Our forefathers came from Greece at the turn of the 20th Century
escape economic and/or political hardship, sometimes with the proverbial clothes on their backs and all the money their families could scrape up in their pockets. We often forget that Northern
Greece, for example, was still part of the Ottoman Empire until World
War I. Think about it.
Greek immigrants settled in many parts of the U.S.A., usually following family members and/or people from their village. Why, you might ask, did our yiayias and papous gravitate to the Stockton area?
A 1915 advertisement placed in Sunset Magazine
by the San Joaquin
County Chamber of Commerce was entitled: "How Far is it from San
Francisco to the Heart of San Joaquin County?" It was 2 hours and 36
minutes away by train. The ad went on to extol The Delta as "the most
productive land in America"..."Here one may see the most highly
developed of orchards, alfalfa farms, truck gardens, poultry farms,
stock ranches, grain ranches, etc."..."This county is wide-awake,
progressive, and prosperous."
from Stockton, Tracy, Manteca, Ripon and Escalon signed off on the
And there you have it. My papou George Sarris had many of those things right in his own backyard on Alpine Street
vegetable/fruit garden, grape arbor, and poultry/rabbits (then somewhat
problemmatic for a little girl who often refused to eat her "pets"). There
was an ingrained quality of self-sufficiency that I did not fully
understand until living in Greece some years after Papou had passed away.
Many of his
peers were equally industrious. Mr. Hlebakos even made his own retsina,
which I also came to appreciate much more while living in Greece..
Greeks may have come to the San Joaquin Valley because it seemed like home, but they did not always become farmers.
1920, Bill Demakopoulos opened his Palace Candy Store and
Fountain/Restaurant along with his wife Sophia (Papou Sarris' sister).
It was located on Main Street near the Fox Theater. My Papou was the
cook/candy maker, and my Yiayia boxed bon-bons.
still in search of photos to stoke dreamy memories of my
grandparents, hand-made chocolates (think See's Candies, started around the same
time!) and special lunches with my Mom.
By 1927, there were at least 15 food-type businesses owned by Greeks in Stockton alone
(Galanos, Spanos Brothers, Sperry, Trachiotis, Bobotas, to name a few
Greek pioneers) -- a fact verified by the 1927 Stockton City Directory
which can be found on the second floor of the Cesar Chavez
Central Public Library on El Dorado Street. The directories are a veritable gold-mine of information, but just one piece
of the Stockton Area Greek-American puzzle. The Stockton Record
is there on micro-fiche -- and chronicles not only the comings and goings of our families, but also their many contributions to San Joaquin County.
About 100 years and counting -- many things have changed, but others have stayed the same. Stay tuned.