NEW YORK – The Fourth of July is a date that rings powerfully inside and outside America. The meaning of the success of America’s revolutionary heroes stills resonates throughout t the world and is connected to the economic and political freedom still draws people to its shores
The members of every ethnic group that has settled in the United States has a deep appreciation for the holiday, but Greek-Americans, who have flourished here in ways their ancestors would have imagined only in their wildest dreams, celebrate with kefi and feelings of reverence for their adopted country.
The National Herald was reached out to few to hear about their experiences, but it also proved to be an opportunity for them to express their deep appreciation not only for America, but for the people who helped them come here.
“This is a good topic,” Chris P. Tomaras, said. He was very pleased to be invited to share his thoughts, which he believes all immigrants should do.
He arrived in New York in 1957 having been accepted to Columbia University, but was unable to afford to continue his studies in economics there as planned.
He nevertheless became a successful industrialist and investor and was motivated by his experience to establish the PanHellenic Scholarship Foundation, which just disbursed $250,000 in need and achievement based scholarship to graduate students.
He became a citizen four years later when he wedded his late beloved wife, with whom he was married for 45 years.
“Becoming a citizen was a very significant moment in my life, but in the beginning the Fourth of July was just another day since I did not experience the holiday as a child,” he said, but over time he and his family came to revere the day and he enjoys celebrating it with his fellow Americans.
Businessman Nick Andriotis, one of the community’s biggest champions of the Greek language and education, became emotional when he was asked.
“When you come to America at the age of 15, it becomes your second mother,” not just a new homeland.
His uncle invited his father, who brought over Andriotis and his own brothers, and he told TNH there is so much for him to express – including the excitement he felt seeing his first fireworks show.
After saying he considers himself lucky to have been born Greek, he said, “then I had the opportunity to come to America and make it my country, which made me doubly lucky.”
Over time he came to understand the connection between the holiday and the opportunities the country gives to immigrants, and five years after his arrival, the citizenship ceremony moved him very much.
Stefanos Tserpelis, businessman and philanthropist, took the oath of citizenship in his military uniform in Federal Court in Brooklyn in 1959, after he arrived in America in 1956. He was about to be shipped to serve in Korea and General Guidera from Fort Dix was his witness.
He came to America with refugee status because his village, Agalianos, was burned by the communists during the Greek Civil War.
He lived in Flushing with his uncle Haralambos Tserpelis, who sponsored him. In the beginning, his family’s focus was on making a living, and they all worked on the Fourth of July, but later on, with his own family, his wife Areti and their four daughters and sons-in-law celebrate it “with flags, BBQs and songs.”
Greek students learn about the American Revolutionary War in school, and Timoleon Kokkinos, director St. Demetrios Cathedral’s afternoon Greek School, had more knowledge than most when he arrived as a student in September 1962 to complete his B.S. in education at Columbia University
He gained a deeper appreciation for the story of the birth of America a year later when he first experienced the holiday. He was thrilled by the grandeur of the official fireworks display, but he was most impressed with the celebrations of citizens on every block.
Becoming a citizen has also special. “I remember that day very well. I was very aware that I was becoming a citizen of a unique country, with political and economic freedom.”
He took the oath in Fort Lee, NJ with witnesses his brother and sister-in-law, Nikolaos and Eleni Kokkinos, who brought him to America.
“They are no longer with us, but they were like parents to me” he said, but noted his brother was a phenomenon in immigrant lore because he was the youngest sibling.
“He came to America and worked hard to support three siblings in Greece to pursue their studies, he said. “One brother, Manos, became a regional and provincial governor and mayor of Rhodes and is the father of the new General Secretary of the office for Greeks abroad, Michalis Kokkinos.
On July 21, 1969, just as Neil Armstrong was stepping on the moon, Herakles Papagermanos arrived in America, invited by his sister, who was there since 1956 and lived in Washington, DC.
That is where he flew on TWA, as he recalled. With roots in Kastoria, he found opportunities in New York in the fur industry, where he worked until 1995. Trained in Greece as a chanter, he now serves as second at St. Nicholas in Flushing.
A year after Papagermanos arrived, he enjoyed not only the fireworks on the Hudson River – “it was fantastic; I never saw anything like it” – but he also made sure to partake on festivities in Central Park.