New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Our series of reports on the American Hellenic Institute Foundation’s (AHIF) 16th Future of Hellenism in America conference, held in Wilmington, Delaware on November 17-18, begins at the end. The CONCLUSION of the conference, at which one of the four speakers was Dr. Dan Georgakas, Director of Greek Studies, Center for Greek Studies, Queens College—CUNY (also OPENING KEYNOTE speaker) provided some optimism after a day of presentations discussing some difficult challenges to the future of Hellenism in America.
Greeting and congratulating the participants on being “in the activist minority that drives changes in Greek America,” Georgakas said, “Our success in America has been phenomenal. Partly this is due to being adept at accepting and adjusting to change. As we contemplate a possible multi-ethnic Greek America we have considerable assets. We begin, of course by not denying the nature of the challenge. We can continue to be a prosperous and coherent community if we proceed on the firm rock of Hellenistic culture and do not allow ourselves to be trapped in the quicksand of nostalgia and wishful thinking.”
Georgakas began his brief overview of the thrust of the conference as it was detailed in specific presentations saying, “the multi-ethnic challenge of must underline any thinking of the next 20 years.” The rate of Greek American out-marriage is now at least 80% or higher, so the future of Greek America is multi-ethnic, with family traditions along multi-cultural lines. With no one born in Greece, Greek American identity becomes more a matter of choice. He emphasized that this is not a Greek American problem only, it is one faced by all ethnic groups; and the matter of national/cultural identity is a European problem, as well.
Higher incomes, homes, education, prestige, low crime, and stable families are important Greek American assets, he said. Greek American organizations, such as AHI, AHEPA, and the National Hellenic Society are carrying out their efforts abroad successfully, encouraging a growing cordiality between Greece and the Diaspora, and the plan is to give everyone an opportunity to take part.
With electronic media no one is isolated, but it is being used internally, not externally. The AHIF on-line journal is an exception, as it seeks to influence a broad sphere, and includes American journalists. Cultural magazines online, podcasts, appeal to younger people and should be utilized. Regarding Greek American secular culture, dancing/music events are already successful to be continued and increased as are scheduled talks, Hellenic Link, the National Hellenic Museum, the activity of Pontian groups, film screenings, and export as well as import.
There is a need, however, for print media, which now includes the National Herald, the “Greek News” newspaper, Hellenic News of America.
Concerning secular higher education, it was said that more Greek Studies programs and language centers are needed as well as studies abroad, outreach to Greece, and more community support. There is relatively nothing written about the Greek crisis in mass media.
The point was made that Greek Orthodoxy in America, leaving aside financial and sexual scandals, is in decline, there are fewer churches and not enough priests, and parishes are depending on food festivals to survive. Non-immigrant parishioners are still ethnic and spouses are mainly converts. There are three options for a solution to this: 1. Continue as we are and hope to muddle through. 2. Tighten Hellenic identity, making it stricter, smaller but coherent, narrowing the multi-ethnic element. 3. Seek converts and consolidation with other Eastern Orthodox Churches; do as the Roman Catholics have done. Accept multi-ethnic parishes.
Greek Americans have a unique cultural heritage. Greeks were the founders of European thought and literature. “We at AHI stress the Greek ‘rule of law concept,’” said Georgakas. Christ and some disciples spoke Greek, some of New Testament is written in Greek, Early Christian theology was based in Greece, the Byzantines warded off Islamic empires long enough for Europe to become Europe, Greek scholars set off the Renaissance in Italy and even northern Europe, Greeks carried out the first successful revolt against the Ottomans and first defeat of the fascists in WWII
The Future of Hellenism Conferences are held in a different city each year. MASTER OF CEREMONIES 16th Annual Future of Hellenism in America: George Rassias, Esq., Schmidt, Kirifides, Rassias. INVOCATION: Rev. Presbyter Christos Christofidis, Proistamenos Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Wilmington, Delaware. OPENING: Nick Larigakis (who just completed his 30th successful year as President of the American Hellenic Institute). WELCOME: Conference Chairman and AHI Board Member Nick Chimicles, Senior Partner, Chimicles & Tikellis LLP and Lisa Blunt Rochester, Congresswoman, Delaware. GREETINGS: Delaware Senator Christopher Coons. PRESENTATION: AHI Hellenic Heritage Public Service Award for the Promotion of Hellenism and Orthodoxy in America Honorees: Odyssey Charter School of Wilmington, Georgia Halakos, and John Vasiliou. KEYNOTE: Ambassador Haris Lilacs, Ambassador of Greece to the United States. BENEDICTION: Rev. Presbyter Christos Christofidis.
Panels and speakers will be discussed in subsequent articles.