LAS VEGAS – When one thinks of Las Vegas, Nevada it’s very easy to think of cacti, broad boulevards – and of course the Las Vegas Strip, casinos and all. This past weekend, however, Las Vegas was associated with something else: Hellenism in America.
At a time when one would be forgiven if they believed the Diaspora was in disarray considering situations like community organization elections gone awry, ecclesiastical mistakes, and other more isolated events, the National Hellenic Society hosted their Heritage Weekend and Classic which offered great hope for the direction of the Greek Diaspora in America.
Hosted at the M Resort in Henderson, Nevada, just outside Las Vegas, the Heritage Weekend and Classic perfectly fused together strategy, camaraderie, introductions, and education on a wide variety of issues.
The core of the weekend consisted of informative panel discussions and presentation of topics important for Greece, Cyprus, and the Community. The activities began with a welcoming cocktail reception in the evening followed the next morning by a breakfast which merged into lunch.
At the formal luncheon Dr. Katherine Fleming, Provost of NYU, gave a wonderfully crafted but heart wrenching speech on the historical biases in the criteria that one may have in identifying ‘inherent Greekness’ in their fellow Hellene. This was a speech and a topic that resonates with so many Greeks of the Diaspora and Philhellenes alike. So often Greeks are highly critical and demand some sort of ethnic, geographic, linguistic, and aesthetic purity to define Greekness, but Dr. Fleming correctly pointed out she holds a Greek passport, is an avid reader of Giorgos Seferis, and possesses knowledge of Greece that would put most ‘Greeks’ to shame. It’s a struggle that generations of Greek Americans who feel deeply about Greece have encountered, asking themselves: “does my American side take away from the Greek side of me? Can they coexist, so that I can be both a proud Greek and a proud American?”
The answer is often complicated, but of course they can coexist in a way that makes one neither less Greek nor less American.
Among the highlights of the weekend was a panel discussion about the hit 2019 film, Cliffs of Freedom, whose rights were recently donated by the Metropoulos family to NHS. Guests were able to view special trailers and panel included the film’s director Van Ling, the star of the film Tania Raymonde, scholar Dr. Maureen Santelli, and composer of the score George Kallis.
On Saturday and Sunday there were panel during the days with notable speakers including Congresswoman Dina Titus and Ambassador Alexandra Papadopoulou of Greece.
All in all, the entire weekend was a blueprint to be followed by other organizations in terms of impactful guests, to-the-point speakers, and a wonderful venue to be hosted in. In the desert, Hellenism was advanced through thoughtful conversation and bridge building – satisfying, refreshing, and inspiring on many levels.