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AHIF Hosts Ninth Annual Future of Hellenism in America Conference
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Nick Larigakis
December 16, 2010—No. 86 (202) 785-8430

AHIF Hosts Ninth Annual Future of Hellenism in America Conference

WASHINGTON, DC—The American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) hosted its Ninth Annual Conference on the Future of Hellenism in America, keeping the discussion of the promotion and preservation of Hellenism at the forefront of the community. This year’s conference was held in Los Angeles, at The Beverly Hilton Hotel, November 20, 2010.

Featuring more than 25 prominent speakers from across the country, conference presentations analyzed key issues including the future of Greek American organizations, the political process and lobbying, religious and ethnic identity, promoting Hellenic values through business, Greek education, and perspectives from young Greek Americans. Speakers also identified how Hellenism could be promoted in the future through these various channels.

AHI Executive Director Nick Larigakis opened the conference and welcome remarks followed from Conference Chairman Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, president & CEO, AKT Development Corporation.

Professor Dan Georgakas, director of Greek American Studies at Queens College-CUNY’s Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, provided the conference’s keynote address on the topic “The Now and Future of Greek America.” Other notable speakers included: award-winning actor John Aniston, Kary Antholis, president, Miniseries, HBO Films; Andreas Kyprianides, honorary consul in Los Angeles, Republic of Cyprus; and U.S. Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL). A summary of all the speakers’ remarks are in the Conference Summary.

The conference covered the following topics (below links lead to relevant sections in Conference Summary):

 

The conference was held in cooperation with the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA), the World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE) U.S.A. Region, and the Behrakis Foundation.

Each year the conference is held in a different U.S. city to spread the seeds of ideas generated at the conference, and to obtain feedback from the local Greek American community on various challenges facing Hellenism in America. Conference speakers identified key challenges facing the Greek American community today and offered suggestions for the future.

Other sponsors of the conference included: TGS Epsilon, Circle Management Company and Sigmapharm Laboratories, LLC. Co-sponsors of the conference included: AHEPA El Camino Real District 20, the American Hellenic Council of California, and the Greek Heritage Society of Southern California.

Click here to view selected photos of the event.

 

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Conference Summary


Opening and Welcome Remarks

AHI Executive Director Nick Larigakis opened the conference on Saturday, November 20, 2010 with an overview of the Future of Hellenism in America Conference’s history and its overall mission to “exist as a forum for discussion that we hope plants the seed for attendees to take forth these ideas and spread them to their local communities.” He referenced the conference’s objectives and stressed the importance of these types of forums that encourage dialogue about the preservation of Hellenism and its ideals in the future.

Conference Chairman Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, president & CEO, AKT Development Corporation, Sacramento, Calif., welcomed attendees to the event. To provide context for the event’s significance, Tsakopoulos said, “This conference is critical to the well-being of our community in offering a critical reflection point on the core Hellenic values of love and strong family as well as hard work and dedication.”


Session A: The Future of Greek American Organizations

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • Paul Kotrotsios, President, Hellenic American National Council
  • Costa “Chachi” Tsavaras, President, AHEPA Chapter 219, Phoenix and 2010 National Ahepan of the Year
  • Moderator: Alexander Mizan, Executive Director, American Hellenic Council of California

Paul Kotrotsios’ presentation on “The Future of Greek American Organizations” emphasized the importance of being a member of Greek American organizations. He stressed that the future of our community depends upon our level of participation. He added, “we should have one voice regarding our issues” and that “the goal of unity must be shared by all.”

Costa “Chachi” Tsavaras shared his experience as the founding member of a small AHEPA chapter in Phoenix. He spoke about how to engage community members and bring them together in the form of a local chapter or organization. Tsavaras emphasized the need to be “simple and open” and also on the “importance of listening to what people have to say.” He also spoke about the “5 F’s” that are a distinguished characteristic of the Greek American community: Faith, Family, Friends, Fellowship and Food. He elaborated on how these values have made the Greek American community successful in its pursuit of its endeavors.


Session B: The Importance of Being Active in the Political Process

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • Michael Galanakis, President, American Hellenic Council of California
  • Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-FL)
  • Gene Rossides, Founder, American Hellenic Institute
  • Moderator: Nick Larigakis, Executive Director, American Hellenic Institute

Opening this panel was Michael Galanakis who offered a presentation on “The Importance of Grass Roots Lobbying Efforts.” In his speech, he emphasized the importance grassroots education which aims to cultivate our community’s issues to public servants. Furthermore, he stressed the need to have a greater number of individuals involved, saying that “we cannot deal with any effort without a great deal of people engaged [in it].”

Galanakis emphasized the significance of having the resources and tools in order to engage the public interest, such as holding regular events and keeping the community updated. “Organizing local communities to establish relationships with Congressmen, gaining direct access to staff members and establishing open lines of communication is the best way to educate them in various issues vital to the Greek American community,” he said.

He also discussed how connections with groups linked to President Barack Obama helped facilitate the call for more religious freedom in Turkey and for the re-opening of the Halki Seminary during his historic speech in Ankara. Further, Galanakis advised members of the Greek community to become politically engaged and discussed ways in which the American Hellenic Council of California reached out to local communities by using social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, email alerts as well as keeping websites updated so that people can have open access to news and events. Galanakis pointed out that they key to fundraising is for the public to feel like they are being engaged in the process of outreach which is done by offering guidance and support as well as ensuring their involvement by constantly updating them on the developments and keeping a consistent and clear agenda.

Congressman Gus Bilirakis discussed how Greek American issues are currently represented in U.S. Congress, and by whom. Currently, there are four Greek Americans in Congress with 141 members in the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues in the 110th Congress.

“There is no reason why we can’t have more Greek Americans [in Congress] that really care about our issues,” he reiterated pointing out that “non Greeks love Greeks but need to be educated on our issues and be held accountable.” He emphasized the importance of being consistent while fundraising and lobbying, and he encouraged the audience to become more vigilant on actions taken by their representatives on Greek American issues.

In his view, Hellenism is defined by “the passing on of certain customs, traditions, the language and religion all which go hand and hand.” Lastly, Bilirakis commented on the importance of “getting the message out there” pointing out that more Greek Americans should actively seek work in representative offices or pursue a career in public service.


Session C: The Role of Greek Americans in the Entertainment Industry in Promoting Hellenism

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • John Aniston, Award-winning Actor
  • Kary Antholis, President, Miniseries, HBO Films
  • Moderator: Paul P. Sogotis, President, Pacific Coast Maritime Agencies, Inc. and President, AHI-California

Opening speaker of the panel, John Aniston, shared his stories of how being Greek American and having a strong sense of culture and identity led to his success as a husband, father, and as a professional award-winning actor.

Kary Antholis examined the origins of storytelling and identified that ancient Greek playwrights offered the models for “what is possible in international story telling.” He said that in order to promote Hellenism in the Entertainment Industry there must be more incentives offered to shoot films in Greece and further encouragement for investing in Greek film-making. He also discussed the impact of cultural exchange and how this is important in getting feedback and improving one’s profile within the industry.

Luncheon

AHEPA El Camino Real District 20 Governor John Kopatsis served as luncheon Chairman. Professor Dan Georgakas, director, Greek American Studies at Queens College-CUNY’s Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, was the keynote speaker. Greetings were offered by Athena Placoudi, deputy consul of Greece in Los Angeles, who spoke on behalf of Consul Elizabeth Fotiadou, who was unable to attend; and Honorary Consul General of Cyprus in Los Angeles Andreas Kyprianides.

Also, during the luncheon, AHI presented John Aniston with the AHI Hellenic Heritage Achievement Award. Aniston was to originally receive the award during AHI’s 35th Anniversary Hellenic Heritage and National Public Service Awards Dinner, held March 13, 2010 in Washington, DC which he was unable to attend due to family illness. He was awarded with Hellenic Heritage Achievement Award for his unparalleled achievements and excellence in his field. In his remarks he spoke about his pride in his Greek heritage.

"I am very honored to receive this recognition," he said. "My Greek heritage is something I've always been proud of."
He thanked AHI for this honor and congratulated the organization for the successful conference and its nationwide efforts to promote Hellenic values and educate the public on policy matters affecting our community.

Luncheon Greetings

In her remarks, Athena Placoudi spoke about the achievements of Greeks and their efforts during the course of realizing their potential. Next, Andreas Kyprianides’ remarks specifically focused on the importance of the Cyprus issue in forming a common address for all Hellenes. He also offered an account of how national interests are formulated by upholding the Cyprus question as well as all issues pertinent to Hellenism. Kyprianides believes Turkey has proven to have Neo-Ottoman expansionist ambitions to annex the Turkish-occupied portion of northern Cyprus and to find ways to gain control of remaining parts of Cyprus. In his view “the goal is to create a united, free and independent Cyprus.”

Luncheon Keynote Address

Professor Dan Georgakas’ provided the keynote address on “The Now and Future of Greek America.”

Georgakas provided an overview of both positive and negative trends and statistics regarding the strength of the Greek American community’s identification with its Hellenic roots. In his view, Hellenism has its roots in adhering to “an independent judgment, polemical tradition, reason, due process, and multiculturalism.” While marriage outside the community has increased and the instances of Greek language spoken in the home has virtually disappeared except among immigrants and their children, Georgakas asserted that, “There are dynamic new factors in progress” that provide a counter-push. His findings suggested that 80% of Greeks marry non-Greeks.

In his view, the internet has provided a medium through which Greek Americans can connect and reconnect with their culture through ever-increasing methods. Online social networks are proliferating, bringing people in touch with each other and with news from the homeland irrespective of geographic location and on a real-time basis. These elements have inspired “Neo-Hellenism,” according to Georgakas, in which Hellenism is based more on cultural identification rather than geographic location.

Highlighting initiatives that the community can do to strengthen ties to Greece, Georgakas said Greek American organizations can use the internet more effectively, and the community can work to introduce Greek language into the public school curriculum. The community also would benefit from having more professionals with a Greek American consciousness working in diplomacy and the media, and it could strengthen its base by getting more young Greek Americans to Greece to solidify their ties with the country. In order to maintain culture, he emphasized the need to make the Greek American profile more contemporary and interesting for young people by stating that “Greeks must keep connection with modern Greece.” He recommended that film festivals and similar activities that combine education with leisure can be an effective means of keeping the community’s future engaged.


Session D: Greek Education in America

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • Dr. Thomas W. Gallant, Nicholas Family Endowed Chair, Modern Greek History, University of California, San Diego
  • Helen Dumas, Former Director, Greek Education, Metropolis of San Francisco
  • Aleco Haralambides, Esq., Founding Committee Member and Current Vice President, Archimedean Academy, Miami, Florida, and President, American Hellenic Institute
  • Professor Demetrios Liappas, Director, Basil P. Caloyeras Center for Modern Greek Studies. Loyola Marymount University
  • Moderator: Professor Van Coufoudakis, Rector Emeritus, University of Nicosia, Cyprus and former President, Modern Greek Studies Association

Dr. Thomas W. Gallant opened the session and discussed “Studying Greece in a Transnational Framework: The Future for Higher Education.” He provided an account on the current state of the Greek language in America’s higher educational institutions and spoke on the future of the Greek language and culture (both ancient and modern) within this educational framework.

Helen Dumas turned the focus of the session on “Greek Elementary School Programs in America: Are We Meeting the Needs?” She outlined the process of starting a Greek school and presented the current challenges and improvements that have been made to Greek elementary education in America. While “the resources in our possession are rich, there is a great need for teacher training,” she noted. She identified the need for supplementary assistantship programs and community support. “The real problem is participation in Greek school programs as there has been a significant drop in the number of schools, students and teachers in the past few years,” she said.

Aleco Haralambides discussed “Establishing Greek Charter Schools: How Do You Begin and Why They are Important to the Future of the Community.” Sharing his personal experiences on giving life to the vision of his father to establish an elite level academic environment, he outlined the process and methods of organizing a charter school. He believes success is achieved by exposing students to the sciences or mathematics, alongside philosophy and history, which provides a demanding educational environment where students are motivated to try harder and excel academically.

Professor Demetrios Liappas concluded the session with a presentation on “Modern Greek Studies at the University Level: Challenges and Opportunities.” After providing an overview of the current state of Modern Greek studies in universities, he discussed the challenges faced by academia in the field. As an example, he stated that ancient Greece has been very well represented in academic studies while Modern Greek studies, despite its potential, lacks the necessary funding that would further promote it. According to Liappas, many programs have become centers of thought and academic development attracting many visiting scholars. Further, he stressed the importance of keeping the studies of these programs open and accessible to the community. He also identified the study abroad field trips as the most important way of engaging the youth. Liappas added that financial support, in addition to more contemporary books, are needed “in order to keep them [these programs] alive.” Despite their potential Modern Greek studies programs often “face funding, organizational and staff problems,” said Liappas, who added that we need to “think of how we can assist and fund these programs.”



Session E: The Image of Hellenism: Hellenic Culture, Religious Identity, Greece’s economy and the Next Generation

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • Professor John K. Papadopoulos, Professor of Archaeology & Classics, Chair, Archaeology IDP; UCLA
  • Rev. John S. Bakas, Dean, Saint Sophia Cathedral, Los Angeles, CA
  • Dr. Angelyn Balodimas-Bartolomei, Assistant Professor of Education, North Park University, Illinois
  • Nick Karambelas, Partner, Sfikas & Karambelas and AHI Board Member
  • Moderator: Demetri Boutris, President, Boutris Group, Inc. & Former California Corporations Commissioner

Professor John K. Papadopoulos opened the panel with the presentation, “The Importance of Promoting Greek Culture: The Role of the Greek American Community.” He introduced the subject by referencing the rich contribution of ancient Greeks to musical theory and drama, values upon which Western science was founded. In his account, there is a strong link between the teachings of the Founding Fathers and ancient Greek values as they were the basic source of inspiration, political strategy and war theory. Papadopoulos stated, “[the] Ancients invented a few great things […] they offered the basic theories and if you apply them in the right context, one will flourish.” Further, he commented on the importance of writing as one of the greatest communication tools that can serve multiple purposes and can have a very strong effect on the way one perceives things. Hence “having centers of Hellenism place Greek culture within the American context and makes our values open to all,” he said, expanding upon the argument that it is imperative to share our knowledge and educate Americans on Hellenic values. Thus, while Greek Americans should be proud of their background, they should also promote Hellenism as something that contributes to the overall greatness of the United States, he said.

Rev. John S. Bakas followed with a speech on “The Challenges Facing the Greek Orthodox Church in America.” Highlighting the vital role of faith and religion in the Hellenic culture, he emphasized the importance of promoting the Gospel in a Hellenic context. He said, “We should Hellenize the world through our values and extend our influence to the rest of the churches.” Father Bakas’ main focus was on the Hellenic roots of Christianity and the significance of preserving “our rich culture” through the Church.

He identified virtue as the key Hellenic value and concept that distinguishes our faith. “If the Church is not strong and is not grounded on tradition, there is no Hellenism” he concluded.

Dr. Angelyn Balodimas-Bartolomei addressed the conference on the theme “How Do Second, Third & Third-Plus Generations of Greek Americans View Their Greek Ethnicity?” Balodimas based her presentation on a study she has conducted on these groups. She presented a number of statistics on how Greek language is being promoted in schools and addressed where it stands within the educational and academic framework.

Looking at different theories of immigrant adaptation to the United States, her study determines correlations with second, third and third-plus generation Greek Americans. Study results were drawn from an attitudinal questionnaire distributed and collected from these groups. Although the degree of ethnic identification demonstrates a downward trend for successive generations of Greek Americans, Balodimas-Bartolomei asserted that Greek Americans should “absolutely not” give up trying to cultivate and promote their Hellenic culture. Further, she pointed out that “identity is taking a new form” and is moving into a “transcultural stage.” She advised that “We could build up Hellenism… but we need to spread our culture out to others” as one means to achieving this goal.

Nick Karambelas concluded the panel discussion with a thorough socio-economic analysis titled “The Greek Economic Crisis: The Role of Greeks Abroad.” Outlining a set of reasons that led to the economic disparities that Greece is facing today, he presented a set of arguments on how Greeks abroad can help the process of recovery. A main reason for the economic crisis was the extensive amount of loans that the Greek government exposed itself too. He argued that this “faulty” structure of the Greek socio-political system created more reasons for spending money that was “not truly there in the first place.”

Karambelas proposed that the Diaspora can help facilitate Greece’s economic recovery by further “developing its private sector.” He elaborated on his proposal by suggesting that an organization be formed to present a set of policy ideas and to educate businessmen about the merits of Greece as a desirable destination for increased private sector development.



Session F: Greek American Organization Study Programs to Greece and Cyprus

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • Dr. James Dimitriou, PSP, Director, AHEPA, Journey to Greece Program and Adjunct Professor, University of Indianapolis, Athens Campus
  • Art Dimopoulos, Program Coordinator, National Hellenic Society
  • Nick Larigakis, Executive Director, American Hellenic Institute
  • Moderator: Shelly Papadopoulos, President, Greek Heritage Society of Southern California

Opening the session, Dr. James Dimitriou spoke about the AHEPA “Journey to Greece Program,” a study-abroad program that allows students to earn college credit while studying about ancient and modern Greece. The program’s purpose is to “share knowledge of our Hellenic heritage and spread the world of Hellenism,” said Dr. Dimitriou. He stated it is important to give motivation to students to become educated about Greece’s rich heritage, such as offering scholarships, student trips to Greece, and supporting research and academic study. “Through this trip, we want to students to experience and enjoy Greece in every capacity. To enjoy themselves and ultimately come back and talk to their peers about how great Greece is and about all they saw and learnt while there. This is great way of promoting Hellenism and preserving its future.”

Art Dimopoulos presented on the “National Hellenic Society Heritage Greece Program.” Having been the coordinator of the National Hellenic Society student trip, Dimopoulos explained how a trip to Greece can build important connections between young students and can ultimately shape their perception. Through this rich exposure, young adults find ways in which they greater relate to their heritage and roots. Dimopoulos argued that by bringing students together through this trip “Hellenism can live and grow through these young educators.”

To close the session, Nick Larigakis spoke on the “American Hellenic Foundation Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus.” The difference of this trip is that students travel to both Greece and Cyprus with a specific focus on foreign policy. The goal of this program is to help facilitate a better understanding of these issues to future Greek American leaders.

“Since its inception AHIF, has promoted a better understanding of Hellenic issues and strived to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and the United States and Cyprus. Over the years we have held annual conferences on the future of Hellenism in America and other conferences to educate and inform policy makers in the U.S. on our issues. Having completed two such foreign policy trips, we have seen these young leaders go back to their respective communities being prime advocates of our issues. We are proud of these students and pleased to see this program grow.”


 

Session G: A Perspective from Young Greek Americans

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • Michael Savvas, English Student, San Diego State University
  • Joseph J. Skarzenski, Political Science, Public Policy Student, UCLA
  • Moderator: Joanna Xipa, West Coast Director, “NEO” Magazine and Producer of “Kalimera LA!” of Radio NEO

Michael Savvas opened the panel by discussing what Hellenism has meant to him throughout his life. He also focused in on the importance of education to achieving the goals of Hellenism, using his own experience having recently participated in the AHI Foreign Policy Trip to Cyprus and Greece and the AHEPA Journey to Greece Program.

Expanding upon his recent experience through the AHIF Foreign Policy Trip, Savvas emphasized that through all these “invaluable experiences he learned a great deal about his culture, history and heritage.” However most importantly, after going to Cyprus, he felt the gravity of our issues and felt a personal commitment to act. “As the young members of our community, I believe we have the obligation to act and help our community grow. Hence after my participation on this trip, I decided to write an article to my university’s student newspaper about the situation in Cyprus.”

Savvas urged the audience “to educate their friends and family on our issues” and reiterated the importance of advancing Hellenism through media outlets and public figures because in this modern age it is important “to provide contemporary examples to support our cause.”

Joseph Skarzenski echoed Savvas’ call to involve young people in our outreach efforts. Having also participated in the AHEPA Journey to Greece Program, he provided a personal account about how he was able to relate to his roots and learn a great deal about contemporary Greece.

In his speech, Skarzenski focused on the importance of networking and on providing opportunities for young people to engage in the public sector through internship programs and educational trips that facilitate meetings with policy officials and distinguished professionals. In his view, this is a way to achieve greater participation and involvement of the young people in our community’s efforts. He proceeded by making three suggestions: first, he identified the importance of promoting participation at a young age. In this way, “Hellenism does not become a side part of young person’s life, but part of his or her life.” Secondly, he said that in order to keep young adults interested, it is important to be kept up-to-date, fun and engaged in communicating a message. Lastly, he identified the need for “a proactive effort to show that we care.” He suggested contacting those members that are not connected to our community to share and extend our values across cultural borders to achieve a greater impact.



Concluding Remarks:

Following the series of sessions, Professor Van Coufoudakis provided an overview of the day’s proceedings and identified the common themes that were presented. He noted areas where positive developments had occurred and offered ideas for how the Greek American community can take action.

“We all need to take these issues to our organizations and act in support of our community,” he said.

Furthermore, Coufoudakis identified the need for increased participation and cited the lack of sufficient funds as a serious impediment that does not allow for the advancement of the community’s concerns. “Money makes the difference and pushes issues forward,” he said. Looking forward, Coufoudakis said, “We should learn from the examples of other minorities and work toward a cross-fertilization of ideas across cultural borders.”

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For additional information, please contact Demetra Atsaloglou at (202) 785-8430 or at [email protected].

For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org.