Alexander A. Tenentes works as an optometrist in Bennington, Vermont. He has done so for over 30 years and he is preparing to retire in the coming months. Every Sunday, however, he makes the trek down to St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and it is there that he connects with his Greek heritage by assisting the Priest in the celebration of mass. He feels very at home at St. George’s Church, as it “is an institution that fosters not only worship of God, but a feeling of being a community, as a family having commonality in a lot of ways.” It is this atmosphere that makes Alexander feel especially fortunate to be a part of Pittsfield’s Greek community.
Alexander was born in Brooklyn, New York, but he identifies as a Greek-American. His mother was born in the United States to Greek immigrants, and his father immigrated from Greece at the age of two. On both sides of the family, Alexander’s relatives migrated to the United States for, quite simply, “a better life.” In the early decades of the 20th century, Greece was still a predominantly agrarian society, and life was filled with much hard work and little prosperity. Alexander’s paternal grandfather did not work in the fields, but was a textile salesman who went door-to-door. That was, as fate would have it, how he met his wife, Alexander’s grandmother. One potential customer invited the young salesman over for dinner where the customer’s brother surprised the young man with the words “I noticed you were interested in my daughter.” Alexander’s grandfather had, earlier in the day, noticed two young women across the street, who ran inside giggling. As it turned out, one of the women lived at the house where Alexander’s grandfather had dinner, and the other girl was her cousin. Both girls were at the dinner with their fathers, and after that initial meeting, Alexander’s grandparents eventually fell in love and got married. Two years after having Alexander’s father, the young couple migrated from Greece to United States, passing through the iconic center of American immigration, Ellis Island. As they made their new life in the United States, Alexander’s grandparents came to exemplify the American Dream. His grandfather opened and ran a successful hat blocking business in Springfield, Massachusetts, and later, a tailor shop in Brooklyn.
Like many young people in the mid-20th century, Alexander’s father left school after 8th grade in order to join the workforce. Although he would eventually settle into a career with the U.S. Postal Service, he worked a number of odd jobs as a young man. One of these first jobs was delivering flowers for a flower company owned by a fellow Greek immigrant. Alexander explains that this was a common way that Greek migrants found work. Many Greek people who opened businesses in the United States, often restaurants and flower shops, would hire family and friends to work for them. Frequently, people would migrate from Greece specifically to work for people in the United States, although this was not the case with Alexander’s relatives.
As a whole, Alexander is proud to be a Greek-American, and feels blessed to play an important role at St. George’s in Pittsfield. He “appreciates so much” the “unmistakable…warmth of the Greek persona.” Alexander’s family and personal history/identity have been strongly influenced his Greek heritage and ancestral migration, and this is something he carries proudly with him every day!