As the 83rd Thessaloniki International Fair comes to an end, it's a good time to stand back and take a deep breath.
Even as the United States was the honored country this year -- last year China and Russia the year before -- one is constantly reminded that there is a simmering anti-Americanism never far from the ubiquitous political conversations/arguments. Everything and anything bad is America's fault, don't you know? Now with Macedonia question on top of the various financial/refugee issues...
The fair's US Pavillion focusing on technology was indeed very impressive and well-attended. But I was really surprised upon entering the Greek Government Pavillion to suddenly be standing in front of a stand-alone display extolling the virtues of Senator Paul Sarbanes. Then one for Olympia Dukakis, Pete Sampras, Maestro Dimitris Mitropolis, Dr. Georgios Papanikolaou, Maria Callas, Constantino Brumidi (Google him!) and many others. All under the heading "500 Years of Greeks in America." Wow!
Even more amazing was the sponsor of that exhibit: "The General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad" of the Greek Foreign Office (www.ggae.gr) -- "the government's coordinating body for the implementation of state policy with respect to Diaspora Hellenism," about 5 million people of Greek descent on 5 continents and 140 countries. An agency created to "support the the interests and the expectations of the Greeks abroad." Who knew?
Three million people of Greek descent live in the US, and thus the long list of distinguished accomplishments -- plus a multitude of organizations, schools, churches, restaurants, newspapers, radio/TV stations, etc. The first Greek in the "New World" was Don Theodoros Griego (1528) with the first Greek outpost in St. Augustine, Florida (1768). The first Greek Community was founded in New Orleans (Holy Trinity/1864.) New York, Chicago and San Francisco are all important to the narrative, but who can possibly forget Tarpon Springs?
More significantly, there was a wave of American Philhellenism that did its part in support of the Greek Revolution of 1821 -- bolstered by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Daniel Webster, Sam Houston, and Henry Clay. Others actually fought in Greece against the Turks, including Samuel Gridley Howe and George Washington's cousin William Townsend Washington. It was a fitting effort to help Greece towards independence while the USA itself was still in its infancy. To this day there is an active Hellenic Caucus in Congress still fighting for Greece!
The USA has contributed much to Greece in the last 200 years and still supports Greece in many ways. Those efforts/policies may not always be perfect or altruistic, but they are way too often misunderstood or taken for granted. On other hand, it's very clear that Greek-Americans have contributed much to the USA -- 500 years worth to be exact.
I am proud to be a Greek-American and part of the Greek Diaspora story still being written -- thanks to my immigrant father and grandparents who worked very hard for a better life. It's a very tricky thing being Greek-American when living part-time in Greece -- which is why I'm standing back and taking a deep breath. Somewhat hard to explain, but I'll keep trying.
Sent from my BlackBerry - the most secure mobile device