People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Greek Americans Part 2

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.


Their Story in America: The first wave of Greek immigrants who came at the turn of the century was almost completely male. For the most part, they were uneducated farmers and laborers who intended to work for some time, pay off family debts, and then eventually return to Greece with their savings.

They came to this country with no real skills and without any understanding of the English language. Those who stayed in the cities found work as florists, waiters, bootblacks, dishwashers, and bellhops. Many of them became street peddlers, selling candy, flowers, and vegetables on the streets of New York, Chicago, and Boston. Because of their enterprise, many of these peddlers quickly graduated from street trades to more permanent forms of employment. They might have made even greater progress in the business world if a large part of their savings had not been committed by age-old tradition to providing dowries for sisters still in Greece.

Like thousands of immigrants before them. they were a source of cheap and exploitable labor, though many Greeks proved to be shrewd businessmen, succeeding where others had failed--which antagonized their competitors. When, during periods of economic uncertainty, Greeks took over jobs previously held by American-born workers, there was open conflict. In Lowell, Mass., where Greeks sought jobs in the textile mills, earlier immigrants from Ireland and French Canada also reacted to Greek competition with outbreaks of violence.

As a matter of course, Greek Americans banded together in neighborhoods composed of compatriots from their native towns and regions. For recreation, they congregated at their kuffenein, or coffeehouses, which were community social centers. The local Orthodox church was the pivot around which all the other Greek institutions were built and from which they evolved. The church not only provided a sense of continuity with the past but acted as a buffer against the rigors of the present.

W. W. I proved a crossroads for the Greek-American community. Those who still felt strongly the tug of loyalty to their homeland returned to fight in its behalf. Others, however, reinforced their newfound sense of identity as Americans by enlisting in the U.S. Army and, in the process, automatically becoming U.S. citizens. A great many who had once looked upon their life in America as a temporary stopover began to put down roots. They brought their families here from Greece or else married in this country.

For the Greek American, the period between the two world wars was an era of assimilation into the American culture. The cold-war period saw the appearance of a new kind of Greek immigrant: political refugees and displaced persons seeking sanctuary in the U.S. It was also during the fifties and on into the sixties that Americans became widely aware of Greek culture. The growing popularity of Greek food, dance, and music, as well as the success of such films as Zorba the Greek, Never on Sunday, and America, America, made Americans much more conscious of a unique culture and of the Greek Americans who still embodied its traditions.

Famous Greek Americans: Former Vice-Pres. Spiro T. Agnew; motion picture executive Spyros P. Skouras, cofounder of the 20th Century-Fox studio; film directors Elia Kazan and John Cassavetes; actor Telly Savalas; opera singer Maria Callas; scientist Dr. George Papanicolaou, noted for his role in the development of the Pap test, used for the detection of uterine and cervical cancer.

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