Little Athens is alive and well

Stories from the Hellenic community in NYC

A graffiti homage to the Greek heritage in Astoria, Queens. (Giulia Morpurgo)

Greeks have been inhabiting the alleys of Astoria, Queens, for decades. The first wave of immigrants dates back to the 1960s, but new generations have joined them in the last years, after the European sovereign debt crisis left their home-country on the hedge of bankruptcy. Blue and white striped flags and Orthodox icons hang from windows or on doors. Smells of Greek coffee, spinach pies and feta cheese reach the noses of passer-byes through the shops’ open windows. The presence of places such as Sokrates Sculpture Park, the Sacred Patriarchal Monastery of St. Irene Chrysovalantou and works of street art inspired by Greek art and mythology reveal why the Hellenic community of NYC feels just like home in this neighborhood.

Recently, Astoria has started to display a greater ethnic heterogeneity. Latinos, Egyptians, Eastern Europeans and Chinese have moved in the area, opened shops, built churches, temples and mosques. Despite the latest arrivals, the area has not lost its Greek identity. People are still being greeted “Kalimera” [good morning] at every corner. Giulia Morpurgo has stumbled upon a series of characters demonstrating why Astoria truly deserves the title of “Little Athens”.

Humans of Astoria

Familiar faces in the neighborhood

George Samlidis came to the United States in the 1980s from Giannitsà, in Northern Greece.

“I was an artist, a movie star,” Samlidis claimed. “No, he was a construction worker,” said one of his most loyal costumers.

He now owns and runs the Panathinaikos Football Club in Astoria.

George Samlidis at the Panathinaikos Football club, Steinway Street. (Giulia Morpurgo)
“People come here to watch the game, play cards and backgammon. I often win at backgammon. I get 40,50 people per day even when Panathinaikos is not playing. Its supporters are very different from those of Olympiakos, the other football team in Athens. We hate each other”.

Giorgios Ammantidis was born in Kastoria, Greece. He used to be a ferryman in Greece, but lost his job when he moved to United States. Ammantidis then went into construction. He lived in Flushing for many years, but eventually moved to Astoria. “I find better life here in Astoria,” he said. “It is easier. Because in Flushing the Koreans arrived and the Greek community there lost its face.”

Here Ammantidis is pictured at the Pontion Society Komninoi in Astoria. (Giulia Morpurgo)
“I spend a lot of time here the club when I haven’t got work to do. Here, we play dices with the other guys. We play Pinochle, I play Mpourloto, a French game the Kastorians first brought to Greece.”

Panagiotis Tsoloros left his hometown of Athens in 1964 to move to New York. He lived in Manhattan and Long Island, but eventually settled in Astoria 40 years ago. Tsoloros worked as a waiter in a Manhattan hotel, for parties of 40–50 people and above: he served at weddings, birthday parties, business conferences. Now he enjoys his retirement. He spends his time drinking vodka and playing cards. “I have friends and I have enemies,” said Tsoloros. “They are the same in number. I have enemies in Astoria because, you know, words go around…”

Panagiotis Tsoloros in the lounge of the Greek American Retirement Club, where he spends most of his days. (Giulia Morpurgo)