New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Chicago-born Greek American Angelyn Balodimas-Bartolomei (née Balodimas), has been fascinated with the cultural tapestry of the world since childhood, and with her Greek ancestry especially. Bartolomei’s “endless yearning” for knowledge about Greek culture has prevailed, as it did when as a young adult she moved to Greece to become fluent in the language and to become very familiar with the Greek people and their country. She earned two undergraduate degrees in Greece—one in Greek studies and the other in Greek pedagogy.
As she travels around the world writing, photographing and researching for her ethnographical studies on various ethnic groups around the globe, several of which have been published and presented at various conferences, one of the first things Bartolomei does is search phone directories and online resources for Greek churches, restaurants, schools, and individuals with Greek surnames then researches. As she is very energetic, enthusiastic, interested, and great at communicating, this can best be described as getting into the groove.
Over mezé in a Greek restaurant in New York, Bartolomei, who is Professor and Coordinator of ESL/Bilingual/MALLC Programs at North Park University in Chicago, talked about the latest product of her passion for things Greek: her new book in progress, Greek Communities of the World, to be completed during her Spring Semester 2017 sabbatical leave. The book focuses on the demography and history of the people while also providing information on their religious, community and cultural lives.
GN: You have said that you were inspired to write about the Greek diaspora by another book.
ABB: One day while searching for information on the Jewish community, I happened to discover a book entitled Jewish Communities of the World. I was immediately fascinated by this indispensable guide while also recognizing the need for a similar book to be written on the Greek diasporic communities. I knew at once that I wanted to be the one to someday write that book.
GN: Are there other studies of this nature?
ABB: Numerous articles and books have been written on Greek communities in specific countries, but to date there does not appear to be a book in English that compiles the complete history of Greek diaspora around the globe—considered to be one of the oldest and historically most significant among diaspora. This will be the first and only book to fill that void.
GN: What are the approximate numbers in these Greek communities?
ABB: Although accurate statistics are difficult to obtain, the Hellenic Parliament claims that there are nearly seven million Greeks living in 140 countries around the world. The majority of the diasporic Greeks live in the big cities of New York City, Boston, and Chicago in the US, as well as Dusseldorf, London, Melbourne, Sydney, Montreal and Toronto. Smaller Greek communities still exist in the previously mentioned countries. They are referred to as Omogenia, translated as same birth (the term homogeneous comes from this root) or Apodimos Ellinismos (Greeks abroad).
GN: Today the word diaspora is used widely.
ABB: Yes, nowadays, the term—which is a transliteration of the Greek word diaspora, which means “to sow, distribute, or scatter about”—is used to refer to the large migrations of people across the globe that while having been dispersed outside the traditional homeland, they relocate and spread their shared cultural characteristics into a new host country. The term was first used in various passages of the Bible, to refer to the diaspora Jews who were dispersed or scattered outside of Palestine or Israel after having been exiled by the Babylonians.
GN: Greeks have settled everywhere, it seems.
ABB: One of the oldest and historically most significant diaspora is that of the Greeks or Hellenes, an ethnic group native to Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Anatolia, Southern Italy, and other regions. In the Encyclopedia of Diasporas, Laliotou notes that the history of this diasporic group, which “starts from antiquity and continues until the present,” is “diverse and complex.” She explains that in modern historiography the term Greek diaspora” is mainly associated with the Greeks of the Ottoman Empire and the later independent nation state. The renowned British historian Richard Clog also points out how ambiguous the term is by explaining that throughout history there have been Greek communities outside of Greece, composed of Greeks who never immigrated but were born within the very same country where they reside.
GN: Your book outlines the history of Greek migration in different parts of the world throughout history.
ABB: In order to gain a better understanding of Greek communities throughout the world, there is a need to first, examine both Greek migration and Greek settlements during the major periods of Greek history, which my book will do.
GN: Is it difficult to gather information about today’s Greek diasporic communities?
ABB: Until recently, one of the most useful sources for learning about diasporic Greek communities was Odyssey magazine, which began circulating during the summer of 2003 and grew to about 20,000 subscribers throughout six continents. Odyssey reported on issues of interests to Greek diaspora and philhellenes, while also featuring articles on Greek communities around the world—all which I have kept in a file for years. Unfortunately, with the Greek financial crisis, the magazine ceased publication, however my interest in the Greek diaspora has remained unabated.
GN: The financial crisis in Greece has brought about a huge, new immigration to other countries, a terrible “brain drain”.
ABB: Currently, with the latest financial crisis that strongly crippled Greece, more than 200,000 skilled, talented and educated Greeks have immigrated to other EU countries or Australia due to high unemployment, causing the biggest brain drain in an advanced western economy in modern times.