Utah: A People's History
more about the history of Greeks in Utah in the following excerpt from Utah:
A People's History, by Dean L. May, copyright University
of Utah Press.
Their homeland had long suffered from political turmoil, depriving the people of political control, limiting educational opportunities, and relegating them to poverty. In 1907 drastic failures in the staple crop of currants caused many young men to look abroad, and Greek immigration to Utah began in earnest. Leonidas Skliris, the "Czar of the Greeks" was the principal agent for Greek laborers in all of the West, enriching himself by the fees he charged the workers he placed in employment. As with the south Slavs, most Greeks expected to work for a time, save enough to acquire a store or business, and then return. Intensely nationalistic after hundreds of years of foreign rule and influence, they often brought with them a vial of soil from the native land, so if they should die as exiles the priest would sprinkle it over them at burial.
Many more of them died as exiles than intended – taken by industrial accident or disease. Others simply had too much inertia, once settled into American life, to pull up roots again and return home. Altogether some 60 percent of those who came lingered in America, enough to cause Greek officials some concern, especially as stories of harsh living and working conditions, accidental maiming, and persecution began to be circulated back home. The Greek government sponsored in 1914 a tour of America by an educated and cultured Greek, Maria Economidou to investigate the reports. Helen Z. Papanikolas described her remarkable visit to miners in remote Carbon Country:
"She traveled into the Clear Creek, Utah, mine three miles in blackness until coming to shadowed men. Narrow shafts of light shone from the carbide lamps on their caps. They stood in icy water, rhythmically swinging pickaxes against a wall of coal."
"She called, ‘Have life, young Cretans! May the God of Crete be with you!' Startled by the unearthly feminine voice speaking their language, they dropped their picks and approached warily. The voice had seemed to come through the roof of coal from the sky. When light from their lamps fell on her face, they were astounded. A six-foot youth wept."
Observing the pitiful housing conditions, tyranny of company officials, and callous disregard of health and safety for the miners, she complained to the manager of the Utah Copper Company; R.C. Gemmel. He shrugged off her pointed observations by explaining that the men preferred such conditions and would not accept better if provided.
Despite such indifference, the Greek community grew until it reached 4,000 in 1910, about 1,000 more than there were Italians. There were only 10 women, however, along the whole 4,000, hardly enough to replicate to any great extent the home society. The void was filled over the years by picture brides, journeys home in search of a spouse, and occasionally by marriage to a local girl. In time, as a more balanced replica of the home society was achieved, the one-time industrial workers became shopkeepers, their sons moving to positions of considerable importance in Utah's business and professional community.
The Greek-American have retained their identity and culture more successfully than some ethnic groups in Utah. Greater numbers gave their community the critical mass others lacked, offering a broader and more concentrated segment of the home society to sustain pride and identity in the face of the "toil and rage" Helen Papanikolas so eloquently documented and described. Moreover, their church was more exclusively a national church than Roman Catholicism was for the Italians. Beginning with the Holy Trinity Church, built in Salt Lake City on Fourth South between Third and Fourth West in 1905, the Greek Orthodox churches and the priests who served in them provided a focus for Greek nationalism and ethnic identity that has preserved the distinctiveness of their community in Utah for nearly a century.