AHEPA, Dialectics, drawers and the future of the Greek language in the 21st century
Along with the centenary of the Catastrophe in Asia Minor, which must be commemorated so that proper tribute can be paid to the victims of the genocide committed by the founders of today’s Turkey, that the ancient cradles of Hellenism in Anatolia remain indelibly etched in our collective memory, and to learn from the mistakes of the past, the Greek-American community celebrates two significant anniversaries this year. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and AHEPA celebrate their centenary this year.
A 100-year anniversary is remarkable on its own, but all the more so when those who celebrate it have a national presence, contributing to the organizational cohesion of the Greek-American community and shaping the policies and practices of our community life.
This article will focus on the centenary of AHEPA and its relationship with the Greek language, as well as its future prospects. AHEPA was founded in 1922 in Atlanta, Georgia, with the goal of advancing the integration of newly arrived Greek immigrants into mainstream society, defending their civil rights, and protecting them from racist attacks by organizations such as than the Ku Klux Klan.
Early on, in an attempt to hasten the acclimatization of immigrants, as well as combat the xenophobia particularly rampant in the south, AHEPA was criticized for being overzealous in promoting “the Americanism” to the detriment of the Hellenic identity of its members.
This provoked reactions within the Community which, alongside the defense of the civic rights of its members, was concerned with the preservation and propagation of the Orthodox faith, the Greek language and other elements of Hellenic identity. .
In 1923, AHEPA faced competition from GAPA (Greek American Progressive Association), which was created to function as its Hellenocentric “rival”, focusing on the preservation and use of the Greek language. In 1929, a manifesto addressed to officers and members of AHEPA was sent by the so-called “large conservative portion of our race throughout the United States of America”, criticizing the marginalization of the Greek language within the AHEPA. He proposed major reforms aimed at making Greek equal to English in both the constitution and the meetings of the Order. This document argued that these reforms were necessary to dispel the idea that the AHEPA was neglecting Hellenic identity, as well as to ensure greater incursion into the Community and better serve the new generation.
Nevertheless, these proposals were not adopted by the 1929 General Assembly. Instead, the then president of AHEPA published an article in his official magazine rejecting claims that the Greek language was overlooked, noting that the AHEPA constitution makes no mention of an “official language” and that any decision regarding the exclusion or use of a language in meetings is made locally at the prerogative of the president. He justifies the General Assembly’s decision not to include a reference to Greek in the constitution, calling the proposal superfluous.
Much has changed in the nine decades since. Following American society’s conscious embrace of multiculturalism beginning in the 1960s, as well as the transition of the Greek-American community from largely transitory migrants to permanent citizens, Greek-Americans have long since ceased to be targeted because of their ethnicity. It is almost certain that members of the Fellowship are currently more threatened by reverse racism and revivalism than by the racism that their Greek immigrant pioneer ancestors encountered in the early to mid-20e century.
Therefore, AHEPA must also evolve and change its priorities. Today, the role he is called upon to play has much more to do with the preservation and advancement of Hellenic cultural heritage than with building strong American citizens.
Although its constitution now expressly states that English is the official language of the Order, it also includes reference regarding the perpetuation, study, and advancement of Hellenic culture and traditions in the United States.
By all accounts, the Greek language is an integral part of this culture and functions as its “ark”. Therefore, looking to the future and its bicentenary, AHEPA should devote more attention and resources to the critical question of the Greek language. The question of Greek education in the United States concerns the whole community, not just the parochial communities left on their own to manage the Greek parochial schools until today. Speaking to AHEPA’s Region 7 conference in Connecticut, Mr. Antonis H. Diamataris, TNH/Ethnikos Kirix Editors’ Advisor, was fair when he proposed that AHEPA undertake to “build a school Greek in a big city. Its history and its deep roots in the Community make it too fundamental to shirk this important responsibility.
The Greek language remains a centerpiece of the Hellenic cultural heritage. It’s quite easy to discern feelings of admiration – even envy – that one receives from non-Greeks. For example, the ability to understand the Bible in its original language is something that fascinates many Americans of all different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and it is something that should not be overlooked… by the local Church or other major organizations that shape the community’s ‘soft’ approach to ‘power’.
A recent tweet from the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, containing the word “διαλεκτική” (dialectical) in the native Greek is another example of the status and importance of our ancestral language. Much like the response tweeted by a Greek user to someone who asked Mr. Musk why he was tweeting in “a dead language”, only to receive the zinger (loosely translated here): “what are you talking about, your pair of unwashed drawers?! ”
To avoid such comparisons with boxer shorts, we must not let stiffness and ideological complexes stand in the way of effective cultural diplomacy. Large organizations like AHEPA should play a leading role in the effort to spread the Greek language to the 21st century. Above all else, the medium and long-term relevance of these organizations justifies it; but more importantly, the survival of Hellenism in America.
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