NEW YORK – EMBCA presented, The Hellenic American Archives Project on The Life, Times and Works of Lafcadio Hearn/Koizumi Yakumo (1850- 1904) from a Hellenic, Irish, American, and Japanese perspective on September 20 at the 3 West Club in Midtown Manhattan. Presentations on Hearn were made by Professor Ismini Lamb of Georgetown University and Professor Nicholas Alexiou of Queens College, with an introduction on Hearn by EMBCA’s President Louis Katsos. Prof. Lamb’s presentation was entitled “Hearn, Horton and Hellenic Cross-Culturalism” and Prof. Alexiou’s “Lafcadio Hearn: Memories of Greece and Sociological Observations.”
President of the Ionian Cultural Federation Nikos Bardis gave his brief remarks before the presentations, noting that the Federation had previously done many presentations in honor of Hearn, who was born on the island of Lefkada in Greece, one of the famous islands of the Eptanisa (Seven Islands) chain.
Katsos noted that “Lafcadio [Hearn] was named after where he was born, and is one of the most fascinating writers and cultural figures of the later 19th century. In the U.S., he was regarded by some as America’s foremost ethnographic documentarian of the 19th Century and probably Japan’s also where he was/is known as Koizumi Yakumo. In Japan, where he married into a Samurai family and had four children, he is recognized as ‘Japanese through and through.’ Many in Japan learn about their older Japanese culture in particular through the writings of Lafcadio and his famous Japanese legends and ghost stories. In the U.S. becoming a famous journalist he is credited with ‘inventing’ New Orleans as an ‘exotic and mysterious place.’”
Lafcadio’s mother, Rosa Antoniou Kassimatis, a Hellenic woman of noble Kytheran lineage through her father, Anthony Kassimatis, and his father, an Irish-born British surgeon stationed in Lefkada, met and married there during the British occupation of the Ionian Islands which lasted until 1864 when the islands were turned over to Greece. Hearn’s parents were married in the Greek Orthodox Church and he was baptized Patricios Lefcadios Hearn in the Greek Orthodox faith.
Hearn’s remarkable life journey from Greece to Ireland, England, France, the U.S., the West Indies, and Japan is impressive especially when considering that he was born in 1850 and died in 1904. His early life was marked by abandonment, but also by his voracious reading and an excellent education. A prolific author and journalist, he was also an artist, an educator, and a keen observer of human nature and diverse cultures.
In her fascinating presentation, Prof. Lamb drew comparisons between Hearn and another remarkable historical figure, George Horton (1859-1942). The noted American philhellene, classicist, author, diplomat, ethnographer, and humanitarian activist is perhaps best known in the Greek community for saving innumerable lives in Asia Minor and especially from the Smyrna Catastrophe. The Blight of Asia, his 1926 book detailed Turkey’s atrocities against its non-Muslim minorities leading up to and including the Smyrna Catastrophe.
Ionian Cultural Federation President Nikos Bardis, Ambassador Dionyssios Kalamvrezos- Deputy Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations, Louis Katsos- EMBCA President, Deputy Consul General of Japan in New York Masaru Sato, Prof. Ismini Lamb, Prof. Nicholas Alexia, and artist Masaaki Noda. Photo by Eleni Sakellis
Prof. Lamb is currently writing the biography of Horton and gave a brief introduction to his life and work before highlighting the three attributes shared by Hearn and Horton. The first attribute both shared was the Hellenic spirit of adventure which led so many Greeks from ancient times to the present to travel and settle in various parts of the world, starting over, and adopting new professions in new places. The second attribute, the clear-eyed lovers attribute, refers to the lover’s ability to see the good and bad attributes of the loved one and still have affection and their best interests at heart. Hearn and Horton loved Japan and Greece, respectively, in a clear-eyed way. The third attribute, culture treasure hunters, referred to the fact that both men were “inside outsiders,” not just observers of cultures, but “actually listened to what people said about themselves.” The remarkable cross-culturalism resulted in an incredible body of work by both Hearn and Horton.
Prof. Lamb is the Director of the Modern Greek Studies Program at Georgetown University where she teaches all levels of the Modern Greek language and a wide range of interdisciplinary courses on Greek culture. Lamb has been with the Program for over 27 years, educating future leaders in the nation’s capital. She is also a C.S. Lewis fellow.
Speaking with The National Herald at the event, Prof. Lamb noted that Georgetown University’s Modern Greek Studies Program is the oldest, sustained program of its kind in North America. She told TNH about the great diversity of her students who come from countries all over the world including China and Egypt to study Modern Greek.
Professor Ismini Lamb of Georgetown University spoke about Lafcadio Hearn and George Horton in her presentation. Photo by Eleni Sakellis
Prof. Alexiou, born in Greece, studied economics before coming to the U.S. to study sociology. He received his MA degree in Sociology from Queens College, CUNY, and his PhD from the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has taught in the Department of Sociology since 1990, and has received the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. His fields of interest are ethnic studies, political sociology and social theory, social research and statistics, and issues concerning the Greek-American community. He has established the first Oral History Archive and Immigration Library for the Greeks of New York at Queens College. Also, a contemporary poet and artist, he is the author of five books of poetry, and many of his poems have been published in Greek and American journals and anthologies.
In his presentation, Prof. Alexiou shared quotes from Hearn about his memories of Greece which offered profound insights into the man and his work. The haunting image of his mother’s large, brown eyes, and her blessing in Greek “in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Ghost,” Hearn wrote in a letter to his brother, stayed with him throughout his life. “What’s good, beautiful and true came from mother. It’s the mother that makes us. I would rather have her portrait than a fortune,” Hearn wrote.
The EMBCA event in honor of Lafcadio Hearn was well attended. Photo by Eleni Sakellis
Prof. Alexiou also noted the Greek landscape described by Hearn, “the sun and moon larger than they are now… sky much more blue.” In visiting Greece, the professor observed, his students during the summer abroad program, discover not only Greece, the country, the culture, and the people, but they discover themselves as well.
Among those present were Ambassador Dionyssios Kalamvrezos- Deputy Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations, Deputy Consul General of Japan in New York Masaru Sato, Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York President Cleanthis Meimaroglou, AHEPA District 6 Governor Demi Pamboukes, AHEPA Delphi Chapter #25 former President Argyris Argitakos, and artist Masaaki Noda and his wife. Noda’s sculpture, inspired by the life and work of Hearn, entitled The Open Mind of Lafcadio Hearn, on display at the American College of Greece, was unveiled in 2009.