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Kytherian-American Immigrants

in the United States in the 19th and 20th Centuries

A Presentation at the Kytheraismos Symposium

Kythera, September, 2001

Delivered by,

Dr. John Mavromatis, Coordinator of Greek Language Teaching, Greek Consulate, San Francisco, California

Dr. Theodore Sougiannis. University of Illinois, Athens Laboratory of Business (ALBA)

Translated from Greek to English by Panagiotis Coukoulis, Long Beach, California

Edited for the Kytherian website by Katherine Stathis, Livermore, California

Introduction

With this introduction we refer to the Kytherian immigrants of America from the end of the 19th Century until today. 

We point out the major reason for the immigration. 

We list the localities where they settled in the United States.

We succinctly describe their living conditions, families, organizational bodies, financial, mental, and cultural development and progress in connection with the role of the Church.

We also refer to the education of the Kytherian immigrants and their contributions in Kythera and America.

Finally, we propose strengthening the bonds of communication and cooperation between the Kytherians and those who migrated, particularly in regards to the younger generation.

Reasons for Migrating to the United States

Kytherians migrated to the United States primarily to improve their living conditions. We consider the main reasons Kytherians immigrated as follows:

  • The large sizes of financially-strained families
  • Poor farming soil
  • Favorable American immigration laws in the beginning of the 20th Century that provided opportunities for improving their lives.
  • To better understand the reasons for Kytherian immigration to America we must examine the conditions of significant events in Kythera and Greece during specific migratory periods. 

First, the catastrophic Greek-Turkish War of 1897 had an impact in Kythera when many Kytherians left for America (Kalligeros, 1998). Young people went to America, even children 14- or 15-years-old, without their families. In some cases the families sent their eldest sons abroad to work and send money home to secure the dowry of unmarried sisters. 

Secondly, in the beginning of the 20th Century America was developing rapidly, and there was a great need for laborers (Zoustis, 1954). This led America's government to pass new legislation for more immigrants to enter the country. Then in the beginning of the 1920's decade, legislation was changed again, this time placing severe restrictions on immigration. Millions of immigrants had arrived, and the American system could not handle and control such large numbers (Demou, 1994). A restrictive quota of immigrants was imposed on those entering from Europe, Asia, etc. (Zoustis, 1954). 

Arrival of Kytherian Immigrants in the United States

Large ships, such as the Patris, Vasilefs, Alexandros, Athinai, Themistoklis, and Megalee Hellas, required one month to complete the trip across the Atlantic Ocean. During the voyage parish-like congregations were founded. The travel expenses to America were high, and many Kytherians had to borrow money for the trip. They began arriving in the late 19th Century. Ellis Island, an islet at the entrance of the New York Harbor beside the well-known Statue of Liberty, contains immigration archives of the period from 1892 to 1924. From these archives we learn that all immigrants were officially registered by American authorities immediately upon disembarking. In addition they were required to pass a medical examination. In those records we find information regarding several Kytherians. These records show the date of their arrival, their place of birth, their original port of departure from Greece, and the name of the ship on which they traveled. Surfing archival records on the Internet we located the most common Kytherian surnames. We estimate that at least 500 Kytherian immigrants arrived during this period. Among the early arrivals we found the following listed: 

Konstantinos (age 27) and Anastasios (age 32) Megaloconomos, who arrived in New York in 1894.

Anastasios Megaloconomos (age 38) and Konstantinos Coukoulis registered in 1898 as new arrivals.

Panagiotis Margetis (age 32) arrived in 1899.

Athanasios Moulos (age 34), Michaelis and Yannis Vernardos all arrived in 1900.

The largest number of Kytherian immigrants arrived during the period from 1906 to 1920. The register of arrivals shows only about fifteen were women.

Locations of Settling in the United States

The early immigrants invited and brought to America members of their families or fellow villagers. Therefore we observe a concentration of compatriots who came from a certain region of Kythera settling in areas where their fellow villagers had already settled. 

From the southern villages of Kythera, such as Chora, Karvounades, and Milopotamos, Kytherians with the surnames of Vlandis, Stratigos, Kasimatis, Fatseas, Kalligeros, and Kalokerinos settled around New York.

Settling in Baltimore we find the surnames of Souris, Faros, Andronikos, and Jorjopoulos who came from the villages of Karavas and Gerakari. 

Settling in the Central United States, mainly in St. Louis, we find many immigrants with the surname Souris, from Gerakari, and Coukoulis, from Logothetianika (Stathis, 1934). 

Settling in Detroit, Michigan, we find the surnames of Galagotos, Moulos, Coukoulis, and Megaloconomos.

Settling in the Western United States appear more Kytherians from Logothetianika, Dourianika, Pitsinades, and Mitata. Their surnames are Cominos, Chlentzos, Mavromatis, and Protopsaltis (Promitheus, 1920). 

Life of Early Immigrants in the United States

Profiles

Most immigrants were young men from the ages of 18 to 35. They were unskilled workers, farmers, a few painters and construction masons. They did not speak English. They certainly had no money. Their dream was to earn money in a few years and return to the Fatherland. Nearly all of them remained in the United States. They worked hard; they washed dishes; they sold things in the streets; they labored setting railroad tracks; they worked in coalmines of Utah and Pennsylvania. Several died from tuberculosis because of the severe dampness and harsh working conditions in the mines. Many grieved until they died that they did not have the opportunity to bury their parents who had died in Kythera. 

Difficulties

American society was rather hostile to the poor immigrants during the early decades of the 20th Century. It severely mistreated them and ethnic discrimination was widespread. For example, a sign in a shop read "Dogs and Greeks are not allowed to enter." American immigration policy aimed at Americanizing and assimilating the immigrants. Our compatriots shortened or changed their surnames so they would be taken as Anglo Saxons. For example, Kostas became Gus Theodore became Ted; Stavros became Steve; Katerina became Carrie. They were afraid to speak Greek outside their homes. This is one reason why second generation youth did not go to afternoon Greek language school. Since, however, they needed to communicate with their Greek-speaking parents at home, most of the American-born second generation speak Greek adequately but do not know how to write or read it.

Military Service

The explosion of the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 intensely stirred the Greeks of America. Many returned to Greece and joined the army (Kalligeros, 1998). After the war most of them returned to the United States. In connection to the Balkan Wars we reference Conomos, Simos and George Notaras. Among veterans of World War II we find John Carvounis, Nick Cominos, Miltiades Alfieris and Nick Andronikos.

Businesses

After the first few difficult years, our compatriots learned a little English and, having saved a small amount of money began to look for better employment opportunities. They often established their own businesses such as fruit and vegetable stands, markets, restaurants and other similar service businesses. During the period of 1913 to 1920, there were several Kytherian businesses in Northern California. 

The Cominos brothers and the Vlastaris from Dourianika owned and operated the Cominos Grill in Monterey, California. 

In 1914 Dimitrios J. Coumbis opened the Liberty Café in San Francisco.

Dimitrios Aronis (Lokos), arriving in California in 1909 and later becoming the secretary of the Panhellenic Group, owned the Coney Island restaurant. 

Apostolos Coumbis was a barber in San Francisco.

Marriage and Family

When they were financially ready to start families, the first Kytherian immigrants wrote to their relatives in Kythera to find and send prospective brides because they could not find Greek wives in America (Demou, 1996). Some returned to the fatherland and chose a bride for themselves, married and brought their wives to America. 

We must stress here that the role of the Kytherian wife and mother was to be actively involved in the well being of the family by supporting the husband in the family business and handling the needs of the growing children according to Greek standards and principles. 

Vasiliki Demou, in her 1994 sociological research regarding the role of the immigrant Kytherian woman in the beginning of the 20th Century, describes values a mother passed on. She gave her daughter the advice that, above all else, she ought to become a good homemaker (nikokira). She warned her daughter to be watchful of how others viewed her behavior (ti tha pi o cosmos? What will people say?). The Kytherian mother raised her children according to Greek traditions. She taught them the Greek language; she taught them Kytherian and other Greek dances; and she kept them active in the Greek Orthodox religion. She also volunteered in church groups. She may have been increasingly involved in Kytherian and other Greek organizations. The presidents of the Kytherian Societies of California and Baltimore, for example, have been women in recent years. 

The Greek Orthodox Church

In addition to meeting the religious needs of Kytherian immigrants in America, the church played a very important ethnic and social role in their lives. Local churches brought together our compatriots for every religious, ethnic, family and social expression and event. Within the church community, Kytherians participated in building the churches and associated schoolrooms, social and athletic halls and senior citizens' homes. 

Every Sunday the churches are full with our faithful Greek compatriots and non-Greek converts who participate in the Liturgy while their children attend Sunday School classes. Today, the Liturgy is conducted primarily in English so the non-Greek speaking attendees can follow the service. After the Liturgy everyone gathers in the church's social hall for coffee to discuss news from Greece and to share interests. 

Every year each church organizes a 3-day fund-raiser festival in which all parishioners volunteer. They serve Greek food and provide Greek music and dancing. Thousands of fans of Greek cuisine and folk dancing attend these festivals. During National Celebration Day events, each community gathers to see their children recite poetry, sing Greek songs, and perform Greek dances. In the recent past, the San Francisco Metropolitan Anthony established the Folk Dancing Festival (FDF), a yearly event in which Greek Orthodox children from the Western United States parishes participate in a 3-day dancing competition.

Education

Because the early period immigrants were poor, they soon realized that only through education could they overcome their harsh living conditions. For that reason, they greatly emphasized education for their children, symbolizing the word "education" as the primary means to prosperity. Most Kytherian immigrant children have been well-educated and have become successful businessmen, distinguished educators and scientists.

In almost all Greek Orthodox churches, Greek language schools offer weekly, two-hour lessons to Greek children on weekday afternoons or Saturday mornings. With the passing of time the newer generations have assimilated into the American culture, and for the most part, do not speak Greek in the home. Nevertheless, many parents send their children to Greek language schools so they can learn the language of their heritage. 

In the Western States there are approximately 50 church communities that offer these classes for both beginning and intermediate students. Greek language schools in America operate under the auspices of the United States Archdiocese. Some full-time, daily attendance American-Greek schools exist, especially in New York and Chicago. 

The Greek government provides teaching materials free of charge. It organizes seminars in Greece and abroad for trainees and also offers hospitality training in Greece to students of Greek descent. Four educational offices in the United States each have expert professionals who coordinate and facilitate these services.

The Kytherian Press

The Kytherian Press is essential because it keeps the Kytherians of the Diaspora informed about conditions and developments on the island. At the same time it keeps the residents of Kythera updated on news of Kytherians abroad. The English language section of the newspaper is useful to the younger generations of our compatriots who do not speak Greek. The summer English language newspaper, Kythera, is published on the island.

Financial Support for the Fatherland

Kytherian immigrants in America have always economically supported the Fatherland and its families. During World War II, they regularly sent parcels filled with clothing and supplies in addition to their donations to the fund-raising War Relief Drive. Even today generous donations are made to such causes as assisting the victims of the 2000 earthquake and to charitable organizations, churches and monasteries on Kythera. Splendid examples are the following: 

Michalis Semitekolos from New York is a great benefactor of the hospital and the high school in Kythera. 

Donors to the Gerokomio (old people's home) include Theodore Souris, Peter Notaras of San Francisco, and the brothers John and Bill Souris of St. Louis, Missouri.

The Kytherian Societies in America send donations for roads, schools, the Gerokomio, and numerous other needs.

With the cooperation of the Greek Education Coordinator's office in San Francisco, the Demos municipality of Kythera sponsored an educational visit of Greek-American children to the island in July of 2000. Examples of financial support and help to the fatherland by Kytherian immigrants, such as those described here, were mentioned to the students. The purpose was to make them aware of the importance of such generous contributions to help meet the needs of Kythera's residents. The students visited Kythera's hospital and Gerokomio. They were deeply touched and donated 27,000 drachmas of their own money to the Gerokomio.

Kytherian Organizations and Distinguished Compatriots in America

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

The Kytherian Association of New York was formed in 1919 with Stefanos Fatseas as its first president. He owned the Rockasy Restaurant at 42nd Street (P. Panaretos, 2001). In 2001 there were approximately 500 members. They gather to cut the Vasilopita at a picnic by the sea. They hold a yearly dance and have artoclasia on September 24th each year. They participate in the March 25 parade on 5th Avenue, carrying along the Kytherian labarum. They donated the icon of Panaghia Myrtidiotisa and placed it in a beautiful throne in the Holy Trinity Cathedral in New York. Their descendants are well-educated and have become medical doctors, attorneys, successful financiers and business persons. The U.S. ambassador to Greece is a member of New York's Kytherian Society in that his parents were from the village of Kalamos. There is a provision in the Society's constitution to provide assistance to the sick and the poor of Kytherian descent. The Society pays for doctors' bills, funeral expenses and even transportation of deceased bodies for burial in Kythera.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

The Kytherian Brotherhood of Baltimore, Maryland was founded in 1930 with Dimitrios Georgeopoulos (James George) serving as its first president. In 2001 it had 150 members. Their archives are kept at the library of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Baltimore. The library was founded and supervised for many years by Theodore Georgopoulos, a retired schoolteacher from the village of Karavas. Panagiotis Georgopoulos paid for carrying out the water project in the village of Karavas. Ioanna Souris (Joanne Dietz) served as president of the society for ten years. This group donated the Bishop's throne in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Baltimore, and they also contributed to the Greek mausoleum. Each year they celebrate the Myrtidiotisa with an artoclasia on September 24.

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

The Society of St. Louis, Missouri, was founded in 1918 with 77 members. The first governing board included:

N. Lourandos, president

Anthony Kasimatis, vice-president

Theodore Leotsinis, treasurer

Anthony Stathis, secretary. 

In 1933 the group renamed itself "The Kytherian Society" as its members had made frequent trips to Kythera which generated new interest and excitement. Each year they, too, celebrate the Myrtidiotisa with an artoclasia on September 24 and include a mnimosimo (memorial service) to commemorate their beloved deceased relatives. Contributions are sent as charitable donations to the Gerokomio, hospital, churches, etc. The Kytherian Society of St. Louis currently has 48 active members, and Andrew Kasimatis is the president. A large number of member families have the surnames, Cominos, Pavlakis, Kasimatis and Leotsinis. 

It is worth noting one of the deceased members of this St Louis' Kytherian Society, Theodore Souris from Petrounion, Kythera. When Theodore graduated from high school in Kythera he traveled to St. Louis where his father and uncles resided. He completed his undergraduate studies at Wayne State University with a degree in chemical engineering. He later earned his Master's degree from Washington University in St. Louis. Subsequently he worked for the General Electric Company. He continued his scientific research and invented a very high endurance metallurgic composition, an alloy that he called "carbide." He patented this invention through the U.S. Patent Office. After he obtained sufficient funds he moved to Detroit where he founded the Carbide Technology Corporation, manufacturing car accessories made from this high endurance alloy. His company was quite successful in the American market. It held the 107th place among the 500 most successful privately owned companies in the United States. 

Another great benefactor from St. Louis was Theodore Souris. He entirely financed the building section of the Gerokomio for the housing and caring of disabled seniors. He died suddenly in 1990. His uncles, Bill and John Souris, made a generous donation of $10,000 to the Gerokomio in his memory.

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA

The Kytherian Society of California was founded in Oakland, California, on January 5, 1950. Its purpose was "to promote the interests of citizens and residents of the United States originating from the Island of Cythera." Its original name was "The Cytherian Brotherhood of General Koronaios." The group's seal portrays the image of General Koronaios, and around it is imprinted "Cytheran Brotherhood." General Koronaios took part in the Cretan revolution from 1866-1869 and commanded the revolutionary forces in the County of Rethimnon. (General Panos Koronaios' statue was placed in the platia in Potamos.) 

According to the 1950 constitution, the following were listed as founding members: 

George N. Cominos

Harry Alfieris

Demetrios Psaltis

Peter Batagios

Nikos Vardas

Thanasis (Arthur) Psaltis

Antonis Aroney

Fotis Sofios

Angelos Simotas

John Alfieris

Alexandros Bellecy

In 1997 the constitution was revised to meet current taxation requirements.

Each year the society celebrates the Myrtidiotisa with an artoclasia on September 24.

Distinguished Kytherian Compatriots

Among the many distinguished Kytherian compatriots in the United States, we point to the following:

JOHN ALFIERIS, born on Kythera in 1883, arrived in America in 1906 and died in 1966. He was an active member of the Kytherian Society and the Greek community in Oakland, California. He served as president of the local AHEPA. After his death the Senate of California expressed by vote its condolences and praised him for his civic contributions.

ANASTASIA CONDAS, a resident of Castro Valley, California, is the president and soul of the Kytherian Society of the Western United States. Every year, Anna collects funds to send to Kythera or to purchase commodities for groups or services in Kythera. She has sent money for chairs and blankets needed at the Gerokomio. She has purchased and/or took donations of musical instruments for the philharmonic orchestra of Potamos. She is a retired English language arts and reading specialist. She is a member of the governing board of Modern Greek Studies and the Nikos Kazantzakis chair at San Francisco State University. She actively serves in several other Greek-American organizations. She is a reporter/photographer for the Greek-American newspaper, The Hellenic Journal. 

NICK COMINOS (Vlastaris) from Dourianika is an emeritus University of Texas professor specializing in cinematography. He is a veteran of World War II and a member of the Greek Brigade.

JOHN B. CONOMOS owns a commercial painting business in Pennsylvania. John Theodore Megaloconomos started it in 1898. Today the business employs approximately 300 workers who paint a great number of bridges and buildings in the Central U.S. region.

DR. T. JOHN CONOMOS is a world-renowned hydrologic researcher. A few years ago he was presented with a special award and was cited by the then U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbit, as a world leader in the definition of estuarine processes, and as an exceptional administrator of the department's water research program.

PANAGIOTIS (PAN PERICLES) COUKOULIS of Long Beach is a distinguished psychologist and psychoanalyst who earned two doctorate degrees. He served earlier as vice president of the Kytherian Society of California. He grew up in Kythera in the villages of Petrounion and Katsoulianika.

VASILIKI DEMOU is a professor of Sociology at the Moris University in Minnesota. She is a distinguished researcher on Kytherian women in America and Australia. Vasiliki's grandmother was from Christoforianika.

KALLIOPI KALOKAIRINOS from Pitsinianika. She left a significant amount of money to the Church of the Assumption in San Francisco. Her contribution was used to build a room for special celebratory events. It was named "The Kytherian Room" and contains a wall plaque with her name inscribed on it. She died on February 28, 1990.

JIM LEONIS, an artist of Kytherian descent, created a mosaic of Panaghia Myrtidiotisa and donated it to the San Francisco Assumption Cathedral. It is placed in a well-situated site within the sanctuary.

PETER NOTARAS settled in San Francisco in 1965 and is an orthodontist in the suburb of Lafayette, California. He grew up in Wisconsin where his father, George Notaras (Belagienias) from the village of Friligianika, had settled in 1910. George Notaras operated a candy store business. In memory of Peter's mother, Kiparisoula, the family made a donation of $25,000 to the Gerokomio.

BETTY PROTOPSALTIS, sometimes referred to as "Lady Duncan," was a distinguished university professor at San Francisco State University. She is now a resident of London. Through the London-based Ionian Club where she served as president and continues to be very active, she has been helping charitable institutions in Kythera such as the Gerokomio and the philharmonic orchestra of Potamos.

JOHN TZANNES, an artist from the village of Chora, has a studio in New York and owns a home in Kipriotianika.

JUAN VARGAS, an artist of Kytherian descent, began his career in Paris, France. He eventually lived in Sausalito, a suburb of San Francisco, California. One of his well-known works is exhibited at the art museum in Oakland, California.

TAKIS ZES (son-in-law of Stamatoula Chlentzos of Christoforianika) is a retired San Jose State University music professor emeritus. He is an active composer and conductor. Takis has directed several choir groups in the Western United States. 

Proposals for Maintaining and Strengthening Relationships with Kytherians Abroad

Create educational and cultural exchange programs between youths of Kytherian descent who live abroad and those who live here in Kythera. Establish a sisterhood relationship between schools in Kythera and Kytherian community schools abroad. 

Organize a network of communication and exchange work through the Internet.

Maintain an ongoing website in Greek and English that shows a detailed map of Kythera, highlights sites on Kythera worth visiting, offers an historical summary of the island's history, describes noteworthy projects in Kythera that are under construction or consideration, displays Kythera's demographic data, lists opportunities for financial subsidies, and gives updates of news in Kythera.

Create videos of Kythera with English narrative and send them to all the Kytherian societies of the Diaspora.

Offer scholarships to young people of Kytherian origin both in Greece and abroad to encourage study of Kythera. 

Set aside and offer publicly owned land for the construction of a prototype Kytherian "village" in which Kytherians from abroad may build suitable visiting accommodations. Subsequently provide hospitality services to visiting Kytherians within the village. This would be beneficial to both the visiting Kytherians as well as to the municipality.

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Bibliography and other Informative Sources

Documents

The Greek Communities of the Western Sates of North America.

Prometheus, San Francisco, California 1918. 

By-laws of the General Koronaios Brotherhood.

Oakland, California, 1950

Hellenism and the United States Constructions

Hellenic Association for American Studies. 

Edited by S. Paschalides. Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, 

Essay on pages 175-183, "Constructions of Ethnicity among Greek Kytherian Daughters in the United States."

Demou Vasiliki, 1994. 

Sojourning Into the Field: Reflections on a Researcher's Experiences in making Local-Global Connections among Women in Kytherian Greek Communities, a Sociological Focus. Vol., 29, 1, (pp.1-13). Demou Vasiliki, 1994. 

Ellis Island Archives in New York (1892 to 1954). www.ellisislandrecords.org

Hellenism in America and its Activity, Zoustis, Vasilios

The History of the Greek Archdiocese of North and South, New York, 1954

Here Aphrodite Was Born, a Synoptic History of Kythera, Kalligeros, Emmanuel P. (1998). Published by Kytheriaka, Athens, Greece.

The Constitution of the Kytherian Brotherhood of New York (1919)

The Didactirion of the High School in Kythera, Stathis, Spiros (1934)

Interviews

Stamatoula Chlentzos-Mavromatis from Christoforianika, age 94

Oral interview, Hayward California, August 2001

Panagiotis Coukoulis, Psychologist and Psychoanalyst

Oral interview, Long Beach, California, August 30, 2001

Panaretos, Panagiotis of the Kytherian Society of New York. 

Telephone interview September 2, 2001

Patrikiou-Djane, Demetra of the Kytherian Society of New York.

Telephone interview, September 2, 2001

Megalokonomou, Despina of the Kytherian Society of Baltimore.

Telephone interview, September 5, 2001

Dietz, Joanne of the Kytherian Society of Baltimore.

Telephone interview, September 5, 2001

Notaras, Peter, Orthodontist, San Francisco, California

Telephone interview, September 3, 2001


   © KSOCA 2012