NEW YORK – New York’s Bill de Blasio, accompanied by his wife Chirlane McCray welcomed the Greek-Americans who packed Gracie Mansion for the annual celebration of Greek Independence on April 7.
“Kalosorisate,” pronounced flawlessly, “this is your house and you are always welcome here.” She then pointed to the Corinthian columns and said “there are a lot of Greek elements at Gracie Mansion and I point it out to show how deeply ingrained Greek culture is in our everyday lives…ideas that originated in Greece are in the DNA of our democracy, literature and art…and as a result of your hard work, Greek culture is alive and well, so thank you for everything that you’ve done – efxaristo!”
McCray then introduced Archbishop Demetrios, who spoke about freedom and began his invocation by thanking God “for this time we shared together, a night that celebrates Greek Independence Day and recognizes the heritage we share as Greeks and Americans.” who spotlighted the victory against all odds of the heroes of 1821spoke about freedom, which he called “the essential spiritual and physical condition for justice…human dignity, and life.”
Demetrios thanked the Mayor for again hosting the community for “this great day of joy and thanksgiving…we are truly appreciate of this gesture expressive of great common ideas of our Greek heritage and the American spirit of creativity and progress which we enormously enjoy,” and added his guests that day are the descendants of a series of advanced civilizations and said “it was only a matter of time” before they threw off the Ottoman yoke. “Mr. Mayor,” he continued, “the people you have in front…carry in their DNA their deeply embedded experience and reality – it is a matter of DNA” he repeated, to a burst of applause before concluding how appropriate it is “that we celebrate in a locale that has as its symbol a statue of liberty and in a nation that is a continued supporter and promoter of liberty for everybody on Earth.”
“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the warmth you always show,” de Blasio said. “Archbishop Demetrios is unsurpassed in his warmth, in his learned nature, and the embraced he give to all people, and I have come to the conclusion, based on his oration – it’s in his DNA” he added to a burst of laughter and applause.
“In this City, against the backdrop of a raging national and global debate about immigration and migration, we remain proud to be the ultimate city of immigrants…New York is more relevant than ever as an example to the world that immigration makes us stronger, that all backgrounds can work together… and we are an answer to those that seek violence and division.”
Later in his speech he cited Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate Fr. Alexander Karloutsos. “Before he had to leave he said something very powerful…that on the island of Lesbos the Pope and the Patriarch will gather together…two voices of conscience calling the world to a compassionate understanding and mutual effort on behalf of migrants.” He then noted that “anyone who appreciates the reality of the world today appreciates how Greece has stood up amidst this extraordinary moment of change and transition in the Middle East and Europe…and Greece has borne the brunt with compassion and strength and the Western world owes it appreciation to Greece.”
The Mayor then turned to the Hellenes of New York.
“We know the City wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for the extraordinary imprint of Greek-Americans. We can see it in our cultural life, in our business community, and in the very foundation of our democracy,” de Blasio said. After noting the presence of a number of city officials he said he wanted to acknowledge, “the leading Greek in our administration…Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Emma Wolfe, whom he credited for his Greek language lessons – more laughter – before noting “she is one of my most trusted aides and someone who does tremendous things to make New York better. Greeks are well-represented at City Hall. He also noted the presence of State Senator Michael Gianaris.
After saying that the first Greek immigrants to New York settled in Lower Manhattan and eventually established the Church of St. Nicholas, “a simple act by five families,” he spotlighted the parish’s treasurer, Olga Pavlakos, whose grandparents were among its founders.
“To me, this celebration means St. Nicholas,” Pavlakos explained to TNH. “It takes me back to my childhood and roots where my family started four generations and after 9/11 we are still here and we look forward to the resurrection” of the Church.
Olga Alexakos, the president of AGAPW, told TNH “It was a very warm welcome to the community. He was very touched and took the time to acknowledge the contributions of Greek-Americans and I love that he said that New York is a city of immigrants and that we are all united and working together. It was a beautiful message in this time of divisiveness.
The guests enjoyed delicious hors d’oervres served with Greek wine and music by Costas Baltazanis, Petros Klampanis,
and Stratos Ahlatis.