By Alex Mizan*
On Saturday, November 20th , 2010 the American Hellenic Institute held its 9th Annual “Future of Hellenism” conference in at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles. The conference was well attended by both members of the local Greek-American community and by active Greek-Americans who flew in from all corners of the country to exchange ideas and information about various subjects.
The conference was co-sponsored by local organizations such as the American Hellenic Council, AHEPA District 20 and the Greek Heritage Society of Southern California. It addressed issues regarding politics, education, business, entertainment, culture, religion and youth.
The honorary guest of the conference was acclaimed actor John Aniston who received the AHI Hellenic Heritage Achievement Award.
The conference opened with a general overview of where Greek-American organizations are heading. The attendees were addressed by 2010 Ahepan of the Year Costa “Chachi” Tzavaras. He spoke about the necessity and importance of grass roots revitalization of our local communities by fostering meaningful interpersonal relations. Paul Kotrotsios, publisher of the Hellenic News and organizer of the annual Hermes Expo mentioned the need for cooperation among all organizations and involvement of our youth.
Greek-American Congressman Gus Bilirakis & AHC President Michael Galanakis discussed the need for more political involvement at the grass-roots level on behalf of the community. They stressed the fact that Greek-Americans should be more involved in the political process by fundraising and holding officials accountable when it comes to issues of concern to the community.
HBO Miniseries President Kary Antholis and John Aniston discussed the role of the community in the entertainment industry and how we can promote our values, ideals and culture through film to the broader world.
Keynote speaker Professor Dan Georgakas discussed the development of modern technology and how it affects our relations with Greece, our families in Greece, our contact with the mother country, our language and identity. He stressed that the radical developments in transportation and telecommunications encourage multiculturalism more than ever. While at the same time, they allow us to be constantly informed and updated about developments hundreds of miles away.
The first topic covered in the afternoon session was Greek-American education. AHI President Aleco Haralambides spoke in detail about the Greek Charter School that his father founded in Miami, Florida and how it has been used and should be used as a model for future endeavors. Dr. Thomas Gallant and Professor Demetrios Liappas spoke about the state and future of the Greek language and culture; both ancient and modern in US higher educational institutions. Helen Dumas discussed the challenges faced by elementary and secondary Greek schools in America.
Afterwards, cultural and religious identity issues were extensively discussed by a panel comprised of Rev. John Bakas of Saint Sophia Cathedral, Professor of Archeology and Classics at UCLA John Papadopoulos, Dr. Angelyn Balodimas-Bartolomei & AHI Board member Nick Karambelas.
The next subject addressed by the conference was a variety of study abroad programs that exist between the U.S. and Greece. Dr. Jim Dimitriou, Director of the AHEPA “Journey to Greece” program, Art Dimopoulos, coordinator of the National Hellenic Society Study Abroad Program and AHI Director Nick Larigakis shared with the audience the experiences, challenges and benefits of maintaining study abroad programs. They stressed that such programs are the most critical elements in keeping first and second generation Greek-Americans linked to their roots.
This view was shared by actual past American-born attendees of these programs such as Michael Savvas of San Diego and Joseph Skarzenski of Los Angeles. Both of themtogether with Radio Neo & Neo Magazine Contributor Joanna Xipa, spoke highly of how their trips to Greece provided a once-in-a-lifetime experience that made them truly connect to their heritage, their motherland and even how to better relate to their parents and grandparents.
Other key participants included Kyriakos Tsakopoulos of AKT Development who gave the opening remarks for the conference and Demetrios Boutris of the Boutris Group. The event was also attended by active young Greek -American students, members of the National Hellenic Student Association of America and the Hellenic Business Network.
While the conference concluded with the remarks of acclaimed writer Professor Van Coufoudakis at about 6:00 pm, many of the attendees stayed longer extending the discussions in private gatherings.
*Alex Mizan is the Director of American Hellenic Council