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Article by Consul Papanikolaou in the official newsletter of the Hellenic Cultural Center of the Southwest
Message from the Consul
October 18, 2012 marks the completion of my first year as Consul of Greece in Houston. It is a real honor to serve the Greeks of the Southwest USA and both I and my wife Anastasia are grateful to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs for this opportunity.
Although it has been a year since I took up my duties, old friends and new acquaintances continue to pop up the same question “How do you like Texas?” I always considered this question as a polite means to break the ice in a conversation, so I didn’t seriously reflect on the issue until my summer vacation in Greece this year, when family and friends asked me the same question. So unconsciously, in my effort to respond, I started enumerating a series of things I like about Texas and felt I was missing: Sunshine, warm weather, hospitality, friendship, great restaurants, numerous social events, beautiful parks, discussion with the Greeks, cheap gasoline and this Texan sense that everything is big, which make you feel equally “big” and important. So now, each time this question is posed, I have an easy answer: “Sometimes it really feels like Greece”, which leads me to the following thought:
My mission, as a diplomat, is to build bridges, bring people and cultures together, eliminate political and business obstacles and erase stereotypes. I have noticed that stereotypes, a Greek word used to describe beliefs adopted which may not accurately reflect reality, are well rooted between Texas and Greece and between its people. I can assure you that many of my compatriots in Greece, from diplomats or businessmen to the average Greek, ignore the facts that Houston is ranked in the top ten list of most dynamic cities of the world and that Texas is not simply a land of ranches and cowboys, but a state that accounts for nearly a third of US annual product and the main American bastion of tradition, religion and family values.
On the other hand, I am not happy to notice that an increasing number of Texans nowadays focus on my country not because of its rich cultural heritage and natural beauty, but because of its financial situation and struggle to effectively manage its budget deficit. Even worse, I deplore to hear American politicians, on national and local level, to mention Greece as the economic paradigm to avoid, with no reference to its people sacrifices and its full potential.
Deracinating these stereotypes and highlighting the similarities should be the long-term common goal of all the Greeks living and working in Texas. I do realize that by serving at this very important office I was given a broad responsibility to lead this effort. But I also understand I cannot do so without the support and consent of the Greek-Americans of Texas, expressed informally during our daily social and friendly encounters as well as formally, in many ways, through the entire range of events organized by the Greek associations, the Greek orthodox churches and the Hellenic Cultural Center of the Southwest.
There is one striking feature about the Greek Americans that should never be ignored. Their love and sentiments for their motherland, combined with the pragmatism and competitive spirit of the American society in which they prosper, provide them with a fair judgment of the strengths and weaknesses present in the course of Greece. I am enormously proud for all the work we managed to accomplish this first year but certainly there is a lot more to achieve. It's high time we – communities in Greece and the US - all engage, not in forms of humanitarian assistance - this constitutes only a temporary relief - but in a wider debate about the fundamental changes and actions, in the Greek political and social system, required to create a more prosperous, equitable and healthy future.