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AHIF Conference Identifies Crucial Challenges, Some Areas Of Success For The Future Of Hellenism In The U.S.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: CHRYSOULA ECONOMOPOULOS
October 29, 2002 No. 51/02 (202) 785-8430

AHIF Conference Identifies Crucial Challenges, Some Areas Of Success For The Future Of Hellenism In The U.S.

WASHINGTON, DC -- Arriving at a critical turning point, the American Hellenic Institute Foundation's (AHIF) first annual conference on The Future of Hellenism in the United States addressed a number of key themes, challenges and crises facing the Greek American community today. The conference, which took place October 18-19, 2002 at the Capital Hilton, featured more than 20 expert speakers and hosted a full audience of more than 150 attendees from all over the country.

The conference opened on Friday, October 18 with a dinner event, featuring presentation of AHI's Hellenic Heritage Lifetime Achievement Award to author and publisher Christopher G. Janus by AHIF President Gene Rossides, and the keynote address delivered by famed military and Greek American sociologist, Professor Charles Moskos of Northwestern University. The dinner proceedings set the foundation for the seven targeted conference sessions and concluding remarks on Saturday.

Conference chairman James Marketos' opening remarks to dinner attendees centered on a number of basic questions which conveyed the essence of the conference. Mr. Marketos noted that, while Greek immigrants' direct links with Greece and its language, its culture, its religion made it easier to become loyal Americans without losing sight of their Hellenic roots, the challenge is far more formidable for their descendants:

"[Descendants'] ties to the Greek language, culture and religion inevitably become more and more tenuous as time passes. How will they preserve and pass on those ineffable qualities that amount to Hellenism? If they have no immediate or recent connections with Greece, if they don't travel there frequently, if they don't speak the language, if they don't marry another Greek American, if they don't attend a Greek Orthodox Church, then what will be their resources for affirming their Hellenic roots?"

Mr. Marketos also issued an important challenge to the audience, stating:

"Beyond what Hellenism can do for us -- to paraphrase JFK -- we, those descendants of the early generations, should be asking ourselves what we can do for Hellenism. What can we do to ensure that Hellenism and Hellenic ideals can continue to have a clear identity and prominent role in the U.S. of the future?"

In answering these and many other related questions, Saturday's conference sessions addressed the following crucial themes:

  • The Future of Greek American Organizations
  • The Role of the Greek American Media
  • Greek Language Education in the U.S.
  • The Role of the Greek Orthodox Church in Promoting Hellenism in the U.S.
  • The Role of the Greek American Lobby: What Does the Future Hold?
  • Promoting Hellenism and Hellenic Culture in the U.S.
  • The Role of Greek American Professionals in the Promotion of Hellenism in the U.S.

Delivering the luncheon keynote address, titled "Defining Hellenism", was Professor of Hellenism Dr. David Weinberg. Closing remarks were presented by Dr. Constantine Papadakis, President of Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In the quest to uncover the future of Hellenism in the U.S., several major conclusions were apparent throughout the majority of the themes addressed by each of the sessions. Among the highest priorities mentioned was the need to find more effective methods with which to involve younger generations in learning about and, hence, preserving their Hellenic identity. Direct involvement of the youth in learning about their culture -- through study abroad, through cultural exchanges, through effective language learning -- were some of the ideas suggested which had met with a degree of success.

Also stressed by many of the speakers was the need for more cohesive and coordinated leadership. The importance of working together on agreed themes and policies with many voices was stated as vital to achieving progress in getting Greek American interests to resonate in the wider community in the interests of the U.S. Related to this, greater involvement by Greek Americans at-large in their communities -- in political, educational, charitable, religious, and other organizations -- was also necessary to maintain and perpetuate Hellenic identity.

One of the methods highlighted by several of the speakers in promoting Hellenic culture in the U.S. was that Greek American community leaders should stress the universality of Hellenic values, as the foundation of Western civilization and particularly American society. Hellenic values are present throughout America and, therefore, are easily understood and applied to daily life.

To achieve all of these goals, conference participants and attendees cited the need for a yearly conference regarding Hellenism to take place in Washington, D.C., complemented by smaller, more focused yet related conferences throughout the country and especially where Greek American communities exist.

Dr. Papadakis, in his concluding remarks, stated:

"I challenge this audience and the American Hellenic Institute to identity a vehicle where a strategic plan can be laid out and a platform be established for the success of Hellenism in the U.S. for years to come."

At the close of AHIF's conference, Executive Director of AHI Nick Larigakis said, "AHI stands ready to help sponsor similar conferences throughout the country with the support of local communities."

Benefactors who helped make the AHIF's conference possible include: The Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA); Nicholas Bouras (Summit, NJ); Elias Gyftopoulos (Lincoln, MA); James and Nike Lagos (Springfield, OH); George Panagiotou (Camarillo, CA); James Pedas (Washington, DC); Theodore Pedas (Washington, DC); Eugene T. Rossides (Washington, DC); Savvas Savopoulos (Hyattsville, MD); Ted G. Spyropoulos (Chicago, IL); and Stephen G. Yeonas (McLean, VA).


Summary of AHIF Conference Proceedings

The Future of Hellenism in the United States

Friday, October 18, 2002

Conference Dinner and Keynote Address

Awarding of the AHI Hellenic Heritage Achievement Award

Christopher Janus and George Savvaides

Upon receiving his award, Christopher G. Janus (right) is congratulated by the Ambassador of Greece to the U.S. George Savvaides.
(on 10/18/2002, photo credit: Bill Petros)

A highlight of AHIF's conference dinner was the presentation of the AHI Hellenic Heritage Lifetime Achievement Award to Christopher G. Janus by AHI founder Gene Rossides. Mr. Janus, throughout his prestigious career, has authored seven books and was a writer for several movies, including the award-winning Disney Premiere Film Goodbye, Miss 4th of July.

Christopher Janus was congratulated particularly for his leadership during World War II in Greek war relief. Serving as an economic assistant at the U.S. State Department (1943-1944) and later as the Chief of the Greek Desk in the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA) in Cairo and Athens (1944-1945), he formulated the economic and relief needs of Greece following the German withdrawal.

Upon receiving his award, Mr. Janus noted with reference to Greece's valiant efforts against the Axis forces during World War II:

"We don't have to be proud just because of what the ancient Greeks did because modern Greece and modern Greeks have also committed acts of greatness. And I was there. I refer to what Greeks did during World War II [in rejecting the Italian ultimatum]. That oxi, that no, was a sound that was heard around the world. And that was as great a thing as what happened at Thermopylae 2000 years ago."

In concluding his remarks, Mr. Janus offered his view of what is in store for the future of Hellenism in the U.S.:

"[W]hether you're listening to me as a scholar or as a dilettante, my message is: We were brought up on myths and we must believe in myths. Maybe the whole idea of the ancient Greeks being in us is a bit of a myth, but we still have to believe it and I urge you to have your sons and daughters believe it. Because as William James the philosopher said, 'Believing helps make it so.' And what a wonderful future for the Greeks and for al of us if indeed that is true."

Keynote Address Analyzes the Changing Face of Greek Americans

Following Mr. Janus' remarks, Dr. Charles Moskos delivered the conference keynote address, titled "The Changing Face of Greek Americans." Dr. Moskos is professor of sociology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois where he holds the Anderson Chair in the College of Arts and Sciences. The keynote offered an overview of the historical presence of Greek Americans in the United States and highlighted the group's struggles and successes in adapting to American society while striving to maintain their Hellenic identity.

Professor  Charles Moskos

Professor Charles Moskos delivering dinner keynote address.
(on 10/18/2002, photo credit: Bill Petros)

Pointing to both "good news and bad news," Dr. Moskos discussed the inherent demographic challenges that face any immigrant group and its descendents in struggling to maintain their cultural identity. After three waves of Greek immigration to the U.S. (1890-1924, post-WWII to 1965, and 1966-1980), immigration has tapered off significantly to levels of around 1,000-1,200 people per year, fertility rates are down, the immigrant population is aging, and intermarriage has become the rule rather than the exception.

Despite these challenges, Dr. Moskos affirmed that Hellenic culture can be preserved as a natural companion to American ideals, offering a number of suggestions:

"The focus should be on a vibrant core of affiliated and organized Greek Americans who draw upon themselves and find themselves either or both spiritually hungry and communally hungry. And that includes people with a partial Greek ancestry as well as those with no Greek ancestry. By becoming more Greek in a secular sense, people will find themselves more in tune with the Greek Orthodox Church in a sacred sense. And by opening up to the broader community, the Church itself will bring more people into contact with Greek ethnicity. Otherwise, I think we'll end up in a situation where our children are neither Greek nor Orthodox."

Prominent guests attending the AHIF conference dinner were the Ambassador of Greece to the U.S. George Savvaides; Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Cyprus Achilleas Antoniades; Dr. Constantine Papadakis, President of Drexel University; Supreme President of the Order of AHEPA Dr. James Dimitriou; former Supreme Presidents of the Order of AHEPA Dr. Spiro Macris and Mr. John Pappas; and former Maine Congressman Peter Kyros.

Saturday, October 19, 2002

Conference Proceedings: Highlights and General Conclusions

The AHIF's Future of Hellenism seven conference sessions were conducted consecutively on Saturday, October 19, 2002. Following opening remarks from Mr. Marketos, Session A turned attention to the future of Greek American organizations, moderated by Nick Larigakis.

The first panelist, Dr. James Dimitriou, Supreme President of the Order of AHEPA, discussed the past, present and future realities confronting Greek American organizations. Using the Order of AHEPA as his example, he described the various challenges that the organization has confronted since its inception in 1922.

Dr. Dimitriou's strongest piece of advice was that, "As time goes on, organizations have to continue to change. In the present day, the Order of AHEPA is continuing to look at those changes," noting also the danger of organizations looking inward. Further, he cautioned that, "unless we can continue to redefine ourselves, redevote ourselves, analyze what the problems are, none of us will grow."

The session's other panelists, Nina Peropoulos (President, Pan-Macedonian Association) and James G. Saklas (Second Vice President, Pan-Cretan Association), discussed the problems facing Greek regional societies. According to both speakers, the most urgent matter for both of their organizations was generating and maintaining involvement on the part of younger members. Mr. Saklas cautioned that, "There are the typical youth programs, [such as] scholarships. Scholarships don't work." Instead, the Pan-Cretan Association focuses efforts on getting young members back to Crete. This method has proven successful as it establishes a direct and personal connection between the youth and Greece. After all, according to Mr. Saklas, "Being Cretan [or Greek] is not a matter of the blood. It's a matter of the heart and mind."

Session B, examining the role of the Greek American media, was moderated by Dean C. Lomis, Ph.D. (former Director of the International Center, University of Delaware), with panelists including Antonis Diamataris (publisher, The National Herald) and George Chryssis (publisher, The Hellenic Voice).

Both panelists cited the crucial function of the Greek American media in supporting the bonds of the Greek American community and allowing it to perpetuate itself in the U.S. Mr. Diamataris echoed these thoughts stating, "That is the fundamental role of the press: In a society as large and as diverse as ours the need for specialized newspapers has always been great, and is even greater today, in the age of social segmentation."

According to Mr. Chryssis, both traditional and new media forms (newspaper, radio, television and the Internet), "have kept the Greek Americans informed and connected to their community" and exert "immense influence and impact in the lives, habits and decisions of the Greek American people."

Session C highlighted the urgent crisis facing Greek language education in the U.S., especially at the K through 12 grade levels. The moderator for the session was Professor John Iatrides, Executive Director of the Modern Greek Studies Association (MGSA). The session was broken into three points of focus.

First, Professor Peter Bien, President of MGSA and Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at Dartmouth College, argued for the tremendous need for change in K-12 Greek language school programs. As co-author of the report submitted by Archbishop Spyridon's Commission on Greek Language and Hellenic Culture (known also as the Rassias Report), he presented a list of sobering results regarding this situation. Pointing to shortfalls in the Archdiocese's Office of Education, and pervasive demoralization on the part of teachers, students and parents, Professor Bien and the Rassias Report concluded that:

"[T]here is indeed a need for change, an urgent one. [The report] warns that '[t]he Greek language is rapidly eroding. Unless significant remedial action be taken immediately, Hellenism's survival in the American diaspora will be at risk.' The Commission's most dire prediction, based on the evidence it accumulated, was that 'Greek identity may well be lost in less than a generation.'"

The second portion of Session C, titled "K-12 Private Greek School Programs: Are They Viable?" offered mixed results. Using the Hellenic American Academy (HAA) in Potomac, Maryland as her model, panelist Elaine Lailas, Ph.D. described the astounding success of this private independent Greek Orthodox American school. While her conclusion was that this type of school is indeed possible, one of the major challenges that ultimately forced the closing of HAA was funding at the local community level.

A more optimistic picture of the state of Greek language education at the university level in the U.S. was given by Professor Vassilios Lambropoulos (C. P. Cavafy Professor of Modern Greek at the University of Michigan), who focused on the importance of increasing Modern Greek Studies (MGS) programs at the university level. Citing national trends, he noted that while enrollments in all foreign languages have been falling, "Greek has been very steady, even increasing, across the board." To perpetuate this trend, Dr. Lambropoulos suggested that Greek Americans and philhellenes might "go to a college we know, we respect, and say 'How about another course that integrates antiquity and modernity, Europe and America?' And that's modern Greek."

The final session of the morning's activities was Session D, "The Role of the Greek Orthodox Church in Promoting Hellenism in the U.S.," moderated by James H. Lagos, Esq., President of Bushnell Investment Co., Inc. and Partner at Lagos & Lagos.

Describing the intricate and longstanding relationship between Hellenism and Orthodoxy was Rev. Dr. Demetios J. Constantelos, Charles Cooper Townsend Senior Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History and Religion, and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. His conclusion was that "Hellenism and Christianity cannot be separated for linguistic, for historical, for cultural reasons. The task of the Orthodox in the United States is to maintain the continuity of Orthodox Christian belief and ethos. Respect the close relationship between faith and inheritance." In this way, the Church can also advocate for Hellenism.

Shedding light on the current status of the Greek Orthodox Church and faith in the U.S. in the face of the numerous demographic challenges outlined by Professor Moskos at the outset of the conference was Dr. Nick Pappas, Vice President of the Orthodox Christian Laity. The picture painted was one of a Church in tremendous need of redefinition in order to meet with the changing needs and character of the Greek Orthodox community:

"Our Greek Orthodox Church in America today is in a downward spiral. Awareness of Hellenic background is in rapid decline. We're losing market share in a business sense in terms of losing people. And in that business sense, we are on our way to bankruptcy, translating into fewer and fewer Greek Orthodox Christians."

If these challenges are addressed squarely and realistically, then the Greek Orthodox Church can be a powerful voice in promoting Hellenism. But Dr. Pappas cautioned that, "if we cannot first keep our youth attached in practicing the Orthodox faith, then the chances of having them preserve their Hellenic and ethnic backgrounds is slim. [O]ur ability to convey those [Hellenic] values I think goes down enormously."

Luncheon Keynote Address: Defining Hellenism

Chaired by Theodora Hancock, co-founder of the Hellenic American Women's Council (HAWC), the AHIF conference luncheon provided thought-provoking and inspirational commentary on the past, present and future role of Hellenism in permeating the fundamental values of our society today. David R. Weinberg, Professor of Hellenism, described various examples of this theme during his address to the luncheon audience and concluded that:

"Hellenism is not a relic of the past to which we periodically pay verbal homage on occasions such as this one. It is, rather, the foundation of civilization upon which we continually build. It is a living, breathing, vital contemporary component of our lives. It permeates our thoughts, influences our ethics, shapes our art, structures our literature, strengthens our democratic institutions, reforms our education and advances our science and technology."

Afternoon Sessions Advocate Promotion of Hellenic Ideals at the Individual Level

Immediately following the luncheon, conference attendees proceeded to the fifth of the seven conference sessions, titled "The Role of the Greek American Lobby: What Does the Future Hold?" and moderated by Maria Stamoulas, Esq. (Partner, Facer & Stamoulas, P.C.).

The first panelist, Gene Rossides, underscored some of the key challenges to Hellenism in the U.S., noting that the "flourishing of Hellenism in the twenty-first century in the U.S. depends on an active Greek American community on at least two fronts." The first front cited was the need for stronger lobbying efforts in public policy matters dealing with the four areas of power in the U.S. ­ the Congress, the Executive Branch, the media and the academic community.

The second front cited by Mr. Rossides which requires a greater degree of involvement was in educational policy. Emphasized was the need to strengthen and spread Greek language studies in grades K through 12, and the study of modern and classical Greece at the university level. By working collectively on both of these fronts ­ government and education ­ the Greek American community can better promote Hellenism in the U.S. He called for the establishment of 100 endowed chairs in ancient and modern Greek studies and $100 million from the Greek American community to be matched by $100 million from the universities.

Nick Karambelas, Partner at Sfikas & Karambelas, LLP, provided an instructional and informative overview regarding the problem with foreign Hellenic organizations lobbying in the U.S. Precisely because foreign agents and organizations lobbying U.S. voters is perceived negatively, efforts to promote Greek American issues are best advocated at the grassroots level. Community members must become more involved in contacting their Congressperson and Senator, and "educat[ing] at the grassroots level, not just your Representatives and Senators, but their staffs."

The most extensive session of the day, moderated by Konstandinos Alexakis (CEO, Public Sector Solutions) addressed the topic of "Promoting Hellenism and the Hellenic Culture in the U.S." as seen through various vantage points.

Achilleas Antoniades, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Cyprus, provided a number of examples through which the Republic of Cyprus promotes Hellenism in the U.S. These include a recent exhibition on Cypriot antiquities at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, a one-day seminar at the Smithsonian Institution themed "The wonders of ancient Cyprus: Land of Aphrodite," and other similar cultural, educational and public outreach programs.

The Ambassador of Greece to the U.S. George Savvaides outlined Greece's role, emphasizing especially the importance of "close, cordial and constructive relations between the U.S. and Greece both on the bilateral and multilateral field," and a need for "better understanding between the people of Greece and Hellenes in America."

Offering perhaps the most fundamental piece of advice to Greek Americans seeking to promote Greek culture in the U.S., Ambassador Loucas Tsilas (Executive Director, Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA), Inc.) noted:

"Through this work [at the Onassis Foundation] I touched upon the universal value, the universal nature of Hellenic civilization. It's so much easier for somebody who promotes Hellenic civilizations to do it when we really underline the true nature of Hellenic civilization. This nature is that it is an integral part of Western and human civilization."

Marilyn Rouvelas, through her study and promotion of Greek customs and traditions in the diaspora, echoed Ambassador Tsilas's sentiments. She stressed the universal appeal of Hellenism which has attracted and maintained the dedication of Hellenes and philhellenes throughout history. This is evidenced through the Greek customs and traditions that these communities keep alive today which are documented in her best-selling book, A Guide to Greek Traditions and Customs in America (Attica Press 2002).

Offering poignant concluding remarks to the session was renowned author Harry Mark Petrakis. As he reflected on growing up Greek American, Mr. Petrakis concluded, "I do not know whether Hellenism will prevail. Great civilizations have perished. I do say I am grateful for that legacy myself, and I have sought through the years I have worked and written to instill it in my books. A small particle of that living, breathing greatness." In this way, every Greek American has the ability and opportunity to promote Hellenism in his or her own particular way.

The final session of the day focused on the role of Greek American professionals in the promotion of Hellenism in the U.S., moderated by James Marketos. Reflecting the words of Mr. Petrakis, George Veras (President and Founder, Veras Communications International) affirmed that Greek American professionals can promote the culture by carrying its values and ideals into the workplace. Of his own experience in the media world, Mr. Veras pointed out that, "I spoke up about my roots and my culture, wore it on my sleeve in the corporate television world at CBS where many others were most eager to fit into the corporate culture." By doing so, he was targeted as the ideal producer for "Yanni Live at the Acropolis," and hence many subsequent Hellenic-themed programs, including "Greek Americans" on public television, that promote Greek culture in an even more direct manner.

Concluding Remarks -- Looking Beyond: What is the Future of Hellenism in the U.S.?

Dr. Constantine Papadakis, President of Drexel University, concluded the AHIF's conference on The Future of Hellenism in the U.S. with a challenge set forth to attendees: "free your imagination to visualize with me the Greek American nirvana, possible to achieve in the U.S. of tomorrow." Painting a portrait of America where Hellenic values resonated throughout the daily lives of Greek Americans, he urged the audience to actively strive towards this vision. As inspirational final thoughts on his vision, Dr. Papadakis asserted:

"If you wonder how all this can be done by the Greeks in America, you must remember what 100,000 Greeks in Athens accomplished 2,500 years ago. They invented democracy, banking, theatre, medicine, science and mathematics. Because the only way I know how to transform vision to reality is through planning, I challenge this audience and the American Hellenic Institute to identity a vehicle where a strategic plan can be laid out and a platform be established for the success of Hellenism in the U.S. for years to come."

Dr.  Constantine Papadakis

Dr. Constantine Papadakis delivering closing remarks.
(on 10/19/2002, photo credit: Bill Petros)

Additional digital photographs from the AHIF's conference on The Future of Hellenism in the U.S. are available upon request. Please contact Chrysoula Economopoulos at (202) 785-8430 or at chrysoula@ahiworld.org for additional information on the conference or to request supporting documents and photographs. For general information about AHI, please visit our website at http://www.ahiworld.org.