As a well-known American proverb states, “Everything has its relevance in its place and time.” Thus, the once-powerful organizations of our Omogenia, such as the Hellenic American National Council, the Pan-Macedonian, the Pan-Cretan, the Pan-Arcadian and so many other local and Pan-American organizations, once had their importance and their purpose, and for this very reason they flourished in past decades. A few of them are still flourishing today! As a rule, their primary purposes were, to support the Greek immigrants, and connect them with their compatriots and with their homeland!
But today times have changed! We are already in the 2nd, 3nd, and maybe even 4th generation of Greek-Americans, whose problems and needs, are completely different from those of the pioneer immigrants!
On the other hand, we and the pioneers did a great job and literally sacrificed to educate our children, which helped them to progress economically and ‘escape’ the closed society of the first generation, and at the same time integrate into the wider American society. But like a double-edged sword, it also created other risks, those of accelerating assimilation and their partial or even complete removal from the narrow circles of the Omogenia.
A basic and essential difference, of course, which we often do not recognize, is that our children today see Greece with a different eye than that of the pioneers! They see it with nostalgia and love, but as a distant homeland of their parents and grandparents and as a nostalgic holiday destination, but not as their real homeland! The reality is that their homeland is their birthplace, that is, in our case, America!
So when our organizations continue to deal exclusively with ‘Our National Issues’, or even with that of the voting rights of Greeks abroad, and not as much as we should with the Greek language and culture of our homeland, then our younger people cannot really understand how all this concerns them in their daily lives, and in their anxiety that they themselves and their families remain active members of our Greek-American Orthodox community! And when they don’t find an acceptable response, they ‘talk with their feet’! They simply move away and find refuge elsewhere, and not in our Hellenic clubs and federations!
Of course, I suspect that I am not the only one who has serious reservations about the anachronism of organized Omogenia, since the Greek Government itself seems to have turned its attention to emerging organizations and is gradually pushing the rest aside! It is of interest that every time the Greek Government allows one of their ministers to ‘converse’ with our ‘pioneers’, it’s always on issues that need their help, such as the current issue of the expat voter rolls, which they are trying to compile without much success so far, since those registered in the electoral rolls do not even exceed 3,500 worldwide! As a result, they are looking for expatriates with ‘lamps and torches’ and register them in trying to save face for a total fiasco!
Of course, there are exceptions! I know first-hand and follow the continued progress of some of the Cretan clubs in New York and beyond, that have passed the torch into the hands of the new generation and have turned their attention to the vital needs of their younger members, and therefore continue to flourish! A few weeks ago, on a Friday night, I happened to pass by the well-known Cretan MINOS Association in New York and I literally could not enter their rather large and luxurious hall, because it was completely full of children and young parents for a dance practice!
AHEPA should also be classified in the same category, which in recent years has really changed course and therefore has found a great response from the 2nd and 3rd generation of our community. I’m sure there are other examples! Also flourishing are organizations and associations, such as those established by various professional and charitable and educational groups of Greek-Americans, such as schools, chambers of commerce, associations of teachers, bankers, doctors, engineers and architects, and even some related with the Greek Orthodox Church.
Finally, there are also well-organized groups, mostly related to political lobbying, which concern themselves with the ‘National Issues’ of Greece and not only, such as the American Hellenic Institute (AHI), Washington OXI Day Foundation, the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), PSEKA, National Hellenic Society, etc., which are staffed with professionals who really do a great job. (And at times I wonder, if it wouldn’t be much more effective if all our organizations that supposedly concern themselves with the so-called ‘National Issues’ of our Greece, if in addition to the rhetoric, gave their annual contribution to the organized lobbying groups, which do actual work and deliver results!)
It is therefore no coincidence that some of our organizations who have understood the criticality of our times and the true needs of their younger members are flourishing, while many others, which unfortunately are still mostly managed by ‘pioneers’, have remained on the sidelines, and have lost their orientation. Many of the latter are ghosts of their glorious past, but with the pompous titles of their elderly officials, who always manage to quarrel with each other and nothing more!
Time to ‘add water to our wine’. Time to pass the baton to the new generation, and for us veterans to sit back and enjoy the ‘fruits of our labors’! Our organized Omogenia has already reached the edge of the cliff, and going forward, we seem to face only two options: Let our young people ‘grow wings and fly’ or close our eyes and ‘jump into the abyss’! I would prefer the first one. What would you say?
Best wishes for a Happy New Year with health, happiness, and prosperity to all of us.
Emmanuel E. Velivasakis, PE, F.ASCE, is a past president of the Pancretan Association of America and of the Hellenic American National Council.