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AHIF Hosts 12th Annual Future of Hellenism in America Conference
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Georgea Polizos
December 31, 2013—No. 71 (202) 785-8430

AHIF Hosts 12th Annual Future of Hellenism in America Conference

WASHINGTON, DC –The American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) hosted its landmark Twelfth 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 Miami, Fla., at the Conrad Miami Hilton, November 22-23, 2013.

Featuring more than 20 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.

AHIF held a dinner on the eve of the conference, November 22.  There, AHI President Nick Larigakis officially opened the conference and welcome remarks followed from Conference Chairman Aleco Haralambides, a former AHI president.  

The dinner’s Keynote Speaker was U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), who jumped at the opportunity to be the Keynote Speaker in large part because of the respect he has for the families that were being honored by AHI.  He commended AHI and President Nick Larigakis for doing an outstanding job. “I witness it on a daily basis,” he said. “We’ve been successful and we owe a lot of that to AHI.”  Congressman Bilirakis also noted his work with AHI to ensure our cultural history survives.  “I can tell you that the future of Hellenism is bright,” he said. “We need to preserve our culture and Hellenism….I’m not shy about wearing (our) Greek pride on my sleeve.”

Longtime AHI supporter and member Gus Andy and John Haralambides (posthumously) received AHI’s Hellenic Heritage and Public Service Award for the Promotion of Hellenism in America.  

In his acceptance, Andy said, “I am truly honored and humbled to receive the AHI Hellenic Heritage Public Service Award for promotion of Hellenism in America this evening.  It is especially a thrill because of how passionately and strongly I believe in the mission the work of the American Hellenic Institute—which was founded by a tremendous individual in Eugene Rossides and is led by a dynamic President, Nick Larigakis.   AHI’s unwavering dedication and commitment to strengthening of relations between the United States and Greece; to finding a just and viable solution to the division of Cyprus; and to eliminating the plight of our Ecumenical Patriarchate has unyielding and persistent; and the work of AHI is what keeps me motivated to do more when it comes to these important issues.”

Accepting on behalf of John Haralambides (posthumously) was his son, Aleco, who remarked how much his father appreciated and supported the work of AHI.  Haralambides recounted that it was his father’s life-long dream to foster the promotion of Greek language and education in America. In this regard, Haralambides stated that his father was the driving force and inspiration behind the creation and founding of Archimedean Academy in Miami, Florida.  Today, he would be very proud of the academy’s success in meeting its mission, which is “to initiate the young mind into the art of thinking through the teaching of Mathematics and the Greek Language.” Aleco’s mother, Adi, joined him in accepting the award.

The conference covered the following topics:

 

 

The AHI Foundation hosted the conference in cooperation with the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA), and the National Hellenic Society (NHS) co-sponsored it.

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.

Friday dinner photos

Saturday Conference photos

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Conference Summary

Panel I: Greek Education in America

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • Dr. George Kafkoulis, chairman and president of the Archimedean Academy, Miami, Florida
  • Georgios Anagnostou, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Modern Greek Program, Ohio State University
  • Artemis Zenetou, Fulbright in Greece
  • Moderator: Aleco Haralambides, Esq., founding member and vice president, Archimedean Academy, Miami, Florida


In his presentation “Establishing Greek Charter Schools:  How Do You Begin and Why They are Important to the Future of the Community,” Dr. George Kafkoulis explained how public charter schools are administered and the challenges of a Greek language school, including the difficulty of securing Greek language textbooks for grade levels one through four. Archimedean Academy has 950 students enrolled with another 1,000 on a waiting list, he said.  Less than 10 percent are Greek American, he added.  Dr. Kafkoulis believes Greek language public charter schools can be an outlet for third, fourth, and fifth generation Greek Americans to learn Greek, and in addition, the school can serve as “feeder programs” for Modern Greek Studies programs at universities. 

Georgios Anagnostou, Ph.D., presented on the topic, “Modern Greek Studies at the University Level:  Challenges and Opportunities.”  He provided a candid assessment of the lack of support and funding for certain university programs, which is especially true for Modern Greek studies.  “[Academic] institutions are starting to act more like corporations, where demand and supply guide their operations,” he said. “Greek studies is at a huge disadvantage and cannot compete with language powerhouses which command high enrollments.” He added that people are also starting to question the professional value of cultural programs.  For example, why does one need this field if it offers slim opportunities for employment?  Dr. Anagnostou also offered that internationalization works as a resource and force of expansion that needs to be taken advantage of by Modern Greek studies programs He concluded by asking the compelling question, why are scholarships only offered to students of Greek descent? “Hellenism isn’t about biology, it’s about culture,” he said. “These American students will be the future journalists, legal policy makers, anthropologists driving the country and we will be wasting a great resource if we do not embrace them. We do not need to neglect and alienate them.”

Artemis Zenetou explored the topic, “The Role of Greece in Enhancing Greek Education in America; The Fulbright Program.”  She provided an overview and history of the Fulbright Program, including offering such facts as Greece being the first Fulbright Program in Europe and the second operating program in the world.  With regard to program in Greece she stated, “Supporting these projects, which I consider essential, is difficult in an environment where issues such as unemployment and hunger are now taking precedence.” Zenetou also discussed the benefits of the Fulbright Program to Greece. “[It is] a great way to demystify our country to an American constituency, bringing teachers and their students back to Greece through cultural enrichment seminars,” she said. American Fulbright scholars “were the best ambassadors of our country to the U.S.,” having perpetuated Greek and Hellenic culture and ideals upon their return to the United States. “This ‘people-to-people diplomacy’ in the form of ‘the multiplier effect’ (one person reaching out to many students) has made big differences in the surrounding communities of our alumni,” she said.  Zenetou concluded by providing many examples of Fulbright alumni and their legacies in the United States, a few of which were present at the conference.


Panel II: The Greek American Community and the Political Process

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • Hon. Gus Bilirakis, U.S. representative, Twelfth Congressional District of Florida
  • Nick Larigakis, president, American Hellenic Institute
  • Moderator: Kostas Alexakis, CEO, Public Sector Solutions, LLC; and AHI Board Member


Opening this panel was Congressman Gus Bilirakis, who discussed why it is important for members of the community to become involved and engaged with Congress under the topic “The Importance of Grass Roots Advocacy Efforts.”  He offered advice to the audience on the topic. “We must build personal relationships with our members of Congress,” the congressman said.  He also stressed the importance of setting up meetings with members of Congress, both in the congressional district and in Washington.  Congressman Bilirakis encouraged conference attendees to make phone calls and to send emails to their members of Congress, asking them to co-sponsor legislation and to join the Hellenic Caucus. “We need to be more organized,” he said. “We are making progress but we need to step up our grassroots effort.  Let’s spread the knowledge of the Patriarchate and Halki and inform them of the issues.”

Nick Larigakis addressed the topic of “Greek American Issues: What Are They and Why Are They Important to the U.S.?” He contended that a majority of the Greek American community “Don’t know [the issues] that well or know them superficially.”  Larigakis stressed the importance of speaking to legislators as Americans and educating them as to why it is in the best interest of the United States to support the Greek American community’s issues. He cited Greece’s strategic importance to the United States, including its role in NATO and the facilitation of utilizing NSA Souda Bay. For the latter, Larigakis shared his first-hand experience visiting NSA Souda Bay and the interactions he has had with U.S. military officials who stressed the importance of the base. Larigakis also discussed Cyprus’ importance to United States interests, including being an initial signatory to a PSI agreement with the United States, being a safe haven for American citizens who had to evacuate Lebanon, and the utilization of the port at Limassol for “R and R.”  Furthermore, Larigakis discussed the geopolitical significance of the Greece-Cyprus-Israel trilateral relationship and the democratic stability it provides in an otherwise instable region. Finally, he touched on how effective local activism can be to achieving results on Capitol Hill and why it is crucial for all organizations to “be on the same page” with their policy statements, a role that AHI provides through its annual Policy Statements to which many Greek American organization sign on.


Morning Greetings, Luncheon Keynote Speaker

Conference Chairman Aleco Haralambides welcomed everyone to the morning proceedings.  He thanked the conference benefactors and introduced the speakers for the morning program, which included U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Professor Dan Georgakas, director of Greek American Studies, Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Queens College, CUNY.

In her greetings, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen commended the American Hellenic Institute and congratulated the honorees at the previous evening’s awards dinner. She further expressed her profound understanding of, and appreciation for, Greece as chairman emeritus of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and current chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and N. Africa.  “The U.S.-Greece alliance has been essential in combating extremism, preventing the proliferation of weapons and for ensuring the stability of the region,” she said. The former chairman displayed her thorough knowledge of the region by detailing the significance of recent discoveries of extremely large quantities of hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the emerging strategic relationship between Greece, Cyprus and Israel. She concluded by encouraging the audience to outreach to congressional offices and by reaffirming Greece’s strategic importance to the United States. “I will continue to support the U.S.-Greece relationship and will continue to support any measure that can only make it stronger.”

Professor Georgakas presented on the theme, “The Now and Future of Greek America.”  He spoke on a broad range of topics, including: a focus on when the community speaks about American foreign policy in the eastern Mediterranean,the need for the Greek American community to be progressive in its approach and embrace the new multi-cultural dynamics of American society, the importance of Internet and other technological advances. The professor concluded with a brief review of the demographic factors that work against enduring ethnic identity in the United States. “To ignore these realities would be suicidal,” he said.  “Happily, over the past decade, the Greek American activism at the local level has shown considerable vigor. Given the new social dynamics and technological tools at hand, this opens the door for a renewable and culturally enriched Greek America.”

Haralambides also introduced the conference luncheon’s principal speaker, Antonios Sgouropoulos, who is the consul general, Consulate General of Greece in Tampa.  Consul General Sgouropoulos represented Ambassador of Greece to the U.S. Christos Panagopoulos. On behalf of the ambassador, Consul General Sgouropoulos provided an overview of the current situation in Greece, a “look ahead” into Greece’s 2014 EU Presidency, and iterated the importance of the U.S.-Greece strategic alliance. He also complemented the work of the Greek American community, especially that of Florida.


Panel III: The Changing Nature of the Greek American Community

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • Demetrios Kirkiles, AHEPA Supreme Governor
  • Rev. Elias Bouboutsis, Ph.D., Metropolis Clergy at St. George in Hollywood, Florida; and director, Ecumenical Institute at St. Thomas University
  • Angelyn Balodimas-Bartolomei, Ph.D., associate professor of Education, North Park University, Illinois
  • Panos Stavrianidis, Adjunct Professor of Management, SUNY
  • Moderator: Leon Andris, AHI Member


Demetrios Kirkiles 
spoke on the topic, “Are Greek American Organizations Meeting the Needs of the Community?” He provided an overview of his experience as a member and officer in the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) and cited the organization’s mission statement that offers a member the opportunity to promote the Hellenic ideals of philanthropy, education civic responsibility, and family and individual excellence.  He added, “Hellenic organizations are based on the premise of coming together as a unit, remember our founding roots and work together to build a strong future.”

“The Challenges Facing the Greek Orthodox Church in America,” was the topic discussed by Rev. Elias Bouboutsis, Ph.D.  Rev. Bouboutsis believes two primary challenges of the community are “to be authentic and adaptive in the diaspora.”  To illustrate his position, Rev. Bouboutsis shared a quote from Father Kalistos Ware, “Orthodoxy is indeed a very ancient and old tree but it is a living tree, a growing tree, a changing and evolving tree.” Rev. Boutboutsis interprets Father Ware’s quote as meaning “In other words, paradosis-based authenticity is not replication….or imitating external forms, such as being a knock-off of the church of Greece in this country. Discernment is key here, since as the scripture reminds us ‘evil itself can appear as an angel of light.’ We cannot afford to confuse ritual purity, a kind of obsessive attachment to external forms, with authenticity.” Ultimately, integrating both the deep roots and the new growth in a living, breathing organism is at the core of the challenges we face.

An examination of how second, third, and third-plus generations of Greek Americans view their Greek ethnicity was provided by Angelyn Balodimas-Bartolomei, Ph.D.  Dr. Bartolomei shared data from a study taken from 2008 to 2010 of 181 second and third generation Greek Americans.  The findings show that 1) family is important to these generations and 2) that they are proud of their ethnicity.  The data also demonstrated there is a big decline in use of Greek language between second and third generation Greek Americans as well as a decline the numbers who attend Greek school. However, third generation Greek Americans want to travel and did express a desire to study Greek.  Dr. Bartolomei believes it is “time for us to wake up” and recommended that the community bolsters university study-abroad programs and Modern Greek Studies programs.

Panos Stavrianidis presented on the topic, “The Evolution of Greek America in the 21st Century and its Struggle for Survival.” His presentation mirrored Balodimas-Bartolomei’s presentation as he shared results of a survey he administered to sample of 1,000 Greek Americans from New Jersey, of which 240 were returned. “Greek-Americans are a mono-ethnic group, and an outstanding example of how immigrants and their descendants can integrate and advance within the American mainstream,” he said. However, according to the survey’s results, Stavrianides believe the community will lose the Greek language and organizational membership and political activity will decrease with each new generation. 


Panel IV: The Cultural Dimension

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • Michael J. Reppas II, Esq., Founder of the American Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures
  • Connie Mourtoupalas, Executive Director, National Hellenic Museum (represented by National Hellenic Executive Director Art Dimopoulos)
  • Moderator: Michael J. Reppas II, Esq.


“Preserving the History of the Greek American Community and its Importance to Future Generations” was the topic presented by Art Dimopoulos, who read the remarks of Connie Mourtoupalas, who was unable to attend. Mourtoupalas’ remarks articulated the importance of preserving the history of the Greek American community by drawing a parallel with preserving American history.  “Our own history is also America’s history,” she wrote. “After all, what is America if not the sum of different cultural communities which make up the American landscape.” To illustrate her point, Mourtoupalas provided the example of the National Hellenic Museum’s documentation of the story of George Colvocoresses. By documenting and presenting the story of George Colvocoresses, a survivor of the Chios 1822 massacre, who made it to Baltimore and eventually became a captain in the U.S. Navy, and fought in the American Civil War, with three major victories against the Confederates, who was also an officer in the U.S. Navy’s first ever expedition to the Pacific Ocean, the National Hellenic Museum sheds light on an important chapter of American history.”  In her remarks, Mourtoupalas also stressed the importance of preserving the near 200-year history of Greeks in America “because it is our story and we have the right and the responsibility to know it and pass it on to future generations.” She furthermore explained how museums such as the National Hellenic Museum go about documenting history by collecting and preserving in properly controlled environments primary sources, material evidence, which researchers peruse and write history. Mourtoupalas concluded by urging attendees to “no underestimate the power of an old letter from a relative, a military uniform, a medal, a lowly family heirloom” as all pieces that can be placed together to tell a bigger story.

Michael J. Reppas examined the topic, “By Protecting the Cultural Property of Greece We Are Protecting the Cultural Property of the World.”  He based his presentation on the notion that culture is our identity—comprised of one’s language, religion, dancing, music, history, and artifacts, among other items.  He paints a picture for attendees of a piece of cultural property (the Statue of Liberty, for example) that has been broken up into pieces and then sold to and owned by other museums around the world and asked a series of thought-provoking questions.  “How do you feel now that your people do not even own the severed pieces? How is ownership of cultural property resolved today? Can anyone own someone else’s past or is cultural property owned by everyone in the world?” The challenge, according to Reppas, is to determine who can own a piece of the cultural property or a piece of history. “That feeling is exactly what the struggle over looted cultural property is all about,” he said. “The reality is that all parties have to find a way to work together to resolve these issues, making sure there are many winners instead of just one.” Reppas then drew a comparison to the Parthenon sculptures--a prime example of 19th century looting at the height of European colonialism at a time when Greece was occupied by the Ottoman Empire.  “It’s my hope that people throughout the world will realize the significance of cultural property to the people of its country of origin,” he said. “It’s my hope that such knowledge will inspire students, educators, authors, lawyers and legislators…to demand the return of these most prized pieces of antiquity to their countries of origin and to truly work together to preserve and respect the contributions of source countries as part of the achievements of mankind without depriving their descendants of ownership.”


Panel V: Current Perspectives on Current Challenges

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • Professor Ioannis Floros, Department of Finance, College of Business, Iowa State University
  • Brian D. Siegal, Director, American Jewish Committee, Miami
  • Moderator: Orestes Fintiklis, Director of Dolphin Capital Partners


Professor Ioannis Floros
 opened the panel speaking on the topic, “The Greek Economic Crisis: Its Relevance to the Greek American Community.”  In his presentation, Floros provided an overview of the current situation in Greece, and he also offered his thoughts on what can be done to improve the situation there.

Brian Siegal followed with a presentation on the topic, “The Jewish American Community: How Do We Compare?”  He identified several ways in which the two communities share profound similarities and links, including a strong sense of attachment to respective homelands, a strong commitment to democratic values, and a strong family life. To illustrate, Siegal shared a quote from Winston Churchill, who once said of the history of Greeks and Jews, “No two races have set such a mark upon the world.  Both have shown capacity for survival, in spite of unending perils and suffering from external oppressors, matched only be their own ceaseless feuds, quarrels and convulsions…Personally I have been on the side of both, and believe in their invincible power to survive internal strife and the world ties threatening their extinction.” Siegal also shared his appreciation for the historic bonds between Greeks and Jews and offered, “I want to start by saying thank you on behalf of a sister community for all that the Greek community did during the Second World War when Greek authorities tried to protect Jews hiding from the Nazis.”  To conclude, Siegal presented his thoughts on what elements of culture are important to be sustained in Diaspora communities. “You need to consider what parts of Greek culture are critical to sustain in the Diaspora and what could or should be let go.  That doesn’t mean forget your history, but it does mean decide which elements are worth focusing on,” he said. “On the other hand, in a culture of rapid change and competition, we feel like amnesiacs without any viable connection to the past.  We need traditions, values and institutions which we inherited to keep us grounded.”


Panel VI: Looking to the Next Generation of Greek Americans

Session speakers and moderator included:

  • Art Dimopoulos, Executive Director, National Hellenic Society
  • Nick Larigakis, President, American Hellenic Institute
  • Georgea Polizos, legislative assistant, American Hellenic Institute
  • Anna Tsiotsios, University of Pennsylvania
  • Eftihios Evan G. Andronis, University of Miami School of Law
  • Moderator: Art Dimopoulos, Executive Director, National Hellenic Society


To open the panel, Art Dimopoulos presented on the National Hellenic Society’s Heritage Greece Program.  He discussed the program and described it as an unforgettable journey to Greece tailored to connect students with their Greek identity and roots through a cultural immersion experience shared with a peer group of Greek students from NHS’ partner and host institution—the American College of Greece/DEREE. “The program is a gift from the National Hellenic Society to the selected candidates,” he explained. “It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore Greek heritage, culture and identity with a peer group of students from the US and Greece. Students learn language skills within the context of modern Greece and travel to important archaeological locations. Visits to an island and related sites and activities will facilitate strong connections with students’ Greek roots and identity.” He also noted as a benefit that the Heritage Greece experience continues beyond Greece as Heritage Greece alumni avail themselves of opportunities to develop professionally as part of the National Hellenic Society network and programs.

Nick Larigakis spoke about the American Hellenic Foundation Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus and other various study abroad programs offered by Greek American organizations.  He noted the difference of the AHI Foundation trip, which is that college-age students travel to both Greece and Cyprus with a specific focus on foreign policy. The goal of this two-week program is to help facilitate a better understanding of these issues with future Greek American leaders. “We provide a living classroom,” he said describing the program’s ability to provide its intimate group of 10 students with real-world, first-hand experiences such as visiting occupied Cyprus to witness Turkish troops and desecrated churches.  The small number of students also allows for proper dialogue and discussion with policymakers and diplomats to explain their foreign policy practices.  Meetings with ministers and deputy ministers of Foreign Affairs and high-ranking military officials within Greece’s “Pentagon” equivalent were examples of those the students will experience.  It is also important for the students to write about their experiences upon their return and share them with their peers in university publications.  He cited two examples of participants one of who had her account published in a school newsletter and a second who helped organize a panel discussion at his university.  In addition, three students sought out internships in congressional offices upon their return. “We are going to need these students as foot soldiers going forward and this program provides a small opportunity for them to become educated on the issues and become proactive in the community,” Larigakis concluded.  He also commended all the study abroad programs that are offered.

Panel B: Next Generation Perspectives

Georgea Polizos, who participated on the AHI Foundation’s Study Abroad Foreign Policy Trip, shared her passion for Hellenism’s impact in the community and how it had such a tremendous effect on her life.  “It was truly inspiring and enlightening to have so many of us come together in the spirit of Hellenism,” she said.  “I feel that the future of the Greek American community is brighter than ever with so many of us working together on issues that are vital to our cultural heritage.”

Anna Tsiotsios shared her thoughts stating, "I think, that for the future of Hellenism in America, it is equally as important to be connected to our American heritage…For Greek Americans it is important to treat the hyphen between our two heritages as an equal sign, not a minus. We need to view ourselves as part of the fabric of American society in order to perpetuate Hellenism for years to come."

Eftihios Evan G. Andronis based his presentation on the thesis of “opportunity.” I believe that the future of Hellenism depends on the opportunities given to the younger Hellenic generations,” he said. “I believe that in order to have a successful future, the younger generations need to connect with professionals who are experienced in their careers.” As an example, he pointed to his very experience at this Hellenism Conference provided by AHI. “AHI has given me my first opportunity to speak in a public forum.”


Concluding Remarks

Following the series of sessions, AHI President Nick Larigakis provided an overview of the day’s proceedings and identified the common themes that were presented under the theme, “Where Do We Go From Here?”  An in-depth Q&A session ensued.

 

The American Hellenic Institute is a non-profit Greek American public policy center that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.

 


For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at [email protected]. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at http://www.ahiworld.org.