eyes on the U.S.

Crisis Sends Greek Emigrants - Some For A Second Time - To 'Little Greece' Of NY

Official numbers are next to impossible to come by, but the ongoing debt crisis in Greece seems to be sparking a new wave of New York-bound emigration. For some, like "Mike" from Astoria, Queens, this is actually their second stint in th

A Greek bakery in New York (flickr4jazz)
A Greek bakery in New York (flickr4jazz)
Claire Gatinois

NEW YORK - It's been just about a year since Michaelis Klouvas came back to live in Astoria, a section of Queens, New York that is also known as "Little Greece." During his two-decade absence, the area has changed. The influence of his native country, so present before his departure, seems to have faded. Klouvas finds that Astoria is more mixed now, more Latino. "Before, there were Greek restaurants. Greek shops. Signs everywhere in Greek," he recalls.

Klouvas explains that once they had made enough money, a lot of Greeks packed up and headed for the more upscale suburbs on Long Island or in New Jersey. Others, like him, went back to Greece.

"Biggest mistake of my life," he says. "But my wife wanted the family back together again." That was in 1988, about 20 years after Klouvas first came to America to join his father, a carpenter, who'd emigrated to New York to seek his fortune. The situation back in Greece had improved a lot, so Klouvas – who now goes by the name "Mike" – decided along with many other of his exiled compatriots to go home.

For Klouvas, the first years back in Athens were admittedly quite nice. Business was good. There was plenty of money to go around. He opened a successful restaurant called Arxomani. "People used to line up to get in," he recalls. But then the crisis ruined everything. In three years, the country saw its GDP drop 11%. Unemployment jumped to 20%. People from the working and middle classes were hardest hit.

Subsidies, pensions and minimum salaries were all cut. "Today, in Greece, there isn't enough money to buy clothes, let alone go to a restaurant," says Klouvas.

More than 60 years old, white-haired but still chirpy, Klouvas decided to start all over again and head, once more, to the United States. He now works two jobs: one, as head manager of a restaurant that is about to open; the other as a waiter. Needless to say, he works long hours. "From 8 a.m. to sometimes 2 a.m. the next morning," he says. It's the price he must pay to have a little bit of money stashed away before his wife and two daughters arrive from Greece later this spring.

Tapping into old-school social networks

How many others are in the same situation? It's impossible to say with any certainty. While some Greeks have taken the steps to acquire residency papers, or are in the long process of applying for them, others are likely living in Astoria illegally. But there are definitely signs that immigration from Greece is on the rise. Last year the number of Greeks who flew into New York via JFK airport was up 20% compared to 2006. And at the Immigration Advocacy Services in Astoria, a nonprofit organization that helps newcomers navigate residency paperwork, staff have observed a 50% rise in Greek clients in just the past year.

It's safe to imagine too that given Greece's ongoing economic problems, there are plenty more who would like to make the trip. "All the Greeks want to come live here," says Spiro, a heavyset young Astoria resident who was born in the United States – and has the America flag tattooed on his right arm.

New York isn't, of course, the only landing point for U.S.-bound Greeks. But the community of Astoria remains a real magnet for many because of the personal ties people still have: often immigrants already have a brother, sister or parent living in Queens, something that can provide both a practical and psychological boost.

Stratos – who goes by the name "Steve" – is a case in point. The friendly 42-year-old arrived in Astoria about two months ago. He barely speaks English, but he dreams about a career as a soccer coach. For now he makes his living working as a clerk in small grocery shop owned by a friend of his mother's.

But for others, those without family members or connections, coming to the United States is a challenge, and a risk. "Back in my day, it was much easier," says Elias Tsekerides, president of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York, an organization that promotes Greek culture.

Tsekerides, who arrived in 1963 and has two children he proudly calls "Greek-Americans," says he often receives letters or phone calls from people in Greece asking for help or advice about how emigrate. "People have sent me their resumes. But we're not an employment agency," he says.

Still, for the Greek families who stayed put in Astoria, there's something comforting about this second generation of arrivals. It's hard to say for sure, but at the recent Greek Independence Day Parade, the turnout seemed bigger than usual.

Read the original article in French

Photo - flickr4jazz

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Society

Colombian Gen Z Wins Battle For The Right To Have Blue Hair At Graduation

A determined student's victory for freedom of hair in conservative Colombia.

Expressing herself

Alidad Vassigh

BUCARAMANGA — It may not be remembered alongside same-sex marriage or racial justice, but count it as another small (and shiny) victory in the battle for civil rights: an 18-year-old Colombian student whose hair is dyed a neon shade of blue has secured the right to participate in her high school graduation, despite the school's attempt to ban her from the ceremony because of the color of her hair.

Leidy Cacua, an aspiring model in the northeastern town of Bucaramanga, launched a public battle for her right to graduate with her classmates after the school said her hair violated its social and communal norms, the Bogota-based daily El Espectador reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ