AHIF Hosts 7th Annual Conference on the Future of Hellenism in America
WASHINGTON, DC—On November 22, 2008 the American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) hosted its Seventh Annual Conference on the Future of Hellenism in America, this year in Boston, MA at The Colonnade Hotel. The conference was held in cooperation with the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, The Behrakis Foundation, and co-sponsored by the Hellenic American National Council, and The Hellenic Voice. Each year the conference is held in a different U.S. city in efforts to spread conference ideas and retain feedback from the local Greek American community on various challenges facing Hellenism in America. The conference featured prominent speakers from the fields of education, law, academia, and the private sector who identified key challenges facing the Greek American community today and suggestions for the future. Click here for photos.
The aims of the annual conference are to provide an opportunity for analysis, critical evaluation, and reflection on Hellenism and its application and meaning to the Greek American and American community. The conference began with a tour of the George & Margo Behrakis Wing of Greek and Roman Art and Art of the Ancient World for the conference speakers on the evening of Friday, November 21, 2008 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Following the tour, Mr. and Mrs. George D. Behrakis hosted a dinner for the speakers at the museum.
The conference covered the following topics:
Conference Proceedings Summary:
Opening the conference on Saturday, November 22, 2008 was the Conference Chairman George D. Behrakis, Chairman of Gainesborough Investments.
Mr. Behrakis stated, “…This conference gives us the opportunity to think about our thoughts, our views, our intentions, vital issues facing not only the United States today and tomorrow, but also Greece.”
Conference Opening Keynote:
The keynote speaker was Professor Alexander Kitroeff, Associate Professor of History and Academic Director, Center for Peace & Global Citizenship, Haverford College, Pennsylvania.
Professor Kitroeff addressed the role of ethnic organizations and institutions. “They are the most important factor in the preservation of the social fabric in a cultural entity that is known as ethnic communities. Without these institutions, this ethnic identity would not exist for very long. As far as Greeks are concerned there is a very long varied history,” he stated. Also, Professor Kitroeff showed figures comparing Greek Americans to other ethnic groups in the U.S. “If we divide the population by the number of ethnic organizations we see that the Armenians have roughly one organization per thousand people, the Jewish Americans, which of course is one of the largest of these groups, have one organization per one thousand seven hundred people, and the Greek Americans are third on the list with roughly one organization for every two hundred thirty people…It is all a bunch of figures but I hope I have shown what is in many ways a basis for optimism in the future. My concern is that whenever we think about Greeks and their future, we do not rationalize the future by saying we can make it because we are Greek. The point is we can make it not only because we are Greek but because we take into account the hard facts of the record of the past couple of decades…Three decades after the end of emigration from Greece…the trend of Greek participation in voluntary associations has been sustained, and in some cases increased,” he declared.
Session A: The Future of Greek American Organizations:
The morning session panel A speakers included: Nick Larigakis, AHI Executive Director and William B. Marianes, Esq., Chairman, AHEPA Vision Alliance.
Regarding the future of Greek American organizations Nick Larigakis said, “Greek American organizations have been extremely important and essential to facilitating and sustaining our community from the early days of the first immigrants. They have kept lines of communication alive with their representative areas of Greece, they have done many charitable projects in these same areas and they have kept their parochial heritage alive. Somewhere along the way, however, many of them especially the ‘Topika Somatia’ have not evolved in addressing the needs of the community. And one of the ways they have not is on the use of language in conducting their business meetings. For many, they insist on using Greek and this, unfortunately, keeps away a whole generation of vibrant young leaders from their ranks thereby almost insuring their eventual demise.”
William B. Marianes said, “In over one hundred years of history of Greek immigration, never before have Hellenic-American organizations been more important than they are today…If we do not understand and implement better practices and coordinating our efforts in unifying them, not necessarily having to unify organizations…this generation will have the unique pride of being the generation that presided over the demise of Hellenism in America. That is our future if we do not take action right now.”
Session B: The Image of Hellenism: Hellenic Culture, the Media, Sports, and the Next Generation:
The moderator for the morning session panel B was George Chryssis, President & CEO, Intergon Corp. The panel B speakers included: Christine Kondoleon, George & Margo Behrakis Senior Curator of Greek and Roman Art, Art of Ancient World 2001-present, Museum of Fine Arts; John T. Baglaneas, Executive Editor & Managing Director,The Hellenic Voice; Nick Tsiotos, Associate Sports Editor, The Hellenic Voice; and Angelyn Balodimas-Bartolomei, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Education, North Park University, Illinois.
Christine Kondoleon spoke about the role of Greek culture on the stage of world art and history. “Greek art has one of the best collections in the world,” she said. “The Museum of Fine Arts, the Laurel Society, which is now in its fourth successful year, includes many trips and lectures celebrating and informing members about Greek art and archeology…The Behrakis Wing for Art of the Ancient World will be the first step in unfolding new installations of Greek, Roman and Byzantine art,” stated Ms. Kondoleon. “This is a bridge we are building between Greece and our museum in classical art…These are but a few steps towards enlarging our knowledge of Greek cultural heritage and promoting our passion and engagement through art and history,” she stated.
John T. Baglaneas addressed the importance of the Greek American print media. “To survive well into the future, the Greek American community and the Greek American print media must be willing to form a partnership through which both entities come to the realization that neither can survive without the other,” he declared.
Nick Tsiotos spoke about the impact of athletes in the promotion of Hellenism. Mr. Tsiotos started off with a history of Greek immigration to the U.S. and the prejudice that they were confronted with and how Greek athletes helped overcome the hate towards Greek immigrants. He also spoke about how Greek American athletes brought attention to the community in a positive way. “Seeing these athletes on television brought attention to the Greek American community and raised its profile,” said Mr. Tsiotos. He also spoke about Greek Americans in contemporary sports, “We have made a great transition. For example, last year in the National Football League, we had eight Greeks. That is an incredible percentage considering we are about one million people in the United States.”
Angelyn Balodimas-Bartolomei, Ph.D. spoke on the subject of how do second, third and third plus generations of Greek Americans view their Greek ethnicity. “There are still some scholars that say many third generation ethnic Americans like Greeks, Italians, and Jews are returning to seek their roots...The purpose of my study is to analyze previous theories and determine their correlations between these theories with second, third generation Greek and Italian Americans, to provide missing information on Greek and Italian Americans, and also to see how second, third generation Greek and Italian Americans, interpret views of culture, ethnic language, religion, ethnic involvement, ties with the motherland, ethnicity and identity.” Dr. Bartolomei’s study found that second, third and third plus generations of Greek Americans had a decreased interest in maintaining their ethnicity. Dr. Bartolomei said she applauds other ethnic groups in America that practice and teach about their ethnic heritage to the upcoming generations. She also advocates that the Greek American community should do the same. “I go to our foundations and conferences in efforts to wake up some of the Greek entrepreneurs and politicians by saying, “Come on, and let’s try to do something that they are doing. There is a lot that can be done,” she stated.
Session C: The Importance of Being Active in the Political Process:
The moderator for the morning session panel C was Professor Van Coufoudakis, Rector Emeritus, University of Nicosia, Cyprus. This panel’s speakers included: Nick Karambelas, Partner, Sfikas & Karambelas; Representative Niki Tsongas (D-MA); and Gene Rossides, President, American Hellenic Institute.
Nick Karambelas spoke regarding the fundamentals of participating in the U.S. political process. “Cynicism abounds in any political system, but rightly or wrongly, we have to participate nevertheless…In the Greek American community, the international issues must be set in the context of American foreign policy,” said Mr. Karambelas.
Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA) said that she became active in politics because “…for me, it had been 25 years since a woman had been elected to Congress from Massachusetts. And fundamentally, women cannot win if women do not run, and that is true for Greek Americans …in electing those of Greek American descent, you do elect people who will be very responsive to the issues of the community, particularly as they relate to international affairs,” said Tsongas.
Gene Rossides spoke regarding the role of the Greek American community in support for U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus and why this is important to the U. S. and our community. Mr. Rossides said, “In my view, the future of our community depends on how active we are in the political process regarding U.S. relations with Greece, Cyprus and Turkey. If we do not get fully involved we will be marginalized and considered a weak ineffective ethnic community, which will lessen the importance of Hellenism in this country.” He went on to say, “The challenge for us is to become an integral part of the foreign policy process. How do we do that? We do it by being active with the four centers of power: first, the Congress; second, the executive branch; third, the media, extremely important; and fourth, the think tanks and the academic community. We need to integrate fully into the political process at the grassroots level and the Washington level as the Jewish Americans and Irish Americans have done.”
The luncheon chairman was George Danis, CEO, IntegraTech Solutions. Greetings were given by Constantinos Orphanides, Consul General of Greece and the luncheon speaker was Michael S. Dukakis, Former Governor of Massachusetts.
During the luncheon, Constantinos Orphanides said, “I am taking this opportunity to congratulate AHI for its services that it has provided to Hellenism, for its commitment and its great work and for all these years it has preformed for the causes of Hellenism, for Greece, and for Cyprus. I would like also to congratulate the Behrakis Foundation and Onassis Foundation for the long standing commitment and support regarding all events that support Hellenism.”
Luncheon speaker Michael S. Dukakis spoke on a variety of topics, but focused on encouraging young Greek Americans to become active in politics and public service. “Getting young people actively involved in the politics of their community, state, and country is the single most important way we can have an influence on the public policies of this country…We have terrific young people coming along. They continue to be very proud of their background. But I think we have to point them in the direction of political careers…Public service is not only important for us as an ethnic group, it is part of our tradition. This is part of what being Greek is all about,” said Mr. Dukakis.
Session D: The Image of Hellenism: Religious Identity:
Following the luncheon, the moderator for the afternoon session panel D was Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou, Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, Boston University. The panel D speakers included: Rev. Dr. Thomas Fitzgerald, Dean, Holy Cross School of Theology and Rev. Nicholas Triantafilou, President, Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology.
Rev. Dr. Thomas Fitzgerald spoke on the future of Orthodoxy in America. Rev. Dr. Fitzgerald went on to say he does not know what the future holds for the Church, but the Gospel will remain the same. He spoke about how the parishes in America have changed. Many of the Greek Orthodox faith have married outside the Church. “The demographics of our parishes have dramatically changed in the past 50 years,” stated Rev. Dr. Fitzgerald. His message was that no matter where live, how we change or what language we now speak, “As Orthodox Christians, we proclaim the same faith as Paul. Our location has changed, our language has changed, but the message—the Gospel—remains the same.”
Rev. Nicholas Triantafilou addressed the future of Orthodox priesthood in America. He spoke about those who serve the Church today saying, “There are very few first generation immigrant people serving the Church today. And they will be even less in the 21st century. First generation people born in this country are also few…Those who are third generation make up the bulk of our priests.” Rev. Triantafilou also spoke about inter-Christian and inter-faith marriages affecting the priesthood. “We do not live in a cocoon; we live in a society. We are talking about multicultural people and multicultural priests that go into the parishes who must understand the multicultural activities of the people who are there to listen. The priest must understand. He must be a sociologist in order to teach the Gospel,” said Rev. Triantafilou. Therefore, the future of Orthodox priesthood in America will have many diverse priest and parishes of fourth and fifth generation Greek Americans.
Session E: Greek Education in America:
The moderator for the afternoon session panel E was Nicholas Kourtis, Chief Operating Officer, TwinStrata, Inc. The panel E speakers included: Jennifer R. Kellogg, Assistant Director for Curricular Development, Fellowships, and Outreach, Harvard University Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, DC; Dr. James Skedros, Professor of the Cantonis Chair for Byzantine Studies & Professor of History, Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology, MA; and Kleanthi E. Mavrogiannaki, MA, Lecture of Modern Greek, Northeastern University, Boston and Founder & Director, Greek 4 Kids.
Jennifer R. Kellogg spoke on the importance of increasing Modern Greek studies programs and expanding the curriculum. “The answer comes down to marketing and innovation. How are we marketing Modern Greek studies and to whom? How can we attract students and convince administrators of the ongoing relevance of Hellenic civilization? My attempt to answer these questions suggests the tripartite approach: one, the use of information technology; two, integrating diachronic perspective of Hellenism that is not based on justifying continuity but rather historical richness; and three, support an engagement from the Greek American community,” said Jennifer Kellogg.
Dr. James Skedros spoke on the subject of the importance of the Greek language. He explained that it is worth learning because it can still be spoken today. “It is a living language. It is not a language that is dead. It is the language of 11 million people,” stated Dr. Skedros. The Greek language is a part of how we can identify ourselves as an ethnic minority in the U.S. He also spoke about the Greek of the New Testament and the importance of the Greek Orthodox liturgy as it identifies and supports the Greek American identity. “Unless you go to Greece, unless you hear it at home, where is it reinforced? But in the liturgy…It is an opportunity to teach within our parishes and even amongst ourselves,” said Dr. Skedros.
Kleanthi E. Mavrogiannaki spoke about Greek elementary school programs in America and if we are meeting the needs? “So are we meeting the needs? The answer is obvious [No],” proclaimed Ms. Mavrogiannaki. She summarized research conducted by Professor Rassias regarding the future of the Greek language in America. She said the researched showed that, “Morale is down. Parents are not interested. Kids will never learn Greek. I better sign them up for Spanish class.” To contribute to the institution and education of the Greek language in America, and to fill a need in her community, she created a program called Greek 4 Kids to attract and teach elementary school Greek Americans Modern Greek. Ms. Mavrogiannaki feels that parents must enroll their children in after school programs in efforts to have them learn the Greek language, Greek history, and maintain a strong ethnic identity in America.
Session F: A Perspective from Young Greek Americans:
The moderator for the afternoon session panel F was Tina Papadopoulos, Area Director of Development for Massachusetts, American Cancer Society and President, AHI New England Chapter. The panel F speakers included: George Papadopoulos, Political Science Student, DePaul University, IL; Alexandra Karambelas, Classics & English Literature Student, Tufts University, MA; and Michael S. Aktipis, Ph.D., J.D. Candidate, Harvard Law School, MA.
George Papadopoulos stated, “I believe through the practices of a cosmopolitan Greek education and being educated in what’s going on with current events, we could situate Greek culture beyond its established regional hearth to a place where it would intersect and robustly inform hegemonic narratives. Hellenic culture preservation or promotion will be fluid and sustainable this way.”
Alexandra Karambelas said, “My generation, the generation of change has to continue in the tradition of the gadfly of Athens and we’re going to keep questioning. We’re going to keep talking with the goal of creating a functional definition of Hellenism.”
Michael S. Aktipis stated, “The future of the Greek American community has to look to the next generation. I think we all have to recognize that…We really have to direct our energies towards creating opportunities for the next generation of Greek Americans to get to know each other better, to know what each is thinking, to network, to help find our way and redefine Greek Americanism.”
Round Table Discussion with Audience:
Following the panels, a round table discussion was held with the audience. The round table provided an overview of common themes that were presented throughout the day. Some of the topics discussed were the definition of Hellenism today for Greek Americans, improving opportunities for Greek language education, creating more study abroad programs, how to deal with the challenge of being married to a non-Greek and the importance of reaching out to the Greek American youth at an earlier age.Professor Van Coufoudakis was the moderator. The round table participants included: George D. Behrakis, Professor Alexander Kitroeff, and Rev. Nicholas Triantafilou. Closing comments were given by Nick Larigakis.
The American Hellenic Institute Foundation thanks the following conference benefactors: Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, The Behrakis Foundation, Nicholas J. Bouras, Summit, NJ; Nicholas Chimicles, Devon, PA; James and Nike Lagos, Springfield, OH; Jim Pedas, Washington, DC; Ted Pedas, Washington, DC; Gene Rossides, Washington, DC; and Ted G. Spyropoulos, Chicago, IL.
For additional information, please contact C. Franciscos Economides at (202) 785-8430 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For general information regarding the activities of AHI, please view our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org.
AHIF Hosts 7th Annual Conference on the Future of Hellenism in America