Greece for Americans: From Aristotle to Athens, Astoria – and Loula

New York, NY.  “Hellas” – the Hellenic Republic – has intrigued me since by boyhood when I collected foreign postage stamps and had to ask my father to identify the origin of my beautiful stamp.  “Greece!,” my scholarly father told me.  I was hooked.  At the age of fifty, it is time I make my own pilgrimage to the birthplace of Democracy, of what has become a parliamentary republic.  The birthplace Western philosophy – Plato, Socrates, Aristotle – and the Olympic Games!  I am indeed honored to be invited this July to Athens to accept an award for my work with Orphans international Worldwide (OIWW).

The Acropolis of Athens, the pre-eminent European Cultural Heritage monument.

I am indeed honored to be invited this July to Athens to accept an award for my work with Orphans international Worldwide (OIWW).

Growing up in America, I learned in school of our patriot who stated, “Give me Liberty or Give me Death.”   Little did I know at the time that the Greek national motto was “Freedom or Death.”   Our own national anthem glorifies war, although a war for liberation.   Greece goes one step further, with its national anthem, A Hymn to Liberty.

In college I studied Asian culture, but I needed to know Western culture as a point of comparison.   I realize that Western theater, including both tragedy and comedy, was born in Greece.   Western literature itself has roots in Greece, including the works of Homer, The Iliad, and The Odyssey.

During college I lived in the international dorm where I enjoyed the friendship of many Greeks.   In New York City I lived for a while in Astoria, and got to know and admire many Greek-Americans.

The nation of Greece has had its share of invasions, including the Roman Empire.   It was last part of the Ottoman Empire, from which it gained independence as a Kingdom in only 1821.   The Kingdom was strangely connected to Bavaria.

I remember from high school world history class – and several recent movies – that Athens and Sparta led the way in repelling the Persian Empire, led by Alexander the Great who untied ancient Greece.   Greece joined the European Union in 1981, and today uses the ubiquitous Euro.

Despite the prominence of Greek-American Arianna Huffington, Americans
know little about Greece.   Greece borders four countries – name one!

I write on Global Citizens for the New York Times, Huffington Post, and now the Stewardship Report.   Despite the prominence of Greek-American Arianna (Stassinopoulos) Huffington, Americans know little about Greece.   I hope to learn more and then educate our readers about this great nation.

The average American has as much an idea where Greece is geographically than an average Greek would know exactly where Wichita was.   Actually, I myself am unsure where Wichita is.   I am more interested in Athens.

Mayor Bloomberg usually attends New York City’s Greek-American Parade.

I was invited to sit in the grand stand for the Greek Parade up Fifth Avenue last week and was amazed at the number of Greek-Americans, the vibrancy of the folkloric costumes and beauty of the children, the dignity of the Greek Parliamentary Guards who flew over for the occasion – and the many U.S. politicians, including Chuck Schumer, who attended.

The dignified Hellenic Parliamentary Guards who flew over for the NYC Greek-American Parade.

So to understand Greece, let us begin with the basics: Greece lies in southeastern Europe, on the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula.

Sadly, Americans are clueless about the Balkans as well, so I would remind my readers that Greece has land borders with Albania, Macedonia, and Bulgaria to the north – the area they may remember where World War I ignited.   To the East is Turkey – the former seat of the Ottoman Empire.

Ermoupouli, the capital of the Cyclades on the Greek Island of Syros.

Although familiar with how many Greek islands floated in the Aegean Sea to the east and the Mediterranean Sea to the south – the Indonesia of Europe – I was surprised to learn that Greece has the tenth longest coastline in the world (okay – only 1,400 vs. 10,000 from Aceh to Papua– but still impressive!)

The most famous of the Greek islands include Crete, Mykonos, the Dodecanese, the Cyclades, and towards Italy, the Ionian Islands.   I long to witness their natural beauty with my own eyes.

The mythical and enchanted Mount Olympus in northern Greece.
This view is from the town of Litochoro, at the roots of Olympus.

Mount Olympus at 9,570 feet, by the way, is one-third taller than our own Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.   Similar to Haiti, 80% of Greece consists of mountains.   Although the size of New York State, the entire population of Greece could fit into New York City.

Athens is the seat of Western civilization, and anthropologists over hundreds of years have plundered its cultural artifacts to fill museums in Berlin, London, and New York.   There are a total of 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greece, compared to 8 cultural sites and 12 natural sites in the U.S.

The world recognizes Greek’s place in international society.   The Global Peace Index ranks Greece 57th out of 144.   The United Nations Human Development Index ranks Greece 18th out of 177.   The International Monetary Fund ranks Greece 18th out of 180.

The peace and prosperity of the Hellenic Republic today is juxtaposed with the rape and plundering of Greece over the centuries.

This historical travesty can be partially reversed today.   The Elgin Marble from the Parthenon is a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures ripped from the breast of Greece by the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Thomas Bruce, the Earl of Elgin, between 1801 and 1812.   The collection must be returned from the British Museum to the people of Greece.

One of my earliest Greek-American mentors was Loula Loi Alafoyiannis, founder of the Euro-American Women’s Council (EAWC).   I have known Loula since 2004 when the European-American Women’s Council contributed $42,000 to my orphans following the Tsunami in Sri Lanka.

With her friend Hillary  Clinton, now Secretary of State, a strong supporter of Greece.
With her friend Hillary Clinton, now U.S. Secretary of State, a strong supporter of Greece.

I was so impressed with her that I wrote The Euro-American Women Council’s Infatigable Loula Loi Alafoyiannis for the Daily Kos in 2009.   I wrote, “I was impressed by this strong woman, her inexhaustible energy, and her connectivity.   She struck me as a thought leader and global citizen.”

Loula knows power.   In America alone, she counts public officials such as Joe Kennedy, Hilary Clinton, and Carolyn Maloney as her close friends.   I wrote in my piece, “With high sensitivity to suffering people, as she tries hard to gain the bet of life Loula has devoted her life to assisting seriously ill and cancer-affected, especially, low-income children from Greece.”

As someone who works with children around the world, I recognize a kindred spirit, a thought leader, a global citizen when I meet one.   And I want to know where they are from – and what they have built.

I am looking forward to journeying to Greece with the infatigable Loula Loi Alafoyiannis of the Euro-American Women’s Council.   I want to learn more about the great civilization that gave rise to such a great organization and leader.   And then tell the world about it.

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About Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens

View all posts by Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce ( writes and speaks on Thought Leaders and Global Citizens. Bringing 26 years management experience within both investment banking and the non-profit sector, Jim has worked for Daiwa Bank, Merrill Lynch, a spin-off of Lazard Freres, and two not-for profit organizations and a foundation he founded. As Founder & CEO of Orphans International Worldwide (, he is working with a strong network of committed professionals to build interfaith, interracial, Internet-connected orphanages in Haiti and Indonesia, and creating a new, family-care model for orphans in Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

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