Modern Greek History

Early Waves of Greek Immigration in the US

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Immigration to the United StatesGreeks have been landing in America since the 1500’s. The first Greek to visit America was a sailor named Don Theodorou who was part of a major expedition headed by the Spaniard, Panfilio de Narvarez, in the early 1500’s, to explore the newly discovered land. Other sailors that also visited around this time were John Greigo and Petras the Cretan. Juan de Fuca, a prominent explorer, is said to have also been Greek.

It wasn’t until the 1700’s that the first Greeks tried to settle in America in earnest. The first colonies were set up in Saint Augustine, Florida and New Smyrna Beach, Florida. However, the numbers were fairly small and the settlements never really increased.

It wasn’t until the Greek War for Independence that the first waves of immigrants started to come to the United States in earnest. In fact, Greek migration to the United States historically followed a similar pattern. People would flock to the United States as a way to escape war, hardship, and economic turbulence.

Greek War for Independence

As previously mentioned, the first real wave of Greek immigration took place during the Greek War for Independence against the Ottoman Empire. Most of the immigrants arrived after the massacre at Chios. American missionaries brought around forty Greek orphans to the United States. Other Greeks followed shortly after that.

Poor Economic Conditions in Greece

After the Greek War for Independence concluded, Greece’s economy suffered considerably. Rather than endure these hardships any further, in order to make their lives better, hundreds of Greeks headed for the United States, which had an open door policy for immigration.

At this time, most of the Greeks who came were young males with the goal of making money in the New World to then return to Greece. About 30% of these immigrants did return to Greece with the purpose of fighting in the Balkan Wars, which started in 1912.

Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924

During this time period, Greece was dealing with the aftermath of World War I. It was also at this time that the United States passed two Immigration Acts, which set quotas on immigration. The Act of 1921 said that around 3,000 Greek immigrants could make it to the United States. Initially, the Act of 1924 only let in 100 Greek immigrants through. However, this was retracted and nearly 11,000 were able to come to the United States.

Refugee Relief Act of 1953

After World War II, most of Europe was in political turmoil. Though the Germans had been defeated, much of Europe was decimated because of the war. Not only was it physically in ruins, but economically, as well. People were suffering.

The United States, on the other hand, was thriving. So, people sought to make a new life. The Refugee Relief Act made it possible for people all over Europe to come to the United States. It was because of this act that around 1500 Greeks were accepted to come to the U.S.

As you can see, Greeks came to the United States to try to make better lives for themselves and their families. They wanted to not only escape war and economic hardship but also make their fortunes in pursuit of a better future. In another article, we discuss the waves of immigration that happened after 1917.

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This post was written by Greek Boston

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