Greek Immigration

Push and Pull Factors, Journey, Treatment, and Influence

The Greeks have been migrating to America since the since the late 18th century. The Greeks have faced hardships in their country and when migrating. Once to America the Greeks have not only been accepted, they have contributed to society.

Push and Pull Factors

The Greeks migrated from Greece for many reasons. The economy caused the majority of the immigrants from Greece to migrate. The Ottoman Empire ruled the majority of Greece in a restrictive way. The tax system from the Turkish rule destroyed small businesses causing the country to go into debt. Greece was in foreign debt in the 1820’s because of the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire which was a push factor. In 1893, there was an economic crisis in Greece when the price of currants (dried fruit from seedless grapes) went down in price. This caused farmers not to be able to pay their taxes so they emigrated from Greece. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, there were jobs available in the United States that did not require skills, while the economy was in poor condition in Greece. Over one million Greeks migrated for economic and political reasons from 1950 to 1974. Part was due to the results of the Civil War from 1946-1949 and the Rule of Military Junta in 1967-1974. Another reason was the oil crisis of 1973 which hurt the poor economy even more. Greece had little industrialization causing people to have to find jobs in different areas of work especially in the 19th century. There were better jobs in the United States, and the money made by Greek immigrants was sent back home because mostly men just came over. There were many push and pull factors for the Greeks to migrate.

The Greeks had multiple reasons to move, but the strongest reason the group migrated was because of the economy. When the Greeks were ruled by the Ottoman Empire, they fought for their independence. This caused foreign debt which led to a poor economy. Yet again the government caused a push factor. The government felt that the way to establish a better economy would be for people to migrate. This caused the first wave of Greeks to migrate because of the situation and the many opportunities in America. Little was left for the Greeks to do other than start over somewhere with a strong economy. There was always a problem with the economy, and it kept continuing. This is why the people were pushed out of Greece because the struggles were continuous. Then in the same year of 1893, there was another economic problem when the price of currants dropped. This caused even more economic issues because the farmers could not pay taxes. Greeks then migrated to places with better economic opportunities where little skills were needed. More difficult economic situations happened after the Civil War (1946-1949) and the Military Junta Rule (1967-1974). This caused a wave of emigration because these events dug Greece into a bigger economic hole. Another economy downfall occurred when the 1973 oil crisis happened. In addition to all of these crises, Greeks had little industrialization so their economy was never growing compared to other countries. Often the Greeks were faced with economic challenges. This proves that the most influential reason the Greeks migrated was because they were faced with economic issues repeatedly. However, Greeks were not the only people who migrated because of the economy. Polish and Italian migrants migrated for a better quality of life from jobs. The jobs created a better economic situation which is a reason why the Greeks migrated. Economic issues was the strongest reason the Greeks migrated.

Journey to America

The journey the Greeks took to migrate to America was a long, difficult trip. In order to get onto the steamship to get to America, they needed to arrive at least a day before. There was a long medical examination that included baggage fumigation and disinfection baths. Some migrates had to arrive days before if they were traveling with companies that went through an even more extensive examination which could include short haircuts, antiseptic baths, and vaccinations. That was just the beginning. Once on the steamship, they were faced with non-stop hardships. The iron steamship trip would range from two to four weeks in the first decade of the 20th century. During World War I, the trip could take around 70 days due to traveling in a zigzag pattern to avoid German warships. In addition if there were ocean storms, it would slow down the journey. As Sam Fortosis stated on his trips to America in 1914, “It took thirty days to cross the Atlantic. Plus a couple of days from Greece to Italy... Because of the rough sea, the boat couldn’t go ahead. In fact, it was four or five days that we were going backward instead of forward.” During the late 19th century and early 20th century, crossing the Atlantic Ocean was very rough which resulted in additional days on the ocean. This was just one of the hardships that was faced. Many Greeks went with the cheapest tickets of $25 which took about 2-3 weeks of pay. These tickets where located in the lowest deck where there was crowding, sometimes up to 300 people. These poor conditions were improved upon as time went on, but most people slept on burlap mattresses made out of hay or seaweed, and their pillow was their life preserver. With these conditions, the emigrates were faced with the challenge of making sure not to get sick. With the large amount of people in a small space, infectious diseases spread quickly easily making people very vulnerable to get these diseases. There was also the fact that there was only one doctor per seven hundred emigrants. It was very important for people to keep clean in order to stay healthy. Once they arrived at Ellis Island in New York, the journey was not over yet. There were long lines waiting for medical examinations to be completed at Ellis Island. People with a sickness, disease, or just weak were not accepted. Many Greeks had cholera or other diseases causing them to be very careful so they were accepted. They had to make sure they did not have any communicable diseases. After 1905 when the accepting process became more intense, some of the steamship companies fined every passenger who was rejected 100 dollars. Overall, it was not an easy journey for the Greeks as well as other European emigrants because they went through many of the same challenges.

Treatment In America

In Greece, the Ottoman Empire ruled in a harsh way where the Greeks were not even welcomed. They were living in a place faced with many issues. The Greeks overall have always been accepted in the United States back then and nowadays. The Greeks had never really faced discrimination that typical immigrants faced. The transition was made easier because they were very involved with the American culture. In the 1950s, the Greeks had even more social improvements and integrated their culture into the American society. The Greeks were able to assimilate very easily and positively. Even with becoming more Americanized, they always remembered where they came from. The Greeks connected with other Greeks through building communities with schools, churches, and newspapers. In addition, they created bonds with other Greeks through coffee shops. The Greeks were seen as “particularly positive light by American popular opinion” during the Greek-Italian War. They always made sure to participate in the American society, and they contributed to academics, literature, journalism, music, and film in the United States. However, not everyone accepted the Greeks completely. Some took advantage of the Greeks. Padrones, who employed immigrants, gave the new Greek immigrants places to live and jobs, but they were dishonest and would trick the immigrants. The padrones overcharged the immigrants who were mostly men for food and lodging. The immigrants were then in debt and would have to work many hours to repay their debt. In addition, some industrial companies treated them unfairly by having no safety precautions, leaving the immigrants working in dangerous conditions. Overall, most people fully accepted the Greeks into their society and the Greek Americans adapted to the American life, but they still had strong ethnic pride in their lives just like other immigrants from Europe.

Contributions in America

The Greeks have contributed to the American culture in numerous ways. They have left their mark in America by infusing their own cultural traditions into their daily lives as well as the American society. There are many successful Greek restaurants along with recipes that have been modified for the American taste. Americans use olive oil for cooking along with olives, lamb, beef, and vegetables which is often used for Greek cooking and now in American cooking. Americans have developed a taste for the ever so popular Greek yogurt. The film, television, and theater industry have had many popular Greek actors along with directors, producers, and writers. There are also playwrights and screenwriters for movies where actors have won Academy Awards. In politics, the Greeks have held positions including U.S. Congressmen, Vice President, Governor, House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, and others. Greeks have been involved in many professional sports along with the Olympics. Overall, the Greeks has contributed and continue to contribute to America’s culture.

The biggest contribution made by the Greeks in America is the achievements made in the academic and education areas. While the Greeks are known for their academic success, they have not only done it in their own land, but have succeeded in America. Helikon, the first Greek organization for students located in Boston in 1911, was founded by Aristides Phoutrides, a professor at Yale University. Theodore Saloutos was a professor of history along with studying the Greek immigration and became known for his mentor text on this topic. John Celivergos Zachos has influenced Ohio’s education by contributing through teaching in many levels such as a teacher of literature and principal during his many years in education. Michael Anagnos was the director for the Blind in Boston of the Perkins Institute. Science and technology has been looked at differently because of Greeks. George Papanicolaou was at Cornell Medical as a professor emeritus of anatomy. He developed the pap smear which is a detector of cervical cancer. When Polyvios Kyrillos was at the University of Athens and Yale University he was a professor of medicine. His work in diagnosing tuberculosis is what he is known for. Also, a neurologist named John Kotzias discovered L-dopa. This is a drug for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Even with everything the Greeks have contributed to America, the most influential is the academic and education accomplishments.

The Greeks have immigrated from Greece to come to America for the multiple opportunities. They have been accepted into the American society as well as contributing to it. Altogether, the Greeks have been a positive influence to the American culture.


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