Aug 9, 2012

Nikos Deja Vu - The Greek Texans (document)

The Greek Texans
A very interesting article I found by mistake at the University of Texas - Institute of Texan Cultures! Here it is:

Greeks and people of Greek heritage came to the Americas and Texas mostly between 1890 and 1920. Greece has been a colonizing country for some 2,500 years; thus, some Greeks came from Greece itself, others from satellite colonies in the Middle East. Many Greek colonials were expelled from Turkey during warfare. In Greece economic depression at the turn of the century, overpopulation, and—not incidentally—social customs such as an expensive dowry system that had to accompany marriage, drove many individuals to seek fortunes elsewhere.

Greek emigrants to Texas went directly into cities. Here, the typical single man would work in a low-paying job until he had earned the money to open his own business. If he met with success, and most did, this prosperity led to a trip home for a marriage and a quick return to Texas.

But the first to arrive were rather different adventurers. Captain Nicholas, who never admitted another name, was a young pirate who sailed the schooner Arabella as part of Jean Laffite's buccaneer fleet. Coming into his share of luck, Nicholas tried to settle down by buying himself a Karankawa bride (for 10 pounds of sugar and an undisclosed quantity of rum), lost her in a storm, sailed with Laffite off Yucatán, survived yellow fever, escaped wrecks, and returned to Galveston on board a Texas Navy ship in 1842. The apparently indestructible captain finally did settle down in Galveston, living both by his wits as a storyteller in the port city and as a farmer. Just a few days before his 100th birthday, still going strong, Nicholas died in the Galveston storm of 1900.

Some individuals of Greek descent came early to Texas on very different business. Colonel Francisco Garay, with General Urrea during the Texas Revolution, managed to save a few men from the Palm Sunday massacre at Goliad. Born of Greek parents, Garay had served the Mexican Republic as consul at Gibraltar and attaché in London before joining the army and finding himself in Texas as part of a very bloody revolution.

Later Greeks, seeing Texas as a home, stayed and formed small communities. Galveston, as Texas's leading seaport before the rise of Houston, was a lure to fishermen, sailors, and merchants. There, joining with Orthodox Syrians, Serbians, and Russians, the Greeks helped build the SS. Constantine and Helen Orthodox Church, where the first priest, the Greek Theoclitos Triantafilides, conducted services in Greek, Russian, and Serbian.

Some individuals worked their way to Galveston as seamen, leaving ship there for other lives; others abandoned railroad work for urban Texas settings; many lived elsewhere before moving on; and a few had heard about Texas and took it as their first choice. In an era when women did not travel singly or alone, most women were brought as brides.

Typically individualistic as Greeks are, Faithon P. Lucas, a cafe owner in Dallas, summarized immigrant feeling after he was called a “damn foreigner.”

“Friend,” Lucas remarked calmly, “I am ashamed that I was not born here, but I came as quickly as I could.” This might have been remark enough, but holding his accuser's eye, he continued, “And I have done my best to be worthy of America. But I am just as ashamed as your grandfather was when he arrived.”

Greek urban communities typically centered around the church or social societies. By the 1940s communities existed in all of Texas's larger cities—San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Galveston—and also in Waco, Austin, Wichita Falls, El Paso, Port Arthur, and San Angelo.

March 25, Greek Independence Day, has been observed officially in Texas since the governor's proclamation in 1943 of “Greek Independence in Texas.” The day is marked in homes, churches, and community centers with a feast, costumed dances, religious services, and speeches.

The church is the focus for most of the Greek festival days, which include Christmas Eve midnight services; gifts on New Year's (St. Basil's Day, although this is yielding to today's commercial Christmas); the blessing of the waters at port cities on Epiphany; somber Good Friday processions; and the feast of Easter Sunday with its notable breads, pastries, cheeses, and in former years, roast lamb and costumed dancing.

And the Greek wedding may still extend in excess of the hour needed for the exchange of ceremony, although the duration is shorter than the former 10-day celebration. Also, to nearly everyone's delight, the dowry system has been mostly abandoned.

Ancient Greeks contributed much to Western culture—structures of literature and government, music and philosophy, science and drama; modern Greeks have helped construct Texas.

Nikos Deja Vu

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