This is at least how a host of narratives frame Greek identity under the crisis. Two examples, both representations of Greek America on Greek television, undertake a dramatic repositioning of the diaspora in the national imaginary. They locate Greek America as the repository of eternal Greek values and love for the nation. In this nation-centric rendering–imbued with the ideology of cultural nationalism–US Greeks emerge as the new cultural center for Hellenism.
As the first example, I have in mind the documentary What It Means to Be Greek (2013). I discuss this text and its reception during its airing on Skai channel in my forthcoming article “Citizenship and Entrepreneurship: Greek America as a Diaspora at a Time of Crisis.” I share selective excerpts from this analysis below:
“The short documentary What It Means to Be Greek interfaces the local, the national, the transnational and the global. Featuring interviews of Chicago’s Greeks, conducted to highlight Greek culture, the film was initially created to promote an event entitled Coming Together in Skokie (2013), an annual festival that aims to promote ethnic diversity in the town of Skokie, Illinois. The documentary was subsequently shown on Greek television, specifically on Skai channel, in a programme which also included interviews with the producers, and touted the diaspora as empowering for Greece. Now it is available on Youtube.
Greek Americans [in the documentary] position themselves as diaspora subjects when they register their emotional attachment to Greece, their intense longing for its sounds and sights, and their appreciation for the natural products of the land. Organic metaphors of belonging abound. A Greek-born marathon runner [for instance] likens Greek identity as a tree that ‘spreads its branches’ all over, being ‘thirsty for more.’ This arborescent metaphor, common in nationalist discourse, promotes a natural link between the scattered Greeks, the diaspora (the branches) and the nation (the tree). It places the diaspora as an organic extension of the homeland nation, which is seen as the diaspora’s foundational roots. In this image, Greece figures as the national centre, an ideology that historically anchors the Greek State’s diaspora policy.
Narratives produced in the context of the crisis reproduce the widely-held notion of Greece as an idea that transcends territory. … Interviewees in What It Means to Be Greek speak about it in aesthetic and transcendental terms: ‘Greece is a light. Immortal’. The course of Greek people has produced a ‘collective wisdom’ to which Greeks everywhere partake and hold the responsibility to preserve and pass on. The making of diaspora as a spatially and temporally seamless entity, unique and organic, connected with bonds of blood and affect represents the ideology of romantic nationalism. Greek identity is articulated as a discrete and coherent identity of inherent value. Under the crisis, however, it is the diaspora identity that carries cultural capital by virtue of its own socioeconomic success, in dire contrast to Greece as a ‘falling nation’. The diaspora occupies a privileged position within the organic nation as the repository and therefore spokesperson of Hellenism’s diachronic value. Let me elaborate.
In the historical juncture of the crisis, however, another thread in this narrative portrays diaspora as the component of the nation that possesses a legitimate claim as the heir of continuing Greek achievement. This positioning reframes the ways in which diaspora is discussed in relation to Greece. Greek America’s role shifts from a peripheral extension of the nation to a centre. This is evident in the reception of the documentary What It Means to Be Greek (2013) during its airing in Greece on Skai channel. The show’s hostess reads the narratives featured in the documentary as examples of national unity across borders, and Greek Americans as spokespersons who advocate a positive meaning of ‘ελληνικότητα’ (Greekness) in the English-speaking world, a position which reproduces the ideology of Greece as a supraterritorial essence, as I pointed out previously.
The hostess’s reading, however, reframes the historical role of the diaspora from the national periphery to the centre. Now that Greece has ‘fallen into a black hole’, as she put it, diaspora’s narratives about the enduring value of Greek culture serve as a ‘source of inspiration’ and empowerment for the nation. They spark its will to revitalize itself. If in the past it was Greece that was nourishing the diaspora (έδινε δύναμη), now it is the diaspora that contributes to the reclaiming of the dejected national self: The documentary’s ‘optimistic message . . . explains to others but also helps us, Greeks, to understand and rediscover what it really means to be Greek’. The fallen nation has its diaspora to look up to as a guardian and cultural ambassador of the ‘true meaning’ of identity. Greek Americans are positioned at the global forefront as authentic bearers of Greek distinction.”
Discussion of the second example is forthcoming soon. Stay tuned...