History of Greek Immigration
Greeks have been coming to America since the 1700s from Mani, Greece and by the early 20th century 95% of the Greek immigrants were male. By 1920 there were 9 men for every 2 woman. More Greeks were migrating to America, and particularly New York City, during the 1960s and 70s because of the Greek Revolution of 1967. This is a time when three military men were afraid of losing their power and decided to politically take over Greece. During this time people left due to the war and economic downfall. They came to America – the land of opportunity.
Most Greek immigrants came New England, the West, and large cities like New York City. They would than find work in factories and restaurants working as bus boys and dishwashers. Most Greek immigrants would have a positive relationship with their employer which would lead to occupational mobility. Many Greek immigrants and Greek-Americans would soon participate in the influencing major cities and showing their culture to everyone else through theaters, diners and churches.
Throughout the past 60 years there have been three major attempts at creating a permanent Greek theater in New York City. All three attempts lasted over a decade, but two of the three theaters closed.
Adamantios Lemos started a Greek theater in 1957 that was up and running for ten years. The home of the theater was on 42nd Street in New York City. The theater close due to a Greek military dictatorship was arising in Greece. Many Greek immigrants were involved in their homeland’s politics, however Lemos did not want to be associated with Greek politics. With this, many Greeks stopped attending the theater and had it’s last show in 1967.
Yanni Simonides made the second well-known attempt at creating a permanent Greek theater in New York City. The theater last from 1979 until 1992, marking 13 years and one of the older Greek theaters in New York City. This second attempt at creating a permanent Greek theater became known as the Greek Theater of New York (also know as GTNY). GTNY became popular and received a lot of attention. It was even know as “the only professional bilingual Greek Reperatory Company in the United States” (Skiptaris, 109).
The third attempt began before the second, however this Greek theater is still up and running in New York City. Eleni Paidoussi, an author and poet, began the theater in June of 1977. Paidoussi had two goals with opening the theater “to preserve our language and culture through the Arts and through Education, and to preserve our cultural inheritance through folk music, folk dance, and the Shadow Theater” (Skiptaris, 110).
Since early in the 20th century, the Greek community has been known for their involvement in the restaurant industry. Many Greek immigrants open diners all over the country, including New York City, that serve American food and only a few items on their menus relate back to the food of Greece. Interestingly, it is rare to find Greek diners named after the owner. “Many have been run under business names such as Ideal, Majestic, Elite, Cosmopolitan, Sanitary, Purity…” representing a high value and quality (Whitaker).
Majority of Greece, 97 percent, identifies as Christian Orthodox. The remaining three percent are composed of Roman Catholic, Jewish and Muslim. Shown through research from 2000 in Manhattan approximately 70 percent of the population had some type of religious affiliation. Slightly more than half of the approximate 1.1 million religious attend a Catholic Church. In Manhattan alone there are 110 Catholic Churches for 564,500 attendees, 102 synagogues for the 314,500 Jewish affiliated, but only 11 churches in all of Manhattan for 5,400 Greek Orthodox. Greek Orthodox account for 0.5 percent of the religious in Manhattan, making them the 13th most popular religion of the city.36 One of the most well-known Greek Orthodox Churches in New York City is the St. George Greek Orthodox Church on 54th Street in Manhattan.
Mr. Billy is a Greek immigrant who came to America as a tourist in the early 1970s. After his three month visit, he decided to stay. At the age of 17, in 1973, a young Greek tourist became a young Greek immigrant who would work as a bus boy and dishwasher for several years until finally opening his own restaurant in Lower Manhattan. In his interview, Mr. Billy discusses the main reason he decided to stay in America was being the hardships Greece was facing. Mr. Billy said that the Greek-Americans he knows and himself try to maintain the Greek culture in their families and try to pass on the Greek traditions to their children. Mr. Billy is the owner of a Greek diner in lower Manhattan. Like most Greek eateries, the diner is not named after himself but is called “Squires Diner.” If one was to look at the menu at Squires Diner, one would see that the majority of the items served are American foods. In addition, there are several Greek items such as Greek salads and Spanakopita, also known as spinach pies. Mr. Billy is a great example of a typical Greek diner owner. In the interview Mr. Billy said “First time I come here, I started as a dishwash in the kitchen, after I became a bus boy, waiter and little by little I have my own place.” This is the path Greek immigrants typically followed which differs from their professional careered children.
Asimakopoulos, Vasilios. Personal interview. March 9, 2013.
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Skipitaris, Loukas. “The Greek Theater in the New York Metropolitan Area.” Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora 107, (2000), http://triceratops.brynmawr.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/10066/5780/Skipitaris_26_2.pdf?sequence=1.
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Whitaker, Jan. “Greek-American Restaurant.” Restaurant-ing Through History, January 8, 2013. http://restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com/2013/01/08/greek-american-restaurants/