My Vision for the Greek American Community

Recently, I had the honor of attending the first annual Global Diaspora Forum, hosted from May 17 – 19 by the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Partnerships, together with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Migration Policy Institute, and other partners.  In her keynote speech, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the launch of the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance (IDEA), a collaborative platform to engage diaspora communities, the private sector, and public institutions and support the development of diaspora-centered partnerships that promote trade and investment, volunteerism, philanthropy, diplomacy, entrepreneurship, and innovation in countries of origin.

Presentations, panels, and roundtables at the Forum highlighted how diaspora communities engage their countries of origin and promote ties between the U.S. and these countries through a range of activities and through all sectors.  While listening to leaders from different diaspora groups and exchanging experiences with fellow participants, I gained a greater focus on what being a member of a diaspora community means to me, and a clearer vision of how I want to help my community realize its potential and move forward in the future.

As a first generation Greek-American – born in the U.S. to parents who immigrated from Greece – and with an unabashedly Greek first name (the name of a goddesses from Greek mythology), I always felt the need to address my background.  A healthy percentage of my personal statements for college and educational program applications therefore featured how growing up with immigrant parents and frequent travel to Greece impacted me – my values, my character, the way I relate to others, and my perspectives on distance, separation, heritage and aspiration.  I was initially hesitant, however, about getting involved in Greek-American activities because I was weary of letting this aspect of my life overshadow all the other elements of who I felt I was or wanted to become as a person.

It is only in recent years that I began focusing on what my diaspora identity means to me and what role I want it to play in my life.  My relationships and engagement in various initiatives in the Greek-American community have grown recently, but the greatest impact on my broader perspective and vision for my own community came from speaking with individuals from other diaspora communities during the Secretary’s Global Diaspora Forum.  In each conversation, there were both different and common values, experiences, and lessons.  These conversations allowed me to better understand and express my own vision for my community and our connections with each other and with Greece.

The experience led me to draft the following principles, expressing my goals and values as a member of the Greek-American diaspora:

  • Engage in public service and community development based on the values of my parents and grandparents.
  • Mentor future leaders – students and early professionals – in my diaspora community.
  • Support robust engagement and strategic partnership with leaders, activists and grassroots networks in Greece.
  • Build local, international and cross-sector partnerships and networks seeking to bring positive impact to communities.
  • Encourage and facilitate dialogue and exchange to identify and scale best practices.

In her keynote remarks, Secretary Clinton stated, “Increasingly, I think one of our greatest assets as Americans – not only in our governmental activities but throughout our society – is to reach out and, frankly, model for others what it means to live with diversity but to be respectful and even proud of one’s own traditions.”  To me, being respectful and proud of my own traditions means understanding the source of these traditions and sharing them with others and with younger generations.  It also means drawing from my traditions the inspiration to build new and evolving partnerships with people that share these traditions, whether they are fellow Greek-Americans or individuals in other Greek diaspora communities or in Greece.

There are increasing efforts in Greece to strengthen communication and partnerships with Greek diaspora communities around the world.  Prime Minister George Papandreou has repeatedly invited the Greek diaspora to share their talents and experience to help Greece address its challenges and move forward.  Addressing the Parliamentary Standing Committee for the Greek Diaspora in January, Deputy Foreign Minister Demetris Dollis stressed the need for a new approach to engaging the diaspora according to key objectives and priorities, for increased effectiveness and to overcome the challenges of limited and decreasing levels of Greek government funding for institutions to engage diaspora.  The need for a reassessment of the current approach to engaging Greek diaspora may never have been so pertinent as it is now.

There is good reason for this outreach effort.  Many Greek-Americans are successful, educated, and leaders in their professional fields and communities. As a community, we have an opportunity to play a leading role in facilitating international partnerships with Greece.  At a time when the international media is focusing its attention on economic issues in Greece, often throwing around generalizations and superficial analyses on the root of these problems and speculating over what will happen next, we must speak in a clear voice as a diaspora community on how to work together to help the country address its economic and social challenges, based on dialogue with our counterparts and peers in the country.  There are existing and newly forming groups in the Greek-American community that are hosting discussions or launching initiatives, but there is little dialogue on developing a comprehensive strategy to coordinate our efforts and support each other towards our common goals.

Setting out clear principles makes it possible to connect with others, build coalitions, and move forward.  After participating in the Global Diaspora Forum, I am inspired to hope that as a diaspora community, we can increase our collaboration and begin discussing a comprehensive approach to our partnerships with Greece. There are individuals in our community that have extensive experience and expert knowledge in their fields, but now is the time to build international and cross-sector partnerships in order to leverage our skills and resources and have real impact.

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2 Responses to My Vision for the Greek American Community

  1. I relate to your line, “I was initially hesitant, however, about getting involved in Greek-American activities because I was weary of letting this aspect of my life overshadow all the other elements of who I felt I was or wanted to become as a person.” Over the years I’ve struggled with whether as the New York-born daughter of a Greek immigrant father and an American mother of Swedish decent, I’ve struggled with whether I’m “Greek enough” and how much of my identity is shaped by my last name, trips to Greece, etc. I believe strongly that it’s important to recognize that the Greek-American Diaspora is diverse – some people are first generation, others second, still others mixed generation/ethnicity; some were raised culturally Greek and others were not; some speak Greek and some do not. I am active in the Greek-American community, and I’ve found that many people go out of their way to tell me I don’t look Greek. It’s frustrating and it’s made me wonder if instead of focusing on being Greek, I should focus on being a New Yorker or being a writer or being a feminist or or or…. And yet there is so much about my Greek culture that I love.

    • Hi Stephanie, thank you for reading this post and sharing your perspective and experience. You elaborate on an important point. I’ve met many young people that express similar experiences. The Greek-American and other Greek diaspora communities are diverse. Whatever degree of Greek heritage we might have, we are all Greek in our own way, and we connect our heritage to the other aspects of our lives in different ways. This is a good thing! We have a community where there is something that can connect us but there is diversity that allows us to learn from each other.

      I was in Greece this summer with a group of young Greek-Americans with different levels of connectedness to their heritage or to modern Greece. As we met and interacted with young professionals in Greece, this proved to be a great benefit. As a group, we had a range educational and professional interests to serve as a basis for discussion and exchange with Greeks. And many people we spoke with expressed a pleasant surprise that some of us were fluent in Greek while others spoke no Greek, some visited Greece frequently and others had only visited once or twice, yet we were all there together to meet our Greek counterparts in different fields and learn about their work and their experiences.

      I do hope we increasingly recognize the value in our diversity and interact in ways that make everyone feel welcome, including New Yorkers, writers and feminists with Greek heritage 🙂

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