Here in New York, Albanian flags have been flying side-by-side with the star-spangled banners of America along the streets of neighborhoods with large Albanian-American populations, including Arthur Avenue (the Little Italy of the Bronx), and my own Morris Park and Pelham Parkway community.
For an excellent and comprehensive essay about the geneology of Albanian-Americans, written and researched by Uk Lushi, please click here. The article originally appeared in the Albanian publication Dielli ("The Sun") and was reprinted in Illyria, the only bilingual Albanian-American newspaper.
The Albanian flag is an eye-catching symbol, with its bold red-and-black colors and its mythic image of a two-headed eagle. Albania is known as the "Land of the Eagle" and its people are called "Sons of the Eagle." The two-headed icon is meant to represent the unified north and the south, the Gegs and the Tosks.
Allegedly first used by national hero Gjergj "Skanderbeg" Kastrioti, (its symbolic eagle possibly a variation of the seal of the Byzantine Empire), the flag has become a powerful symbol of pride for a people who have managed to keep their ethnic identity that traces back to ancient times (pre-Greek Empire) despite countless occupations by foreign regimes.
Variations of the Albanian flag have included the "crown of Skanderbeg" over the bicephalous eagle for the Kingdom of Albania and a controversial star over the eagle during the isolationist, totalitarian Communist era.
But the simple silhouetted black eagle, wings and claws spread in noble fashion against a stark red field, has endured and continues to endure for native Albanians as well as for ethnic Albanians in various places throughout the globe, a common symbolic link to their shared heritage and history.