Young diaspora Greeks and ethnic identity

Every year, cities in the United States that have sizable Greek communities commemorate March 25, Greek Independence Day, with parades. In New York City, Fifth Avenue overflows for a few hours with decorated floats as Greek Americans of all ages in traditional costumes form a vast procession. The spectators drape themselves in Greek flags or Greek national soccer team jerseys. For decades, the trio of history-religion-language has linked Greeks abroad to their place of origin. But to what extent can names like Karaiskakis and Androutsos, heroes of the struggle for Greek independence, inspire young Greek Americans to build an intellectual and emotional relationship with Greece? Hellenext Some of them do not speak a word of Greek; others have one or both parents of Greek origin, while some never go to church and have no idea of the Greek struggles for freedom in 1921 and 1940. Who can imbue the new generation with a sense of Greekness? The answer comes from Hellenext, an endeavor to put leading figures in the Greek-American community, such as Michael Dukakis, George Stephanopoulos, George Genet, John Brandemas and Barbara Spyridon Pope into contact with fourth- and fifth-generation Greek Americans. Kathimerini spoke to one of the people who started Hellenext, Leon Stavrou. He has distinguished credentials. As the membership development director of AHEPA (the largest association of Greek Americans), regional marketing manager of the American Chamber of Commerce and creator of a major network of American and Greek enterprises, who has also helped win battles for Greece and Cyprus in Congress, he is the right man in the right position. «The question we had to answer is how one can help 20-year-olds with Greek roots who have grown up in America to make a connection with the Greek cultural heritage. They may never go to Greece, may not speak Greek, may not be religious, yet still want to understand what being Greek means. On the other hand, many successful Greek Americans who are now of mature years feel they want to help the community,» explained Stavrou. «So we thought that both sides could come into contact through a website ( that will introduce them to each other. «The young ones will find proper guidance opportunities for work and study, and feel part of a network that operates not on the theoretical level but also on the practical level. The older ones will be able to help the young ones find their way. «Besides, most of the seniors are in key positions in fields from research and politics to show business and academia, and they know how to make use of talent. Just think: What budding journalist wouldn’t like to talk to George Stephanopoulos? What aspiring politician wouldn’t like to meet Doukakis? I wish I’d had that opportunity when I was 20.» Hellenext is growing slowly but steadily. «First we had to find a team of eminent personalities from fields who wanted to contribute to the effort. Then we had to see how to approach young Greeks in America and later all around the world through the Internet. After that we organized ways we could help out members, from scholarships to work experience. So far, we have held two events in which 500 people participated, and we’re doing better every day. Through the Internet we have contact with 6,000 Greek-American students.» The idea sounds excellent. Why haven’t existing diaspora organizations done something like it in the past? «Those organizations are going through a difficult phase. They are trying to survive and to deal with a series of important issues. It’s very hard for them to locate thousands of young Greek Americans and bring them into contact with each other and help with their future careers. It’s also clear that the mechanisms that keep the members of an ethic community united have to evolve over time. It’s not just the message that is important, but also how the messenger brings it. Ours is the only Internet-based program aimed at contacting young people.» Being Greek What makes the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of migrants feel Greek? «A certain spirit that I think makes us differ from other ethnic groups and makes us feel proud. Ethos, passion. Things that typify many of the Greek Americans who managed not only to survive and get ahead but also to do extremely well in many fields. Hellenext may give youngsters chance to gain inspiration, not in the abstract sense of our national cultural heritage but in how those values are an intrinsic part of the personalities of many eminent individuals who come from the Greek-American community. «If the network does well, then in years to come, today’s youth will give their advice and support to future generations.»

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