New York.- By Catherine Tsounis
The Democratic Primaries has excited youth in an ambitious registration drive voters across the country. A renewed interest in all Democratic leaders is evident, strengthening the two party political system. During the 2008 New Hampshire Primary, Democratic leader Chris Spirou dominated the news for his dynamic support of Hillary Clinton. Nicholas Stebbins, a third generation Greek-American St. Johnʼs University student, said he was proud “to have a Greek leader from New Hampshire, who boosts the spirits and culture of many Hellenes in the area. Mr. Spirou inspires everyone to take charge and make a difference in their community. He has not only made his heritage proud, but the great state of New Hampshire. We need to maintain the Greek heritage with the same dignity and respect as Chris Spirou,” believes Stebbins, whose Pervanas family is from Pentalofos, Macedonia.
I met President Spirou in Greece 2003, a time of turbulence. The official surrender of Iraq and the fall of Saddam Hussein made it difficult for Americans abroad. Anti-American feelings were rampant. I was a middle class Greek-American educator studying the Greek language through an Alexander Onassis Foundation scholarship. Alone. No support system. Survival of the fittest. ˝If you survive Athens, you can survive any place in the world,” said Chris Spirou, President of the Hellenic American Union, one of the top education centers for the teaching of English and Greek in the European Union. The Hellenic American Union enlarged my concepts of the teaching of the Greek language during two months of study. More than that, it became my home in Athens. A police officer with a machine gun stood at the entrance in late Spring 2003 and made me feel safe. That was how awful anti-Americanism was in a war that Northeastern Americans, as myself, opposed. President Spirou, his trusted administrator Kiki, educators and staff became my home base.
I survived. Recently, I returned to the Hellenic American Union to meet with President Spirou and his talented administrator Kiki Kondylopoulou. The president was in a rush to attend the Greek Parliament session but found time to have a Greek coffee and frappe with me in his spacious 7th floor office on the top floor of the Hellenic American Union. The office wall had photographs of prominent persons and the high points of his career as a politician/president/diplomat on the international scene. “I am Hillary Clintonʼs main supporter in New Hampshire,” said Spirou. “New Hampshire is the state that shapes presidential elections. Patriarch Athenagoras was a relative of my father.” The late Patriarch, as Archbishop of North and South America in the 1940ʼs, had his headquarters in Astoria, New York. The Presidentʼs vibrant, brilliant humor shaped an exciting interview.
“We, the Hellenes outside of Greece, are in extinction,” he believes. “It is a threat in time: one and the same with all others. We need to do something about it. We must compare ourselves to the endangered species of the white polar bear. What are we doing to force us into extinction? The Motherland, Greece, has no interest in us. No program. No plan to ensure the identity of our ethnic character beyond her borders.”
Spirou asserts “the church faces problems of identity and growth. It is trying to find ways to stay alive. Its survival conforms to the demands of its parishioners. The Catholic Church conformed by changing from Latin to the local language of the country. Within ten to fifteen years, the Greek Orthodox church in the United States will not have one word of Greek.”
“Absorption is forcing us into extinction,” he said. “We, as Greeks, have four thousand years of history. Five hundred years of Turkish occupation did not destroy us. When absorption happens, scattered with no pressure on our way of life, we end up like a pebble in a river that takes us to the bottom of the ocean, becoming one and the same as everything else. Six years ago a person in Manchester, New Hampshire said ʽwe are Americans whose parents were Greek. I replied ʽwhy not Greek-Americans?ʼ Their reply was ʽwe are born in the United States.ʼ My answer to this type of thinking is that dogs and animals are bred in America for generations, but are still called by the name of their origins. Examples are Arabian horses and German shepherds. “How are you Americans whose parents are Greek? If Jesse Jackson is an African American and George Bush an Anglo-Saxon then why is Chris Spirou not a Greek-American? We need a system to communicate this message to our children and grandchildren. If someone does not know who he/she is, this person is not worth being.”
The education/political leader began a revolutionary program eight years ago with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. “We created education content that will teach Greek language and culture interactively with the internet. This program took ten years to develop.” One can visit “Learning Greek Podcasts from the Hellenic American Union” www.hau.gr/?i=hau.en.services_mg_podcast. President Spirou believes “this program can teach every person in the world who is interested in learning language and culture. In due time, this will develop as the ʽgoogle of the Greek knowledge.ʼ We must have an online museum and hall of fame of the Hellenes of the Diaspora. We must know our heroes such as Stamatios Krimigis, George Papanicolaou, Michael Dukakis, Alex Spanos, Angelo Tsakopoulos, Pete Sampras, Peter Kyros, George Christopher Patriarch Athenagoras, Archbishop Iakovos and others. There are many community heroes. They must be recognized. Their legacy must stay alive.”
President Spirou is from Thessaly in Central Greece.
“The Hellenic American Union trains one thousand five hundred teachers a year,” he explained. “Dimitrios Tolias is the Associate Director for Applied Linguistic and Language Studies. He has created Foreign Language Testing Standards & Production of on-line language Tests, and Distance Learning Programs, an online test development mechanism for foreign languages and other programs. Thanasis Bakolas is in charge of public relations and the ʽFree Agia Sophiaʼ project.” For more information on “Agia Sophia: A Holy Site Violated” email Mr. Bakolas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Other links of interest include:
http://www.hau.gr; www.freeagiasophia.us and www.freeagiasophia.eu. Chris Spirou is a folk hero to college students such as Nicholas Stebbins. He is a twenty first century champion whose legacy is alive in the consciousness of our future leaders.