By Christodoulos Athanasatos
(Translation By Lisa Darilis)
As I look at studies and statistics, watch the number of Greek immigrants rising, and learn more from the news, I find myself wondering in what category I would be placed in.
I am on the Internet on a daily basis. I am informed of Greece's happenings, and I maintain contact with my mother country. In the late afternoon, when I finish work, or when I sit at home, I look at Facebook pictures of my friends back in Greece, who are either at a get together, or out for a drink. Somewhere at this point, feelings begin to unveil. I feel a little jealous and long to be there. I realize, once again, just how far I am from them.
There are other circumstances. I have friends and acquaintances back in Greece, who inquire about making the trip to the U.S.. The thought crosses their minds to try follow my path. They ask for details about the job market, the rents, or if I am knowledgeable about anything in general in order to advise them. When I visit Manhattan, I take pictures of the city's views, like the skyscrapers, and post them. There are always a lot of "likes" under these posts. Perhaps they believe that I either work or live in one of these buildings.
On a personal level, thankfully, I never regretted my decision to leave Greece. Besides, the reasons which compelled and lured me to come to New York continue to exist. The issue at hand has many dimensions, too many for one to really pinpoint what one really wants.
They all ask me if it is worth making a cross Atlantic journey. I reply that it is as long as one is clever. It is important to recognize your goals, even before you intend to arrive here. These last few months I have encountered several circumstances and I have drawn my conclusions on this.
A big disadvantage is not so much the exhaustive pace (you come here to work and not to fly kites), the difference in language (some decades before previous immigrants didn't even recognize what "OK" meant), or how you're going to be treated due to your ethnicity. Greeks have been here for many years, their communities are very strong both socially and economically, and there are plenty of success stories by Greek immigrants, or those of Greek descent. The issue is whether or not the system allows you live humanely. This chiefly has to do with the difficult provisions in attaining a work permit.
I belong to a minority, who did not need an invitation, or other means, to get a permanent work permit, due to my citizenship status and investments made by my family. In most cases, however it doesn't work like that: It has been written about some years ago, the proud "ESTA,"or Electronic System for Travel Authorization, run by the U.S. Department o Homeland Security, which determines eligibility of visitors who travel to the U.S., has very specific provisions. They don't allow anyone to stay in the country more than three consecutive months, yet it does not state anywhere that you have the ability to work. This means that many immigrants travel for a period of time, during which they either attempt to work illegally in manual labor jobs, or gather what's needed to attain a work permit. Sometimes they do this easily, or sometimes with more difficulty. Sometimes they use "underground" methods to get the permit, and sometimes it taking a long time. They might become victims of manipulation, living with the agony of whether or not someone will betray them to immigration. They will always have that fear of being discovered, which can result in proceedings, and/or their being sent back to where they came from.
In terms of "quality of life," everyone has to understand that New York, and the city of New York, don't only include Manhattan. New York is is also some "cold," or less aesthetic, or "not up to par" neighborhoods in Queens, for example. New York is an anxiety driven run to catch the train. New York is expensive rents, and a lot of bills. New York is a place with bad weather, with a very cold winter and a hot and sticky summer. There are a lot of other factors which one has to keep in mind.
All of these things, of course, are balanced by a very basic fact - that New York is the personification and embodiment of the strongest economy of the planet. New York is the "open range," or "window of opportunity" to success, which if presented within its specifications, never closes its door to anyone. All this, naturally, under the condition that you are have work.
It has turned 3:30 pm. My watch says it's 10:30 p.m. I never changed it from Greek time to U.S. time. I did this on purpose. I wanted to have a subliminal contact with my homeland. As a former classmate of mine wrote in a nostalgic link, which I posted particularly for my country, the song by Miltos Paschalides says it all:
"All the ships with sailors will be eaten away by the woodworm, but all who have traveled long for Ithaca."