It is a famous moment: After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, Saturday Night Live had, perhaps, the most memorable return to broadcast of all programs. In the famous NBC Studio 8H were firefighters, policemen, rescuers, the Fire and the Police commissioners, and the then-Mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani introduced the heroes around him, talked about the spirit and the resolve of New Yorkers, and then Paul Simon performed The Boxer. Giuliani also talked about the importance of SNL to NYC, which is when Lorne Michaels, creator and producer of the iconic show, came on set to ask the Mayor the question that all the people who felt guilty about needing to move on wanted to ask: “Can we be funny?”
“Why start now?,” quipped Giuliani.
Joking aside, it is an almost omni- and ever-present question. If one contemplates the particulars of almost any condition, they will seek to negotiate them before (or, for some people, rather than) acting on them. But the capacity to contemplate particulars guarantees the guilt for trying to escape them. Guilt then becomes its own thing, postponing action and introducing a vicious circle questioning, which – listen: if there were an easy answer, no one would remember the Prince of Denmark.
For the third time, this special edition is published amid the COVID pandemic. This year there is also a war in Ukraine; many other wars around the world, as there usually are; international economic uncertainty and huge supply chain management challenges; and a universal fatigue that will redefine fundamentally the nature of work and socialization for more than a couple of generations. The question is obvious. Is it a good time to celebrate wealth? The answer is easy. No. However, the obvious question is also the wrong question. This edition does not celebrate wealth.
The easiest thing is to point out that this edition celebrates individuals and their achievements. Anyone would be hard-pressed to find a single individual on this list who hasn’t worked very hard to make something of themselves. A single individual who hasn’t used their good fortune to foster pride and cohesion in the Greek-American community; to champion Greek and Orthodox causes; to raise the visibility of Greece; and to inspire others – or directly create opportunities for them. But all this is a given, because The National Herald itself stands to signify the compelling legacy of Greek immigration to the United States, and the sacred mission of preserving Greek-American identity as a distinct product of two resilient and resourceful cultures. Thus, the commitment to go ahead with this special edition this year becomes about something even bigger than celebrating the achievements of those it lists.
Going over all the information for the people featured, I realized, as all of you will, that these continue to be stories that start in black and white photos, stories whose narration begins half in forgotten Greek and half in broken English. They are stories of hard-earned pride, and lives in jeopardy. Literally. Not everyone who set out to do so made it in the States, and many did not even make it to the States. Immigration takes an enduring and immeasurable toll that does not allow for any success to eclipse it. But, as younger 3rd and later-generation Greek-Americans begin to make their mark, and as Greeks continue to seek out their better futures in America, this edition offers the stories that follow as opportunities to celebrate the promise of this country, and the promise of the Greek-American community.
Is a promise alone enough against all the challenges? The stories that follow suggest that, at the very least, it has been.