I am of a generation old enough to remember when the Greek community boasted two daily Greek-language newspapers, Atlantis and the National Herald (then better known under its Greek title Ethnikos Kirikas), representing the great chasm in a Greek immigrant community tightly tied to events in the Old Country.
Atlantis, the oldest newspaper, founded in 1894, advocated for the royalist party and the Ethnikos Kirikas for the republican or, as it was then known, the Venizelist party. The royalist-republican split erupted during World War I and came to a head with the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922. Ethnikos Kirikas emerged as an avowedly republican advocate in the midst of this tragedy in April 1921. The newspapers dueled over Greek politics through the following half-century but (aside from an unpleasantness in the early days) maintained a surprising comity; serving the community as it adjusted to life in their new country and supporting Greek interests in the United States trumped their rivalries. (By way of disclaimer, my father was a solid royalist while my mother’s family were fervid Venizelists; we subscribed to both newspapers.)
When Atlantis succumbed to a dispute with the journalist’s trade union in 1973, the then-editor of the National Herald B. J. Marketos wrote a passionate editorial, “The Symptom”, lamenting the loss of a longtime rival, as a harbinger of extinction of foreign-language newspapers in the United States.
The Ethnikos Kirikas survived as it evolved along with the community. The founding of The National Herald as an English language supplement, now an independent publication twenty five years ago this month, played a key role in that evolution.
No one doubts that our community has indeed evolved. Greek-Americans fall in love with and marry non-Greeks in numbers vastly outnumbering marriages within ethnic bloodlines. Ties with our home villages grow dimmer as the third and fourth generations of Greek-Americans lose contact with third and fourth cousins in Greece. Few remember that many cities had two flagship Greek Orthodox churches because royalists and republicans could not tolerate control of parish councils by the other side. Yet, perhaps cursed by the retention of polysyllabic last names (despite so many families having lost two or three syllables in the process of ‘Americanization’), many millions retain a consciousness of their origin found in relatively few other ethnic-origin communities in this country.
Greek-Americans have prospered as they have assimilated. But they have not been submerged into an amorphous mass nor lost their uniqueness. That uniqueness is not confined to attending Orthodox church services, imitating yiayia’s recipe for moussaka, or the frequent vacations to Greece. We seem to feel some subconscious atavistic twinge when the Old Country does well – or embarrasses us. Many feel a similarly atavistic urge to spring to its defense when the policies of the United States seem to harm the Old Country. We tend to introduce ourselves to complete strangers when we hear their polysyllabic names. How many of us stick around to look at the credits after a movie, looking for Greek names – even if it is only the chief grip? How many of us have insisted that Amazon’s Jeff Bezos must be Greek? Just look at his name!
The National Herald in English serves our community as much as its parent the Ethnikos Kirikas, served our forebears. Its reporting on the community, singling out its most distinguished members, helping new Greek-American entrepreneurs, keeping us up to date on events in Greece, reporting on the Church both in the United States and elsewhere, and, yes, digging up yiayia’s moussaka recipe before it disappears, has no match.
But the Greek-American community is not insular nor have Greeks ever prospered from insularity. Yes, we have sympathetic pangs of joy when a Greek-American whom we have never met makes a name for himself. We all focused immediately on the Greek name of Albert Bourlas and on his Greek birth as he led Pfizer to develop revolutionary COVID vaccines.
But the community has made a unique contribution to the country in which we live because we take pride in who we are. Review the names of members of the United States Congress. More than half are Irish but so far only ex-Senator (and now President) Joe Biden has publicly claimed his Irish origins as affecting his views on foreign policy. Name one past or present Greek-American member of the House or Senate who has rejected his origins. To the contrary, all take pride in their origins regardless of their political party, even though none depend on Greek-American votes to get elected. (I have never seen a poll that indicates how Greek-Americans vote.) The late Paul Sarbanes and Paul Tsongas left an indelible imprint on the U.S. Congress, and both labored to preserve and enhance the relationship between the current greatest democracy and the tiny country of its birthplace, still a dynamic democracy. It is no accident that both subscribed to and read the National Herald.
I write my opinion articles in The National Herald because I firmly believe that it reaches much of this community. More importantly, I believe that my arguments reach a much larger and broader cross-section of American life. I do not delude myself into believing that our readers copy-paste my articles to show them to their friends and colleagues. But inasmuch as our readers are influenced by those articles, and enjoy the respect of their friends and colleagues, they will influence a much larger circle.
I congratulate The National Herald on its 25th birthday and thank it for allowing me a space on its pages. This is a great newspaper.