ASTORIA – The elected officials of Queens celebrated Greek Independence Day with traditional dances, awards, and speeches, on March 15 at the Stathakion Cultural Center in Astoria. New York State Senator, Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, and New York City Council Member Costa Constantinides welcomed the Greek community to the event held under the auspices of Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who was unable to attend.
“I am very pleased to be here again with my colleagues, Aravella and Costa. Today, we are fortunate to have more Greek-Americans in elected office than ever before. When the Greek community helped me get elected for the first time, I was sure I would not be alone,” said Sen. Gianaris, the Senate Deputy Leader.
“As the son of Greek immigrants, I am proud to host another Greek Independence Day celebration. There is no better place than Astoria to recognize our heritage and celebrate the spirit of democracy, freedom, and independence that links the U.S. and Greece,” Gianaris said.
Assemblymember Aravella Simotas focused on the wider meaning of the March 25th celebration for the Greek-American community, noting that as a mother she now better understands the educational significance.
She said, “It is a privilege to join my colleagues in government to celebrate Greek Independence Day in Astoria, which so many Greek immigrants have called home. Those immigrants and their families have enhanced our beautiful community while they pursued their American dreams. The five extraordinary Hellenes that we honor at this year’s celebration strengthen and promote our Greek heritage daily through our schools, churches and civic engagement. They have my deepest appreciation for lifting up our Greek community and this beautiful borough of Queens that we call home.”
Simotas continued, “As a Greek-American, it is important to celebrate this day, which focuses on our history and the common ideals that connect Greece with the United States. It is a reminder of the elements that exist in the DNA of the Greek, such as bravery and devotion to freedom and justice. As a mother, while my daughter learns the history of the Greeks of 1821, I also undertake to instill in her what it means to be a Greek-American.”
City Council Member Costa Constantinides echoed the same sentiment, pointing out that New York City takes this opportunity to honor the Greeks who have contributed so much to the city’s development. “I am proud to once again join our strong Greek-American community in Astoria to celebrate Greek Independence Day. We recognize the achievements that all our honorees have made in promoting the Hellenic and democratic values that our Greek ancestors have instilled in us. These community leaders are important role models who embody civic engagement throughout our neighborhood. Thank you to my colleagues, Borough President Katz, Senator Gianaris, and Assembly Member Simotas, for helping our community honor the contributions of Greek-Americans,” he said.
Among those present were Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras, the Consul General of the Republic of Cyprus Alexis Phedonos-Vadet and the Consul of Greece Lana Zochiou. Following a historical overview, Koutras referred to the timeless links between the modern Greek state and the United States and the current relationship between the two countries.
“For three months, the strategic dialogue between Greece and the USA has begun. It is an important event, not many countries have this kind of relationship with the U.S. There are also very positive events in the Mediterranean, with the discovery of large hydrocarbon deposits. I recall that for the first time an American politician will participate in the tripartite meeting of Greece-Cyprus-Israel,” said Koutras, while Consul General of Cyprus Phedonos-Vadet recalled the influence of the Greek Revolution in Cyprus and congratulated the Greek elected officials for the event.
The program also included traditional dances performed by the students of the Academy of Hellenic Paideia’s Dance Department.
Each year the elected officials choose to honor Greek-American community leaders for their contributions. This year’s honorees were Queens College Center for Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies Assistant Director Effie Lekas, Transfiguration of Christ Greek Orthodox Church of Corona presiding priest and NYPD chaplain Fr. George Anastasiou, St. Demetrios School Assistant Principal Betsy Sideris, educator at the Academy of American Studies Maria Haralampopoulos, and District Manager of Community Board 1 Florence Koulouris. The elected officials also presented Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York President Cleanthis Meimaroglou and Greek Independence Day Parade Committee Chairman Petros Galatoulas with a proclamation from the State Legislative Bodies (Senate and Assembly) declaring March as “Hellenic Heritage Month.”
Galatoulas also urged everyone to attend New York’s Greek Independence Parade on Fifth Avenue which will be held this year on April 14.