|Since ancient times Hellenes immigrate to foreign lands in an effort to find a better life. History shows that Hellenes founded colonies in which the Greek language was dominant and where the arts, sciences, commerce and all facets of human endeavor flourished. Hellenic ingenuity and a tradition of hard work and risk taking contributed greatly to the progress of their colonies or the country in which they settled.
There are records of a Cretan man named Pedro who was a key player in Pizarro's expedition to the New World, but the first large group of Hellenes came to America in 1768 and settled at New Smyrna, Florida. In this group were some Cretans, one of whom we know was named Dimitrios Foundoulakis. Most of these settlers perished in a few years but a few survived and moved to St Augustine, Florida, where they built a log schoolhouse that survives today. With substantial help from the PAA, AHEPA built a monument in 2000 at New Smyrna Beach to commemorate the memory of these first settlers.
With the removal of the Turkish yoke in 1898, Cretans won their freedom of movement, and many men came to America seeking work to help themselves and their families back home. After the long boat ride from Greece, they were processed at Castle Gardens (known as "Castigari") located on Ellis Island. In the early years of arrival, they worked wherever they could get a job. They worked mainly in the mines, the building of railroad lines and in other difficult and undesirable jobs. In 1900, only a few Cretans were working in the coal mines of Utah, but by 1910 their numbers were over 4,000. They had to deal not only with hard work but also with discrimination from the general American populace. In 1909 the Municipal Council of Great Falls Montana enacted a law providing for the expulsion of all Greeks from the town because many of them were investing their savings in various businesses, primarily restaurants. The greatest punishment, however, was dished out by the US Immigration Service which imposed a quota on immigration from Greece to less than 100 people per year.
Although the founding fathers of America were enlightened men who knew and admired the contribution of the Greek people to humanity and had modeled their new nation after the teachings of the Greek people, the general public was ignorant of Greek history and looked down upon Greeks. Many of the older American-Hellenes still remember the discrimination they endured at school from their classmates. It was not until World War II when Greece scored the first victories against the axis powers causing newspapers to praise the valor of Greeks on a daily basis for months, that the general populace accepted Americans-Hellenes as equals.
The work in the coal mines was harsh, difficult, and highly dangerous, but for Hellenes, as well as for other ethnic minorities, there was no other way to earn a living. Many lost their lives in mining accidents in Price Utah, Wheeling West Virginia, and other places. Even though the work was hard and dangerous, the pay was hardly enough to get by. Workers had to result to strikes to get better pay and humane working conditions. Cretans were part of these strikes. During one of the strikes at Ludlow Colorado, a Cretan man named Luis Tikas (Ellias Spantidakis) emerged as one of the leaders of the strike; the militia called in to break up the strike murdered him in cold blood. Luis Tikas is honored even today by the United Mine Workers.
During the early 1900's, most young immigrants had no families and had to rely on friends and compatriots for support at times of need. When disaster struck, people would get together to bury the victims; more often than not, a hat would be passed around to collect contributions to bury the deceased. This created the need for the organization of local ethnic fraternities to support its members. These fraternities charged dues and provided benefits such as sick pay and burial expense. Membership was usually restricted to individuals from the ethnic group who were of good character and health. A medical exam prior to acceptance was in the constitution of many fraternities. The first Cretan fraternity was organized in 1907 in New York City with the name PANCRETAN CLUB "O Phinix". Most of its members, however, went back to Greece to fight against Turkey in the Balkan Wars of 1912 and immediately following with the Allies in World War I; thus, "Phinix" was dissolved after six years of significant activity and accomplishments.
The Idea to form a Pancretan Association
In the late 1910's and early 1920's Cretan fraternities were organized all over America. They included "Omonia" in New York City, "Minos" in Chicopee, "Arkadi" in Pittsburgh, "Mutual Benefit" in Cleveland, "Psilorites" in Detroit, "Cretan Fraternity" in Chicago, "Minos" in Salt Lake City, "Epimenides" in San Francisco and others. Each of these clubs was working independently but all had similar goals of giving support, comfort, and the sense of belonging to their members. Social events and celebration were held on a regular basis and Harilaos Peperakis, the talented lyra player of the times, was in heavy demand everywhere. The leaders and members of these clubs felt the need to be in touch with other Cretan clubs where friends and relatives could be found. On April 7, 1929, a special general meeting was held in "Omonoia" of NYC, with representation from "Arkadi" of Pittsburgh and "Epimenides" of SF, to discuss ways and means for creating a National Federation of all the Cretan clubs in America. The meeting resolved to: "immediately create a working committee which would contact all the other clubs to set a place and a time for a meeting of representatives to draw up a constitution and to elect a President and a board". The resolution was signed by E. Kafatos, President of "Omonoia"; T. Aktoudianakis and N. Kalimerakis, President and Councilman of "Arkadi"; and I. Tseronis, representative of "Epimenides".
The idea of unity spread like a wild fire! A flurry of publicity in Greek newspapers took place over the next few months to inform all Cretans of this novel enterprise. The newsletter "KPHTH", which was being published by "Omonoia" since 1926, gives a good account of the events. The time and place to meet was set for October 14th in Chicago. The Cretans of Chicago with their dynamic President James Betinis welcomed the delegates with great enthusiasm and typical Cretan hospitality. All of the clubs listed earlier sent representatives who were highly educated and were able to draft an eloquent constitution with substance. Archimandrites Ireneos Tsourounakis chaired the convention, which, after drafting the constitution, elected:
Honorary President: Eleftherios Venizelos founder of Greater Modern Greece
President: Vladimiros Kostandinidis from New York, NY
Vice President: Theodoros Aktoudianakis from Pittsburgh, PA
Secretary: Spiros Kounalis from Salt Lake City, Utah
Treasurer: Nikolaos Stauridakis
General Supervisor: Dr. Ioannis Volikos from Chicago, IL
Legal Advisor: Haralambos Kaloidas from Chicago, IL
The delegates of the first PAA convention also voted to conduct an organized trip to Crete in the summer of 1931.
At this time, "Omonoia" of New York passed the publishing of its newsletter KPHTH to the PAA to be published with the news of all Cretan-Americans and be distributed to every home.
Today the PAA is comprised of over 70 chapters distributed throughout America from coast to coast. The PAA and each of its chapters has a 501C(8) exemption from the IRS.
Achievements of the Pancretan Association of America
From its beginning through today the PAA has continuously supported: Education, Culture, Church and Philanthropy. Some of the contributions of the PAA include:
Education is deeply rooted in the Hellenic culture and every family strives to educate its young. The immigrants to the New World were no exception and today American-Hellenes are rated the number one ethnic group in educational accomplishments.
- A scholarship program set up in the mid 1930's has collected and distributed over $1,000,000 to over 1000 deserving American-Cretan students to help them get a college education and a chance for a better life. To fund this program our members pay annual scholarship dues through their chapters. Also, an endowment fund has been set up where generous members and friends can contribute and have annual scholarships given in memory of a loved one. Today this endowment is funded with over $400,000.
- Since the late 1950's the PAA lobbied the Greek Government to create a University in Crete. The dream materialized in the early 1970's and the PAA set up an endowment fund (PEF) to support programs that enhance education at the University of Crete. The University Press was one of the first programs supported and has been funded with over $550,000 to date. This endeavor has proven to be a big success, which has enhanced the prestige of the UC and caused other Universities in Greece to follow suit.
- The PAA supported Dr. John Nathenas in a Herculean effort to get the Universities in Greece to open their doors to American students for summer courses. This required the changing of Greek National laws. Summer courses give the opportunity to foreign students, and especially Hellenes of the Diaspora, to study in Greece for a couple months in the summer and even earn college credits. George Papandreou, the Minister of Education of Greece, funded a pilot program of summer courses (DIAS) at the University of Crete with $250,000. The PAA, through the PEF, has funded the DIAS program annually since its inception in 1994; this support to date amounts over $150,000. Thus far, over 150 students from America have gone through this program.
- The PAA, through the PEF, funded with $10,000 the start of the Ophthalmology Center (BEMMO) at the UC, which has proven to be very successful and beneficial to the health care of the people of Crete.
- Annually a scholarship is given to a seminarian student of Cretan lineage from a fund set up by the PAA with the Holy Cross Theological School in Boston.
Cretan culture, the oldest in Europe, is very rich and in some ways unique. The PAA is its only steward in America with the mission to enjoy it, preserve it and pass it on to future generations for their enjoyment.
- Many of our chapters conduct classes to teach our youth Cretan dances and music.
- A national convention is held every two years, which lasts for a week. Many social and cultural activities are undertaken that feature our Cretan culture. This includes dance performances of our youth groups from various chapters, music, poetry, art, literature, handicrafts, theater and others. Delegates come from each chapter to set general policy and elect all the national officers that will run the PAA for the following two years.
- Cultural events, which last for a couple days, are also conducted at least biannually in each of the seven geographic districts of the PAA.
- Many of our chapters conduct regular public cultural activities and celebrations of historical events like the start of the liberation of Greece from Turkey on 25th of March, the Battle of Crete on the 20th of May, the 28th of October and the holocaust of Arkadi on November 9th.
- The PAA brings theater plays from Crete like "Erotocritos" and "Zoi se Logou Mas" that tour the country.
- The PAA organizes visits and camps for our youth in Crete to discover firsthand our roots.
- A gift of $80,000 in 1996 to erect the statue of Spiro Kagiale at Akrotiri Crete.
- The PAA raised $50,000 to assist AHEPA to build the New Smyrna Monument which commemorates and honors the memory and struggle of the first large Hellenic group to immigrate to the new world in the year 1768. In this monument the PAA also honored seven outstanding Cretan-Americans:
- Luis Tikas, union organizer 1914
- Nick Galifianakis, the first American born Hellene in the US Congress 1966
- Constantinos Papadakis, President of Drexel University
- Harry Mark Petrakis, Author
- Mike Manatos, Presidential Liaison to the US Senate 1961-1968
- Andrew Manatos, Assistant Secretary of Commerce 1976
- George Filippakis, Iconographer
- The PAA works with other Hellenic organizations to remind our fellow Americans that as ancient Greece defined freedom for mankind, modern Greece saved freedom for mankind by its actions and great sacrifice in World War II. A book on this subject "Greece's Pivotal Role in World War II and its Importance to the US Today" was sent by the PAA to each and every US Senator.
- The PAA has established a Cretan culture endowment fund where generous members and friends can contribute to promote the teaching and continuation of our culture and traditions in America. Today this endowment fund has over $100,000.