The celebration highlighted the contributions of Greek Americans to New York City.
The event also honored four women: Jenny Emexizidis, a businesswoman currently with the Queens Medallion Group of Companies and Melrose Ballroom; Nomiki Kastanas, a media figure with National Greek TV; Ismini Michaels, a longtime educator and treasurer of the Greek Children’s Fund; and Evgenia Soldatos, an assistant district attorney in Nassau County.
State Senator Michael Gianaris, who was first elected 17 years ago, said the local community worked hard to elect more Greek Americans in local government, including Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas and Councilman Costa Constantinides.
Astoria is home to the largest population of Greeks outside of Greece.
“The Greek American community is truly represented in our government now,” he said. “That’s because of the great work we’ve done over the last 20 years.”
The event precedes the annual Greek Independence Day parade down Fifth Avenue on March 26. Simotas, who sung the Greek national anthem to begin the event, said the parade is an important tradition to keep.
“Raising my four-year-old daughter, I can’t tell you how happy and what a privilege it is to be able to bring her to Fifth Avenue so she can also celebrate what it means to be a Greek American,” she said.
With many diplomats in the room, including Consul General of Greece Konstantinos Koutras, elected officials discussed international affairs important to many Greek Americans.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who was a founding member of the Hellenic Caucus in Congress, spoke about her recent trip to Greece. After visiting the Parthenon, she said she will urge Congress to “work hard for the return of the Parthenon marbles” to Greece.
“Built by a Greek artist for the Greek people, they belong to Greece,” Maloney said. “The Turks had no right to sell them. They were an invading occupation army.”
Though she is not Greek herself, Maloney said she wants Cyprus and Macedonia to be united with Greece, a remark that was met with loud applause.
Constantinides, whose family roots go back to Cyprus, said he was born the year after the country was invaded. Everyday, his grandmother would cry and lament the fact that she could never go back to the place where his father was baptized.
“She’d always talk to me about how she would take me back to Cyprus,” Constantinides said. “We never had that opportunity.
“That’s something that has always broken my heart, always stuck with me,” he added. “We stand united and we stand as one to make sure we liberate Cyprus.”