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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 4 February 2017
8 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 4 FEBRUARY 2017 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Chicago: Greeks of the ‘Second City’ ALEXANDER BILLINIS There is something about Chicago that is so quintessentially American. Chicago is almost in the middle of America, and like so many places in this country, it is an indigenous name (in Chicago's case, the term is Illinois Indian for ‘smelly onion’). The city is all-American yet an absolute mosaic of nationalities, much like the country itself. Lacking the stunning physical setting of New York or San Francisco, or the history of a Charleston or a Boston, it is truly a city of will, a triumph of architecture over topography and geography. Though founded before the American Civil War (18611865), the city took off in the 1870s, as the country rapidly recovered from the Civil War and the opening up of the west. A number of anchor industries arrived, most notably meat packing and railways, which sent product east and ferried immigrants west. Out of their New York or New England ports of entry, European immigrants rode the rails west. First Irish, German, and Polish, but at the turn of the 20th century, a wave of Balkan immigrants streamed westward. While a small number of Greeks had established themselves in Chicago from the 1880s, and the first Chicago Church, Annunciation, was established in 1892, Greek immigrants arrived en masse in the years just before the Balkan Wars, as the failures of the Peloponnesian current crop, the bankruptcy following the 1897 Greek-Turkish War, and a general overpopulation in Greece drove Greeks, particularly ablebodied men, abroad. Chicago stood at the centre of American rail, lake and river traffic, and in such a location jobs were plentiful and the Greeks' entrepreneurial bent had many outlets. In spite of the ‘Second City’ being the second-largest Greek American community, with about 200,000 Greek Americans, an astonishing- ly large percentage of Greek Chicagoans hail from the same villages in the Peloponnesus, in particular the villages around Tripolis. Chicago is a case study in chain migration, as relatives and fellow villagers sponsored others to come over, and this process continued for several generations, and included plenty of two-way traffic. Even at the turn of the previous century, journalists and sociologists remarked on the immigrants' Spartan or Tripolipolitan origin, though most had not lived in these towns but rather the surrounding villages. Visiting koumbari (Orthodox spiritual relatives) in Argos, my koumbaros con- stantly pointed to this or that house or business belonging to someone from Chicago, or returned from Chicago. When we lived in Greece, I dubbed the motorway from Corinth to Tripolis as ‘The Chicago Freeway’. It is difficult to ascertain numbers, but multiple long-time Greek Chicagoans agree that the percentage of Peloponnesians among Greek Chicagoans is well over 50 per cent, and of them, nearly half are Arcadians. A source from Chicago's National Hellenic Museum divided the percentages as roughly one-third Arcadian, onethird other Peloponnesian, and one-third from the rest of Greece. Aside from the major role of the church, fraternal and regional organisations played a key role in Greek American social history, and Chicago was at the forefront of these movements. AHEPA (the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) no longer has the same hold on Greek America as it did, say, a generation ago, but their chapters remain strong in Chicago. While regionally-based syllogoi are fading in the smaller Greek communities, the large Greek population in Chicago, with its large proportion of Arcadians and other Peloponnesians, still supports active regional organisations.
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11 February 2017