The Albanian-American Dynamic

The Albanian-American Dynamic 

In a recent interview with Tirana Times, Nicholas Pano, one of Albania’s acclaimed scholars in the United States, describes the evolution and contribution of the Albanian-American community and interstate relations. 

By: Anastasia Nazarko 

Born in the greater Boston area to the descendents of one of the first Albanian immigrant families to venture to the United States, Nicholas Pano has long been an observer and advocator of the Albanian-American community. Indeed, as a professor at U.S. universities such as Northwestern and Western Illinois, Mr. Pano has fostered a greater knowledge of Albania through his numerous seminars. 

“My students are very interested in Albania. Until the 1970s, it was essentially an unknown territory,” he notes. 

Yet, a subject that has been particularly studied and publicized by Mr. Pano is the Albanian community within the United States itself. In fact, from the time since Albanians first stepped foot on U.S. soil, Mr. Pano highlights three significant eras in the Albanian-American story. 

“The years between 1912-1920 were a golden period for the community,” he remarks. “Albania had gained its independence, but still was lacking an active government. During this time, the Albanians in America acted as a voice for their home country, lobbying for its territorial integrity.” 

To emphasize the impact of their efforts, Mr. Pano adds that three important institutions emerged as supporting and facilitating actors in the Albanian cause: The Albanian Orthodox Church in America, Dielli—the oldest continuously published Albanian-language newspapers in the US—and Vatra, a pan-Albanian federation in America which brought greater unity to the community. These actors, combined with the individuals of the Albanian-American community, brought awareness to Albania’s needs—awareness which even inspired U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to champion for Albania at the Paris Peace Conference. As history shows, President Wilson’s efforts were critical to Albania’s preservation, since it was his veto that saved it from being divided among Greece, Italy, and Yugoslavia, as other European powers had proposed at the time. 

However, following World War II, there was a marked change in the Albanian-American community. With the dawn of communism in Albania, political refugees began to join the community in the United States. Initially, the newcomers were divided from the others, since their experiences, education, and political orientation were completely different from the original members of the Albanian-American community. They were finally fully absorbed and accepted by the 1960s. 

In the following decades, refugees continued to join their counterparts in the U.S. These included political and economic refuges from the Albanian Diaspora. By the 1980s and 1990s, the Albanian lobby seemed to recover some of its lost momentum as it took a more formal structure in the American political scene. 

“The American politician Joe Dioguardi, an Italian with Albanian heritage, has been influential in the Albanian lobby. His deep ties to the Albanian-American community motivated him to found the Albanian-American Civic League,” notes Mr. Pano. “Another politician, Eliot Engel, is co-chairing the Albanian Issues Caucus in the U.S. Congress.” 

Given the drive of the Albanian community in the U.S., it seems perhaps natural that the United States established relations with Albania very shortly after the fall of communism. Since then, the U.S. has played an important role in encouraging Albania’s democratic and economic transitions. 

With these transitions, however, it is also natural that the Albanian-American relationship and community will change. As Albania develops and becomes more capable, Mr. Pano notes that the US encourages Albania to be more resourceful. 

“Albania should expand its economic relations with other partners and strengthen ties beyond the U.S. The EU is naturally a closer neighbor; though long-term, the EU relationship will depend on the challenges occurring within the EU itself.” 

While Mr. Pano also adds that the new generations of Albanians will likely identify less with the United States, he stresses that this marks a positive, rather than negative, trend. 

“The fact that they may look less to the US show how well the US helped Albania recover from communist rule and regain itself,” he remarks. 

Yet, when one speaks of an Albanian-American relationship or demographic, it is useful to not only discuss the Albanian element, but the American one as well. Given the domestic struggles with which the U.S. is currently faced, the American-Albanian dynamic has some interesting parallels. 

In this regard, Mr. Pano remarked, “The U.S. has its own serious problems. It is also suffering from similar political deadlock in the Congress as relations between the political parties have become bitter. This does not set a good example for Albania, and it is important that the U.S. effectively addresses the challenges ahead.” 

Most importantly for Albania, however, is that it focuses on its domestic issues at hand. Though Mr. Pano notes that he is an optimist, he hopes the political leadership will be able to put aside their personal and party agreements, and instead work to ensure Albania’s candidate status and eventual EU membership. 

“It is especially important that this is accomplished before a new generation of Albanians. If this is not done, the consequences will be grave,” adds Mr. Pano. “It is time that the leaders in Albania appreciate the great responsibility which they owe their people.”