GR US

Historical Fiction: The Elias Panoussos Story Part 9

Εθνικός Κήρυξ

Aποψη της Νέας Υόρκης το 1920. Πηγή: Wikimedia Commons

In my last letter, I noted that I was asking myself whether to remain or leave Greece permanently. That was not an easy decision to make. I decided to discuss this issue with my parents who were economically and financially doing well compared too many others struggling in Greece. I was doing well as a political journalist and could have easily opened up my law firm, but I wasn't interested in being a lawyer at this stage.

My father asked me what would I do and where would I go if I left Greece. On the other hand, my mother had tears streaming down her cheeks when I told them of my plans. The discussion was conducted in a friendly spirit but sadness lurked like a shadow in the background.

I told them that I contemplated a move to the United States. "Why do you want to go there,” my father asked.

"When I visited the United States during the first part of 1922, I fell in love with the way our compatriots lived there and the American way of life", I said. It was a country that offered many opportunities for the immigrant if you were prepared to work hard and save your money. I explained to my father that is how many of our compatriots had become successful businessmen. They overcame adversity, discrimination, and racism to prove that there were as good as the local Americans. Getting U.S. citizenship was the icing on the cake for them. They became fully-fledged Yankees and were proud to have a U.S. passport. However, they never forgot their old patrida either.

I didn't see much of a future for myself in Greece. I wanted to try my luck elsewhere and believed that America offered me that opportunity. I telegraphed the owner of the National Herald in New York, Petros Tatanis, and asked if he would be willing to offer me a job as a journalist in his newspaper. On January 7, 1923, I received his reply. He needed a journalist on his staff to be responsible for news emanating from Greece. I had experience covering conferences, filing reports from the Asia Minor front, and reporting on Prince Andrew's court-martial. This news was like manna from heaven.

I replied that I was very interested in his offer. Tatanis told me that he would sponsor my immigration application through the U.S. legation in Athens. I received a letter from the U.S. legation inviting me for an interview and to bring all the necessary documentation to begin my immigration process. I underwent a thorough medical examination and passed it with flying colors. After several anxious months of waiting, I received a letter from the U.S. legation which I was scared to open. My mind was racing with thoughts of rejection or approval regarding my immigration application.

I took a deep breath and slowly got the letter out of the envelope. I unfolded it with my eyes going straight to the first line saying "you have been approved an immigration visa to enter the United States." I jumped for joy after receiving this exciting news. I told my parents that I would be soon leaving for the United States.

My parents couldn't believe that I had been approved. We had a big going-away party where my father invited many of his close friends and relatives. The party was full of joy and laughter, but with an undertone of sadness. Everyone wished me good luck in my future life in the United States. The only thing troubling me was the possibility of never seeing my family again. This is the price that all immigrants pay when the leave the land of their ancestors and begin a new life on the other side of the world.

On June 23, 1923, I left Piraeus on the ocean liner Olympia bound for New York. I had a nice cabin and enjoyed my trip across the Atlantic. The weather was kind, with smooth seas and gentle breezes. I arrived in New York on July 4. What day to arrive on Ellis Island. Yes! American independence day. I thought this was a good omen for my future in this beautiful land.

I cleared U.S. immigration and took a short ferry ride to New York harbor. Giannis Paxidis, a National Herald journalist, was waiting and took me to my hotel where I dropped off my luggage. The next day, he took me to meet Tatanis, who warmly received me. Tatanis explained my role at the Herald. My journalistic experience in Greece would be a great asset to his newspaper. I would be able to explain the complexities of European diplomacy and the internal affairs of Greece to our Greek-American readers.

I handled all the news stories emanating from Athens and Salonika. I penned editorials on important political events unfolding in Greece for i.e. like the return of Venizelos to Greek politics in late 1923. Tatanis allowed me to cable my contacts in Athens to gather additional information about a news story before it was published. I was thoroughly enjoying my time working for this great newspaper.

After several years at the National Herald I decided it was time to go out on my own. I attended law classes at night and passed my bar examination with a very high mark. I could now practice law in the state of New York. I joined the Greek-American law firm Papadopoulos and Sons in downtown Manhattan. I handled property settlements and the estates of deceased. I worked a couple of years there before setting up my own law practice. 

I made it in America. I was happy with myself despite the great depression of 1929. I built up a good clientele base who were happy with the service I offered them. My business was built on honesty, trustworthiness, and reliability – something that gave me great comfort.

I bought a beautiful house on the outskirts of New York and paid for my parents to come to visit me after 10 years in the United States. They were impressed with what I had accomplished in my new homeland. This was the last time I would ever see them, however. They died a year before the start of the Second World War.

My story finishes here and I leave it to my children to write their own history.