Greek immigration

2011-02-14 12:38:31

Greeks emigrated from their homeland and from many parts of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire beginning in the 1890s, forming one of the most homogeneous ethnic groups in North America. In the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 1,153,307 Americans and 215,105 Canadians claimed Greek descent. The largest concentrations of Greek settlement are in New York, California, Illinois, and Massachusetts in the United States and Toronto and Montreal in Canada.
Greece occupies 50,400 square miles of the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. Albania, Macedonia, and Bulgaria lie to the north, and Turkey, to the east. In 2002, the population was estimated at 10,623,835, 98 percent of whom were Greek; 98 percent also claimed their religion as Greek Orthodox. During the second millennium B.C., Greeks developed one of the most sophisticated cultures in the world. Population growth and a lack of natural resources forced thousands to migrate during the first millennium B.C., leading to the establishment of Greek colonies throughout the Mediterranean coastal regions of Europe, including the island of Cyprus. Although the Greek citystates managed to resist Persian invasions early in the fifth century B.C., they fell under the domination of the Macedonian Alexander the Great, who nevertheless spread Greek culture from the eastern Mediterranean to the gates of India. Greece was conquered by the Romans in the second century B.C., became part of the Byzantine Empire after the fall of Rome in 476, and was transferred to the Ottoman Empire after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The Greek war of independence (1821–29) led to the establishment of the first independent Greek state in 2,000 years. The destruction of the war also led American missionaries to sponsor several dozen Greek immigrants, mostly orphans. Between the 1820s and World War I (1914–18), Greece and Turkey were frequently at odds over territories with mixed populations, including Crete, Cyprus, and coastal regions of western mainland Turkey. Greece suffered a disastrous defeat in the Greco-Turkish War of 1921–23, leading more than 1.25 million Greeks in Turkey and more than 400,000 Turks in Greece to return to their home regions. Greece joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1952, becoming a cornerstone of the western cold war effort. In 1982, Greece joined the European Community (later the European Union), the first country in eastern Europe to do so and steadily moved toward integrating its economy with Europe generally.
Exact figures for Greek immigration are difficult to determine, as immigrants were usually classified according to country of birth. A significant number of Greeks, therefore, were included in figures for Turkey, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Egypt. The first significant Greek colony in North America was founded in 1768 at New Smyrna, Florida, near St. Augustine. Between 1768 and the abandonment of the colony in 1777, about 450 Greek, Italian, and Corsican settlers traveled to the region. By 1860, fewer than 400 Greeks lived in the United States. Poor economic conditions in Greece in the 1880s led to a massive wave of emigration between 1890 and 1924, when more than 500,000 immigrated to the United States, most notably from Laconia and Arcadia provinces in southern Greece. Between 1901 and 1920, tens of thousands of Greeks left the Ottoman Empire for the United States, fleeing persecution. More than 80 percent of the immigrants were men, most of whom went to work in New England mills and factories, western railroads and mines, or in northern urban factories and service industries. Most intended to return to Greece after earning a sufficient sum of money, though less than one-third actually did so. As the United States became more xenophobic after World War I, hostility toward Greeks and other eastern Europeans increased, leading to a number of restrictive immigration measures between 1917 and 1924. In 1921, the last year of relatively open immigration, 28,000 Greeks immigrated to the United States; under provisions of the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, annual immigration was limited to100, though the number was increased to 307 by the end of the decade. Legal petitions, mostly for the reunification of families, led to the immigration of almost 11,000 between 1924 and 1929. Many of the 30,000 Greek immigrants between 1925 and 1945 came as picture brides. After World War II (1939–45), a Greek civil war (1946–49) led to widespread displacements and the admission of some 75,000 Greeks during the following two decades, many under various refugee and displaced persons acts. With passage of the nonquota Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965, about 160,000 Greeks immigrated during the 1960s and 1970s. Since 1980, the numbers continuously declined, averaging fewer than 1,000 per year between 1998 and 2002.
Although a few Greek sailors visited Canada prior to the 19th century, the first settlements were established following the Greek war of independence. By 1900, however, there were still fewer than 300 Greeks in Canada, mostly young men who considered themselves as sojourners who eagerly hoped to return to their homeland. Though Greece’s preindustrial economy and heavy taxation and Ottoman oppression in Turkey provided great impetus for emigration, Greeks were not admitted in large numbers to Canada, which preferred skilled agriculturalists. By 1931, when depression stopped almost all immigration to Canada, there were still only 9,450 Greeks in the country. More liberal regulations after World War II, however, led to a significant increase in immigration. Many of the refugees who were admitted in the late 1940s and early 1950s started an extensive chain migration of family members. Between 1946 and 1970, more than 100,000 Greeks immigrated to Canada. The immigration peaked in 1967, declining thereafter as the economy improved, political stability returned, and new labor opportunities became available in Germany and other European countries. During the mid-1970s, there was a brief surge in immigration of Greek Cypriots, when 200,000 Greeks were driven from their homes by a Turkish invasion. By the late 1990s, the Greek Cypriot community, centered in the Toronto area, numbered 25,000. Although Canadian Greeks were traditionally less inclined to marry outside their group, by the 1990s it was becoming common, leading to a loss of a distinctive Greek cultural identity. Of 75,770 Greek immigrants living in Canada in 2001, only 7,000 immigrated after 1981.