Greeks in the United States are now engaged in a unique preservation project. Unconnected from one another individuals and communities around the nation are expending enormous energy to locate and somehow preserve past records and documents of the Greek experience in North America. No one is asking why this movement is taking place. Yet none can deny its existence.
Since these activities are an organic part of local Greek-American community life, it is fair to ask if these preservation efforts are similar to or an outgrowth of past social activities. While there is clearly a mixing of public programing with the collection of historic materials this is not the kernel motivation of this movement. First, and foremost, this effort at preservation – regardless of outward form – is directed at identifying historical documents about persons and events which are understood by those engaged in their collection as not otherwise documented and publically available. These efforts are clearly directed toward preserving this information or documents (whatever their material form(s)) for future generations. Public presentation of these documents via exhibitions occurs but the underlying intent is everywhere directed at locating and preserving historic documents, again whatever their outward form may take,
It is also, quite clearly, a process to identify and reclaim historical figures. Outside of the existence of this preservation movement the very fact that Greek-Americans are reassessing their collective history in this manner should have every academic in the nation running out of their ivy-tower to interview these local Greek-American preservationists. But no such luck.
One would logically assume that the community and the academics would form a perfect team to help each other in this most worthy of long-term projects. Especially at a time when public funding is being curtailed to institutions such as archives, museums, historical societies and universities. “One hand washes the other and both wash the face” is an old Greek village proverb. Why is Greek America being ignored?
A solid case of preservation would be the recent efforts by the American Philhellenes Society. On April 20, 2013, this organization “dedicated a memorial obelisk to honor Lucas Miltiades Miller, the first Greek-American Congressman of the United States, and Jonathan Peckham Miller, his adoptive father and a colonel in the Greek Army during the Greek War of Independence against the Ottomans. Consul General of Greece Ioanna Efthymiadou and Wisconsin Secretary of Veterans Affairs John Scocos honored the Society by unveiling the memorial at Riverside Cemetery, Oshkosh, WI, burial place of Lucas Miller. A reception followed at Gruenhagen Conference Center on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Keynote speaker for the event was Ms. Photini Tomai-Constantopoulou, Minister of the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ms. Mariyana Spyropoulos, Commissioner of the Water Reclamation District of Chicago, was moderator for the event. The office of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker also presented the American Philhellenes Society with a Certificate of Commendation (www.americanphilhellenessociety.com).”
This event was part of the American Philhellenes Society’s ongoing goal which is to identify the Americans who “supported and/or fought for the independence of Greece during the years 1810-1840, and to recognize and make known their contributions to the cause of freedom.” Every effort should be made to support and sustain this organization.
Yet another unexpected aspect of this current surge in Greek-American historical accounts are those that cast aspersions on the community. One such account is Kevin Pappas’ book, Godfather of Night: My Life in America’s Hidden Greek Mafia which provides, quite unexpectedly, absolutely no evidence whatsoever that such a crime organization exists (London: Sphere, 2009).
Masquerading as a tell-all memoir, this volume is nothing less than a boring slanderous work of utter fiction. In just over 253 pages, Kevin Pappas, who freely admits his real surname is Cunningham, claims to be the illegitimate son of one Tarpon Springs’ oldest and most distinguished families, fails to provide any kind of proof for anything he asserts in this book. It cannot be overemphasized that no identifiable sources are cited, no specific historical events, no known documented crimes, he doesn’t even name any criminals outside of various insinuations surrounding the extended Pappas Family. Cunningham does not even bother to offer proof he is illegitimate! How can such a book came to be printed is the only real crime the unsuspecting reader encounters.
In trying to puzzle out some reason for why this book has ever seen print it did occur to me that one very likely reason this book was printed in England was to avoid any possible lawsuits. Another reason this kind of book may have seen print is an odd undercurrent in American popular culture. Over the last decade or so, vague references to Greek criminals and the existence of Greek crime organizations in Houston, Philadelphia, and elsewhere have seen repeated if fleeting mention.
Make no mistake about it: individual Greeks in the United States have engaged in every crime imaginable. But nothing in Cunningham’s book provides any evidence of any criminal actions whatsoever. This is especially noteworthy given the levels of Greek involvement in American organized crime that Cunningham attributes to the Tarpon Springs community.
A short passage from the book: “The Italian mobsters would come to Tarpon Springs and gamble and relax, and [the local person Cunningham names as the head of the Greek mob] took them out on his yacht and showed them a great time. But deep down [this Greek mob boss] considered the Italians to be his operatives, the guys who wanted the headlines. They like the attention. They love the violence. They want the fancy suits, the notoriety. They like to be the muscle. But the Greek? He’s happy being the power behind the muscle. The Cubans were the ‘do boys’ for the Columbians. And the Italians were the ‘do boys’ for the Greeks (pps. 18-19).” And Cunningham’s ultimate point is nothing less than the Tarpon Springs-based Greek mob controls crime all across Florida and elsewhere via the Italians and others. Why doesn’t the FBI know the Tarpon Springs Greeks who are the ‘real’ crime bosses of North America?
In point of fact it is Cunningham who knows no shame or boundaries. Among his many totally insane allegations is this whopper: “But in Greek life, everything is connected. On the feast of the Epiphany, which is held every January 6, the (Greek mob in Tarpon Springs) would fly in the Orthodox Archbishop – the equivalent of the Pope in the Catholic Church – and they would parade through the streets hand in hand with… [the alleged Greek mob boss] and his brothers would lead the procession and everyone else would follow behind. I didn’t get the symbolism when I was younger, but it was the Archbishop blessing [the Greek mob boss]. Just as [the Greek mob boss] had the chief of police, or a judge, or a congressman, he had the Orthodox Church there with him, by his side. It went so much deeper than money. The leaders of the local syndicates actually had to be approved by the head of the local Orthodox Church.”
Will non-Greek readers ever discover Cunningham is a pathological liar? And how will non-Greeks be able to separate this kind of slander from authenticated accounts?