During a recent trip to Boston I was able to visit two Greek-American archives. This is my idea of having fun, though these involve serious business because such collections contain the materials through which we can preserve our heritage and pass it on to the younger generations.
In one of the two archives I visited, I watched digitized film of the March 25th parade that took place in Manchester, NH in 1966. I also listened to a digitized recording of a New York-based Greek American radio station mentioning a pro-democracy demonstration during the March 25th parade on 5th Avenue in 1968, the first such parade under the auspices of the dictatorial regime established in Greece a year earlier.
Those digitized tapes I found at the second of my two visits. The first was no less impressive. It was at the Archbishop Iakovos Library at Hellenic College Holy Cross in Brookline, a suburb of Boston. With permission from His Grace Bishop Joachim, the Library Director, I had a tour of the Special Collections and the Archive Room by librarian Hilary Rogler. It was an overwhelming experience. Those two rooms contain the histories of the Greek Church, of Greek Orthodoxy in America, and of Greek America, in the form of rare books, church publications, and the personal papers and collections donated by Greek-American clergy and academics.
The news coming out of Hellenic College Holy Cross has not always been good. The two schools have faced a series of academic, administrative, and financial challenges over the past few years and are gradually dealing with them. But what is indisputably good news is the richness of the archives in the Iakovos Library and their usefulness in preserving the Greek and Orthodox heritage in America.
The other archive I visited was completely different. It belongs to an individual rather than an institution and is housed not in a magnificent building such as that of the Iakovos Library but in a small townhouse in Stratham, NH, just over an hour’s drive north of Boston. This space, which cannot be more than 1,500 square feet – it was difficult to judge because of the number of stacked archival boxes I was climbing over – is the residence of Meletis Pouliopoulos. It is also the home of Greek Cultural Resources, the organization he established for the purpose of obtaining, documenting, preserving, archiving, promoting, and providing access to recordings of Greek music and relevant traditions, as well as related publications, manuscripts, images, interviews, and film/video footage for the benefit of musicians, folk dance troupes, teaching institutions, scholars, performers, collectors, and the general public.
I have written recently of the need of funding archives and the sacrifices that Meleti has made and his precarious financial situation. But during my visit he was intent on outlining the future, what could be done if that funding is ever secured. Pointing to the parcels stacked up near his front door he explained that very many Greek-Americans who have heard of his work send him books, magazines, VHS tapes, and all manner of materials that relate to their family history or their community.
All these need to be preserved, and his work is not simply storing the stuff in his home, but by digitizing the old documents which is the best way of anticipating their eventual degradation and loss. The same applies to old film rolls and video and audio tapes. Such a process would cost thousands of dollars, but Greek Cultural Resources undertakes that task for free. What is also special about Meleti’ s Greek Cultural Resources is the advice and help Meleti provides to institutions that wish to save their history and heritage, as for example the St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral Memory Project which has digitized its parish bulletins going back to 1965. It has also catalogued its library and is embarking on a series of interviews with seniors. Another thing that makes this organization stand out is that it helps, by providing data, again at no cost, to researchers who need materials for their projects. It is quite remarkable that an individual has achieved so much and that he wishes to help others do the same, to function as the tide that will lift all boats.
Whether all this work can be continued depends on the support Greek Cultural Resources receives. Symeon Tegos, Greece’s General Consul in Boston, took the hour-long journey and visited in early September. Meleti showed him around and spoke about his vision and preservation plan that could benefit every Greek-American collection in the United States. The Consul praised the work on the Consulate’s Facebook page and is trying to help.
Hopefully Greek America can echo the Consul’s admiration and also act upon it. Meleti loses his sunny disposition when he remarks that old papers go yellow and crumble and old tapes go brittle and break into little pieces. Time of is of the essence and this about our heritage.