When Greeks first settled in the New World— and New York City, in particular, Astoria wasn’t their first neighborhood of choice. In fact, today’s densely populated neighborhoods of Queens were actually considered “the country” by New Yorkers in the early 1900s and much of the area was covered in farmland.
Most early Greek immigrants settled in the Lower East Side, Hells Kitchen and other Manhattan neighborhoods.
It wasn’t until the 1960s— and the ten years that followed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, that Astoria started to develop as “Greektown USA.”
Strict quotas were set in the early 1920s on the number of Greeks and other ethnicities that were allowed to emigrate to the United States. Numbers remained low between 1921 and 1965, when the U.S. government had imposed what was called a “National Origins” formula that targeted the limiting of Greeks, Italians and other “undesirable” Southern and Eastern Europeans, as they were considered then.
But the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 changed that, allowing for increased numbers of all immigrants. In the ten years following this legislation change, nearly 150,000 Greeks immigrated to the United States. Most settled in New York City.
It was at this time that Astoria saw a huge influx of Greek immigrants. By the end of the 1960’s, Astoria, Queens had the world’s largest population of Greeks outside of Greece itself.
And although the community may not be at its peak, as it was in the 1960s and 70s, as many of the “old timers” remember, United States Census statistics from 2012 prove that Greek is still the predominant language in the neighborhood.
The American Community Survey is a massive annual effort by the Census Bureau to measure various aspects of American life. Among many other things, respondents are asked if they speak a language other than English at home, and if so, what language is spoken.
Because Spanish shows up in so many neighborhoods (including Astoria), as the predominant language, there’s a map showing the most common non-English, non-Spanish language in each New York City neighborhood.