Translation By Lisa Darilis
Sometimes in Greece October 28th might slip from people's minds, or perhaps they might not consider it one of the most spectacular events of Greek history, but to Greek Americans, October 28th has left them with an intense impression, outside the given national pride that exists that day.
The infamous "NO," that Ioannis Metaxas, Prime Minister of Greece, gave to the Axis powers, on October 28, 1940, was directed to the Italian ambassador, who presented him with the Axis' ultimatum to acquire access to Greece. This event in Greece oddly helped spark a change in the quality of life led by Greek immigrants here in the United States. Supposedly, the very same day this happened, The New York Times newspaper published an article with jeering, ironic, and anti-Italian comments, presenting the issue of this small and militarily weak Balkan nation easily standing up to the Italian war machine in the Balkans, giving Mussolini a reason to have coffee and take a stroll to the Acropolis. Yet, with the proud and commanding victory by Greek powers at the forefront of Albania, American media called out for a spot on the "ship's stern" (or the viewing corner), from which they could view the Greeks. In a November editorial from this same newspaper, that same year (about a month after October 28th), it was characterized how Mussolini and his Italian army realized how unbelievable the resistance by the heroic Greeks was. It was respectfully written: "The Greeks brought on the first real defeat for the fascist powers. Glory belongs to Greece, because they crushed the myth of the invincible Axis..."
The New York Times and LIFE Magazine both dedicated their front covers to the heroic Greeks. The New York Times showed a soldier shouting, and the infamous cover of LIFE showed an euzone in the shadow of the Acropolis. This is an illustration of how American commissions at the time dedicated dithyrambs (ancient hymns to Dionysus) in honor of Greek civilization and of the Greeks themselves. This factor is mentioned in the 1997 publications of two established Greek-Americans, Michael Giokas, Professor Emiretus, of the University of California, and Nicholas C. Petris, former California senator:
"Due to Greece's contribution in 1940-1941, the esteem and the prestige of Greek Americans was raised significantly, and this is the reason why the celebration of October 28th is full of meaning for Greek-Americans. We have to make a strong and extended effort to remind everyone that Greece has always stood with the United States and its allies in the time of need. We have to insistently stress this to the Western powers, because Greece finds itself under enduring pressure by Turkey, who was not an ally of the west, especially when they ran from the extremest danger in the Second World War." (This is a reference to their breaking the pact with the Britain and France and signing a pact with the Axis Powers prior to the Soviet invasion.)
In essence it is the victory and self-sacrifice of the Greeks which changed the domestic balance within the United States, and how the average American understood and lived side by side with immigrants from Greece and Cyprus. Many don't realize how difficult the immigration experience of Greeks in the United States, from the end of the 19th century up until the beginnings of the Second World War, was. It was a road not paved with rose petals, as the general U.S. population was critical of new immigrants in everyday society, as well as in the workplace. It isn't by chance that the greatest Greek organization, AHEPA, was created during the World War Two years, as an effort to shield the Greeks in the U.S. from the notorious Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations, the members of whom did not hold back, on many occasions, from attacking "undesirable" poor Greek immigrant dishwashers.
The indifferent attitude of American society towards the misfortunes of Greek immigrants was weakened with the event of October 28, 1940. With the help of multimedia, American citizens were not only called to recognize the glory of the heroic Greek resistance to the Axis powers, but they began to support Greek businesses and began to accept the presence of Greeks with a much bigger ease.
It can be concluded, therefore, that this was a decisive crossroad for the image of Greeks in Greece and in the United States. The global community realized that the infamous "OXI" (or "No"), gave motivation and encouragement to the rest of the allies to resist Axis powers, but, aside from anything else, it was recognized as a major contribution to the delay of the Italian and German invasion of Greece. This, in turn, led to the Nazi, or Axis, delay in invading the Soviet Union, which resulted in a successful Soviet resistance, largely due to the heavy Russian winter.