Panel I: Communities and Associations | 10.00am-11.00am EST

Alexander Kitroeff (Haverford College): AHEPA’s Commemorations of 1821

Commemorating the Greek Revolution of 1821 has been an important annual activity of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) since its founding in 1922. This was true even in the 1920s when the order was more focused on promoting the Americanization of Greek immigrants in the United States. After that formative period AHEPA gradually shifted away from its exclusive focus on assimilation and integration in American society and began acknowledging and celebrating Greek-American ties with the homeland. By the same token, AHEPA’s commemorations of 1821 reflected that shift, even though, unlike other such tributes by Greek American organizations, AHEPA dwelt primarily on the actions of the American Philhellenes. It was a way in which it wished to underscore the affinities between American and Greek values. Nonetheless, as it became more and more involved with Greece over the next decades, AHEPA’s events linked to 1821 became increasingly more diverse. This presentation charts the trajectory of AHEPA’s relationship with 1821 over its one hundred year history and explores the ways it reflected the changes in Greek American identity.

Nick Alexiou (Queens College, City University, New York): Commemorating the Revolution in New York. A Historical Overview

Historically, the role of parades in the United States is to establish political power, accept mainstream traditions, and maintain historical and cultural heritage, in short, a proclamation of identity. As demographics and identity change over time, parades evolve and reflect those changes. New York City celebrates Greek Independence Day since 1893. It is the largest parade outside of Greece, reflecting the fact that New York is home to one of the largest Greek populations outside of Greece and Cyprus. Since 1951, the parade runs along 5th Avenue in Manhattan from 64th to 79th streets and has become an annual event. Since 1938, the parade is sponsored by the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York, and it requires the involvement of the community at large, as well as planning, organizational committees, and budget. A parade is a conspicuous group practice where visibility is of great significance. The main function of the Greek Independence Day Parade is to assert collective identity around an anniversary of historical significance. The impression and value of the parade both for the participants and for the broader society are some points of my sociological analysis. The paper examines the issues of ethnic representation from cultural, political, and historical perspective.

Athanasios Gekas (York University, Toronto, Canada): Perceptions of the Greek Revolution and the Greek Communities of Canada, 1920s-2021

This paper explores the ways in which Greeks in Canada have commemorated the 1821 revolution or ‘Greek Independence Day’ and argues that as perceptions about Greeks in Canada and Greece changed during the course of the twentieth and twenty-first century, so did the representations, manifestations and performances projected by Greeks in Canada. Perceptions Canadians held about Greeks changed during the twentieth century, reflecting the place of Greece in Canadian popular and official discourse as well as the numbers and institutional organization of Greeks in Canada. The article analyses various Canadian newspaper photographs and articles since 1925, when ‘Independence Day’ was celebrated for the first time in Toronto and around the same time in Montreal. The ways in which 1821 was celebrated changed from a simple, ‘closed’ event in a theatre that was reported in the local press as a curiosity, to the mainstream parade in downtown Toronto in the 1950s, and to the parade in ‘Greektown’ since the late 1970s and the Greek Community gala performance ever since. Ethnic pride has been portrayed differently by various organizations, AHEPA Canada, the Greek Community, the Church and Greek consular authorities. At times of crisis, such as in the 1940s, and in the period of the dictatorship, ‘Independence Day’ became a contested terrain; in the 1967-74 period anti-dictatorship groups claimed a continuity between the ‘spirit’ of 1821 and the struggle against the dictatorship; in the early 1990s the so-called ‘Macedonian issue’ dominated the commemoration of ‘Independence Day’. In the twenty first century commemoration is about both the struggles and achievements of Greeks in Canada as much as about the glory of the revolution and the creation of an independent country.

Panel II: Literature and Art | 11.15am-12.15pm EST

Dan Georgakas (Queens College, City University, New York): Harry Mark Petrakis’ Novels Chronicle the Greek War of Independence

Scholarly writing and interviews with Harry Mark Petrakis have concentrated on his portrayal of Greek America in his novels and short stories.  This work has brought him numerous critical awards and a popular audience. Slighted in this process is attention to his two novels on the Greek War of Independence: The Hour of the Bell, and The Shepherds of Shadows. This essay, based on numerous personal interviews with Petrakis, probes the reasons he felt compelled to undertake this project. A major factor was that he was very disturbed by the blithe and superficial manner in which the rebellion was presented in Greek-American schools and formal parish and fraternal celebrations. He was intent on wiping away mythology. This required candid accounts of the deadly infighting among the revolutionaries as well as celebrating Greek heroics. His major characters in the novels are fictional, but a number of historical figures also appear. These include brilliant passages featuring a forlorn General Kolokotronis in The Hour of the Bell and an exquisite account of Lord Byron at Missolonghi in The Shepherds of Shadows. Due to his intense research and visits to historic sites, Petrakis was able to accurately evoke battles and political disputes. More importantly, he captured the reality that the most effective Greek fighting force was rarely its formal national army but regional rebellions under local leadership.  Petrakis sought to demonstrate that the much maligned Greek village, for all its faults, was the seedbed of heroes and Hellenic consciousness.  Shaping his ideas into a comprehensive and accessible format, led him to a complex understanding of the rebellion and Hellenism. He would carry forward that awareness in his subsequent writing and began to write short stories about the Greece his beloved immigrants had left behind. The Hour or the Bell and The Shepherds of Shadows are by far his most ambitions works and contain some of his finest writing.

Kostis Kourelis (Franklin & Marshall College): Architecture, Abolition, Revolution: A Greek American Revival (1920s) of the American Greek Revival (1820s)

Inspired by the Greek War of Independence, architects in the United States developed a distinctly American national aesthetic movement, known as the Greek Revival style (1820s-1830s). Using Greek material culture as a proxy, the Greek Revival targeted the abolition of slavery as a domestic agenda. Before being crushed by the populist ideologies of President Andrew Jackson, the Greek Revival style left behind a rich architectural legacy, appropriated in diametrically opposed ideologies by northern and southern states, heralding the liberation of all oppressed peoples in the North but was used as the ideological lynchpin of white superiority in the South. Although latecomers to America’s racial politics, the Greek diaspora entered a minefield that had deployed the 1821 War of Independence as its starting point. The Greek Revival style was one of the architectural options that Greeks deployed in their church architecture and used it tactically to clarifying their racial politics. Before embracing the Byzantine Revival style in the 1950s, Greek churches experimented with a diversity of styles and became active participants in the cultural discourse of historicism, reverberating the revolutionary ideologies of 1821 into the 1920s. Like the Greeks, Irish, Italian, Polish, Russian, and Jewish minorities of the 1920s manipulated architectural heritage to construct new public identities in the competitive visual field of the American city.

April Kalogeropoulos Householder (Honors College, University of Maryland, Baltimore County): Reflections on Greek Nationalism and the Making of a Documentary Film about Bouboulina

In 2004, I combined my journey to discover my roots as a Greek American with a doctoral dissertation about Laskarina Bouboulina, heroine of the Greek Revolution. Spending time in Spetses with the Bouboulis family, navigating the museums and archives in Athens, and learning the Greek language created a deep feeling of connection to the “motherland”. But as a researcher asking feminist questions about the life and times in which Bouboulina lived, making the film and my interactions with audiences who view it have forced me to grapple with my relationship to Greek nationalism. One example of this struggle over the meaning of 1821 was literally played out on an image of Bouboulina, on the streets of Athens in 2021. For the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Revolution, Yiannis Konstantatos, mayor of the Athens municipality of Elliniko-Argyropolis, commissioned a young graffiti artist named “Evritos” to spray paint a street mural with portraits of the heroes of the 1821 revolution along a lengthy concrete wall. When it was made public that the mayor, and Evritos himself, had ties to the neo-Nazi political group, Golden Dawn, and that Evritos’ previous works contained Nazi, Islamophobic, and conspiracy theories and called for acts of violence against minorities, the portraits were vandalized with counter-graffiti. Bouboulina’s mouth was marked with a frown of disapproval, Kolokotronis’ eyes were blackened, and Papaflessas had his face marked out. This bold critique was a condemnation of conservative interpretations of the War of Independence that have twisted its meaning from a radical rebellion that was based in progressive, humanistic enlightenment ideals, to fit xenophobic, anti-Turkish, anti-Islamic, anti-communist, and androcentric ideologies. Finding a way to be a proud Greek American, while continuing to be critical of harmful narratives about the meaning of 1821 which use Bouboulina and the Greek Revolution to justify xenophobia and see 1821 as a mostly religious war of the “cross vs. the crescent”, is an important part of my Greek American identity. The culture wars in Athens demonstrate how 1821 is still today a contested space, how dangerous the rhetoric of militant nationalism can be, and how slippery a slope it is to venerate heroes without a critical perspective of the complexities of history.

Panel III: Culture and Education | 12.30pm-1.30pm EST

Maria Kaliambou (Yale University): Like Another Rigas Feraios. Reviving the Revolution in Greek American Publications

My presentation investigates the perception of the 1821 Greek Revolution as manifested in a variety of books produced by Greeks in America. Around 1900s, historical and literature books about the Revolution were imported from Greece. Early enough, since the 1910s, Greek immigrants started producing their own publications in America to honor this landmark in Greek history. Greek Americans expressed themselves in several literary genres (poetry, novels, and drama). Also, they paid special attention to the historical awareness of their community members and to the education of their children. Based on a broad ethnographic material (literature books, schoolbooks, and community publications) I argue that the leitmotif of the presentation of this seminal historical moment oscillates between history and mythology. Exaggerating the heroic deeds of the ancestors fills the community members with pride. The stories about the Revolution, paired together with the narratives about the glorious ancient past, contribute to the cohesion of the Greek community. The paper will examine the role of these broken and selective historical narratives, scattered in Greek American publications, in creating historical consciousness and strong ethnic identities in the diaspora.

Fevronia Soumakis (Queens College, City University, New York): Celebrating the 1971 Greek Independence Day Jubilee through Greek Orthodox Schools in the United States

The Greek War of Independence is one the most significant holidays celebrated by the Greek American community. In the Greek Orthodox parochial and afternoon schools in the United States, the Greek Revolution is taught and celebrated as both a religious and national holiday. This research offers a historical analysis of the ways in which Greek Orthodox schools under the purview of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America commemorated the Greek Revolution in 1971, the 150-year anniversary of Greek independence. Drawing from archival sources that include school materials produced by the Archdiocese’s Department of Education, school programs and curricula, teachers’ and clergy correspondence, press releases, and newspaper articles, celebratory pageants in Greek schools emphasized predictable themes, namely, the contributions of the Church and clergy in the revolution, a (re)production of a nationalist narrative of Greek history focusing on male leaders, and an emphasis on Philhellenes who supported the Greek struggle. This paper argues that the traditional thematic elements along with their symbolic manifestations as expressed in the Greek schools should be understood within the broader historical context of the preceding decades during which the Greek Orthodox Church pushed to affirm its influence as a mainstream religious institution in the US. Celebrating the jubilee anniversary of the Greek revolution in Greek Orthodox schools in 1971 was as much a conservative exercise in patriotic sentiment as it was a shaping of Greek American identity along American racial lines.

Yiorgos Anagnostou (Ohio State University): The Bicentenary across Greece and the Diaspora: Toward the Making of a Global Greek Civic Identity

This presentation places the Greek bicentenary in relation to Greece and two major diasporas––Greek Australia and Greek America––in the interest of exploring emerging expressions of identity across global Greek worlds. Bicentenaries are commemorative events which turn to the honored past not only to reproduce cultural identity but also reflect about it anew. It is this latter operation of bicentenaries to propose new ways of thinking and practicing identity that motivates my inquiry. Indeed, the notion of imagining a future Greek identity has been an integral element in envisioning the bicentenary. In her official speech commencing the commemoration, the President of the Greece 2021 Committee acknowledges the event as a moment “to determine not just where we are, but also where we want to go. It is an opportunity to measure up to the future, but also an opportunity to introduce a new Greece to the world.”

This framework makes the bicentennial all the more important for the various Greek diasporas, which face the perennial question of their cultural (re)production as well as their image at their home countries. An editorial in the Greek American platform The Pappas Post underlines this point. It expects that the bicentennial will “have far reaching impact not only on Greek schoolchildren in Astoria and Melbourne, but also non-Greek Americans, Canadians, Australians and others throughout the world.” The scope of the bicentenary is indeed global.

What is new then about this bicentenary about Greek identity in this global scale? Are there any convergences in narratives of identity produced in Greece, Greek Australia, and Greek America? And if so, how do they bring in conversation the twofold purpose of the bicentenary to construct Greek identity and connect it meaningfully with non-Greek audiences around the world? My work explores these questions by analyzing essays, webinars and popular writings written by scholars as well as examples of community activism. It indeed identifies a shared orientation toward the making of a global Greek civic identity, and situates this finding with an ongoing broader initiative, one which links the bicentennial of the Greek revolution with contemporary struggles against white supremacy and nationalism. By situating the bicentenary relationally, across Greece and Greek diasporas, this work contributes to the comparative conversation about the making of Greek identity at a global scale.