Crowds, marchers in city mark Greek independence

Parade celebrates revolt 185 years ago that brought freedom

March 27, 2006|By LAURA CADIZ | LAURA CADIZ,SUN REPORTER

Don't let Angela Scagliola's Italian name fool you.

Her ancestry may be half Italian, but yesterday her Greek heritage took center stage as she reigned as the first Miss Greek Independence Day at a parade celebrating the revolt 185 years ago that culminated in Greece winning its freedom from the Ottoman Turks.

The 21-year-old from Bel Air waved the blue-and-white Greek flag while riding on a float in Baltimore's Greektown, greeting spectators at the Greek Independence Day Mid-Atlantic Parade.

"They won their freedom back, and it's something they've never forgotten," Scagliola said. "Their religion and values ... it's just something they really hold on to. You can see it all throughout society, if you ever meet any Greek, that's just something we always carry with us."

Crowds lining Eastern Avenue and Ponca Street cheered about 130 marching groups from the Mid-Atlantic region, including churches, bands and military units. Men, women and children marched in traditional Greek costumes as their friends and family shouted to them in Greek.

The spectators came to celebrate but also to remember those who sacrificed their lives during the independence struggle that began March 25, 1821 and ended in 1832 when the Turkish sultan recognized Greece as an independent state as stipulated in the Treaty of Constantinople.

"We feel strong," said Maria Koutsouris of Baltimore. "We feel the day."

The gravity of the day was also not lost on Louie Filippakis, 27, of Baltimore.

"I wouldn't be a free American citizen now if my dad did not come over [to America] as a free Greek patriot," he said.

In its 11th year, the parade began as a smaller effort, with a few participants marching only about a block. But since Steve Mavronis and George Stakias took over as parade chairmen in 1999, the event has mushroomed in popularity.

The event now stretches five blocks and bills itself as one of the largest Greek Independence Day parades in the country, typically attracting around 10,000 spectators, said Gayle V. Economos, a parade spokeswoman.

"They put the parade on the map," Economos said of the two chairmen. "They've gotten ... all the Greek-Americans from the whole region to get together to show our ethnic pride."

The chairmen hope the parade will continue to grow and have been trying to get younger Greeks involved by adding attractions like Miss Greek Independence Day.

"We started a legacy. We wanted to do something to empower our young people," Mavronis said. "It will empower our young ladies to get involved in their community and churches."

Mavronis said Scagliola represents a growing number of Greek children who have a mixed heritage.

"Most kids are that way, but they haven't forgotten their culture," he said. "They're more involved now than they ever were, [creating] a dynamic, young culture."

Christina Poole, 27, of Baltimore was somewhat embarrassed to admit that yesterday was the first time she has attended the parade. She said as she's grown older, she's become more aware of the importance of being in touch with her heritage, and that she wants to pass that along to her children.

"I married into a family that's half Italian and half Irish," she said, adding that it was really important to instill in her children "how I was brought up."

laura.cadiz@baltsun.com

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