Maids of Athens, a girls' organization; and the Sons of Pericles, a boys' organization. Publishes AHEPAN, a bimonthly.

Contact: Timothy Mauiatis, Executive Director.

Address: 1909 Q Street, N.W., Suite 500, Washington, D.C. 20009.

Telephone: (202) 232-6300.

Fax: (202) 232-2140.

Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society.

Founded in 1931. The Society promotes the values of the family and the Greek Orthodox faith and engages in many charitable, educational, and religious activities on behalf of the church. Its membership of more than 400,000 includes women 18 years and older.

Contact: Eve C. Condakes, President.

Address: 345 East 74th Street, New York, New York 10021-3701.

Telephone: (212) 744-4390.

Fax: (212) 861-1956.

Greek Orthodox Youth Adult League.

Conducts workshops on religious education for Greek youth. Assists the church both nationally and locally, with 6,000 to 10,000 members.

Contact: Tom Kanelos.

Address: 8 East 79th Street, New York, New York 10021.

Telephone: (212) 570-3560.

Fax: (212) 861-2183.

United Hellenic American Congress (UHAC).

Founded in 1974. The UHAC was established to preserve the cultural traditions of Greece. It coordinates many of the cultural activities of the Greek community in the Chicago area. Every year the UHAC issues a Greek Heritage Calendar of Events and is active in promoting the Greek Independence Day parade. The UHAC was a prominent lobbyist in the Greek American protest against the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.

Contact: Andrew Athens, National Chair.

Address: 75 East Wacker Drive, Suite 500, Chicago, Illinois 60601.

Telephone: (312) 345-1000.

Fax: (312) 345-1025.

Museums and Research Centers

Greek-American Folklore Society.

Founded 1983. Society members conduct classes and workshops on traditional dances and songs from every region of Greece. The Society presents hundreds of performances throughout the year and offers exhibits of and lectures on traditional Greek costumes. It coordinates the Panegyri, an annual conference of Greek folklore societies, as well as the Hellenic Folk Music Festival. The Society has 50 to 60 members.

Contact: Paul Ginis.

Address: 29-04 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria, New York 11105.

Telephone: (718) 728-8048.

Hellenic Cultural Museum at Holy Trinity Cathedral.

Opened on May 3, 1992. The museum is considered to be the first Greek cultural museum in the United States. This "people's museum" contains important collections of scrapbooks, diaries, letters, artifacts, newspapers, and photographs documenting the lives of the Greeks who settled in Utah from 1905 to the present. The museum contains a unique display of mining operations.

Contact: Chris Metos.

Address: 279 South 300 West, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101.

Telephone: (801) 328-9681.

Hellenic Museum and Cultural Center.

Opened 1992. The center preserves original documents, artifacts, and other archival source materials relating to the Greek American immigrant experience. It also collects the artistic works (crafts, embroideries, furniture) of Greek Americans.

Contact: Elaine Kollintzas, Executive Director.

Address: 400 North Franklin Street, Chicago, Illinois 60610.

Telephone: (312) 467-4622.

Immigration History Research Center.

Located at the University of Minnesota, this center contains important primary source materials on many aspects of the life of Greek immigrants in the United States. The collection includes the papers of the immigrant historian Theodore Salutos.

Contact: Joel Whurl, Curator.

Address: 826 Berry Street, St. Paul, Minnesota 55114.

Telephone: (612) 627-4208.

Saint Photios Foundation.

Founded in 1981. A Greek fraternal organization dedicated to preserving a shrine in Saint Augustine, Florida, commemorating the Greeks of New Smyrna, the first Greeks immigrants to arrive in America in 1768. The museum has a small library and cultural exhibit.

Contact: Father Dimitrios Couchell.

Address: 41 Saint George Street, Post Office Box 1960, Saint Augustine, Florida 32085.

Telephone: (904) 829-8205.

Sources for Additional Study

Callincos, Constance. American Aphrodite: Becoming Female in Greek America. New York: Pella, 1990.

Kunkelman, Gary. The Religion of Ethnicity: Belief and Belonging in a Greek-American Community. New York: Garland, 1990.

Moskos, Charles C. Greek Americans: Struggle and Success, second edition. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction, 1989.

Mouzaki, Rozanna. Greek Dances for Americans. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1981.

Pappas, Susan. "The Greek-American Press Marks Its 100th Anniversary This Year," Editor and Publisher, September 1992, pp. 18-19.

Rouvelas, Marilyn. A Guide to Greek Traditions and Customs in America. Bethesda, Maryland: Attica, 1993.

Salutos, Theodore. The Greeks in the United States. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964.

Scourby, Alice. The Greek Americans. Boston: Twayne, 1977.

Treasured Greek Proverbs, compiled, edited, and translated by Elaine G. Bucuvalas, Catherine G. Lavrakas, and Poppy G. Stamatos. (1980)

Greek Americans

views updated Jun 11 2018

Greek Americans

ETHNONYMS: Hellenic Americans, Cypriot Americans, Diaspora Greeks, Helleno Amerikanoi


Identification and Location. As the group appellation suggests, Greek Americans are Americans of ethnic Greek origin or ancestry. The broadest definition of Greek Americans includes all immigrants from Greece, ethnic Greek immigrants from lands outside Greece, and American-born individuals of full or partial Greek heritage. A narrower group definition of Greek American identity is based on affiliation with or connection to formal Greek American institutions. An intermediate, more fluid definition of the Greek American community relies on the self-identity or ethnic consciousness of its members.

Demography. Although no precise statistics exist, it is possible to estimate the Greek American population by synthesizing demographic statistics from three sources: official data collected in U.S. Census reports, community records compiled by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and unofficial sources, such as information tracked by voluntary associations and scholarly researchers. Based on an average drawn from these three statistical sources, the Greek American community numbered approximately 1,800,000 people in 2000. Of this aggregate number, approximately 500,000 were members of the first, or immigrant, generation; 675,000 were second-generation Greek Americans; 500,000 made up the third generation; and 125,000 people could be counted as members of the fourth generation.

Linguistic Affiliation. Modern Greek, belonging to the Hellenic group of the Indo-European family of languages, remains the chief language of the immigrant, or firstgeneration, Americans in the Greek American community. Second-generation Greek Americans tend to be bilingual, speaking both English and Greek, but generally identify English as their primary language. Active use of Greek among third- and fourth-generation Greek Americans is limited. Overall, English is used in virtually all private and public interactions between in-group and out-group members, while generational distinction is the principal determinant of Greek- versus English-language use within the Greek American community. The modern Greek language has both functional and, even when only in traces, symbolic value as an instrument for reinforcing group identity.

History and Cultural Relations

The Greek world's limited physical resources have established a long tradition of emigration and diaspora, experiences central to Greek culture and history since antiquity. In the early modern era many Greeks sought economic opportunities and political refuge from Ottoman rule through immigration to Western Europe, Russia, and later, Egypt. These migration patterns shifted, however, as the New World began to compete with the Old World for immigrant labor in the late -nineteenth century. Spurred by mounting population pressures, a series of domestic economic crises, and reports of unparalleled employment opportunities in the United States, Greeks began to immigrate in large numbers to America after 1890. Between 1890 and 1924, approximately 500,000 Greeks entered the United States. The vast majority of these immigrants followed expanding networks of chain migration into industrial labor and mill positions in Midwestern factories and East Coast cities as well as railroad and mining gangs in the far West. In addition to harsh working conditions and other hardships, Greek immigrants, like immigrants from other Eastern and Southern European countries, encountered prejudice, hostility, and sometimes violent nativist reactions. The American nativist movement succeeded in abruptly halting Greek immigration in the mid-1920s as the U.S. Congress passed immigrant legislation whose quotas were directed against the continuing ingress of Eastern and Southern Europeans.

Unwelcome by mainstream American society, Greek immigrants sought comfort and in some cases protection in establishing their own communities and cultural institutions. While Greek Americans had built voluntary associations, a dynamic press, and countless other group structures, by the 1920s and 1930s the community's life was centered on and dominated by, if not inseparable from, the institutional and organizational hub of every community: the Greek Orthodox church.

Greek American institutions were able to develop quickly and communities enjoyed rapid growth, in part because most Greek immigrants prospered economically. In contrast to most other immigrant groups, the majority of first-generation Greek Americans successfully moved from the working class into the middle class. This upward economic mobility was fueled by entrepreneurial activities as Greek Americans became increasingly successful in and associated with small businesses. This pattern of employment in labor followed by small business ownership also characterized the economic experience of the next major wave of Greek immigrants, some 250,000 to 300,000 individuals who came to the United States after the relaxation of immigration restrictions in the 1960s. Thanks to the decline of nativist sentiment as well as the general social tolerance and respectability, if not acceptance, extended to Greek Americans in the 1940s and 1950s, Greeks who immigrated to the United States from the 1960s onward encountered fewer obstacles than did the preceding generations of immigrants. Nonetheless, the arrival and integration of this large wave at times engendered tension with the earlier generation of Greek immigrants and their American-born children. These tensions, which diminished during the 1980s and 1990s, were overshadowed by the fact that the new arrivals restored considerable cultural and institutional vitality to the Greek American community.


Although Greek Americans are widely dispersed throughout the United States, chain-migration patterns led to their overwhelming concentration in urban areas. Approximately 95 percent of Greek Americans reside in urban areas, compared to roughly 75 percent of the total American population. Moreover, the majority of Greek Americans reside in or near a few of the largest metropolitan centers in the United States: 500,000 in greater New York, 200,000 in the Chicago area, 150,000 in the greater Boston area, approximately 50,000 in Detroit and its surrounding communities, and 50,000 in and around Los Angeles. While still concentrated in the historical industrial corridors of the Middle Atlantic region, the Midwest/Great Lakes basin, and New England, Greek American settlements have undergone significant changes since the 1960s and 1970s as former urban ethnic enclaves and concentrated neighborhoods have been depopulated by relocation to suburban areas.


Subsistence. Greek Americans are fully integrated in the modern post-industrial American economy and thus are not part of a subsistence economic framework.

Commercial Activities. Greek Americans, especially those in the first generation, are highly concentrated in small businesses, such as restaurants and other food-service enterprises, that are often family owned. Second-generation Greek Americans are overwhelmingly concentrated in the professions and diverse entrepreneurial activities.

Industrial Arts. Most of the demand in the Greek American community for culture-based goodsfoods, entertainment products, religious materials, and the likeis met by Greek commercial exporters/importers and market distributors. Although many of these goods were produced by Greek American artists and entrepreneurs in the first half of the twentieth century, the Greek American community is, with few exceptions, no longer a source of such goods.

Trade. Fully integrated into the modern post-industrial American economy, Greek Americans do not constitute a distinct trading group.

Division of Labor. Within the Greek American community division of labor occurs along lines of age, gender, ability, occupation, and/or status vis-á-vis economic tasks. These patterns conform to the mainstream American society.

Land Tenure. As a result of the overwhelming urban and suburban concentration of Greek American settlement patterns in the United States, land tenure, as well other agricultural issues, are largely irrelevant to the New World experience and economic condition of Greek Americans.


Kin Groups and Descent. Reflecting the enduring influence of Old World structures, descent is patrilineal, but bilateral kinship remains a factor in determining family relationships. Although somewhat diminished by American cultural pressures, two basic categories of kinship exist simultaneously within the unified familial system. The foundational category is based on notions of bloodline and is composed of the nuclear and extended family. The second category of relationships is established through sacramental sponsorship in weddings or baptisms and thus unites different families (nuclear and extended) into affinal networks of kinship.

Kinship Terminology. The two basic Greek American categories of kinshipprimary and affinalare denoted in the conceptual terms oikogenia (family) and koumbario (affinal relation), respectively.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriages arranged by parents or trusted intermediaries, especially so-called picture-bride unions, were typical of the immigrant generation that dominated Greek American community life from the 1890s through the 1930s. Traditionally, marriages functioned, at least in part, as economic mergers and alliance structures between families and thus tended to be arranged. Courtship rules, which once were appropriate only to engaged couples, have been relaxed since the 1970s but remain restrictive, especially as applied to girls and women. Group endogamy, although highly valued, has diminished significantly in post-immigrant generations, with only about one-quarter of Greek Americans marrying within their ethnic group by the 1990s. Post-marital residence in a separate household is preferred, although active lifelong links to the spouses' natal homes is common. Marriages tend to be stable, and divorce, which continues to bear a heavy stigma in Greek American culture, is relatively uncommon, with only about 15 percent of Greek American marriages ending in divorce, compared to roughly half of all marriages in the United States.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family constitutes the basic domestic unit in the Greek American community. Reflecting general demographic patterns in the United States, the average Greek American nuclear family in the 1980s and 1990s consisted of 3.5 to 4.0 people (husband, wife, and two children) and generally occupied a common residence apart from extended family households.

Inheritance. Although strict primogeniture is not associated with Greek Americans, traditional practices continue to be followed in terms of demonstrated favoritism toward the senior male child's succession to a family's symbolic, if not actual, stewardship. It is not uncommon for the senior male sibling, as well as his children, to receive a disproportionately larger share of an inheritance compared with other siblings and their children. These inheritance patterns have been more prevalent among first-generation Greek Americans, particularly those who arrived during the first half of the twentieth century. Subsequent generations of Greek Americans, as well as first-generation arrivals during the second half of the twentieth century, have tended to abide by a norm of equal shares of inheritance to each surviving child.

Socialization. Mothers tend to be the primary care-givers in most Greek American families, although fathers, as well as grandparents and elder siblings, are actively involved in child rearing. Corporal punishment of children is relatively rareeven if considered situationally acceptable. Strict behavioral controls that are intended to protect family reputation and status are applied to children and are expanded and adjusted with age. Consistent with traditional patriarchal norms, male children generally have more autonomy and privileges than do female children and are subject to less familial and community scrutiny in terms of social conduct. Primary and secondary education are prized as a system for inculcating children with competitive principles. Higher education is valued almost exclusively as an instrument for economic advancement, leading to an emphasis on professional and vocational training at the expense of intellectual pursuits.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Both formal and informal, as well as local and national, structures contribute to the organization of Greek American society. The kinotis (community) is the fundamental formal social unit. The kinotis is almost universally fixed to a locality's Greek Orthodox parish, with communicants constituting a community whose group affairs are ostensibly administered by an elected council. The local parish is integrated into a nationwide network of community links through the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America as well as a constellation of voluntary associations within and outside the Orthodox Church. Reflecting changes produced by increasing social and geographic mobility, these traditional organizational structures have since the 1960s become more fluid and heterogeneous. Although all members of a kinotis theoretically enjoy equal privileges vis-á-vis the community's institutions, access to leadership roles, administrative positions, and decision-making processes within Greek American organizations is influenced, if not often determined, by material factors such as an individual's level of education and/or wealth. Financial success and the attendant status remain the primary factor in the acquisition and exercise of power within the community.

Political Organization. Although Greek Americans are to some extent administratively organized through local, parish-based community structures, political organization per se is not relevant to the condition of the Greek American community. Political activism, however, does have a place in the Greek American experience. Although nascent political mobilization of Greek Americans by community leaders took place during both world wars, a permanent or at least longterm lobbying effort was not organized until 1974 in response to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Despite its popular image as a major ethnic political force, the Greek American lobby in Washington is small, does not have significant resources, and has produced mixed results in its efforts to promote awareness of issues concerning Greek Americans.

Social Control. The basis for social control within Greek American culture lies in the integrated principles of honor and shame. Although less openly pronounced today than in earlier periods, these principles continue to resonate within the Greek American social corpus. Honor functions as a moral commodity defining, or at least contributing to, a family's status. Family honor, and hence respectability and status, can be compromised and lost by the deviant actions of any member of the family. The corporate nature of honor consequently requires that individuals conform to the interests of the family in abiding by the norms of the community. Acting otherwise brings shame not only to oneself but to one's entire family. Shame, in the form of community gossip, public derision, and social marginalization, works as an inducement for conformity and a deterrent against aberrant behavior.

Conflict. Although disputes over the leadership and policies of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese have often produced discord, the most serious conflict in the Greek American community stemmed from a political crisis originating in Greece. This crisis began in 1915 and ostensibly ended in the 1920s, but in reality it resonated throughout the interwar period and beyond. Beginning in the period of World War I, Greece was politically polarized between two feuding factions: One group generally identified as republican, backed the country's prime minister, Eleutherios Venizelos, who advocated entry into the war on the side of the Entente; an opposing camp, identified as royalist, supported Greece's king, Constantine, and the monarchy's policy of official neutrality. The intense political and social cleavages produced by the so-called Constantinist-Venizelist schism in Greece were mirrored in the Greek American context. Greek American communities throughout the United States were marked by intense factionalism, and in some instances parishes broke into two rival communities. These divisions were not fully bridged until World War II, when Greek Americans united to provide Allied Greece with humanitarian aid and to mobilize their communities behind the American war effort.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Like their ethnic and cultural counterparts in the historical Greek lands of the Old World, virtually all Greeks in the United States are adherents of Orthodox Christianity. This has reinforced and maximized the complex and to some extent symbiotic relationship between Greek identity and Orthodoxy in the New World. A small number of practitioners of evangelical, or charismatic, Orthodoxy, organized in independent parish groups, exist within the larger ethnic community, as do some converts to Protestantism. During the first half of the twentieth century even smaller groups of Romaniot and Sephardic Jews from Greece established a handful of immigrant communities in the United States. However, these Greek Jews were almost entirely absorbed into the larger Jewish American cultural landscape in the postwar period.

Religious Practitioners. Orthodox Christianity invests ordained members of the church with full liturgical and sacramental authority vis-á-vis all members of the church. Nevertheless, Orthodoxy, in theory if not always in practice, assigns equivalent authority and shared participatory roles to the clergy, the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and the laity in the administration of church affairs. This congregationalist tradition or ideal, however, has been frequently undermined by internecine struggles for community power at the local and national levels.

Ceremonies. Ceremony and ritual continue to play important roles in the religious and social lives of Greek Americans. Inasmuch as liturgical and other rites can be regarded as religious rituals, Orthodox Christianity articulates many of its central beliefs through sacramental practices that mark important transitions in Greek Americans' lives (baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc.) and often reinforce individuals' bonds to their community of co-religionists. Major secular occasions, such as Greek Independence Day and other historical events, are accompanied by ceremonial celebrations or remembrances that mark collective memory and group identity in terms of ethno-religious community.

Arts. Traditional and non-traditional forms of art, although neither highly valued nor supported by the Greek American community, have a rich history, diversity, and level of achievement. In the realm of traditional, in particular musical, arts, Greek American performers played a formative role during the first few decades of the twentieth century in the emergence and recording of an original and influential counter-culture-based musical genre known as rebetika. Greek Americans and Greek American themes have made an imprint in the world of American literature, where writers such as Harry Mark Petrakis have published major works that showcase, humanize, and make accessible to a broad English-language readership complex aspects of the Greek experience in America. Greek and Greek American issues have been addressed in the novels and films of the Greek American director and writer Elia Kazan. Other material and expressive arts, such as dance, painting, photography, and sculpting, have attracted a new generation of young Greek American artists and performers in California and New York who, in the 1990s, began to explore Greek American issues.

Medicine. The first generation of immigrants who dominated the Greek American community and culture from the 1890s through the 1930s often utilized Old World folk practices in treating many ailments and physical injuries. Modern American or Western medicine has completely replaced these traditional approaches to health issues in the Greek American community.

Death and Afterlife. Centuries-old burial costumes, which were common to the first wave of Greek immigrants in the late -nineteenth and early -twentieth centuries, have been almost entirely supplanted by Greek Americans' deference to modern norms introduced by American commercial morticians. The traditional family vigil over the deceased, during the period from death to entombment, is no longer practiced because of the demands of commercial funeral homes as well as public health laws and other state regulations. The highly public, demonstrative folk-based burial mourning, involving individual lament and chorus wailing, has been increasingly replaced by more private, American-like models of loss. Relatively unaffected by assimilative processes, liturgical funeral rites remain unchanged and are consistent with practices throughout the Orthodox Christian world, which bases its system of death and afterlife on Christological principles of salvation.

For the original article on Greek Americans, see Volume 1, North America.


Cononelos, Louis James (1989). In Search of Gold Paved Streets: Greek Immigrant Labor in the Far West, 1900-1920. New York: AMS Press.

Georgakas, Dan, and Charles C. Moskos, eds. (1991). New Directions in Greek American Studies. New York: Pella.

Kopan, Andrew T. (1990). Education and Greek Immigrants in Chicago: A Study in Ethnic Survival New York: Garland.

Kourvetaris, George A. (1971). First and Second Generation Greeks in Chicago: An Inquiry into Their Stratification and Mobility Patterns. Athens: National Center of Social Research.

Moskos, Charles C. (1999). Greek Americans: Struggle and Success. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Papaioannou, George (1985). The Odyssey of Hellenism in America. Salonika: Patriarchal Institute for Patristic Studies.

Papanikolas, Helen Zeese (1974). Toil and Rage in a New Land: The Greek Immigrants in Utah. Salt Lake City: Utah Historical Society.

Psomiades, Harry J., and Alice Scourby, eds. (1982). The Greek American Community in Transition. New York: Pella.

Saloutos, Theodore (1964). The Greeks in the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Scourby, Alice (1984). The Greek Americans. Boston: Twayne.


Greek Americans

views updated May 17 2018

Greek Americans

For more information on Greek history and culture, seeVol. 4: Greeks.


Few Greeks immigrated to the United States before the late 1800s, except a small number who fled during the Greek uprising against the Ottoman Empire in the 1820s. Greek war orphans from that uprising were also adopted by Americans. However, most Greek Americans today are descended from immigrants who came to the United States during the Great Migration of about 1880–1920. The majority of Greek immigrants were young men from the southern peninsula of Greece, known as the Peloponnesus region, who hoped to work hard in the United States, save up a sizeable amount of money, and then return to Greece. By 1925, one out of every four Greek men between the ages of 15 and 45 had gone to the United States. About 40% who immigrated between 1908 and 1931 did return to Greece, but the rest stayed in America. A few returned to Greece to marry and then brought their wives back to the United States.

These first Greek immigrants were farmers who suffered from poverty because of disruptions in the Greek economy and a population explosion resulting from improvements in sanitation and medicine. Most were uneducated and illiterate and had few job skills to offer in the industrialized work world of the United States. They took whatever jobs they could find, usually for very low wages. Many were exploited by padroni (contractors who brought primarily Italian immigrants to the United States) but even most of those treated like virtual slaves managed to survive and tuck away bits of money to build up their savings slowly.

Most Greek immigrants eventually opened their own businesses. They tended to specialize in shoeshine stands, florist shops, grocery stores, confectionaries, fruit stands, and restaurants, particularly diners. Many of these businesses still exist today, as a high percentage of Greek Americans continue to own their own businesses.

The Immigration Act of 1924 restricted the numbers of immigrants allowed into the United States from each country, slowing Greek immigration significantly. World War II (1939– 45) and the Greek Civil War (1947–49) further reduced Greek immigration until about 1950. In return for its allies' support, the United States passed the Refugee Relief Act to allow refugees from countries devastated by World War II to immigrate to America. Many Greeks took advantage of this opportunity, and the number of Greek immigrants rose dramatically. Another wave of Greek immigration began in the late 1960s when an oppressive regime took over the Greek government and many Greeks decided to flee. Immigration reforms in the United States made entering the United States much easier by removing many of the previous restrictions. Most of the Greek immigrants to the United States since World War II have come to stay, and many are women and professionals.

Greek Americans suffered discrimination at first, which could at times turn violent. But for the most part, Greek Americans had an easier time becoming assimilated because so much of American culture is based on ancient Greek ideals. Although the values of modern Greeks differ greatly from those of ancient Greece, the values of democracy, hard work, and independence have remained constant. Among the educated elite of America, a number of Hellenic societies extolled the virtues of Greece and welcomed Greek immigrants to the shores of the United States. Despite some initial difficulties, therefore, Greek Americans have found themselves largely compatible with U.S. society.

The total Greek American population today is uncertain: some 1,153,295 persons reported themselves to be of Greek ancestry on the 2000 U.S. Census (0.4% of the total U.S. population); the U.S. Department of State, however, estimates the Greek American population to be closer to 3 million. Whatever their actual numbers, it is certain that Greek Americans comprise the largest Greek community outside of Greece.

Although Greek Americans are spread across the United States, almost one-third (30%) live in the northeast. Massachusetts (1.2%) and New Hampshire (1.2%) have the highest percentage of Greek Americans in their total state populations. The top five states with the largest numbers of Greek Americans are (in descending order) New York (151,812), California (135,487), Illinois (99,354), Florida (79,912), and Massachusetts (76,189). Greek Americans tend to cluster in cities, particularly New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston. Only a few of the original "Greektowns" still exist, including an area in Chicago and one in Detroit. Formerly, Greektowns were located in Lowell, Massachusetts; Salt Lake City, Utah; Tarpon Springs, Florida (where Greek Americans ran a profitable sponge-diving business); St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; and New York City; as well as others on Long Island and across New York State.

The Greek and English languages differ from each other significantly in both spoken and written forms. Most early Greek Americans were illiterate in Greek, however, so the written differences between the languages did not pose a problem for them, since they could not read or write Greek anyway. Many recent Greek immigrants to the United States are well educated and already have some English proficiency when they arrive. Therefore, English language ability has not presented a serious obstacle to Greek Americans for the most part. First-generation Greek Americans worked hard to acquire English language skills, and subsequent generations grew up speaking English as their native language. Most second- and third-generation Greek Americans, in fact, never learned Greek.

Many Greek Americans anglicized or shortened their names, particularly those with long surnames, such as Michael Anagnostopoulos (1837–1906), a Latin and Greek teacher at Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, who came to be known simply as Anagnos. (Anagnos was one of Helen Keller's teachers.) Traditionally, Greek children are named after their grandparents, and a large number of Greek Americans continue this tradition.

Greek American community life centers around the church, which serves cultural and social, as well as religious, purposes. One of the first things early Greek American communities did was to raise money to build a church. Greek Americans are almost exclusively Eastern (or Greek) Orthodox. They follow Eastern Orthodox birth and death rituals, such as bringing a baby to church 40 days after birth to be blessed and having the child christened within a year after that. When a Greek American dies, a wake is held, with the funeral the following day.

Easter is the most important holiday for Eastern Orthodox Greek Americans. (So that Easter will always come after the Jewish Passover, the Eastern Orthodox Church sometimes celebrates it one week later than the Western Christian Church. It always occurs sometime in early spring.) Good Friday and Great Saturday services build up to the joyous celebration of Easter Sunday. Christmas (25 December) and Epiphany (6 January) are also important, as is Holy Apostles' Day (29 June), which honors saints Peter and Paul (believed to be the "fathers" of the Christian Church).

Greek Americans also celebrate Greek Independence Day on 25 March, with parades in traditional costumes, speeches, and folk dances. Another secular holiday celebrated by Greek Americans is "No" Day on 28 October, which commemorates the day when the Greek government refused to give in to the Fascists during World War II (1939–45).

To provide a sense of community and mutual support, early Greek Americans formed cultural associations. Many of these associations exist in the United States today. One of the largest is the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) and its subsidiaries: Daughters of Penelope (for adult women), Sons of Pericles (for male youths), and Maids of Athena (for female youths). There are also numerous day schools and afterschool programs to teach Greek culture and language; the Greek Orthodox Church alone sponsors 50 of these schools. Early Greek American college students formed intellectual societies, such as the Plato Society founded in Boston in the early 1900s. The first university club in the United States was Helicon, established at Harvard in 1911 by Greek American students. These students were members of an elite minority, however. Most Greek Americans were not well educated and did not encourage their children to pursue secondary or higher education. Attendance rates for Greek Americans at all levels of education are improving tremendously, however, with 85% of those over 18 having a high school diploma and 35% a bachelor's degree or higher.

Greek Americans take marriage and family very seriously. Although recently on the rise, the divorce rate among Greek Americans is still quite low compared with that of other ethnic groups. First- and second-generation Greek Americans usually marry other Greek Americans, but later generations have begun to marry outside their ethnic boundaries to an increasing degree. The 2002 film "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" presented a comic view of an intermarriage between a Greek American woman and a non-Greek man. Produced for just $5 million, the film eventually grossed over $200 million dollars at the box office.

Greek food has become quite popular among the general population of the United States. Gyro sandwiches, pita bread, feta cheese, and baklava are enjoyed by Greek and non-Greek Americans alike. Many American cooks are learning the art of baking with phyllo dough (paper-thin sheets of pastry dough). Greek restaurants and diners serve traditional Greek foods (which emphasize lamb and goat meats) with the addition of beef, which is more plentiful in the United States and more familiar to American palates than goat meat.

Food is important to Greek Americans and symbolizes friendship, love, and human connection. It is considered an insult to the host if a guest does not eat. The refusal to accept someone's offer of food is seen as a rejection of that person's friendship.

Greek architecture, with its massive simplicity and soaring columns, has greatly influenced American building construction. The wings of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. were designed in the Greek Revival style by Thomas Walter in 1865. Greek American artist Constantino Brumidi (1805–1880) then painted Greek-style frescoes on the ceilings and walls of the Capitol building.

Many other Greek Americans have contributed to American culture, including opera diva Maria Callas (1923–1977); writer Nicholas Gage; Academy Award-winning director Elia Kazan; actor/director John Cassavetes (1929–1989); and actors Telly Savalas (1926–1994), best known as TV detective "Kojak"; and Olympia Dukakis, the cousin of Massachusetts governor and one-time U.S. presidential candidate Michael Dukakis (b.1933). Other well-known Greek Americans in the arts include actors Michael Chiklis, John Stamos, and Melina Kanakaredes; magician Criss Angel; and writer Jeffrey Eugenides (2003 Pulitzer Prize winner).

The world of U.S. politics has attracted a number of other Greek Americans in recent decades. Spiro T. Agnew (1918– 1996) served as U.S. vice-president until forced to resign on 10 October 1973 because of his involvement in criminal activities. Paul Tsongas (1941–1996) became the youngest-ever member of the U.S. Senate in 1978 at age 37, and Olympia Bouchles Snow (b.1947) became the youngest-ever woman to be elected U.S. Representative, in 1978 at age 31. Snow was also the first-ever Greek American woman in the U.S. House of Representatives. George Stephanopoulos served as White House Communications Director during the first term of Bill Clinton's presidency (1993–1997) before becoming a political commentator. Arianna Huffington, also a political commentator, was born in Greece and is now a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Greek Americans who have made significant contributions to the worlds of science and industry include Dr. George Nicholas Papanicolaou (1908–1962), inventor of the Pap smear used to detect cervical and uterine cancers; and Spyros P. Skouras, a Hollywood movie mogul. Skouras began a chain of movie theaters, initiated "Cinemascope" technology, and eventually became the president of 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation. He was the first to allow African Americans into theaters in Missouri, and he always deleted racial or ethnic slurs from any film he financed. Skouras discovered and/or promoted a
number of successful movie stars, including Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Gregory Peck, and Henry Fonda. Greek American Christos Cotsakos served as the CEO of E*Trade, a financial services company, from 1996 until 2003.

Ancient Greece was the site of the first Olympic Games, and Greek Americans continue to excel in sports. Successful Greek American athletes include Gus Triandos, Milt Pappas, Bill George, and Alex Karras (who moved on to become a broadcaster and television actor). Popular sports commentator Bob Costas is also of Greek ancestry.

Dancing is a favorite pastime for Greek Americans. Although in Greece girls are not allowed to lead or to perform the more difficult, fast folk dances, Greek American girls can both lead and perform any Greek folk dance, fast or slow. Folk dances are performed at cultural festivals as well as at outdoor parties called glendi. Traditional Greek foods and music are also enjoyed at glendi.

Early Greek Americans spent much of their leisure time in coffeehouses, which were given names like Acropolis or Parthenon. These coffeehouses sometimes had live entertainment and almost always offered different forms of gambling. The gambling got so out of hand in Chicago in the early 20th century that the mayor closed down the coffeehouses. From then on, Greek American coffeehouses had to be much more circumspect about their activities.

Conflicts in the Greek American community between earlier and more recent immigrants (typical of any immigrant group) came to a head in 1967 when the U.S. government backed a military takeover in Greece and supported the resulting oppressive dictatorship for seven more years. The U.S. government also supported Turkey's invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Those Greek Americans who had lived in the United States for generations and considered themselves more American than Greek did not question U.S. policy. More recent immigrants, however, who had only lately arrived from Greece, opposed U.S. support of the military dictatorship and Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Either they themselves, or their family and friends, had direct experience of the oppressions in Greece and Cyprus that were being carried out with U.S. support.

Political shifts in Greece since then have perpetuated the discord among Greek Americans. Conflicts between those who emphasize the "Greek" and those who emphasize "American" in the Greek American community continue to create tension and disharmony today.

Greek culture is traditionally very patriarchal, and Greek society today continues in that tradition. Women did not receive the right to vote in Greece until 1952, and their representation in professional and political life is still quite small. Greek American women, however, began to organize themselves into a progressive public force as early as the 1920s. The Daughters of Penelope, one of the largest Greek American women's organizations today, was founded in 1929, and the corresponding organization for female youth, Maids of Athena, began in 1930. These and other Greek American organizations for women have promoted equal rights for women in education, politics, and family life in the United States, as well as supporting efforts to improve women's conditions in Greece. Becoming a member of the European Union in 1981 has propelled Greece to move forward on the issues of women's rights.

The importance of marriage and family in traditional Greek culture excludes homosexuals from social acceptance, in contrast to the myth of sexual freedom in ancient Greece. The Greek language does not even have words for "gay" or "lesbian" except for derogatory terms for gay men. Accordingly, most Greek American gays and lesbians remain closeted within the Greek community, although they may be very public about their identity in other settings.


American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association. (10 April 2008).

Center for History and New Media. "Stories: Greek American Experiences Between Two Cultures," (10 April 2008).

Gehring, Wes D. "A Big Fat Greek Smash Hit." USA Today (Society for the Advancement of Education), January 2003, 73.

Greek Orthodox Diocese of America. (10 April 2008).

Greene, Beverly. "Beyond Heterosexism and across the Cultural Divide—developing an Inclusive Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Psychology: a Look to the Future." In Psychological Perspectives on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Experiences, edited by Garnets, Linda D. and Douglas C. Kimmel. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

Jones, Jayne Clark. The Greeks in America. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1990.

Kour etaris, George A. "Greeks." In A Nation of Peoples: A Sourcebook on America's Multicultural Heritage, edited by Barkan, Elliott Robert. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Monos, Dimitris. The Greek Americans. New York: Chelsea House, 1996.

Pantziara, Nicoletta. "From Ancient to Modern: Greek Women's Struggle for Equality." Social Education 67, no. 1 (2003): 28+.

Phillips, David, and Steven Ferry. Greek Americans. Tarrytown, NY: Benchmark Books/Marshall Cavendish, 1996.

Roudometof, Victor, and Anna Karpathakis. "Greek Americans and Transnationalism." In Communities across Borders: New Immigrants and Transnational Cultures, edited by Kennedy, Paul and Victor Roudometof. London: Routledge, 2002.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. American Factfinder. (10 April 2008).

U.S. Department of State. (10 April 2008).

—by D. K. Daeg de Mott