2013-03-27 / Features

Queens College Helps Greek Americans Record Their History

By Jason D. Antos

The Borough of Queens boasts the largest Greek American enclave in New York City—or anywhere else in the United States. So Queens College is the logical home for the Hellenic-American Oral History Project archive, which promotes understanding of Greek American communities in the metropolitan area and beyond.

This archive comprises five categories of statistics and information: qualitative data gleaned from our own growing library of oral histories; quantitative data drawn from the U.S. Census and other surveys; social science references; community data and resources; and published and unpublished texts about Greeks and Greek Americans. Data sets will be updated when they are officially accessible. We hope this material will be useful not only to researchers and policy makers, but also to anyone interested in Greek Americans.

The second wave of Greek immigration to New York City between 1965 and 1980 dramatically reshaped the landscape of Queens and turned Astoria into the second largest Hellenic city outside of Athens.

A groundbreaking oral history project, launched last month at Queens College, is collecting the stories of those immigrants before they are lost.

Alexiou, who has taught at Queens College since 1989, has spent the last year crunching U.S. Census data and conducting interviews of almost two-dozen Greek Americans.

He selected a cross section of young and old, foreign and native-born for the Hellenic-American Oral History Project, which he hopes will continue to grow.

There are about 1.3 million people of Greek ancestry in the U.S. and about 178,000 in the New York metropolitan area, Alexiou said.

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 percent of Greek Americans were born in the U.S. compared to 34 percent foreign born.

Documentaries about Greek Americans have often focused on celebrities such as Olympia Dukakis and the late Telly Savalas.

“But we’ve missed the people who really created this community,” Alexiou said, referring to business owners, civic leaders and residents in Astoria.

The project was funded with help from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

Alexiou said he will continue to add to the archives if he receives additional funding.

“The community does not know its own past,” said Alexiou. “They need to know the people who created this community so there is a continuous link between the past and the present.”

All of his research and the interviews are available on the project’s website: www.qc.cuny.edu/greekoralhistory.

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