New York.- By Vicki Jame Yiannias
On September 15, in Washington DC, AHEPA met with U.S. Department of State Department officials Kathleen H. Allegrone, director of the Office of Southern European Affairs, and James P. Merz, deputy director, Office of Southern European Affairs. Senior Greece Desk Officer Christopher Snipes also attended.
In a public statement on the meeting, AHEPA Supreme President, Dr. John Grossomanides, Jr., said, “The meeting was productive, as we were able to raise and discuss issues of importance to our members. We look forward to continuing the long-standing working relationship with the State Department which aims to further strengthen the U.S.-Greece strategic partnership.”
Dr. Grossomanides continues his interview with the Greek News, talking about the meeting, encouraging youth to be part of the AHEPA family, and growing up Greek in Westerly, Rhode Island.
GN: Was AHEPA’s September 15 meeting with State Department officials a positive one?
JG: Yes, we thought it was a very positive meeting. We informed them about the Greek and Cypriot basics. When you have new people it’s a whole new regime and a whole new administration, so you want to inform them early on so they understand some of AHEPA’s abilities and some of the roles it has played. We felt that at least from that perspective we were able to accomplish an eye-opening kind of event for them.
GN: What are some of the things you talked about?
JG: Some of what we did was to explain what AHEPA does. We felt that it was very good, at least operationally, for the officials to understand the roots of the organization, what the organization does, and its contacts abroad. They gained some insights into some of the things we did in the past. It really helped fill in a lot of gaps for them. A couple of them were very new people who didn’t really have a historical perspective on how AHEPA was able to facilitate some discussions… our ability to work with some of the ministers in Greece and in Cyprus. It brought some things together for them.
GN: You have said that AHEPA’s importance also lies in helping Greece.
JG: Yes, certainly. Whatever we can do, whether it’s something with tourism, or whether it’s facilitating discussions. We had a meeting with Greek and Israeli leaders in Washington DC this year, at the end of Mr. Karakostas’s term. I don’t know if it’s because of that meeting or not, but Greece has had some huge increases in tourism from Israel. Perhaps this was from our having brought these foreign ministers and ambassadors together. It makes you realize that if you can bring these two countries together maybe something can come of it; if we can continue bringing people together that might impact how things are looked at… you never know what will evolve from those seeds.
GN: How do you think youth can be motivated to be part of AHEPA, a way of not only honoring their ancestral past for its own sake but for the other benefits the organization provides?
JG: We have to provide the youth with what they’re interested in today. I think we have to slowly immerse the youth in the organization through our wonderful athletic programs and social events, and by helping them with their education. I joined AHEPA when I was 22 years old because I wanted some camaraderie with people of my ethnic persuasion; I wanted to be a part of the “parea”, part of the “philotimo”, I didn’t envision that one day I would be the leader of the organization.
GN: I imagine that AHEPA fulfills an individual’s changing needs.
JG: Yes, it’s time-related: the nature of my involvement changed through the years; when I graduated it was one thing for me and another when I was in my 30‘s, and now in my 40’s, I can see how very important it is. So if you can keep youth even a little bit involved and interactive with what’s going on then somewhere down the road you’re going to have a future leader of AHEPA.
GN: What was it like growing up Greek in Westerly, the small town you still live in?
JG: There were only 7 Greek families in Westerly, so we drove about 20 miles from Westerly to Saint George in Norwalk, Connecticut. My mother took me to Greek school there every Wednesday afternoon so I could really become immersed in the Greek tradition and she taught me Greek as my first language…when I went to kindergarten I didn’t speak any English. So the church and AHEPA, which I joined when I was 22, were really my way of getting involved in the Greek community.
GN: What do you remember as being important to you when your parents took you to Greek school and church?
JG: I think early on I didn’t realize how important it was to me. It was as I got into college and graduated that I realized how special the ethnic traditions my grandparents had brought and continued over the many years were… little things, like celebrating name days; we always had a big celebration at the house on the Saturday after my name day, January 7… it was something special that no other culture has. And until you went to school you didn’t realize how special things like that were.
GN: Did you know your grandparents?
JG: Unfortunately not my grandfathers, but I had two wonderful γιαγιαδες who showed me how to bake… you know, when you’re a little kid and you want to lick the spoon, etc., and they let me make koulourakia and things like that with them. I still make koulourakia every Christmas.
GN: Your maternal grandparents are from Epirus and paternal grandparents are from Mytilene. Have you visited their birthplaces?
JG: I’ve been to Mytilene, but I hope to make my first trip to Epirus during the AHEPA excursion to Greece in April 2012. I’m going to try to be the first Supreme President to visit Epirus.