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Culture

Dan Georgakas Presented His Book ‘My Detroit’ in Online Event on Jan. 17

January 18, 2021

NEW YORK – Dan Georgakas, prolific author, academic, poet, political thinker, longtime contributor to The National Herald, and the Director of the Greek American Studies Project at Queens College (CUNY), spoke about his book, My Detroit: Growing Up Greek and American in Motor City, in a virtual event via Zoom on January 17.

Hosted by Stockton University’s Friends of Hellenic Studies, the book presentation showcased Georgakas’ fascinating book and his unique insights into the Greek-American experience and history.

His recollections of Detroit’s Greektown in the 1940’s-1960’s are priceless and truly brought to life a bygone era. The history of the Greeks in Detroit from the early 20th century is inspiring as so many came to the United States with not much formal education but with skills they learned as small landowning farmers in the homeland that translated well when they settled in Detroit. Many immigrants who came to work in the automotive industry and the businesses that were connected to the industry did well and many of their children went onto college and professional careers. The diversity of the city with immigrant families from many different countries and faiths was also noted.

Georgakas especially highlighted the discrimination and xenophobia Greek immigrants faced early on and how Greektown became a type of buffer zone in the then-highly segregated Detroit. As Georgakas noted, in 1945, Greek-owned restaurants were the first to serve Black Americans who were jurors in the trials that followed the race riot of 1943 at a time when there was still segregation in Detroit. The first Black mayor of Detroit in 1973 remembered that episode in Detroit’s history and helped Greektown during his administration.

Even into the 1960s, Georgakas pointed out there was still discrimination in real estate, for example, with ethnic groups being scored on their American-ness before being approved for a home which made many Greeks sympathetic to the Civil Rights movement, especially after Archbishop Iakovos marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

The role of the Greek Church in the life of the community was also noted as well as the changes in the community with many Greeks moving out of the city and spreading farther from Detroit that changed Greektown so much. As Georgakas pointed out, people used to go and hang out in Greektown, eat at the restaurants, but the building of the casino led to the closing of some businesses.

The influx of Greek immigrants in the 1960s-80s revitalized the community, Georgakas said, noting the emphasis on the Greek language, among other aspects, but new immigrants from the recent financial crisis in Greece have not moved to Detroit since the opportunities are better in other EU nations and Australia, for example.

Georgakas answered questions following his presentation which added even more fascinating insights into the discussion and how the community navigates its Greek and American identity.

Katherine Panagakos, Assistant Professor of Latin, the American Foundation for Greek Language and Culture Endowed Professor of Greek Culture, Classics Honor Society Advisor, Co-Advisor of Hellenic Heritage Society, and co-chair of the Friends of Hellenic Studies at Stockton University, noted that Georgakas’ book will be added to the University’s Constantelos Hellenic Collection and Reading Room.

My Detroit: Growing Up Greek and American in Motor City by Dan Georgakas and his many other books are available online.

More information about the Dean C. and Zoë S. Pappas Center for Hellenic Studies at Stockton University is also available online: https://www.stockton.edu/hellenic-studies/index.html.

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