People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Greek Americans Part 1

About the Greek Americans in the U.S. including where they are from, why they left, how many there are, famous Greek-Americans and more.


Where They Came From: Spartans from the Peloponnesus were the first of the modern Greeks to emigrate to the U.S. By 1900, Greeks from both the islands and mainland were arriving in North America.

Why They Left: At the urging of American missionaries, groups of young Greek men came to study at American universities in the years following the Greek War of Independence (1821-1830). Others came to the U.S. as representatives of Greek commercial firms. But the real momentum for Greek immigration did not come until late in the 1880s when agriculturally dependent Greece was in the midst of a serious and devastating agricultural depression. Also, in 1882 and 1883, the Greek stock exchange had suffered a serious setback. Oppressive taxation, frequent changeovers in government, and a series of natural disasters added to the country's problems. A steep drop in the price of currants, the main crop in the mountainous districts of the Peloponnesus, proved the precipitating agent. Many farmers in this area began to think seriously about leaving Greece in search of a livelihood. Emigration agents for Mediterranean steamship lines helped these destitute farmers choose the U.S. by conjuring up for them a utopian vision of a land of opportunity. These Peloponnesian farmers and laborers were followed by immigrants from the Greek-speaking areas of the Ottoman Empire, who came to America not only because of its economic opportunities, but also because they had suffered political and religious persecution at the hands of the Turks.

Where They Settled: Despite their centuries-old roots in a rural culture, the Greek immigrants coming at the turn of the century established themselves in the cities. They banded together in their own communities in New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., while other Greek groups headed south. The first Greek Orthodox Church in the U.S. was built in New Orleans in 1886. Some left the cities to find work. In New England they sought jobs in the textile mills; out west, they went to work on the railroads; in Pennsylvania they joined an earlier generation of immigrants working in the steel mills. By the end of W.W.I, Greek immigrants were established in every major city of the U.S., although New York and Chicago were--and have remained--the two central gathering places.

Numbers: The peak period of Greek immigration lasted approximately 30 years, from 1891 to 1920, during which time almost half a million Greeks came to the U.S. By 1909 one of every five Greek men of working age had left his homeland for America.

The influx from Greece dramatically dropped as a result of immigration laws passed in the 1920s. In the 1950s, however, a stream of political refugees, displaced persons, and students expanded the ranks of the Greek-American community. The exact number of Greeks who have come to this country will never be accurately established, but the generally accepted figure is somewhere in the neighborhood of 800,000. Today the number of Greek Americans and their descendants spread throughout the land is placed at roughly 3 million. Of these, approximately 350,000 to 500,000 are concentrated in the New York metropolitan area, and from 300,000 to 450,000 are located in metropolitan Chicago.

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