THROUGH A GREEK LENS
A Rich History Of Immigration
The Papageorge family in the 1920s.
Courtesy of the Greek Museum, the Center For Greek American Heritage.
By Liz Goff
Members of the Greek-American community gathered at the Broadway Public Library in Astoria last week to view a photo slide retrospective depicting experiences shared by generations of Greeks who immigrated to the United States.
The story presentation of Greek immigration was a touching, telling illustration of the flight “for a better life” sought by those whose journey ended – and began – as they docked on the shores of New York City.
The slide presentation included images of kerchiefed women, grasping the hands of wide-eyed children on their seaward journey to New York City, along with photos of immigrants waiting to pass through Ellis Island, in the neighborhoods of Hells Kitchen and Astoria – which once boasted the largest Greek population outside Athens, Greece.
The presentation was peppered with discussions in answer to the question, “Why does the story of Greek immigration to the U.S. matter?”
Representatives of the Center for Greek-American Heritage said there is a “unifying bond of Greekness,” such as language, music, tradition, church and food, shared by the Greek-American community which has, in less than 175-years, made its mark on U.S. culture.
The following stories depict the “mark” made by Greek immigrants on U.S. culture and affairs:
There is the story of sefaring sailor, Constantine Bambis, who settled with his family in the mid-1800s in the Hells Kitchen section of Manhattan.
Bambis traveled from his home in lower Manhattan to Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street each week, to pick wildflowers.
During one such excursion Bambis was approached by a woman who admired and purchased his bouquet. He went on to open the first flower shop in New York City in 1853.
There are tales of Greek immigrants who handed-down their love of sports and competition to their sons and daughters – such as Billy Loes, who was born in Astoria in 1929.
Loes, who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, was the only Greek-American to pitch in four World Series games. He was later inducted into the Brooklyn Hall of Fame.
Other notable sports figures included three Greek-American women, Vicky Panos, Kay Lionikdas and Annastasia Batikis, who excelled as players in the All-American Professional Baseball League in the 1930s.
“Not bad for the children of immigrants who couldn’t understand the importance of baseball in the United States,” said audience member George Andrakis.
The program also offered a history of how the Greek Orthodox Church was established in New York City – inspired by a visiting prince who provided a “tip” to a local newspaper publisher.
As the story is related, Prince George of Greece visited New York City in 1891, where he suggested to the owner of the daily “Atlantis,” to form a fraternal organization dubbed “Atheno,” with the sole purpose of establishing a Greek church under the Partiarchate of Greece.
The suggestion led to a meeting of 45 Greek-American immigrants, who established the Church of Holy Trinity in 1891, located in lower Manhattan.
A second Greek Orthodox Church, “Annunciation,” was established under the Partiarchate of Constantinople in 1893, in the basement of a Christian Church in Washington Square. Today there are more than a dozen Greek Orthodox houses of worship in Astoria, alone.
Sponsors of the April 17 retrospective said, “Each person has a story to tell,” and urged participants to “share vital, irreplaceable threads of (our) heritage” through a Web site hosted by the Greek Museum, at greek-museum.org.