Greek Americans Discover their Hellenic Heritage in College

Students of the Ikaros Hellenic Orthodox Club at New York City’s 2019 Greek Parade. Photo Courtesy of Alexandra Liotopoulos/Queens College

For Greek-American students who attend Queens College in Flushing, New York, it’s never too late to rediscover one’s heritage and learn more about where they come from.

While there has been a notable trend of fewer and fewer people identifying with their Greek roots, there has also been a recent movement of redefining cultural connection. This is especially true for recent third and fourth-generation Greek-Americans attending the university.

Throughout the 20th century, there was a growing movement towards Americanization for immigrants who came to the U.S., with this also being the case for many native-born Greeks.

Suddenly, many Greek immigrants found themselves in a cultural tug-of-war where they had to negotiate their own heritage with American values.

Coupled with the fact that a majority of the community would become American-born within the next generation, a trend emerged where people started to distance themselves from their Greek roots.

Today, however, this trend is being challenged. With technology, the Greek diaspora has been given the ability to access information and media from Greece and all around the world.

This opportunity has given many Greek-Americans the chance to experience aspects of their culture and of Greece previously inaccessible to previous generations. The result is a new-found interest and openness in exploring their cultural heritage.

In college especially, more recognition is being given to programs that help promote this connection between students and their background. In institutions like Queens College, programs in Modern Greek Studies are becoming more prominent.

Courses ranging from “Byzantine Culture and Civilization,” “The Greek-American Community” and “Greek Cinema” offer students the chance to learn more about the Greek experience.

Another aspect of the program includes courses that give students the opportunity to learn the Modern Greek language as well as read Greek literature translated into English for them.

On top of this, there’s also the Ikaros Hellenic Orthodox Club of Queens College, which unites students of Greek descent. This community also allows them to participate in traditions including dance, religion, and food.

At Ohio State University, professor and scholar Yiorgos Anagnostou supports this sentiment of new-found interest of Greek heritage in regards to his own students, saying “while definitely participants in American society, they cultivate connections with Greece via study abroad programs, family visits, or even social media and the internet.”

For younger Greek Americans, it seems that later in life they begin to want to know more about their past and redefine it through their own lenses.

One can only know if this renewed interest amongst recent generations will translate well to reinvigorating the movement of trying to reconnect with and promote Greek heritage.