Op-Ed: Reflections at Fifty
WASHINGTON, DC —The following Op-Ed by AHI Executive Director Nick Larigakis was published in The National Herald 7-2-10, The Hellenic Voice 6-23-10, the Greek News 6-21-10, and The Greek Star 6-24-10.
Reflections at Fifty
By Nick Larigakis
June 15, 2010
Many an immigrant’s path to America was paved with uncertainty, apprehension and downright fear. But at the same time, it was paved with a glimmer of hope. My family’s path was no different.
As I turn fifty in a few weeks, I thought I would take the time to reflect on my half century and to pay tribute to my parents for helping to instill in me the importance of my Hellenic heritage, Culture and Orthodox faith.
It began with my paternal grandfather who came to these shores on June 4, 1900, aboard a ship named the S.S. Patricia. He settled in Pensacola, Florida and from there, he moved on to Clarksdale, Mississippi, a small town just south of Memphis. He eventually returned to Greece permanently in 1929, having amassed a small fortune. He would eventually lose the majority of his money due to the Great Depression and World War II.
Nevertheless, he did open the door for his children to come to America as my father, Roosevelt, yes Roosevelt – his godfather was enchanted with President Theodore Roosevelt – brought my mother and me to America in 1962 when I was just two years old.
Our family’s road was difficult. Since my father was apprehensive about taking chances, he reconciled himself to jobs in the restaurant business that only paid him a fraction above minimum wage. It was in these jobs that he toiled for the next 35 years. My mother joined the ranks of the minimum wage earners once she felt I could help take care of my brother, five years my junior. Shortly thereafter, I, too, began working part-time on weekends and full-time during the summer months as a dishwasher and short order cook. When my brother was old enough, he also began working.
Our rented homes were always very small and extremely modest. I was never eager to invite any of my friends to visit. During my high school years, the family sofa was pulled open every night to unveil my bed.
Yet while our physical surroundings were Spartan, my parents made sure that the food was the best, they gave us an abundance of love, and every attempt was made to provide us with the essentials. The most important essential was their constant effort to make us aware of our rich Hellenic heritage, culture and Orthodox faith. And while neither of my parents finished grammar school, they placed a premium on education, including achieving a solid understanding of the Greek language.
I once negotiated with my mother that I would wash the dishes every night if she signed my high school baseball team permission form to allow me to play. She agreed. When it came time to begin my dishwashing obligation, my mother instead handed me a Greek book and explained that while she washed the dishes, I would sit next to her and read out loud to her in Greek. And so it went during baseball season. As it turns out, learning Greek has proven to be very beneficial while obviously, I never played for the Philadelphia Phillies, who were my passion growing up.
My parents collectively never earned more than $14,000 gross annually during those years, but somehow they managed to pay for over 90 percent of our education costs when we attended college. Once, when I came home from school on break and saw my mother washing clothes in the bath tub, as she always had, I finally got angry and scolded her as to why didn’t she spend the “lousy” fifty cents and take the clothes to the laundromat. She quickly turned to me and said, “What do you think pays for your education?” It was a sobering response.
When it came time for me and my brother to get in touch with our heritage, dad paid to send me and my brother to Greece. When we returned, I found that he had also replenished our personal savings accounts with the funds we had taken out for spending money on the trip. My parents are both still alive and live much better today.
Years later, my path took me to Washington, DC, to work for an organization that I feel my parents’ nurturing so ably prepared me for – the American Hellenic Institute (AHI).
With AHI, I have had the opportunity to travel throughout the U.S. and to meet many Greek Americans. It is abundantly clear that the Greek American of today has achieved unparalleled success and high achievement. This was the dream and hope that led those early immigrant pioneers to leave their distant homelands more than a century ago.
I feel extremely blessed and at the same time proud that my path has led me to be able to contribute, if even in a very small way, to the strengthening of relations between this great country of ours, the United States of America, and Greece and Cyprus.
However, Greece and Cyprus today are facing numerous challenges that threaten the very core of the Hellenic world. Greek Americans must continue to invoke the rule of law and support for American values and principles as we work for a free and unified Cyprus, a peaceful Aegean, the protection of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s religious mission, a just resolution FYROM name issue, the swift passing of the Greek economic crisis and the defense of Hellenism wherever it may be challenged.
Our community’s path was laid down for us over a century ago and we must continue to make sure that path continues to exist for future generations of Greek Americans.
As I continue in my efforts in pursuit of these goals, I am reminded that I would not be as keenly aware or interested in my culture, heritage and Orthodox faith if it were not for my parents. And for this I wish to thank my Mom and Dad.
For additional information, please contact C. Franciscos Economides at (202) 785-8430 or at email@example.com. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at https://www.ahiworld.org.
Op-Ed: Reflections at Fifty