An Oral History of City’s Greeks

Street mural in Astoria, Queens. (Photo by Daniel Bentley, Flickr Creative Commons License)

The first-ever oral history archive of New York’s Greek-American community is a Queens College project that seeks to document Greek immigration to the U.S. from 1960 to 1980, Greek News reports.

The article, by Vicki James Yiannias, points out that “The Hellenic American Oral History Project: Greek Americans” also documents the changing face of Astoria.

Chances to capture and document the lives and experiences of the “first wave” of Greek immigrants to the U.S., which began around 1880, have suffered the passage of time, but Queens College Sociology Professor Nicholas Alexiou, is bent on “capturing the moment before it is lost,” by documenting the “second wave” of Greek immigration to the U.S., 1960-1980, which has received little scholarly attention up to now.

The project, funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, is part of a new Internet archive and research and database. It features video interviews, in Greek and English, of Greeks who emigrated to New York City between 1960 and 1980 and their children.

At a press conference at Queens College of the City of New York in Flushing on January 24, where a multi-monitor display presented The Hellenic American Oral History Project’s more than two dozen oral history interviews, Professor Alexiou, Director of the project, expressed a motivation to document the largest Greek American community in the United States, saying, “The community does not know its own past, they need to know the people who created this community so there is a continuous link between the past and the present.”

The article notes that Queens College has 1,500 students of Greek ancestry, more than any other American university. Its Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies will host the archive.

Some statistics quoted at the press conference: there are about 1.3 million people of Greek ancestry in the U.S. and about 178,000 in the New York metropolitan area; the second wave of Greek immigration turned Astoria into the second largest Hellenic city outside of Athens.  In recent years the number of U.S.-born Greek Americans has exceeded the number of foreign-born as the members of that second wave of immigration have their own children.  In New York, about 66% of Greek Americans were born in the U.S. compared to 34% foreign born.

Alexiou said the archive is the first step of a project that he hopes to turn into a book.

He continued with observations on Astoria itself, saying,  “Although Astoria is still the symbol of Greek immigration into the States, is not anymore the place where the Greek live. The Greeks, as they achieve socio-economic mobility, and neighborhood mobility, are moving out of Astoria, and part of this project is to depict that.  You can see the maps based on the census that they still prefer Queens, though in places like Whitestone and Bayside. But the story that remains is simple. At this moment of transformation, of this transition of the community, the project comes at a good time.”

For more information or to participate in the project, visit: www.qc.cuny.edu/greekoralhistory.

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