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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Greeks paved path of their own in Hawai'i

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Like many ethnic groups that immigrated to Hawai'i, the Greeks came here looking to improve their lives and make a better future for their children.

Cousins Helen Anastasopulos Potts, left, and Helen Geracimos Chapin were born and raised here by parents who came to Hawai'i from Greece. At the Hawai'i Heritage Center's meeting on Saturday, the pair will discuss their experiences and research on Greeks in Hawai'i.

Andrew Shimabuku • The Honolulu Advertiser

But unlike other groups, the Greeks did not come in large numbers to work on the plantations and form their own neighborhoods, choosing instead to take working class jobs and assimilate into the community.

To remember the lives, works and contributions of Greeks in Hawai'i, cousins Helen Geracimos Chapin and Helen Anastasopulos Potts will discuss their experiences and research on the subject during the Hawai'i Heritage Center's annual meeting Saturday.

Both women were born and raised here by parents who emigrated from Sparta, Greece, in the early part of the last century. Chapin will talk about the history of Greeks in Hawai'i and Potts on what growing up Greek in Hawai'i was like.

"They were really working class," said Chapin. "Policemen, taxi-cab drivers, cooks and bakers. Their kids were educated and started working up the social scale."

Chapin said there were several periods of Greek immigration to Hawai'i.

Greek sailors first visited Hawai'i on whaling and trading ships. In 1883, Peter Camarinos, originally from Sparta, opened the California Fruit Market in Honolulu, inspiring relatives and others to venture here. George Lycurgus, known as Uncle George, was a cousin of Camarinos who came to Hawai'i in 1887 and played an important role in the development of the Hilo Hotel and Kilauea Volcano House.

Several of those Greek immigrants opposed the overthrow of Queen Lili'uokalani in 1893 and fought in favor of Hawaiian independence. Chapin said the Greeks, including members of her own family, paid the price for their choice, and many were jailed, fined, exiled and lost their businesses.

'Greeks in Hawai'i'

Who: The Hawai'i Heritage Center

What: Talk on "Greeks in Hawai'i"

When: 10:30 a.m. Saturday

Where: 1040 Smith St., Chinatown

Cost: $5, which includes a light lunch

Reservations: 521-2749

"They fought for her and were jailed and exiled," Chapin said. "In order to be annexed by the United States, the Republic of Hawai'i, which was run by the missionaries' descendants, had to pardon them."

The Greek community grew to about 200 people from 1900 to the start of World War II, many bringing brides from their homeland.

Potts, whose father, Demetrios "Jimmy" Anastasopulos, moved here in 1908, went back to Sparta for his bride, Julia Theophili, after more than 20 years.

"He was only 17," Potts said. "He was a poor boy. His mother told him there is no future for you here. You'd better get going."

Potts said the Greek community would usually gather for holidays to celebrate making the foods of their native land.

"We were assimilated into the community," she said. "Because of my name, Anastasopulos, I was very unusual and teachers couldn't pronounce it."

Since the war, the Greek community has grown to about 3,000 people who gather every year at McCoy Pavilion for the Greek Festival, which features food, dance, culture and food of the country. Every August for more than 20 years the Greek Festival has been held to commemorate the dormition or "falling asleep" of the Virgin Mary. Greek Orthodox followers believe that's when the Virgin Mary achieved eternal life.

The Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral serves as the center of the community today.

Reach James Gonser at 535-2431 or jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com.