Philadelphia, PA – Launched eight years ago, the Greek American Heritage Society of Philadelphia reemerged just three years later as a revamped organization, that has been lobbying the Greek community of Philadelphia with the slogan “Our Heritage Makes us Unique, Share Yours”. It has been campaigning Hellenes and Philhellenes to join GAHSP. It was founded by Mary Criticos a well known historic figure whose family settled in Old city Philadelphia at the turn of the century. This past month, another milestone has been reached by the GAHSP when it went back to the Greek community’s roots by moving into historic “Greektown” as it was known.
GAHSP recently came to an agreement with St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral and moved to the third floor of the office building adjacent to the historic church. Over the course of the last two weeks, volunteers, interns, historians, and members of the community have been sorting through materials they have carried upstairs into the vacant third floor offices at St. George. “We have a lot wonderful people and interest from Greek-Americans in the region about preserving our past. We have been going through the boxes and crates of items that have been donated to the Heritage Society from families. Some of the records go back to the very beginning of the community, when the first Greeks arrived here at the turn of the 20th Century and before”, said GAHSP President Nick Yiantsos. “Much of this history needs to be recorded and safeguarded before it’s lost,” added Yiantsos.
But, cataloguing and storing the history is just one part of what GAHSP is doing. As the organization grows, new projects continue to be added. A digital library has been created on their new website for people to share and become part of. Sections for each church and organizations are all being created to encompass the Delaware Valley’s Hellenic and Greek Orthodox past.
They also sponsor several events each year, such as the upcoming Photographic Tour and Contest of Philadelphia’s Greek Community hosted this Thursday at Estia Restaurant in downtown Philadelphia. There, the community will share historic images that have been submitted, about Hellenism in and around Philadelphia. “It’s a way for Greeks to come together and share their common history and get to know each other. As Greeks become immersed in society, they travel the path of becoming Americans and lose their sense of identity,” Yiantsos explained.
The GAHSP also partnered up with the Federation of Hellenic-American Societies of Philadelphia and Greater Delaware Valley, whose annual Greek Independence Day Parade continues to unite the Greek community. Cosmos Philly and the Philadelphia Greek Basketball League have also come on board as partners hosting such events as the recent Greek Heritage Night at the Philadelphia Sixers’ game and the Philadelphia Interview Series that records members of the community telling their stories.
This summer, the doors will open to their new offices where tours will take place and the community is invited to visit and contribute. Many cities with Greek diaspora communities around the country have created cultural and museum facilities, like the National Hellenic Museum, in Chicago or the Stathakion Cultural Center in Astoria-NY. In fact, there are more than twenty different Greek cultural-museums in North America. In Philadelphia, it’s been a long awaited dream by many. But, it wasn’t the first time an undertaking like this was initiated.
“There was a previous effort to preserve our history by a Greek-American historical society, which was Peter Pitsakis and Father Bandy, and they collected a lot of stuff. It took place around the 70’s- 80’s and it’s really the moment in which the Greeks in Philadelphia first came together,” stated Alexander Kitroeff associate professor of history at Haverford College. Kitroeff has worked on many diaspora projects around the world including SMYRNA, The destruction of a Cosmopolitan city. He is currently collecting and working on a long term project about the history of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in North America. “ To collect your history means your established, your rooted and you got enough confidence to look go back at what happened. You can afford to look into the past because your presence is secured,” added Kitroeff.
In addition to Mr. Pitsakis and Father Bandy, another museum, the Greek Museum, Inc., was incorporated at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, it too collected the story of the Greek-American immigrant.
The new offices of the GAHSP, and their ongoing projects, will propel the organization as a leader in preserving, safeguarding, and perpetuating the Philadelphia and Delaware Valley Greek-American story. It will continue far into the future and will place Philadelphia’s Greek community onto the national stage.
To find out more about the Greek American Heritage Society of Philadelphia, visit them online at gahsp.org.