Members of New York's sizeable Greek-American population are reeling from the most recent developments in their home country, which threaten to scuttle a rescue deal that was poised to save the beleaguered nation from bankruptcy or worse.
As international pressure mounts on Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou to drop his bid to put the deal before the Greek people for a referendum vote, and instead immediately accept its terms as drafted, Greek-American New Yorkers are once again shocked at the intransigence of their home country's leadership.
Astoria, a large neighborhood in the borough of Queens located just across the East River from Manhattan, is the second-largest Greek settlement in the world, after Athens. Many of its shops bear signs in both Greek and English, and tens of thousands of its residents were born in Greece.
The country's people have so much reverence for the neighborhood that in 1998, the Mayor of Athens erected a statue of Athena in a leafy Astoria public park, officially called Athens Square Park.
Yiota (she declined to give her last name), a worker at the Bahari Estiatorio restaurant just a short block from Athens Square Park, moved from the Greek town of Nafpaktos to America 35 years ago, but she returns to her home country every year to see family members.
She is concerned about the ability of Greece's political leaders to come together and find the best path for the future of the Greek people. She questioned calls on Wednesday by Antonis Samaras, the leader of the center-right opposition party in Greece, for early elections, saying that politics need to be set aside in this time of great turmoil.
Samaras has said 'let's go to the vote.' What's he going to do the next day? Where's he going to get money from? she asked as she counted her till at Bahari Wednesday morning. If you have a solution for the country, then let's do it now. Call Papandreou and work together to save the country. We don't have to go to a vote.
Fleeing the crisis
Katerina Sachinidou was born in Kastoria, Greece, and ten years ago she moved to Astoria, where she was ringing up customers Wednesday morning at Titan Foods, one of the largest and most beloved Greek supermarkets in the United States.
Her 55-year-old father owns a window-and-door business in Greece, but he hopes to move his shop to Albania in search of better economic conditions outside the Eurozone.
Sachinidou keeps a careful eye on the news and she said she believes that Greece's political leaders let down their citizenry by ignoring for years the nation's growing economic woes, which have left the country with an unemployment rate for people under 30 years old hovering near 40 percent.
They're trying to get people's opinions with the vote now about what to do about this situation. It's too late to me now because they got to a point where it's so hard to fix, she said. We have so much history and they destroyed everything. People see us now and we're a laughingstock because they can't control anything. I'm disappointed in my country.
State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, a Democrat and lifelong Astorian who in 2010 became the first Greek American woman elected to office in New York, says Greek Americans are very concerned about the issues facing their home country. She said Astoria has experienced a massive influx of Greeks in recent months, as Greek Americans living in Greece return home and family members of Astoria's Greek American population flow in to live with their relatives and search for better opportunities.
But many community members who she has spoken with say that it may be time for the Greek people to make some concessions and lifestyle changes in order to get their country on track to recovery.
Greek Americans in America and especially in New York went through their own economic crisis here in the U.S., and we had to tighten our belts here and rein in our spending and that's a hard thing to do, Simotas said Wednesday. So I believe Greek Americans would like to see Greeks living in Greece take measures like those that we took here in New York in order to get our fiscal house in order, and that includes curbing wasteful spending.
She also said that Greeks in all nations do not want to see Greece leave the Eurozone because its membership in the body is one of the country's greatest strengths, so new developments that seem to put that possibility on the table worry many of them.
The new announcement about putting it to a vote has frightened a lot of people and had a detrimental effect, Simotas said. Whether or not Greece succeeds will have an effect on other countries in the EU and also the U.S. So I believe that it's in the world's interest to ensure that Greece takes the measures it needs to in order to ensure that Greece returns to prosperity and growth.
Never going back
Angela Theodoratos moved to Astoria from Kefalonia, Greece, in 1969 and she said recent developments there have ensured that she has no intention of ever moving back.
Her mother has tried to maintain a normal life in Greece, but she has feared for her life ever since protests first ripped through the country in response to controversial austerity measures. Her mother has even gone so far as to fortify the windows of her vacation home on one of the country's beautiful small islands with metal bars in order to stave off looters and burglars who have left her terrified of her fellow citizens, and times are no better for other relatives who remain in Greece.
My brother-in-law is making 150 euros a week, how is he supposed to take care of the five people in his family? He also used to get a holiday bonus but they're cutting that, too, she said Wednesday.
Theodoratos even goes so far as to say she wishes the nation could revert to its pre-European Union days, a position many Greek Americans disagree with.
We also need to go back to the drachma, because the euro didn't work out, she argues. The prices doubled and there wasn't enough money to cover the pensions anymore.
Lefferis, a resident of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn -- home to one of New York City's largest Greek American populations -- who moved from Athens to the U.S. eight years ago, said Wednesday that he is a little more hopeful about the future of Greece because he believes its fiscal health is too important for the global community to allow its economy to fail.
They have to bail out Greece, because if they start by taking out one European country, then every small country will go down, Lefferis, who declined to give his last name, said. They have to bail them out or else it will be very bad for everyone.
Yiota said she hopes optimists like Lefferis are right, for the sake of her people.
I keep my hopes up, because in its history, Greece fell so many times and I believe we will come back again, she said. I don't want my country to go down. I love my country because it's a beautiful country. But they made a lot of mistakes in Greece.