The Golden Generation of Immigrants: The Case of Niko Tsakanikas

New York has changed in the past 40 years.

Indeed, it is said that Manhattan changes substantially, in some way, almost every ten years.

For example, until recently, the far West Side was a devalued area, desolate and ignored. Look at what is going on today.
At the edge of that area was Manhattan’s original Greek Town – before it moved to Astoria.

It was located on 7th, 8th, and 9th Avenues, mainly between 30th and 60th streets. Part of it was known as Hell’s Kitchen.

When I first arrived in New York I would take the train – the LL, which is now simply the L – from Ridgewood, Queens, where our family lived for a while, and I went, usually on Saturdays, to the famous Kentrikon store on 8th Avenue and 42nd Street, where I bought The National Herald (I did not know then that I could become a subscriber).

Then I went to the Paradisos Restaurant to eat. It was a very good restaurant, a culinary paradise… and a center of anti-junta activity.

That neighborhood has passed into history and it has only a geographic relationship with the new reality.

The area radically changed due to the New Times Square on the West Side and Hudson Yards even farther West – a development of massive, state-of-the-art buildings that cover a large area. The “Rockefeller Center” of our generation is growing on once-abandoned land, whose main significance to Greeks was that the piers located there docked the ships that brought immigrants from Greece.

New York City’s radical changes are not limited to Manhattan.

Incredible developments have also occurred in Brooklyn, much of which now looks like an extension of Manhattan. That is also the case with Queens, especially between the Midtown Tunnel and Queensboro Plaza, which has become unrecognizable.

Now the building boom is moving towards Astoria… which is turning into a more expensive neighborhood.

Our community is also undergoing great changes. Following the massive migration of the 1960s, the immigration “tap” was virtually turned off.

It opened again recently, during the years of Greece’s economic crisis, but, of course, the flow is not as great, mainly because it is difficult to get the necessary green card today.

That group of Greeks, of the 60s and early 70s, was a golden generation. They worked hard, planted roots in America, educated their children – and did not forget the homeland.

One of the most important personalities that came out of this era is my friend Niko Tsakanikas, the owner of the travel and tourism company Homeric Tours.

Homeric Tours, as you recently read in the newspaper, is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its foundation.

During these years, Niko – almost everybody, Greeks and non-Greeks, call him Niko – pretty much created the tourist market for travelers between America and Greece. It was essentially the “Tourism Office” of Greece.

Of course, none of the Ministers of Tourism knew the subject better than Niko… but I digress.

Notwithstanding the passing of so many years, I still remember the first time I met Niko.

He was a pioneer, launching, with rare business insight, the charter flights to Greece.

I was then working in the newspaper’s advertising department and I went to visit him.

Homeric’s offices were on the corner 5th Avenue and 48th Street, a big room packed with colleagues. His own office was in the background – it overlooked 5th Avenue.

At one time, The National Herald refused to accept his ads in order not to upset its other advertisers, Niko’s bigger competitors.
Niko decided to commence a lawsuit against the newspaper. And of course, he won.

From the very first moment Niko and I were friends. We connected with instant understanding and communication – as if we had known each other forever.

He was demanding, and always well prepared for negotiations, but fair and honest. His word was his bond. Very smart, and an even harder worker. And as he succeeded in business, he did not change. He was – and remains – Niko, the Greek boy, from Thermo Trichonida. Humble, friendly, wise – and always a gentleman.

His work philosophy, as he described it in a recent interview, is an example to be imitated: “We passionately love our field. We made the right decisions, we chose the right staff, and so success came. We worked tirelessly and, combined with support from the Greeks, we created the largest travel agency in America for destinations in Greece.”

Niko has also helped a lot of people – without making noise.

Thus, four years ago, on the 100th anniversary of our Greek newspaper, we honored him as a representative of the business world of the Diaspora.

He deserved it.

The above comments are mainly addressed to the newcomers. Young people who have been forced to emigrate for a better future.
I meet a lot of them and I see that they are “stressed out.” Life, to them, seems like climbing a mountain. It is expensive here, and difficult.
They think that there are no longer the opportunities that once existed.

But isn’t that what we thought when we first arrived? Like those before us and the ones who came before them?
Didn’t everything seem strange to us? Even the Greek-Americans of the generation before ours?
And at that time, we, the vast majority of us at least, did not know the English language.
Many of us had never seen a big city.

We did not possess the knowledge and experience that a developed economy requires to make a career.
But the current generation of migrants has everything it needs, and is in constant contact with Greece.
With their cell phones, their computers, etc.

We had to communicate with our loved ones in Greece through letters… that took two weeks to cross the Atlantic.
By the way, Niko came on a boat that had the name…Homeric.

Welcome to America!


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