Greeks in New York marked the 200th anniversary of the Greek uprising against Ottoman rule in a novel way last weekend. Prevented from holding their customary March 25 Independence Day parade by pandemic restrictions, the American city’s Greeks instead took to sea, organizing Sail to Freedom.
Taking place last Sunday afternoon, the flotilla sailed to the Statue of Liberty and back to celebrate the contribution of Greek shipowners and American philhellenes to the liberation struggle.
Turnout was impressive, with hundreds of first-, second- and third-generation Greeks on boats and lining the banks of the Hudson and East rivers, waving Greeks flags and some even dressed in traditional costumes.
“The Covid-19 pandemic did not allow us to celebrate the bicentennial as we would have liked. But we felt it was our duty to honor the sacrifice of our ancestors and the assistance provided by American philhellenes, which is how we came up with the idea for a different parade, at sea, where all the safety measures could be observed. It’s hard to describe how moved we felt seeing this vision come to life,” Evangeline Plakas, CEO of Global Alive and one of the pioneers of the initiative, told Kathimerini.
Several US officials also attended the event, noting the enduring bond between the two countries.
“Anyone who loves freedom loves Greece. The ideas we learned from Greece also inspired the American War of Independence,” said Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, adding that she is currently engaged in efforts, along with fellow lawmaker Gregory Meeks, who is also the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, for the return of the Parthenon sculptures to Greece from the British Museum.
“Together with Mrs Maloney we are working in Congress for a strong US-Greece alliance, for today as much as for the future,” said Meeks.
Nicole Malliotakis, the representative for New York’s 11th congressional district, also spoke, stressing that it is her goal to set the reunification of Cyprus and ending the Turkish provocations in the Aegean as US foreign policy goals.
Among the guests honored at Sail to Freedom were the president and founder of the East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance, Lou Katsos, and prominent businessman John Catsimatidis, who is also the event’s honorary chairman.
“There are no parades in New York, but we have done something better! We have flotillas going down the Hudson River all the way to the Statue of Liberty to celebrate. We have beaten the virus. It’s Independence Day for Greece and its independence from the virus, and I hope it will be independence in Europe from the virus too,” said Catsimatidis.
Many of the Greek Americans celebrating the event also reminisced about their own ancestors’ arrival in the United States on ships such as the Moraitis, the Patris and the Hellas. As the flotilla sailed past Ellis Island, wreaths were also thrown into the water in their memory, while a prayer was offered for the sailors lost at sea in the War of Independence.