Loretta Brennan Glucksman’s great-grandparents all emigrated from Ireland. They were coal miners, brewers and bakers—and all four ended up in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Anthony Tamburri, meanwhile, grew up in a very Italian neighborhood of Stamford, Connecticut. And Eleni Kounalakis is the daughter of a Greek real-estate developer from the village of Rizes.
Today, Glucksman heads the American Ireland Fund and co-chairs the Glucksman Ireland House at New York University. Tamburri is the dean of Calandra Italian American Institute at New York’s Queens College. And Kounalakis is the lieutenant-governor of California.
On Jan. 29, the three officials joined Frank Spula, president of the Polish American Congress, and Angela Costa Simões, president of the Portuguese American Leadership Council of the United States (Palcus), for a virtual discussion on how to strengthen Europe’s diaspora communities on this side of the Atlantic.
The conversation was arranged by Domingos Fezas Vital, Portugal’s ambassador to the United States. It’s the first of six monthly webinars in the OutSpoken series marking Portugal’s six-month presidency of the 27-member European Union, which began Jan. 1.
“This is the fourth time Portugal holds the presidency of the EU,” the ambassador said. “Our priorities are to respond to the challenges facing the EU—the pandemic and economic recovery—but also, in the medium and long term, fostering our already unique transatlantic relationship. For us, that’s a top priority. We strongly believe we could hardly find a better ally in pursuing that goal than the European diaspora in this country.”
The chat also featured a short welcome from Kristin M. Kane, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon, and ended with a virtual concert by Portuguese cellist Mafalda Santos.
Greek, Portuguese enjoy flourishing diasporas here
“The Greek-Americans most people know are a very productive, active group. Over centuries of immigration from Greece into this country, they’ve maintained a real sense of identity and culture,” said Kounalakis, who served as U.S. ambassador to Hungary from 2010 to 2013 and was elected California’s first female lieutenant-governor in 2018.
“We now have six Greek-Americans in Congress and we’re very active politically,” she said, estimating that 1.5 million Americans are of Greek descent. In addition, the nation has about 500 Greek Orthodox churches in nearly every state and the District of Columbia.
With 1.4 million people, the Portuguese ethnic community is about the same size, noted Costa Simões, a third-generation American.
“For my entire life, my origin has been a source of pride. It really helped solidify who I was, and it gave me a purpose growing up—and still does today,” said the entrepreneur and freelance public relations consultant, who spent 20 years working for high-tech firms in Silicon Valley.
Costa Simões said her organization’s annual surveys reveal large numbers of Portuguese-Americans in California, Florida, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York, but also growing immigrant communities in Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii and even Idaho.
“Many generations ago, people immigrated because of volcanic eruptions in the Azores. Now we’re starting to see folks coming over to study at universities, or for specific jobs in the tech world,” she said, adding that some 800 clubs and associations cater to Portuguese-Americans.
“We have assimilated quite well into U.S. culture, but we proudly maintain our traditions and celebrations,” she said. “Our three biggest challenges are maintaining the Portuguese language, getting people involved so our culture doesn’t die out, and voting more Portuguese into political office.”
Strengthening the US-EU relationship
The community already boasts four Portuguese-American members of Congress, including Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican whose mother’s grandparents were all born in the Azores. In addition, there’s a Friends of Portugal group in the Senate co-chaired by Toomey and Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island.
According to a recent Palcus survey, she said, “87% of our community has visited Portugal and plans to again in the future. Almost 50% say they’d buy property in Portugal in the next five years, and 82% say they’d invest in a business in Portugal over the next five years.”
Spula said the Polish diaspora in the U.S. numbers around 10 million, with the largest urban concentrations found in Chicago, followed by New York and Detroit.
“But Poles today are all over the country,” he said, noting successive waves of emigration from Poland throughout history—following World War II, then in the 1970s, and finally with the emergence of Lech Walesa and his anti-communist Solidarity labor union. “We were very instrumental in helping out the Solidarity movement, and later on, making sure Poland would be part of NATO.”
These days, said Spula, “our mission is to strengthen bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Poland, and promote people-to-people contacts between our countries.”
The Portuguese Embassy plans more webinars in its OutSpoken series between now and June 30, when Portugal hands over the rotating EU presidency to Slovenia. For more information, please call (202) 350-5400 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.