Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Summer II/Section 09/George Mehales
George Mehales was interviewed as part if the Federal Writers' Project in December 1938 by R.V. Williams and J.J Murray1.
Biography[edit | edit source]
Early Life[edit | edit source]
George Mehales was born in Athens, Greece, in 18911. As a child he immigrated with his brother to the United States and stayed in Brooklyn, New York with his uncle, a restaurant owner. Mehales entered the public school system in New York and finished high school in 19091. Upon graduating, he started to work with the man who bought his uncle’s restaurant, Steve Bokettasb.
Adult Life[edit | edit source]
Mehales' mother died and four of his brothers contracted tuberculosis, so he went back to Greece to work on a farm and teach English at local schools to support his family. After his uncle and brother sent him more money he was able to go back to New York.
When Mehales went back to New York, he decided to invest in a restaurant with an old friend. It was very difficult to keep up with the restaurant’s expenses, so they eventually had to close it. Later on, Mehales found a job at a Greek school where he taught Greek children in the community.
When World War I began, Mehales enlisted in the military and moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina1. He was later sent to Camp Wadsworth and worked as a cook, even though he was promised to be an interpreter for other Greek soldiers. After being discharged from the military, Mehales was unemployed and had to work in his brother’s restaurant back in New York.
After arriving to New York again, Mehales traveled to Greece for a second time to look after some property that his uncle left him. Mehales had an easier time than most immigrants going through the immigration process because he served in the war.
When Mehales came back to America, he moved to Spartanburg with some of his Greek friends and took up teaching again. Two of Mehales’ brothers in Greece died and left him about $300. He used this money to invest in another restaurant that ended up growing very fast1.
George Mehales’ date and cause of death are unknown1.
Social Context[edit | edit source]
Greek Immigrants in America[edit | edit source]
In North America, most Greeks clustered in major cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco2. The beginning of large-scale migration from Greece to the United States started with the economic difficulties of Greece in 18913. Greece had an economic recession due to the lack of diversity in work industries and an unstable government that was constantly changing. These hard times led Greeks to immigrate because they could make more money in the United States. Here in the United States, they still faced struggles. According to David R. Roediger, a Foundation Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History at the University of Kansas, "Greeks, Italians, Hungarians, Jews, Poles, and other 'new immigrants' were gradually considered to be of “white ethnic” after periods of marginalization"4. "New immigrants" came mainly from southern and eastern Europe, and experienced the effects of nativism in the United States.
Greek Immigrants in New York[edit | edit source]
According to the Census Report, there were 10,097 Greeks located in New York in 1910; just second to Massachusetts, which was home to 11,413 Greeks5. Only a small number of Greek merchants settled in New York City in the early to mid-nineteenth century. Between the years 1880 and 1920, there was a significant increase in Greek immigration to New York City as compared to other years. It was until this time period that larger groups of Greek immigrants started to live in New York City and its boroughs, like Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan6. Greeks commonly found employment working as florists, fruit peddlers, and in shoeshine parlors in New York. Schools were a big part of Greek communities, with "Greek afternoon and Saturday language schools functioned in every borough of New York City"7.
Immigrants in the Military during World War I[edit | edit source]
During World War I, the United States drafted about 500,000 immigrants into the military service8. This challenged the cultural, verbal, and religious traditions of the American army. The increase in immigrant soldiers meant that the military had to develop new training procedures. Immigrants who were planning on going through naturalization could speed up the process if they decided to join the military. Naturalization is the process by which citizenship is granted to a foreign citizen. All immigrants who exempted themselves from being drafted could not become a U.S. citizen in the future9.
When soldiers returned home, they returned to an economy that was about to enter a recession. Labor forces were going on strike for better pay and benefits and the public was concerned about radicalism, race, and immigration. When discharged, veterans of World War I received only $60, enough to buy new clothes. This made starting a new life after the war something that seemed impossible for a lot of veterans. By April 1919, "about 40 percent of veterans remained unemployed"10.
References[edit | edit source]
1Interview, Williams, Robert V., and J. J. Murray, December, 1938, Folder 919, Federal Writing Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.
2McCaffery, Isaias. “The Greeks in Kansas: Immigrant Life on the Contested Edge of American Whiteness, 1880–1920.” Kansas History 42, no. 3 (September 2019): 172–89. http://search.ebscohost.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=139815176&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
3Pappas, Mitcho S., "Greek immigrant in the United States since 1910" (1950). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers, 1950. https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6377&context=etd
4McCaffery, Isaias. “The Greeks in Kansas: Immigrant Life on the Contested Edge of American Whiteness, 1880–1920.” Kansas History 42, no. 3 (September 2019): 172–89. http://search.ebscohost.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=139815176&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
5Pappas, Mitcho S., "Greek immigrant in the United States since 1910" (1950). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers, 1950. https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6377&context=etd
6"Greek-Americans in NYC: Settlement, the Church, and Schooling." Teachers College - Columbia University. https://www.tc.columbia.edu/che/whats-new/from-the-archives/greek-americans-in-nyc-settlement-the-church-and-schooling/.
7"Greek-Americans in NYC: Settlement, the Church, and Schooling." Teachers College - Columbia University. https://www.tc.columbia.edu/che/whats-new/from-the-archives/greek-americans-in-nyc-settlement-the-church-and-schooling/.
8Ford, Nancy Gentile. “`Mindful of the Traditions of His Race’: Dual Identity and Foreign-Born Soldiers in the First..” Journal of American Ethnic History 16, no. 2 (Winter 1997): 35. http://search.ebscohost.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=9703204003&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
9Ford, Nancy Gentile. “`Mindful of the Traditions of His Race’: Dual Identity and Foreign-Born Soldiers in the First..” Journal of American Ethnic History 16, no. 2 (Winter 1997): 35. http://search.ebscohost.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=9703204003&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
10Maloney, Wendi A. "Veterans Day: Struggling to Build a New Life after War." Library of Congress Blog. November 09, 2017. https://blogs.loc.gov/loc/2017/11/veterans-day-struggling-to-build-a-new-life-after-war/#:~:text=By%20April%201919%2C%20an%20estimated,so%20of%20veterans%20remained%20unemployed.&text=Emboldened%20by%20military%20service%20and,years%20between%201917%20and%201919.
11 Chrysopoulos, Philip. "Ellis Island: Thousands of Greeks' First Sight of America." USA.GreekReporter.com. June 17, 2020. https://usa.greekreporter.com/2018/04/11/ellis-island-thousands-of-greeks-first-sight-of-america/.
12"Yearbook 2008." Department of Homeland Security. September 12, 2019. https://www.dhs.gov/immigration-statistics/yearbook/2008.
13 "Americans All! Victory Liberty Loan / Howard Chandler Christy ; Forbes, Boston." The Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/97520325/.