Giannis is mobilizing a community, we are witnessing the performance of U.S. Greek identity in a place and scale that was probably thought unlikely outside festivals and parades: the NBA arena. If the fostering of ethnic identity in children requires some kind of identification with a positive role model, Yannis delivers just that. But he reinforces Greek identity beyond biology (ethnicity) contributing to a sense of post-ethnic Greek American identity.
For some time now I have been working on a book chapter that explores the ways in which David Mason’s narrative poem Ludlow: A Verse-Novel (2007) fictionalizes Louis Tikas, an immigrant from Crete and a union organizer, who was brutally murdered in 1914 during the labor strike at Ludlow, Colorado. As a narrative that intertwines poetry with history, Ludlow prompted me to undertake extensive research on the cultural and political context that shaped the trajectory of Tikas’s real life, both in Crete where he was born as Ilias Anastasios Spantidakis in 1886, and his early years in the United States, where he immigrated in 1906, before joining the Union late in 1912. Given the scarcity of the archive, research on the context within which Tikas negotiated his identities presents itself as one of the few available routes scholars have in the effort to understand Tikas’s pre-American life. I did so of course with Zeese Papanikolas’s (1982) pioneering work on this topic as a compass. I have now completed the work, tentatively entitled “Poetry Traversing History: The Making of Louis Tikas in David Mason’s Ludlow.” It is forthcoming in a volume exploring intersections between poetry and history. In this posting I share research that was left out from the soon-to-be published work. It is about a question that I sought to answer regarding Tikas’s Cretan and Greek identities. Given the power of regionalism in the Greek-speaking worlds of the 19th century and its antagonism with Greek national culture, I needed to understand how Tikas might have negotiated this set of identities. In what follows I closely read the poem’s evocation of Tikas’s regional and pre-American identities in relation to the available evidence regarding his practice of identity as well as the cultural discourses that defined these identities at the time. I observe that Ludlow’s poetic evocation of Tikas produces a historically and sociologically credible reconstruction: A co-existence between his Cretan and Greek identities. ------------------------------------------------------------- Writing about the regional identities of U.S. Greek immigrants in the early 20th century, historian Yannis Papadopoulos (2010) notes that for populations from areas outside the Greek kingdom at the time, “attachment to Greek state institutions and solidarity with Greeks from other provinces of Greece and the Ottoman empire were not self-evident” (14): "The Greek- or Turkish-speaking Orthodox emigrants from Asia Minor and Thrace did notnecessarily identify themselves with the irredentist policy of the Greek state. Greek diplomats considered the immigration experience to be a way for immigrants to assimilate the dominant discourse of the “Great Idea” through social intercourse with Greeks from mainland Greece'' (13–14). Does this situation apply to the historical Tikas? Not necessarily. Oral accounts–the best evidence in our possession–attest to his Greek national identification prior to his emigration in the United States. Local memory places the nineteen-year old Tikas wrapped up in national fervor and participating in the 1905 local revolt against the Great powers protecting the island’s autonomy from the Ottoman empire (1898) and toward Crete’s unification with Greece. This constitutes an expression of political activism contributing to his reputation in the village “as a guerrilla fighter” (Papanikolas 1982: 262). These accounts cannot be readily discounted, given the robust operation of Greek nationalism on the island throughout the nineteenth century, as I will show later in the discussion. Ludlow registers this act of national identification during the revolt–an identification that performs Tikas’ Greek identity–and further follows speculations that have this figure joining the national fervor sweeping Greek immigrants on the occasion of the Balkan Wars (1912-1913): “It is hard to think of that ardent young man, Louis Tikas, not being in the crowd that cheered the special [train] going east,” Papanikolas writes (44). (fn.1) The poem echoes this sentiment: “He joined those marching in the big parade/who would stay behind but wished their brothers well,” (53). The historian and the poet are in tandem in recognizing the power of nationalism to shape this historical figure. Let us turn to Tikas’s regional identity. The poem unequivocally underlines the solidity of his Cretan filiation under conditions of migrancy. Early on in the narrative, it posits the power of the natal village as a source of deep belonging: “home was Loutra, poverty, the house, the olive press, his father serving coffee” (Mason 2007, 47). The speaker has Tikas assert a primary identification with the culture of his early childhood socialization: the Cretan dialect, the family’s agrarian and small shop economy. This is sound, sociologically. It is the habitus of local culture, in other words the “system of durable” predispositions” that structures deep attachment to a place and social practice (Bourdieu 1977: 72). The poem construes Tikas via the sociological recognition of the power of habitus as a mode of enduring belonging. Tikas’s cultural past enters the American present in a moment of personal crisis. When confronted with alienating roles and rules associated with Americanization, the speaker construes Tikas seeking solace in the intimacy of the internalized familial and local identifications. The enduring diasporic identification lies with the embodied habitus of the regional. Particularly visible in the archive is what appears as a marker of regional affiliation. There are images of and eye witness accounts about Tikas sporting the traditional costume of Crete. This is what he opted to wear in the highly symbolic photograph he posed for before emigrating to the United States in 1906. But was he wearing it during everyday activities as well, an ordinary practice that reflected habitual usage instead of a conscious display of identity? This is also the costume he would keep wearing during the strike, “among the Ludlow tents on holidays,” before the flames in the camp erased it from the record (Papanikolas 1982: 266). In the multiethnic camp that costume would have been seen as a marker of difference, certainly a meaningful connection with the pre-American past. Tikas’s powerful regional identification presents a tantalizing route of inquiry. Is it possible perhaps that his attachment to rural Crete placed him in an antagonistic relation with national culture, imposed by the Greek state during the island’s period of autonomy (1898-1913)? The vast cultural distance between the local vernacular and the official national, coupled with Cretans’ well-documented animosity toward state-imposed bureaucracy could have ruptured Tikas’s national identity as Greek. Lack of identification with national culture coupled with active resistance against it, would have rendered him a lesser Greek, a Greek in fact, if we follow national stereotypes, whose vernacular culture exhibited tainted proximity with Ottoman elements (Herzfeld 1999), as I will explain. Is this possible lack of identification with the national what informs the poet’s decision to render Tikas as partially Greek? To explore this further let us take a close look at the multitude of contradictory social worlds that enmeshed Cretan life at the turn of the nineteenth century. The clash between the state-sponsored national culture and regional social practices at the time of Tikas’s upbringing–a time of dramatic political and cultural flux–helps us situate this historical plausibility. Modernization in Greece, Gregory Jusdanis writes, “entails the formation of a national culture to replace the ethnoreligious identities of the stratified system” (1991: 49). “The introduction of the European model” of national uniformity from above “led to ideological turmoil that polarized Greek culture along a series of antimonies” (43), including the one between modernity and tradition. As a result, the national and the regional clashed. As a result, the national and the regional clashed. Dimitris Tziovas shows that national culture represented the centripetal forces of “modernization, Europeanization, and standardization” (1994: 104). It was generated by an elite in the context of forming a capitalist, industrial, and bureaucratic society, and was disseminated through the institutional mechanisms of education, the army, and the jurisprudence. Social cohesion was seen as a function of cultural and linguistic uniformity. Regional identity, on the other hand, represented the centrifugal forces of “customary law, communalism, regionalism, and linguistic plurality” (104). Social cohesion was sought through interpersonal and familial obligations, local values, and customary law in a pre-capitalist, pre-industrial setting. The national and the regional represent two cultural worlds at odds with each other and therefore antagonistic in the context of nation building. The historicity of Ludlow’s claim on Tikas’s Greek identity lies in this tension between the national and the regional. From this macro-perspective, one could pose the reasonable hypothesis that Tikas–as a subject who is embedded regionally–could be seen as “almost a Greek” from the point of view of modernizers; as someone who represents the centrifugal presence that counters the homogenizing orientation of national culture. Because Crete was a province of the Ottoman empire until 1898, Tikas was not subjected early on in his life to the full range of the social mechanisms that the Greek state deployed to instill national culture within the kingdom. Still, parallel to the pull of the local, he must have been subjected to Greek nationalism hailing Cretans to identify with the nation. He must have been institutionally, at least, exposed to the ideology of Greek national identity, as the Greek state’s “national educational networks” (Şenişik, 2011: 57)–schools, consuls, patriotic organizations–were an integral part of Ottoman Crete–including rural areas– in the second half of the nineteenth century. Cretan-born teachers, educated at the University of Athens, were the primary agents of cultivating national consciousness among rural Christian peasantry, in “new elementary Christian schools” (46) appearing throughout the Cretan countryside. This could explain why the speaker has Tikas denounce a Roman/romios identity. The nation was transforming the Orthodox Christians subjects of the Rum millet into ethnoreligious, Greek Orthodox national subjects shifting the primary identification and loyalty of these populations from Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul toward the Greek kingdom and the nationalized Orthodox Church of Greece. Still, the scale of experiential identification weighted more on the side of the regional than on the national. The considerable distance between national culture (the high register idiom of the purified language, bureaucratic and capitalist relations, modernization) and the regional one (linguistic vernacular, pre-capitalist, pre-industrial interpersonal relations) posed several borderlines which marked the distance between the local and the Europeanized national, a dramatic cultural gap which in the eyes of the westernized elite would have rendered Cretan “folk” less than “European Greek,” “almost Greeks.” Contemporary Athenians, Herzfeld notes, “are often quick to condemn what they see as an endemic Cretan proclivity for violence, and attribute it to the island’s long occupation by the Ottoman Empire” (2003: 284). They have been seen by many “Greeks as a hopelessly mixed and tainted population (284 my emphasis). Would Tikas have been similarly viewed as a “lesser Greek” by mainland Greeks? But when the question comes to the historical Tikas’ own self-identification, a reconciliation between the regional and national identification could apply as a sound historical plausibility. It is indeed feasible once we examine it through the lenses of ethnohistory in the context of the clash between the regional and the national. The implementation of the legal system of the Greek metropolitan center to the island during its period of autonomy (1898-1913) provides evidence of how Westernization in jurisprudence introduced new legal practices in direct collision with local social practices. In his study of property transfer documents in the town of Rethymnos, in 1900, Michael Herzfeld brings to our attention the sharp disjuncture between the town’s social and moral universe and the cultural orientation of the Greek (European-derived) laws when comparing the latter with the island’s pre-autonomy Ottoman legal codes. Greek law introduced far reaching changes, beyond the expected linguistic ones. The laws were written in the high registered, purist Greek–a “super-purist legalese that was already the bane of the metropolitan center” (1999: 224)–at a time when Cretans “spoke the local form of Greek by preference” (227). Herzfeld shows how the property documents expressed a new bureaucratic ethos, a high degree of precision that was in odds with Ottoman law but also, crucially, from the way locals, both Christians and Muslims, at the time made sense of place, identity, and economic transactions. The Greek code, for instance, required information about the place of residence and the identity of the property owner illustrates this disjunction. Whereas the neighborhood was the local category of reference to orient oneself in the town’s spatial geography, it was now the locally alien address and number of a residence that legal documents utilized to regulate that geography. The local “ethos of imprecision” (235) was supplemented with the bureaucratic innovation of detailed and specific information. The impact of this innovation, Herzfeld shows, introduced a rupture on the ordinary social practices and the moral and economic ethos attached to them in the region, an ethos which Ottoman legal documents came closer in recognizing. Herzfeld aptly condenses the cultural gap between the regional and the externally imposed national: "Ottoman documentation had not departed significantly from popular usage: the use of patronymics and andronymics as sufficient qualifying marks of personal identification, the naming of neighbours to determine the boundaries of real estate and the absence of a detailed prior history as a precondition for the recognition of current ownership (and hence the right to sell) are all features of the everyday, informal management of property relations to this day" (226). How did the local Cretan Christians feel about this state-driven imposition? We will never know with absolute certainty. It is instructive at this point to take heed from Herzfeld’s allowing in the context of his discussion for “sceptical application of presentism” (236)–the cautious evocation of the present to project a relative understanding of the past–in the specific context of reading these property documents. Skeptical presentism presents itself as the best option we have to at our disposal to reliably reconstruct Tikas under the circumstances of a scarce archive. Given the well-established Cretan hostility, even resistance, to external cultural impositions, including those by the Greek state, throughout history, it is most plausible–almost certain–that the islanders resented and attempted to undermine the new laws. Still, following Herzfeld, they may have also opted to strategically manipulate it to serve their own interests, particularly at a time when property document transfers were of particular significance in the midst of major population displacements, namely the fleeing of Cretan Muslims from the island. We must also take into account that resistance to the Greek legal practices did not mean repudiation of Greek national identity. At the rhetorical level today, the opposition to the state does not compromise loyalty “to the conceptual unity of the Greek nation” (1985: 19). Opposition to the bureaucratic state underlines an ethos of independence against state-imposed rule and buttresses the claim of the Cretans’ self-professed “moral excellence above all other Greeks.” In this rhetoric, aggressive traditionalism and regional pride for the island’s uniqueness subordinate themselves to the national while at the same time positing the local as the moral exemplar of the nation, positing the moral superiority of the local and the regional; making Cretans more Greek than mainland Greeks. This seeming paradox, the co-existence of strong localism and powerful national identity, in fact represents the power of nationalism to reconcile the two in the “integrative project of nationhood,” a project of particular urgency for nation-building in the area (Herzfeld 2003: 296). “Island intellectuals and peasants alike,” Herzfeld writes, “aggressively claim cultural uniqueness for Crete, which nevertheless remains firmly attached in their writings and in everyday stereotypes to the premise of its transcendent Greekness” (283). Notably, as I have shown, the historical Tikas identified with the national cause calling for the island’s unification with the Greece at a time when cultural modernization was making inroads in the island. Though it is almost impossible to know how his family and him personally negotiated the importation of national culture, the latter did not deter him from identifying with the nation. It is not historically unlikely, following skeptical presentism, that Tikas followed the concentric model of identity, a model of powerful endurance in the island’s history. Opposition to the bureaucratic state does not preclude “an essentially segmentary view of the world” (Herzfeld 1985: xii), which accommodates a simultaneous village, regional, and national identity. Based on this logic, the clashing encounter between the local and the national in the formatting years of the autonomy period did not seemingly cast doubt in Tikas’s national self-definition. It did not necessarily make him feel less Greek. Notes 1. An estimated 20,000 “Greeks from the United States went back to fight in the Balkan Wars” (Georgakas 1987: 22).
Works Cited Bourdieu, P. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Georgakas, Dan. 1987. “The Greeks in America.” Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora, XIV (1&2): 5–53.
Herzfeld, Michael. 1985. The Poetics of Manhood: Contest and Identity in a Cretan Mountain Village. Princeton University Press.
-----------------. 1999. “Of Language and Land Tenure. The Transmission of Property and Information in Autonomous Crete.” Social Anthropology October Vol. 7(3): 223–237.
-----------------. 2003. “Localism and the Logic of Nationalistic Folklore: Cretan Reflections.” Comparative Studies in Society and History April 45(2): 281–310.
Jusdanis Gregory. 1991. Belated Modernity and Aesthetic Culture: Inventing National Literature. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Mason, David. 2007. Ludlow: A Verse-Novel. Pasadena, CA: Red Hen Press.
Papadopoulos, Yannis G.S. 2010. “The Role of Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Class in Shaping Greek American Identity, 1890–1927: A Historical Analysis.” In Identity and Participation in Culturally Diverse Societies: A Multidisciplinary Perspective. Assaad E. Azzi, Xenia Chryssochoou, Bert Klandermans, Bernd Simon, eds., 9–31. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.
Papanikolas, Zeese. 1982. Buried Unsung: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre. Foreword by Wallace Stegner. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.
Şenişik, Pinar. 2011. The Transformation of Ottoman Crete: Revolts, Politics and Identity in the Late Nineteenth Century. I.B. Tauris.
Karpathakis Anna. 1993. Sojourners and Settlers, Greek Immigrants of Astoria, New York. Ph.D. Dissertation. New York City, Columbia University.
Soumakis, Fevronia K. 2015. A Sacred Paideia: The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, Immigration, and Education in New York City, 1959–1979. PhD Dissertation, Teachers College.
This dissertation examines the role the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America played in shaping Greek education in New York City during the period 1959-1979. Beginning in 1959, when Archbishop Iakovos was appointed as the fourth Archbishop by the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Archdiocese focused its attention on expanding and modernizing educational institutions. The Archbishop advocated for a “resurrection of a Greek Orthodox consciousness” in education that would instill knowledge of the Greek language, as well as the historical, cultural, and religious legacy of the Greek Orthodox nation. As parish communities in New York City and the new wave of Greek immigrants heeded the call to build and expand parochial schools over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, the Archdiocese’s Department of Education also sought to modernize its curriculum and books, in addition to the challenging task of upgrading the teacher training program at St. Basil’s Academy. Modernization, however, did not entail assimilation and a diminishing of Hellenism, but a renewal of a Hellenic Orthodox identity within a religiously and ethnically pluralistic society. In part, several factors influenced the educational agenda of the Archdiocese: the historical position of the Church in relation to education, the needs of the new immigrants within the broader context of Greek Americans in the US, and the politics of Greece in relation to Cyprus and Turkey. This study ends in 1979 when shifts in demographics, declining enrollments, and competition with public schools compelled the Archdiocese and parish communities to reassess the future of their educational programs. This work weaves the Greek American immigrant experience into the broader narrative of immigration to New York in the post-1965 period. A more complex and dynamic portrait of Greek American education in New York emerges as well as the central role played by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. The insights from this work contribute the Greek American educational experience to the larger body of scholarship on the history of education in the United States.
Ψαρρής, Θωμάς Α., 2015. «Από τη διασπορά στη «diaspora»: ο ελληνισμός της Αμερικής και ο ρόλος του στη διαμόρφωση της αμερικανικής εξωτερικής πολιτικής από το 1975 μέχρι σήμερα.» [From the greek word 'διασπορά' to 'diaspora': the Greeks living in America and their role in the formation of the American foreign policy from 1975 till the present day]. Διπλωματική εργασία - Πάντειο Πανεπιστήμιο. Τμήμα Διεθνών και Ευρωπαϊκών Σπουδών [http://pandemos.panteion.gr/index.php?op=record&type=0&q=%CE%B4%CE%B9%CE%B1%CF%83%CF%80%CE%BF%CF%81%CE%AC&page=1&scope=0&lang=el&pid=iid:14079].
Σκοπός της παρούσας εργασίας είναι να καταδείξει τη συνδρομή της ελληνικής διασποράς στη διαμόρφωση της αμερικανικής εξωτερικής πολιτικής, όσον αφορά τα ελληνικά ζητήματα, μετά το 1975 και τελικά, φτάνοντας στο σήμερα, κατά πόσο θα εξακολουθήσει να επηρεάζει τη διαμόρφωση της στο μέλλον, δεδομένο ότι διάφοροι παράγοντες, που σχετίζονται με την ομογένεια, έχουν χαλιναγωγήσει τη δράση της και αναστείλει την πορεία της.
Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to show the contribution of the Greeks living in America in the formation of the American foreign policy as far as the Greek issues after 1975 are concerned. Furthermore, it aims at highlighting whether the foreign policy of America will continue to be influenced in the future since a variety of factors that have to do with the Americans of Greek descent have manipulated its action and suspended its course.
Kaliambou, Maria. 2016. Oi ekdoseis ton Karpathion metanaston stin Ameriki. [Publications by Karpathian immigrants in America]. Karpathos and Folklore. Fourth International Congress of Karpathian Folklore (Karpathos, May 8-12, 2013), Athens. Pp. 425–442 (in Greek).
Globalization, Transnationalism, Diaspora
Roudometof, Victor and Anna Karpathakis. 2002. “Greek Americans and Transnationalism: Religion, Class and Community.” Communities Across Borders: New Immigrants and Transnational Cultures. Eds. Paul Kennedy and Victor Roudometof, 41–54. London: Routledge.
Anagnostou, Yiorgos. 2017. Review of Anastasia Christou and Russell King, Counter-Diaspora: The Greek Second Generation Returns “Home.” Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press (2014). Journal of Modern Greek Studies, 35.1 (Spring): 252–57.
Kitroeff, Alexander. 2016. Review of Λίνα Βεντούρα και Λάμπρος Μπαλτσιώτης, editors, Το έθνος πέρα των συνόρων: «Ομογενειακές» πολιτικές του ελληνικού κράτους Greek American Canon
Saloutos, Theodore. 1964. The
Greeks in the United States. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press.
Karpathakis, Anna. 1994. “‘Whose Church is it Anyway?’ Greek Immigrants of Astoria, New York and their Church.” Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora 20 (1): 97–122.
Matsoukas, George. 2008. “A Church in Captivity: The Greek Orthodox Church of America.” iUniverse.
It is a disconcerting fact that decisions for Orthodox Christians living in North America are currently dictated by interests of foreign governments and patriarchates, all which contribute to spiritual indifference among the faithful. This collection of essays explores the loss of autonomy and unification within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and offers ways to create an all-encompassing church that respects cultures and philosophies. George Matsoukas, Executive Director of Orthodox Christian Laity in West Palm Beach, Florida and an active member of his local parish, diocese, and archdiocese, chronologically presents personal essays that respond to regression in the life of the church during a seven-year period. He encourages constructive change through effective communication and a partnership between the church and the laity, ultimately resulting in a church that is able to meet the spiritual needs of all its members.
Saloutos, Theodore. 1973. “The Greek Orthodox Church in the United States and Assimilation.” The International Migration Review Winter 7 (4): 395–407.
Anagnostou, Yiorgos. 2017. “Norms, Vulnerabilities, Paradoxes: Greeks and MTV.” Journal of Modern Greek Studies. Journal of Modern Greek Studies, 35(1): 155–179.
Anagnostou, Yiorgos. 2017. “Citizenship and Entrepreneurship: Greek America as Diaspora at a Time of Crisis,” Greece in Crisis: The Cultural Politics of Austerity. Ed. Dimitris Tziovas, 107–132. I.B. Tairus Publishers.
The diversity in Greek culture is often ignored when scholars talk about immigration patterns and the nature of the Greek Diaspora. Looking at a specific region illustrates some of the nuances involved in mass immigration.
Koliussi, Lukia 2004. “Identity Construction in Discourse: Gender Tensions among Greek Americans in Chicago.” In Ethnolinguistic Chicago: Language and Literacy in the City’s Neighborhoods. Ed. by Marcia Farr, 103–106. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Literature and Poetry
Kindinger, Evangelia. 2015. “Living Separation: Xenitia in Contemporary Poetry of the Greek Diaspora.” Recovery and Transgression: Memory in American Poetry. Ed. Cornelia Freitag, 187–207. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
On the occasion of his recent visit to Greece, President Barack Obama’s remarks – protracted echoes of familiar pronouncements about the end of history and ideological evolution, endorsements of laissez-faire economics and the individual freedom that our Western democracies purportedly serve – not unexpectedly were uttered against a background of Doric columns and numerous invocations to the ancients. Appropriately if rather predictably, President Obama drew from history and stressed the strong connections between his country and his host, emphasizing the political culture shared between Greece and the United States. What caught my attention, however, was the American President’s explicit reference to President Truman, whom he briefly quoted from his famous 1947 speech in the Congress, a speech that encapsulated the post-war US foreign policy of containment and became known as the Truman Doctrine.
Δεύτερη Μεταπολεμική Γενιά «... Δυο χρόνια στην Αθήνα δεν επήγε στο χωριό του ούτε για μπάνια ούτε για Χριστούγεννα και Πάσχα ... Πάνε τώρα είκοσι χρόνια που λείπει κάπου στην Αμέρικα κι άλλος διαδίδει απ΄ τους παλιούς του φίλους ότι ζει σαν μπρούκλης άλλος πως έκανε πολλά λεφτά και τα 'χασε και φταίει το αλκοόλ και τ΄ αλογάκια άλλος πως επήρε Αμερικάνα και τον ζει εκείνη. Εγώ το μόνο που ξέρω για τον Αντωνάκη είναι ότι είναι απορίας άξιον πως ζει είκοσι δυό χρόνια χωρίς Χριστούγεννα και Πάσχα χωρίς μπάνια και αχ! χωρίς τους φίλους του της πρώτης νιότης.»
«Με την ευκαιρεία αισθάνομαι καλύτερα γιατι μίλησα εχθές και σήμερα με ομογενείς, όπου γνώρισα μια άλλη Ελλάδα. Προσπαθούν μέσα στην αποδοχή μιας απνευματικής κοινωνίας να κρατήσουν ενα μεταφυσικό στοιχείο ζωής που είναι η σχέση τους με την Ελλάδα. Προσπαθούν να μην ξεχάσουν τη γλώσσα, έρχονται συχνά με τα παιδιά τους στην Ελλάδα ψάχνοντας ιστορίες για την γιαγιά και τον παππού, αγοράζουν πεσμένα σπίτια που ανήκουν στην ευρύτερη οικογένεια. Ίσως μέσω του ιδεολογήματος της Ελλάδας αντιστέκοναι σε μια ζωή που υπέρτατη αξία ειναι η μπίζνα»
Abstract: It is not uncommon for scholarship to dismiss the cultural relevance of European Americans, or even to interrogate their identity narratives as counter-productive to interracial understanding. This talk draws from Greek American studies scholarship to explore the complexities of the category "European Americans" and to discuss why and how their study matters.
Context: What follows is the inaugural talk I gave at The Ohio State University (OSU) on March 22, 2017. Each year, the Arts and Humanities asks faculty who have recently been promoted to the rank of professor to present a public lecture on his or her body of research and current projects. A particular challenge of the inaugural is to explain one’s scholarly work to both faculty from various disciplines and the non-academic public. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Let me begin with a poem, a one line poem. It is written by George Economou and its title is “All-American.”
“The Unexamined Ethnic Life / Is Not Worth Living.”
Once we juxtapose the title with the content, the paradox is obvious: The poem draws an equivalence between a national, in fact an archetypal hyper-national affiliation, indicated by the title, “All-American,” with ethnic life (1).
The poem aptly appropriates Socrates’ dictum–“the unexamined life is not worth living”–to make a poignant statement about our era. Since the advent of multiculturalism, we no longer find a contradiction in connecting national with ethnic identities. We search for meaning in ancestral roots, in preserving ethnic traditions, in connecting both with the nation and somewhere else. We have indeed become “the hyphen nation,” to borrow Matthew Jacobson’s phrase. Labels like African American, Asian American, and Irish American organize the ways we speak about our similarities and differences. The social sciences and the humanities register this fundamental shift. Belonging is no longer merely national. Many American people cultivate ties with more than a single homeland; they carry multiple cultural attachments. What does all this mean for individuals, for groups, for the nation? What does it mean to live an ethnic life in the United States?
Poetry, we often claim, is the art of economy in language. It says the most with the least. Economou’s poem is no exception; one line aptly condenses a host of ideas, and one idea the poem foregrounds is that it is not enough for someone to merely claim an ethnic identity. An ethnic affiliation, the poem asserts, requires reflection and calls for serious thought regarding the place of ethnicity in one’s life. If ethnicity entails some kind of difference, the idea of an examined ethnic life probes this question: How does difference matter? To what end?
The question of how to live an ethnic life has preoccupied me—not only as an intellectual question but as a personal one—since the mid-1980s when I immigrated to this country. And though I ask the question of myself in relation to my Greek and American selves, my scholarship asks this question in relation to collective identities. What is at stake when one ethnic group defines itself in a particular manner and not another? In particular, my focus has been Greek America. This is a relatively small demographic; in the most recent census, about 1.2 million Americans identify themselves as having a Greek ancestry.
Who are the Greek Americans? Many seem to offer an answer readily. Greek Americans conjure up images of an assimilated, socially and economically successful collective. A strong tradition of philanthropy defines them. The ethnic life that Greek Americans bring to the United States is enjoyable: the folk dances and the cuisine. This difference is widely accepted. Like all European Americans, Greek Americans enjoy ethnic lives that are free from social stigma. Like all European Americans, their difference is mostly fixed in the public imagination in relation to its desirable cuisine and folk dancing. Polka for the Polish and Kalamatianos for the Greeks. Gyros for the Greeks and Sauerkraut for the Germans. Scholars speak of European Americans as cookie cutter ethnicity and the banality of difference, which means their difference is predictable and repeatable. A scripted ethnicity.
Is this all? Some might ask. Several scholars answer in the affirmative. There is strong conviction that European Americans have largely lost their ethnic moorings; their lives are devoid of any complex cultural layering. Sociologists make strong claims about the irrelevance of ethnicity in the daily lives of European Americans.
A dominant perspective in scholarship asserts that Europeans have reached their cultural exhaustion, and there is nothing more to say or examine. Their story appears already known. European Americans experienced acute poverty, extreme hardship, and prejudice in their beginnings, but they eventually overcame it and worked their way into acceptance. They are fully integrated; they have moved to the suburbs; they intermarry in high numbers and have their festivals and ethnic pride parades. For a number of scholars, what interests them most in European Americans is the accrual of privileges as a result of their assimilation into whiteness. White ethnicity, as sometimes scholars refer to European Americans, is thick in racial privilege and thin in culture.
The notion of European Americanness as one of cultural loss and therefore academic irrelevance carries several implications. At stake, certainly, is the place of European Americans as a subject of academic learning. If European Americans are already understood, what is the point for a university to invest resources on this subject? What is to know beyond what has already been investigated and observed?
But, as the poet George Economou urges us, it is fine time we re-examine these questions. European America, and Greek America for that matter, is not static. I have devoted my professional life to thinking about the category European Americans—particularly Greek America, which is under-researched in the academy—and examining the way in which both scholarship and popular culture construct this category. Does the category matter, and if so, in what manner?
As we know, scholars cannot devote attention to neglected subjects unless they enjoy institutional support. This is the time to extend my deep appreciation to Ohio State, which in the best tradition of inclusive public institutions, has enabled my research. Ohio State is the only university in the world outside Greece that supports a faculty working full time on Greek America and the Greek diaspora. For this I am grateful. It goes without saying that my position comes with vast responsibility.
Working on a subject matter that many think is exhausted raises the question of perspective: How to make visible what for many does not exist? Working across several disciplines has provided me with vantage points to explore a cultural terrain that appears uniform while in fact it is not.
My training in critical Modern Greek studies has been a key in providing me with the tools to see what some cannot. Several scholars in Modern Greek Studies do their work from a particular vantage point. The aim is to question assumptions of dominant disciplines and produce knowledge that brings a whole new perspective on a topic. I was trained to pose new questions about taken-for-granted assumptions and to redirect the flow of academic ideas.
This oblique angle demanded I ask questions about the ways in which scholars portrayed European Americans. Were European Americans a monolithic – undifferentiated – cultural entity, as one sociological thread was insisting? European Americans identities have been described as privatized and voluntary, often easily discardable and superficial. But ethnic studies–namely Italian American and Greek American studies–have been looking more deeply and expansively into this question. Scholars in these disciplines carefully examine social structures and cultural lives. They carefully document a range of collective identities, transnational and diaspora connections, and the persistence of institutions to shape identities.
Instead of being analytically inconsequential, certain European American identities raise fascinating questions about (1) multifaceted belonging, (2) the relevance of the immigrant past into the present, (3) the dynamic between choice in affiliation and commitment to a collective, (4) the interplay among ethnicity, post-ethnicity, and cosmopolitanism, and (5) the political and moral responsibilities of European Americans toward vulnerable collectives in contemporary United States.
When in the 1970s Greek Americans in Columbus mobilized collectively to support this Modern Greek Program they did so because they saw their culture and heritage as an integral component of their ethnic lives. They are mobilizing now, as we speak, once again to renew their commitment to the Program through fundraising. Their collective mobilization contradicts scholarship that sees European American ethnicity as a personal matter, one expressed in the privacy of home or travel. European American identities are seen as privatized, not requiring a community for their expression. Given Greek America’s investment in community-making, how can I possibly not question the dominant paradigm of privatized European American identities?
One question about ethnic life haunts me. How the self-definition of the ethnic self affects Others? Ethnic lives are not independent, isolated entities; they are interwoven with other people’s lives. Thus whatever one ethnic group might say about its identity can have profound effects–explicitly or implicitly–about the identities of Others. Given this fact–a fact we often forget–we must consider what the responsibility is of ethnic lives towards Others in the nation?
We know that ethnic groups are vigilant about the ways in which they are portrayed. They are conscious that there is a vulnerability in claiming an ethnic life, particularly at times of domestic or international crises. During those times the nation may render certain ethnic lives dangerous to the nation. Japanese Americans, for instance, were labeled as enemy aliens at the advent of WWII even though they themselves felt fiercely loyal to America. Their ancestry was seen as a threat while their professed devotion to America was sidestepped. This, as we know, carried devastating material and psychological consequences. In times of international crisis or national turmoil, ethnic lives are vulnerable lives.
Assimilated European Americans are also alert when it comes to public representation. Greek Americans are no exception. The recent MTV show Growing up Greek for instance offended many Greek Americans. MTV presented Greeks as undereducated and disorderly, a gross caricature that Greek American critics did not recognize as a reflection of the members of their community, taking MTV to task for misrepresentation. They sought to correct this image, one they did not recognize as their own, by demanding the show rewritten or canceled. Their vocal campaign paralleled the Italian American opposition to MTV’s Jersey Shore. Both groups seek to protect themselves from crude stereotypes.
The question is, do European Americans display equal care to also protect the interests of Others? Not always. Often, it is their own celebratory identity narratives that implicitly harm other ethnic groups. Take for example the bootstrap narrative of success, the notion that European Americans experienced socioeconomic mobility on the virtue of their work ethic alone. This narrative is at the core of all European American histories, to which European Americans take immense pride. Though this story does not explicitly mention other groups it gravely damages vulnerable collectives such as poor people of color.
The life of a scholar who writes about ethnic lives comes with a set of responsibilities; we are committed to telling difficult truths to individuals and communities, even to people with whom we interact daily. In my work, I join several scholars to remind European Americans of the dangerous implications of their bootstrap narrative. If we explain success on the virtue of hard work alone we inevitably blame the poor for their poverty. In addition to hard work, there have been structural reasons that have contributed to the mobility of European Americans. For instance, unlike Asian Americans who lacked the right to vote in the first half of the twentieth century, Polish and Italian Americans enjoyed early on the political power of the vote. European Americans experienced nothing like the Jim Crow segregation laws that contributed to racial-based poverty well into the civil rights movement and beyond. They also escaped the institutionalized racism immediately after WWII, when second generation Italians and Greeks and Polish were propelled into the middle class while African Americans were blocked entry into middle class neighborhoods.
European Americans matter today because of their immense political power. As both the United States and Europe face urgent questions regarding refugees, immigration, and rising xenophobia, European Americans have been reflecting on their position from the vantage point of their immigration histories. They too, in the past, have been excluded and stigmatized as undesirables. What is their responsibility toward groups that are experiencing those vulnerabilities that European Americans experienced a century ago? I have been following how Irish Americans, Italian Americans, and Greek Americans remember their pasts to take political positions in the present. Some of these discussions emanate from their ancestral homelands, an illustration of the transnational dimensions of European Americans. Irish newspapers for instance urge Irish American spokesmen to make a case not merely for the undocumented Irish in the United States, but to stand up for Others. Greek historians tell the hidden story of illegal Greek immigrants in the United States. AHEPA, the most visible Greek American national association, has issued a statement assessing the recent executive order on immigration as “inconsistent with American values.” Similarly, Italian Americans narrate their plight in the past to generate empathy for vulnerable populations today. But the discussion on these issues is ongoing. There is no consensus. Research on these questions carries not only educational but also political relevance.
Let us revisit Economou’s poem: “The Unexamined Ethnic Life/Is Not Worth Living.” An examined ethnic life, then, requires the recognition of an ethnic group’s responsibility toward Others. Ethnicity, therefore, entails an ethical vision of respecting differences. It follows that a scholar of ethnicity has an obligation to contribute to that vision. My own work seeks to examine Greek American writings that define success in terms other than socioeconomic mobility. Related to this question is how the immigrant past shapes Greek America’s views about Others today. I utilized a corpus of autobiography and ethnography that posits an ethic of care for vulnerable populations as a vital component of Greek American identity.
The writer Harry Mark Petrakis, in his story “A Tale of Color,” tells the story of his Greek Orthodox mother in the 1950s. She embraced an interracial couple–a Greek American and an African American–in the midst of hostility. There are writings such as David Mason’s Ludlow about the life and political activism of Louis Tikas, a Cretan immigrant who participated in the American labor movement in the early 1910s. For Tikas, an American life and an ethnic life conjoined in political activism against exploitation in the workplace. In yet another example, historian Helen Papanikolas drew from her own ethnic experience as a daughter of immigrants in the 1920s when she was relegated as not fully American. In public speeches she sought to empower the children of Native Americans and Mexican immigrants to both embrace heritage and participate in national life. An eminent line of Greek American writing advocates the interests of marginalized people. The immigrant past for European Americans informs their contemporary writing. Research illuminates this phenomenon and makes visible models of success that are centered not on class mobility but commitment to the public good.
I have devoted my professional life to promote Greek American studies. As a faculty working in this underexamined field, I see it as my responsibility to advance it. One particular approach has worked well: placing Greek American material–films, documentaries, popular histories, and autobiographies–in relation to academic discussions about diversity, diaspora, and multiculturalism. In other words, I discuss how this Greek American material contributes to our understanding of these issues that extend beyond Greek America. I have opted for the academic article as the optimal publication venue to enhance visibility.
I could not resist writing, for example, about the blockbuster film My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It was not a small challenge. In all accounts this is an utterly predictable film, as it slavishly follows the conventions of romantic comedy; boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, they face obstacles, they overcome them through the power of love. The happy ending offers the exclamation point of Hollywood’s sanctioning marriage as the culmination of love. Yet once one looks at the film carefully one could reap rich insights. The film make a powerful argument for the value of ethnic community as a place of belonging. It reverses the power relations between the dominant society and an ethnic group, you may recall the male relatives of the bride playing pranks on WASPy outsider Ian Miller. These scenes place viewers who are not Greek in the position of a cultural minority, particularly when the jokes and lines are delivered in Greek before the subtitles appear on the screen. The film contributes to mutual understanding across difference.
The film harnesses stereotypes for a number of narrative purposes that I have explained elsewhere. But the film is also making a point in telling us – in the character of aunt Toula – that we must go beyond stereotypes and exchange stories so others will learn from us and us we will learn from Others. What an essential reminder that we need multilayered narratives to portray the complexity of ethnic lives. And what a power this idea carries for the value of European American literature and ethnography!
My Life in Ruins, an utterly banal film, presented another challenge. How to analyze the film both in relation to American cinema and Greek identity. For some time now American studies analyzes the United States not in national terms but in connection to other places and global developments. American history moves from national analysis to a transnational one. Writing about the film gave me the opportunity to demonstrate how to practice this kind of transnational approach. And this allows me to help expand the scope of Modern Greek studies from area studies to a transnational cultural field.
Finally, the Greek economic crisis and the avalanche of stereotypes that it unleashed about the Greeks also probed my interest. I wrote about the way Greek Americans and the American Embassy in Greece mobilized solidarity on behalf of the historical homeland. My work linked this diasporic affiliation with a larger project–supported both by the United States and other global financial institutions–in promoting the idea of diaspora as an agent for economic development and social stability. Diaspora identities now are connected with the idea of national and global citizenship.
There is a powerful narrative in contemporary culture that promotes citizenship as what scholars Giroux and Giroux term “competitive, self-interested individualism.” The ideal of the citizen is one who espouses self-reliance, individualism, mobility, innovation, and flexibility. But the question of how to live an ethnic life, that it is not given but nurtured, calls for considering an alternative model of citizenship, one that privileges civic engagement as an obligation for the public good. This is not of course a new idea. But its urgency is.
For the last five years, what has also preoccupied me is the place of scholarly work in the lives of individuals and communities outside the academy. As scholars, what is our obligation to also engage with the broader, nonacademic public? This question has generated great interest in universities across the nation. There is a renewed interest for engaged scholarship; this entails scholars writing in non-academic venues. It also entails collaborations with communities, partnerships with artists, and exchanges with institutions.
At its best, public scholarship illuminates issues, places texts in contexts, and renders political debates meaningful. Doing so in an accessible manner boosts its case for readability. A number of themes stand out amidst this redrawing of knowledge-making. Commitment to the broader public emerges as a key concern. Rethinking the scope of research and the mode of presenting it is another.
In this spirit, I am venturing into two new projects. One is about the initiative to create a museum of immigration and diaspora in Thessaloniki, Greece. The challenge in this project is in line with the heart of Economou’s poem. The museum project requires reflection as to how to present ethnic lives in the past and why this representation matters to the public. What is it that ethnic lives may tell us about history, about commitment, about the experience of people who emigrated to make meaning for their lives elsewhere?
My second project also aims to bring scholarship closer to non-academic publics, but this time the venue is an online cultural journal. The goal of the journal is to promote responsible popularization of scholarship and to present research and ideas in compelling prose.
As I reflect on immigration, ethnicity, the nation, and ethnic lives, I think of the value of the community. This Ohio State University community that nurtures and supports my research. The national and international community of scholars that animates my work. The national public that my work aspires to reach. The Greek American community here in Columbus, and elsewhere. Without these communities, the scope of my own life would have been much narrower. Who would I be without these communities? My scholarly and personal life has been shaped in relation to them. Writing with, for, and about these communities has certainly contributed to living my own reflective ethnic life. Note 1. An unpublished essay by Vassilis Lambropoulos first drew me to this association.