NEW YORK – Beneath a perfect blue sky, Hellenism in America received an inspiring tribute when the string attached to a covering on a street sign at the corner of 37th Avenue and 30th Street near the border of Long Island City and Astoria was pulled, revealing the words “Εθνικός Κήρυξ – National Herald Way.”
Applause and joy permeated among the many who surrounded Publisher-Editor Antonis H. Diamataris and his wife, Litsa, when their daughter Vanessa and son Eraklis unveiled the sign.
(L-R) Amb. Vasilios Philippou, Litsa Diamataris, Vanessa Diamataris, Amb. Catherine Boura, Archbishop Demetrios, Eraklis Diamataris, Publisher-Editor Antonis H. Diamataris, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, Councilman Costas Constantinides.
Jimmy Van Bramer, Majority Leader of the New York City Council, spearheaded the street renaming and emceed the ceremony.
He introduced Diamataris, who expressed his thanks and noted the renaming is important not only for the newspaper, but for the Greek-American community, and he seemed unable to contain his excitement.
“Unbelievable!” he declared – “Unfortunately, our … competition beat us to it,” he said, surprising the happy crowd. “And it was given a larger honor than us,” he continued. “They had an entire square named after them. They named it Times Square. Unfair… so unfair, I tell you,” he said to a burst of laughter and applause.
Diamataris then explained that after the glorious gala at the New York Public Library in 2015 that celebrated the newspaper’s first century, he and his colleagues needed to find a fitting way to mark the beginning of its next 100 years.
“The street our building sits on should be renamed Εθνικός Κήρυξ-National Herald Way, we thought,” and Diamataris turned to City Councilman Costas Constantinides, who introduced Diamataris to Van Bramer, in whose district the paper is located.
“When I met with Mr. Van Bramer, I knew I did not have the right to fail to convince him. Not just for the National Herald. But for the community. I could feel it that I was standing on the shoulders of generations of Greek-Americans, Diamataris said.
“It would be difficult, but not impossible,” Van Bramer told him.
“And it was accomplished,” Diamataris said.
“I think that today we do justice to generations of Greek-Americans who came to these blessed shores…The ambitious, brave, youth came to the Promised Land to help their families, to marry off their sisters, to pay off their farmland, to help build a house, a school, a church and to return to the motherland,” said the paper’s longest-serving publisher – 37 years.
Diamataris said of the achievements of Greek-Americans: “they worked hard. They suffered discrimination. But they did not disobey the law. They stood within this society with dignity and pride. We slowly put down roots. Deep roots. We raised families. We built churches and schools. We started newspapers. We helped our families in Greece. We helped the motherland.”
And, he continued: “We did not forget. We didn’t lose ourselves in our comparatively comfortable life here. We preserved our language, religion, traditions and culture better than most other ethnicities. And we maintained our own Greek-American means of Mass Communications! The National Herald.”
He declared the newspaper was successful “Because it earned the trust of the Greek-American. Because it is his voice. Because it had – and still has – dedicated publishers and associates, and because “this newspaper is supported by its reader, its subscriber, its advertiser. In other words, by you.”
“The National Herald, he continued, slipped away from the sharks of…Scylla and Charybdis throughout these ten decades.
“Because it offers him credible information. Honestly. Faithfully. The fact that generations past did not take the National Herald for granted is of great significance.
“Let’s not take it for granted either, because that would be self-destructive. If we, the management and staff, do not provide you with a newspaper which exceeds our collective potential, and if you, the members of the Greek-American community, do not support it beyond your collective potential, if all of us take for granted that the National Herald will simply continue to exist another 100 years without effort and support, then we all will equally bear responsibility if, God forbid, it ceases to exist.
“And thus, this small street today becomes a monument of Hellenism in the United States. It becomes the beacon of a struggle, and of great effort to change without discarding all that is holy and sacred to us, to progress in life without getting lost, humble in attitude but great in our vision and actions,” he said.
“It becomes,” he continued, “the beacon which lights our way to the pursuance and celebration of financial success, while not forgetting the road we have traveled,
the responsibility we have toward our less fortunate fellowmen, our duty to the whole, to our community, to our society, and without false perception of its ultimate contribution to the happiness in life.”
Diamataris said the honor also belongs to his family, which “has wholeheartedly supported me, to my wife Litsa, to my children Vanessa, and Eraklis – who traveled from Washington DC to be present – to my colleagues, in New York, in Boston, in Philadelphia, in DC in Athens, in Tripoli, and Cyprus.”
“But above all,” he concluded, “it belongs to all of you, the ingenious, hardworking, talented fellow Greek-Americans.”
Van Bramer said of the newspaper founded on April 2, 1915 “For almost 101 years the National Herald has been delivering the news to the Greek-American community, locally, and beyond our beloved Astoria… connecting Greek-Americans – like my brother-in-law Peter Pavlides and so many others – to Greece, and Greek culture and heritage,” in addition to serving the community with educational and charitable initiatives.
“I am very impressed with the paper and the team and the love, and we are very proud to have this important business and institution in our district. I am very proud that we permanently and forever rename this street…and we are proud that the sign is not just in English, but in Greek, which is very rare.”
Van Bramer, who is of Dutch and Irish descent, delighted the guests with a welcome in well-pronounced Greek, which later prompted Archbishop Demetrios to say to applause, “with what you did and the way you spoke, you are Dutch and Irish – and Greek!”
The archbishop then praised Diamataris and his staff, putting their achievement into perspective by noting challenges of the digital age. “To print a newspaper every day” – which keeps the community informed with articles of high quality – “cannot be taken for granted.”
The archbishop then noted that Diamataris’ rhetorical jealousy of the New York Times was misplaced. Times Square is a prestigious location, but it has a mere static reality – “it just stands there” he said.
Emphasizing the significance and beauty of the Greek word odos – he said that a road denotes “both a place and a process…it implies a journey…it is a dynamic form,” and open towards the future.
Echoing Diamataris, Demetrios noted while other groups struggle to maintain their ethnic identity for three generations, it is no accident that the community has seen its sixth generation.
He said the Ethnikos Kyrix is part of the reason. As it contributes to the Greek and Orthodox presence in the United States and highlights the Hellenic element in Orthodoxy, it plays a huge role in maintaining ethnic continuity.
The archbishop anticipates that the newspaper will remain “Ethnikos and Kyrix” – devoted to Hellenism and Orthodoxy a vital community messenger.
“We wish for it to continue its brilliant advance along National Herald Way, which we hope will be strewn with flowers fragrant with Hellenism and Orthodoxy…and we wish it every good and blessing so that is can make every possible contribution to the great theme which is the Greek Orthodox presence in the United States.”
Earlier in the day he was at the White House, where he said he had “a very special feeling knowing that at the end of the day I would be here for the naming of the Way” which he called an historic event that is more important than meets the eye.
Van Bramer expressed his gratitude for introducing him to TNH to Constantinides, who in turn said “I want to thank Jimmy Van Bramer for his advocacy and making sure that this overdue honor was bestowed on the National Herald, which is worthy…reporting for 101 years on what is going on in Greece and Cyprus, and what’s going on in Athens Square Park” in Astoria.
“We need to make sure that those connections are never severed, and we have to celebrate them in large ways like this,” Constantinides said.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney also offered congratulations and thanks to the paper that circulates nationally and internationally.
“When I travel people come up to me and I ask how they know me and they say they read the Herald” which she said “is an incredible community treasure to have located in Astoria,” she said.
Maloney added “I am thrilled to be making history today, not only in naming the street for the National Herald, but having it named in Greek! Macedonia is Greek, National Herald is Greek, we are all Greek!”
The Hellenic diplomatic corps was out in strength for the proud event: Greece’s UN Ambassador Catherine Boura, Cyprus UN Ambassador Nikos Emiliou, Consul General of Greece Amb. George Iliopoulos and his wife Anthousa, High Commissioner of Cyprus in New York Vasilios Philippou, and Greek Consul Manos Koubarakis were present.
The diplomats joined non-Greek guests including Atlantic Bank and HACC President Nancy Papaioannou, Onassis Foundation Executive Director Amalia Kosmetatou, Nassau County DA Madeline Singas and her husband, Theo Apostolou, Karen Schwab, CEO of Mt. Sinai Queens hospital, and dozens of community leaders including Alma Realty CEO Steve Valiotes, Nikos Tsakanikas of Homeric Tours, and Tom Kourkoumelis.
Constantinides conveyed the congratulations of State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, who could not leave the state capital due to upcoming budget votes.
Van Bramer shared that when he is asked if he has seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding he says, “I lived it – though my sister Debbie” and her husband, Peter, and their five children, and through friendships with Greeks in Astoria stretching to before Kindergarten.
“I’m very proud of my Greek heritage, although it’s not biological, but neighborhood-based.”