Learning about Our Hellenic Community’s History and Culture: A New Initiative

LOS ANGELES – On June 18, thirty-eight academics, authors, and professionals participated in the inaugural meeting of a workshop called Ergastirio: Conversations on Greek America. Ergastirio is an educational initiative whose aim is to explore Greek-American history and culture. The forum is the product of collaboration between the UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture, and the Modern Greek Program at The Ohio State University (OSU). It will be exploring new directions in the research and teaching of Greek America and will be encouraging participants to continue placing their research findings in community publications.

The focus of the inaugural meeting, held online, was the relationship between Greek immigrants and Black Americans in the early 20th century. The departure point was the recent mini-documentary, “Between Black and White: Greek-Americans in the 20th Century,” which was represented in the conversation by Lamprini Thoma, the film’s researcher.

Dan Georgakas, Director of the Greek American Studies Project of the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at Queens College, CUNY, and a contributor to The National Herald, also presented “Black Metropolis,” a chapter in his 2006 memoir My Detroit: Growing Up Greek and American in Motor City.

According to Dr. Simos Zenios, Associate Director of the UCLA SNF Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture, “This is a particularly poignant topic today. The documentary offers the opportunity to investigate the historical encounter between Greek immigrants and Black Americans and consider the complexities of this experience. We discussed the purpose of the documentary and reflected on how to advance research on this topic.”

The conversation was animated, and the interest intense. There will be a follow up meeting in mid-August. 

The large number of participants underlines an urgent need: to understand the Greek-American community at a time of rapid change. Greek-American institutions are undertaking several initiatives toward cultural preservation. Professor Yiorgos Anagnostou, Director of the Modern Greek Program at OSU, said, “It is our responsibility as scholars and writers to study the community’s cultural directions, the history of its institutions, the significance of the past for the present, and the next generation, among other topics.”

Ergastirio: Conversations on Greek America is envisioned as a long-term project. Co-hosted by Professor Anagnostou and Dr. Zenios, it will meet biannually.

More information about the UCLA SNF Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture is available online: https://hellenic.ucla.edu and about the Modern Greek Program at The Ohio State University is also available online:https://classics.osu.edu/Undergraduate-Studies/modern-greek-program.


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