Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Στις Φάμπρικες της Γερμανίας..." - Φωτογραφική Έκθεση στο Ινστιτούτο Γκαίτε


Της Μαίρης Αδαμοπούλου

Η ελπίδα, η κούραση, η προσπάθεια των ελλήνων µεταναστών στη Γερµανία της δεκαετίας του ’60 αποτυπώνονται σε 39 φωτογραφικά καρέ.

«Μου είπε ένας: Μην είσαι χαζός. Ελα στη Γερµανία να βγάλεις λεφτά. Εσύ θα πατάς τα κουµπιά και οι µηχανές θα δουλεύουν από µόνες τους. Προερχόµασταν από απλές οικογένειες και φανταζόµασταν ένα λαµπρό µέλλον. Την απόφασή µας τη γιορτάσαµε µε ολονύκτιο γλέντι», θυµάται ο Χρήστος Πλιάκας, ένας από τους χιλιάδες Ελληνες που έφυγαν από τα καπνοχώραφα της Βόρειας Ελλάδας αναζητώντας καλύτερη τύχη στη Γερµανία της δεκαετίας του ’60.

Μισό αιώνα µετά το Ινστιτούτο Γκαίτε «θυµάται» τη συµπλήρωση 50 ετών από την υπογραφή του γερµανοελληνικού Συµφώνου Προσέλκυσης Εργατών. Και διοργανώνει έκθεση 39 φωτογραφιών – την επιµελείται ο δρ Μανουήλ Γκόγκος – που ιχνηλατούν τη διαδροµή των Ελλήνων από τη Βόρεια Ελλάδα µέχρι τα λιµάνια και τους σιδηροδροµικούς σταθµούς, τα παραπήγµατα και τα εργοστάσια σωλήνων και τσιγαρόχαρτων από τη δεκαετία του ‘60 έως και τα µέσα της δεκαετίας του ’70.

«Δεν είχα ταξιδέψει ποτέ πριν. Κι έρχεται η µητέρα µου στο καράβι, στο λιµάνι του Πειραιά και ο Καζαντζίδης τραγουδούσε ένα τραγούδι, “Μανούλα εγώ θα φύγω στα ξένα, µην κλαις για µένα” κι η µάνα µου έκλαιγε κι έκλαιγε», θυµάται η Ζωή Β. «Και µετά, όταν φτάσαµε στο Μόναχο, φορούσα ένα µπεζ φόρεµα µε µαύρους λεκέδες. Εκεί, µας έδωσαν µια σακούλα µε µπισκότα κι ένας τύπος φώναζε από το µεγάφωνο: “Ελάτε, ελάτε”. Μας οδήγησε κάτω, στις σκάλες κι εγώ είπα στους υπόλοιπους: “Και τώρα, παιδιά, θα πάµε στον φούρνο”, επηρεασµένη από όσα είχε ακούσει για το Γ’ Ράιχ». Συνθήκες δύσκολες έως απάνθρωπες, αλλά άνθρωποι που δεν έχαναν το κουράγιο τους ποζάρουν στα φωτογραφικά καρέ. «Μπαίναµε σε οµάδες στο ασανσέρ και αυτό το γιγάντιο σιδερένιο κλουβί ορµούσε µε µεγάλη ταχύτητα στα βάθη της γης. “Ξέχνα τον ήλιο, για µας υπάρχουν πλέον µόνο τα βάθη της γης, η σκόνη και η υγρασία”, είπα στον φίλο µου. Οταν βγήκαµε, ήµαστε εξαντληµένοι από την κούραση, αλλά και ευχαριστηµένοι που επιστρέψαµε στο φως, στη ζωή. Κατάµαυροι από το κάρβουνο δεν µπορούσαµε να αναγνωρίσουµε ο ένας τον άλλο», µαρτυρεί ο Σωτήρης Περετζούκας που εργαζόταν στα ανθρακωρυχεία του Ααχεν.

Οι φωτογραφίες που προέρχονται από το αρχείο του Κέντρου Τεκµηρίωσης και Μουσείου Μετανάστευσης στη Γερµανία, δεν αποτυπώνουν µόνο τα δύσκολα. Στέκονται και στα πρώτα σπίτια, τις εκδροµές, τις γιορτές στα ελληνικά εστιατόρια, χωρίς να λείπουν βέβαια και οι στιγµές κοινωνικού αγώνα µε απεργίες και πορείες.

Αναρτήθηκε αρχικά στο tanea.gr/default.asp?pid=2&ct=4&artid=4596390
Η έκθεση «Οικεία ξενιτιά» εγκαινιάζεται στο Ινστιτούτο Γκαίτε (Οµήρου 14-16, τηλ. 210-
3661.000) την Παρασκευή. Εως 18 Δεκεµβρίου

Monday, September 27, 2010

Henry Miller on Greek Americans

"Coming back to America I am happy to say I have never run into a type like that again [a Greek American surgeon whom Miller met during his voyage and whom he immensely disliked]. Everywhere I go [in NYC] I see Greek faces and often I stop a man in the street and ask him if he isn't a Greek. It heartens me to have a little chat with a stranger from Sparta or Corinth or Argos. Only the other day, in the lavatory of a big hotel in New York, I struck up a friendly conversation with the attendant who proved to be a Greek from the Peloponnesus. He gave me a long and instructive talk about the construction of the second Parthenon. Lavatories are usually underground and the atmosphere, one would imagine, is scarcely conducive to good talk, but I had a wonderful conversation in this particular hole and I've made a mental note to come back at intervals and resume intercourse with my new-found friend. I know a night elevator runner in another hotel who is also interesting to talk to. The fact is, the more humble the employment the more interesting I find the Greek to be."

The Colossus of Maroussi, 1958 (orig. 1941), New Directions, p. 235.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

(Επινοημένος) Ελληνοαμερικανισμός


Το αμάξι έχει σερβιρισθεί

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"The Cyprus File" by James G. Pyrros – A Review


"A Catastrophe in Cyprus: The Summer of 1974 Isn't Over Yet"


by Dan Georgakas (originally published in The National Herald, online edition, September 4–10, 2010:10)


The Cyprus File is an engrossing chronicle of the anti-Makarios coup organized by the Greek junta that triggered the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. It is the work of James G. Pyrros, then in the midst of a 20-year career as an aide to Democratic Congressman Lucien Nedzi of Michigan. While not in the policy level of government, Pyrros had an inside-the-beltway view of Washington’s reaction to the crisis. In addition to being a Congressional aide, he also had long been part of an informal group seeking to educate American politicians and mass media about the junta that had seized power in Greece in 1967. That involvement provided Pyrros with considerable insights into the agonies of the summer of 1974. The Cyprus File is not an academic study. It is a segment of a larger diary Pyrros began to write in 1943 after reading William Shirer’s best-selling Berlin Diary. Pyrros also wanted to write of events immediately as they occurred. This perspective became especially critical when, “...It came time for me to play a political role as participant and observer.” The resulting diary is exciting reading that accurately records the shocks, fears, and hopes generated by events as they unfolded not only day-to-day, but also hour-to-hour and even minute-to-minute. Although most readers will know the ultimate outcome of events, The Cyprus File is a page-turner in the very best sense of the word.


The diary pulls no punches in its account of who did what, when, and why. Pyrros’ assessments are drawn from private conversations, behind-the-scenes maneuvers, newspaper accounts, government dispatches, and other primary sources. The two great villains that emerge are Henry Kissinger, then America’s Secretary of State, and General Demetrios Ioannides, then leader of the Greek junta, who died recently. The two Greek politicians who emerge most positively are Archbishop Makarios and Constantine Karamanlis. But Pyrros writes at length of scores of political players in Washington. Some of these names will be immediately familiar to readers, others not.


WHOSE FAULT?


Conspiracy theorists will be disheartened with Pyrros’ view that the US did not create the junta, instigate the coup against Makarios, or encourage the Turkish invasion, but simply acquiesced in them when they occurred. Pyrros considers this behavior a series of policy blunders that allowed the destructive plots of Ioannides and Turkish Premier Ecevit to unfold. Kissinger is identified as the source of most of the blundering. The essence of the Kissinger problem is that he preferred to deal with compliant authoritarian regimes rather than unruly democracies. This attitude was echoed by Ambassador Henry Tasca who opined of the junta: “This is the best government Greece has ever had.” Pyrros reports that during the first year and half of his appointment, Tasca never bothered to meet with civic leaders or dissident forces. Kissinger also believed that Turkey was far more important than Greece in American efforts to contain the power of the Soviet Union. He thought Turkish cooperation would be enhanced by the “double enosis” of Cyprus: part of the island uniting with Greece and part with Turkey. This attitude was further strengthened by Kissinger’s extreme hostility to the non-alignment foreign policy of Archbishop Makarios.


Pyrros praises the insights of ultra-conservative columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak when they wrote: “The generals held tyrannical power so long because of Washington’s coddling .... working-level State Department officials who wanted to condemn Athens for the Cyprus plot after it occurred were overruled by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.” He also agrees with The New York Times evaluation of July 18, 1974, which criticized Kissinger as being “too late, too insensitive, too unheeding, too narrow, too wrong.”


One of the claims made by US officials would be that they did not know a coup against Makarios was imminent. This is preposterous. Pyrros reprints the lengthy letter Makarios sent to the junta that also was published by Apogevmatini an Athenian daily, on July 6. In that letter, Makarios requested the Greek government withdraw its 374 officers in Greece because they were cooperating with the junta-sponsored EOKA-B to violently unseat him. By making his letter public, Makarios was asking for American pressure to be applied to the junta. Pyrros also reports that the CIA was told by Ioannides of his plan to overthrow Makarios at least 10 days in advance of the opera- tion. The junta, greatly weakened by the uprising at the Polytechnic in 1973, believed it could retain the support of the restive army if it were able to engineer enosis with Cyprus. The leak made to the CIA was a trial balloon. Tasca would give different versions of America’s official reaction, but finally in 1975, he admitted the US had never expressed strong reservations about the plot against Makarios. This was tantamount to giving Ioannides a green light to proceed.


MAKARIOS ESCAPES


The coup launched on July 17 failed to kill Markarios as planned. Makarios obtained refuge with the British forces on Cyprus and soon appeared at the UN and Washington seeking support. Kissinger vetoed affirmation of support for Makarios and expressed possible backing of the junta-appointed George Sampson, now in nominal control of Cyprus. The British were incensed as they had already brought formal charges against Sampson for his earlier criminal behavior. International agreements gave Turkey the legal right to protect Turks in Cyprus in the event of any armed conflict. Ioannides was either too dense to understand the meaning of these rights or he thought the US would restrain Turkey. The first reaction in Washington was that the Turkish military was not capable of mounting a naval invasion. In fact, three days following the coup, the Turks used landing craft previously purchased from the US to land 30,000 troops on a beach-head in northern Cyprus. A month later, when the Turks launched a formal invasion against vastly outnumbered and outgunned Greek forces, Britain and other international parties voiced strong condemnation. The US, the only country with the power to halt the Turkish offensive, remained silent. Pyrros establishes the indifference of the United Sates by noting that despite Makarios’ open letter and the Ioannides leak to the CIA, at the time of the coup Ambassador Tasca was on vacation. Also on vacation were John Day, chief of the Greek desk in Washington, and Thomas Boyatt, chief of the Cyprus desk. Roger Davies, the new ambassador to Cyprus, had not yet presented his credentials. When the Greek government replacing the junta asked for Tasca to be recalled, he was replaced by Jack Kubisch, a Latin-Americanist without previous service in the Mediterranean or as an ambassador anywhere.


Following the Greek military’s ouster of the junta, Constantine Karamanlis was the only Greek leader acceptable to all. He had denounced the junta from its onset and had worked behind-the-scenes for its ouster. Earlier, Karamanlis had distinguished himself by retiring to Paris rather than participating in the cover-up of the murder of Gregory Lambrakis in 1963, an affair brought to interna- tional attention in 1969 by the film Z. Karamanlis also had the skills and trust needed to prevent a full war with Turkey that would likely result in the loss of Thrace. Only his skills and the prestige combined with the international respect for Makarios made it possible to contain the calamity at hand. Illustrative of the long-term consequences of American policy was that soon after his return to Greece, the strongly pro-American Karamanalis was dismayed and then embittered by Kissinger’s policies. Cokie Roberts of CBS radio publicly reported on this phenomenon at the time of the second Turkish offensive.


These overseas events are accurately and clearly presented by Pyrros, but the most original aspect of his work is how he weaves the reaction in various American power circles into his narrative. He comments repeatedly on the general American ignorance of its true national in- terests in the region, the emptiness of America’s mass media, and the general political apathy of the American public. He records the efforts he and his colleagues made to spur Congressional action and provide journalists with accurate information.


GREEK AMERICAN TURNAROUND


Pyrros believes that the Cyprus catastrophe was intimately linked to Washington’s acceptance of the Greek junta. No small factor in that response was that to a large degree, prominent Greek Americans, major Greek American institutions, and the Greek American public were mute about the junta or supported it. The diary is remarkably candid in this regard. Tasca, Pyrros notes, was on intimate terms with the pro-junta industrialist Thomas Pappas with whom he would meet three or four times a week. Pappas, in turn, is said to have influenced Nixon to choose Spiro Agnew as his running mate. Before Agnew’s disgraceful fall from high office, he would be feted by the junta on more than one occasion. Other American politicians, including Greek American Congressmen Gus Yatron and Peter Kyros, also would be feted by the junta. Pyrros, who worked for a Congressman intimately associated with powerful trade unions, laments that, “In the seven years of the Greek dictatorship, the AFL-CIO has been silent.” His own efforts to get unions activated once the Cyprus situation exploded bore little fruit. Pyrros states that even persons like then Congressman John Sarbanes, whom he greatly admired, had not taken a strong public position against the ruthless Ioannides when he took command of the junta in November that year. On the other hand, Peter Marudas, closely associated with Sarbanes, was a noted anti-junta activist. By and large, however, the Congressional opposition to the junta had been led by non-Greeks such as Congressmen Don Edwards, and Don Fraser.


Following the anti-Makarios coup and the Turkish invasions everything changed drastically. All the Greek American politicians (Sarbanes, Kyros, Yatron, John Brademas, and others) spoke out forcefully and worked with great vigor to change American foreign policy. What thrilled Pyrros the most, however, was the response of the Greek American public. Planners of a Washington demonstration had hoped as many as 2,000 Greek Americans would respond. They were joyous when 20,0000 Greeks Americans from all over the nation appeared. This spontaneous and passionate outpouring, which was able to positively influence American foreign policy in the eastern Mediterranean for a number of years, was the political backbone for what came to be called the Greek lobby. Gene Rossides appears again and again in Pyrros’ narrative, first for his work against the junta, then for his active support of Makarios, and finally for his leading role in the creation of the Greek lobby. Pyrros also speaks highly of the work of non-Greeks such as Richard Moose and James Lowenstein, aides to Senator Fulbright. Like Rossides, they were key in trying to move the Senate and the House to positive actions. The other happy pages in the diary deal with the fall of the Greek junta. Pyrros wonderfully captures the euphoria felt by Greeks at home and in the Diaspora. Most of his colleagues in the anti-junta struggle were Greek-born. He had mixed emotions as each ultimately decided that it was time for them to go home. Once back, they continued to communicate with Pyrros, providing invaluable insights for his diary.


The uncompromising evaluations Pyrros offers are refreshing and unlike accounts that omit mention of objectionable behavior by persons that are otherwise admirable. For instance he writes that Archbishop Iakovos, perhaps due to his desire to be named Ecumenical Patriarch, was quite late in opposing the junta. Once committed, however, Iakovos is reported to have worked diligently behind the scenes to unseat the dictators. For instance, in August of 1973, he proposed that he, Brademas, and Sarbanes meet with Kissinger to “get something done” about the dictatorship. That meeting, however, never materialized. Andreas Papandreou is judged to be brilliant, charming, but unpredictable. Pyrros reports that at one time the CIA had thought Papandreou might be America’s best hope for Greece, but when Papandreou increasingly drifted to the left, they shifted their support to King Constantine. Pyrros thinks the monarchy might not have been abolished if Constantine had been active against the junta after his ouster from Greece. AHEPA is severely criticized for its general support of the junta and its extremely slow recognition of its misguided policies. When Senator Henry Jackson blasted the junta at the AHEPA biennial Congressional dinner in March, 1974, his address was met with silence. When then Vice-President Gerald Ford stressed the Truman Doctrine in his address without any mention of the junta, he was enthusiastically applauded. What makes The Cyprus File essential reading is that Pyrros has fearlessly recorded how the Greek American community, its politicians, its allies, and its organizations actually behaved in those now distant years. We learn the names of the reporters who did their work honestly and those who simply parroted the government line. We see how difficult it was for important newspapers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times to recognize the errors in their reporting and editorializing. The Cyprus File also is a reminder that these events took place during the same time the Watergate scandal that culminated in Nixon’s resignation from the presidency was unfolding. American mass media seems incapable of seriously dealing with more than one important story at time; the Nixon news easily trumped news about Greece and Cyprus. Again and again, Pyrros notes that Greece and Cyprus are generally afterthoughts to American policy makers, who usually have little grasp of regional issues. Most journalists know even less.


One of the longer-term values of The Cyprus File is what it reveals about process. The mechanisms and attitudes evident in 1974 are largely unchanged. Mass media still doesn’t know much about the eastern Mediterranean, the U.S. still sees Turkey as its major re- gional partner, and not even the Greek American public is par- ticularly active. More broadly, Pyrros is telling us that even though perception often substitutes for reality, reality is independent of perception. In other words, American policy makers may chose to evaluate a dictatorship as they wish, but dictatorships will always behave ruthlessly and will always place their preservation above na- tional interest. Once overturned, their allies are not easily forgiven. Similarly, however American policy makers may chose to view the Turkish state, the reality is that ever since its founding that state has sought to reclaim at least part of Cyprus, various Mediterranean islands, and more territory in Europe. The political task of Greek Americans and Philhellenes is to bring the perceptions of policy makers into closer accord with reality. That task is no easier now than the challenges faced by Pyrros and his colleagues in 1974.


Photograph captions in the original:


1) The Cyprus Files documents the role of Greek American leading politicians at the time of the invasion by Turkey, how some were in support of the Colonels ruling Greece. Then [...] Congressman Paul Sarbanes was said to have been slow to protest, while Congressman John Brademas spoke out against the junta. Gene Rossides became one of the leading voices to save Cyprus. Then U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger emerged as the chief villain, as was then U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew, a favorite of the Colonels, who feted him.


2) During the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Turkish army arrested thousands of Greek-Cypriots. Some1619 persons were reported missing, with many reportedly taken to Adana, Turkey or detained on Cyprus. Many were said to have been seen in captivity alive and well, by others who were released later, but there’s been no word since.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Review of "The Journey: The Greek American Dream"


The Journey: The Greek American Dream. A documentary film by Maria Iliou. Historian, Alexander Kitroeff. A Proteus Production. 2007.

87 mins.


A work of compelling visual and audial power, The Journey: The Greek American Dream brings Greek American history to mass audiences by means of documentary film. This is public history of high professional caliber, a product of collaboration between award-winning filmmaker Maria Iliou and historian Alexander Kitroeff. The film comprises fragments from a vast visual archive and draws upon contemporary ethnographic recollections to produce its version of the immigrant and ethnic past. Firmly anchored in conventions of historical interpretation, The Journey nevertheless offers no pretense of objective neutrality. The mere invocation of cultural mythologies in its subtitle enmeshes the work in ideology at the very moment of its circulation. In this capacity it inevitably alerts reviewers not to lose sight of its interest in values, urging, that is, critical dialogue with its cultural politics.


The film poses a host of interpretive challenges. A well-researched and historically-informed piece, it raises questions about the reluctance of the filmmaker to probe more widely into the archive and to explore in more depth the issues that she addresses. An admirable work of evocative musical compositions, skillful editing, and artful visuality, it construes a poetic universe whose aesthetic voice distracts from or even competes with the ethnographic voices it hospitably features. One can readily enumerate an array of empirical oversights. Commentary alerts the viewer to the policy mistakes of Archibishop Iakovos (enthroned 1959–reposed 2005), for instance, yet the conflict over language that rocked the community under his reign remains out of sight. Images of war-ravaged Greek immigrants kissing American soil are given due visibility—a reminder that immigrant narratives stand in for national narratives; but counter-memories of deported and persecuted Greek Americans, victims of McCarthyism, and a reminder that nation-states discipline ethnicity are rendered invisible. There are also numerous instances of dissonance between ethnographic representations and corresponding visual referents. Recollections about an ancestral village located in the Peloponnesian interior, for example, are supplanted by images of a dramatic sea-side locale.


But merely to keep enumerating omitted facts is a convenient and ultimately fruitless enterprise. This is not only because the documentary must necessarily rely on partial representation in order to relate a 90-year (1890–1980) span of ethnic history within its alotted narrative time (a mere 87 minutes), but also primarily because any historical narrative, we now understand, is attached to questions of value and judgement. The obviousness of empirical omissions and poetic license in this work calls, therefore, for an alternative interpretive strategy beyond the trappings of empiricism. The critical task is not to count what is missing, but to account for why certain facts are missing. I ask in particular, why does the narra- tive understate or even omit mention of the far-reaching intraethnic clashes over the cultural, linguistic, educational, and political direction of post-1960s Greek America when multiculturalism brought these issues to the fore?


One of the reasons, I suggest, is that the filmmaker advances an argument for the public, namely the value of biculturalism. Her rhetorical strategy lies in eschewing debate on complex divisive issues, to endorse instead a preferred way of living. In other words, the option for a polyphonic representation of volatile issues (such as the function and effectiveness of the church in bilingual education) is bypassed in favor of advocating the value of a specific world view, “what ought to be.” The argument develops in a twofold manner. The documentary’s historical storyline lends authority to the enduring operation of a dual cultural affiliation in Greek America while its ethnographic and visual narratives call upon viewers to recognize the social, moral, and aesthetic value of biculturalism. In this respect, The Journey functions as a heritage narrative, making history while steering its course to underwrite a bicultural Greek American identity. The particular representational modes that it employs—the “expository,” the “performative,” and the “poetic” (terms I borrow from documentary studies)—work synergistically to demonstrate this position.


The expository mode consists of commentary, titles, and supporting visual evidence—still photographs from an array of private and public collections as well as period film footage—to substantiate the historical argument. It arranges the past in three periods: “Immigrants” (1890–1920), “Becoming Americans” (1920–1960), and “The Revival of Ethnicity” (1960–1980). Utilizing the voice- of-authority of professional historians and researchers (they can be heard and also seen), the narrative establishes the presence of bicultural (transnational or ethnic/diasporic) affiliation in Greek America in all three periods. First, the Balkan wars may have rallied immigrants on behalf of Greece, but the determination to re-emigrate at the conclusion of the fighting also underlined the immigrants’ nascent rooting in America. Second, World War II fueled Greek pride in assimilationist America, enabling the visibility of a Greek American identity and mobilizing the community in war relief activities. And third, the political response to the Cyprus issue demonstrated amply, in the words of the narrator, historian Alexander Kitroeff, an example of Greek Americans “thinking in their hearts as Greeks but in their minds as Americans.” In this line of argumentation the filmmaker undertakes a drastic revision of Greek American historiography, departing from the authoritative model of Greek America as an American ethnicity to rewrite Greek America convincingly as a transnational entity.


If the expository mode lends credibility to the transnational model, the performative mode renders visible the contemporary relevance of biculturalism. In its performative mode the documentary features ethnographic recollections of individuals who recount familial memories and narrate their own subjectivities. Accomplished politicians, novelists, poets/translators, researchers, and academics—including scholars of modern Greek studies—underscore the complexity and paradoxes of experiencing ethnicity as they “perform” their biculturalism. On the one hand, the institutional position of these subjects implicitly declares their integration and cultural competence in American culture. On the other hand, their narratives underline interest in modern Greek learning, affective intergenerational ties, affinity with the classical past, and belonging to a local Greek Orthodox community. Moving away from narrating “history from below”; that is, history from the perspective of ordinary people—the documentary opens a space for accomplished “Greek Americans” to engage viewers directly with their own personal stories. Their telling values biculturalism. The United States empowers women, opens new prospects, and affords mobility—though the psychic cost of dislocation and fragmentation associated with migration can be enormous. At the same time, Greek culture, family, and ethnic community cultivate personal enrichment, belonging, pride, education, and affective empathy. Author and enterpreneur Elias Kulukundis praises biculturalism for fostering interrogation of social norms, and poet and translator Olga Broumas extols multilingualism for guarding against absolute truths.


If the expository and the performative modes declare and explain, the poetic mode hints and suggests. If the historical and ethnographic narratives navigate the viewer to interpret the social world, the poetic perspective composes a visual ode to the skyline of New York City, past and present. The camera lovingly scans this multisemantic space, offering aerial views of the urban panorama, zooming in on geometries of juxtaposition in the infrastructure, closing up on the city’s educational and natural monuments, attending to plays of reflections on the urban texture. Appearing in regular intervals, images of the urban spectacle rythmically punctuate narrative time. But while the camera monumentalizes this symbol of immigrant opportunity—this immigrant dreamscape—it remains absolutely reticent to probe its disturbing aspects. For, in this emblematically multicultural metropolis, differences also embroil ethnic peoples in conflict. Michel de Certeau starkly spoke about the “brutal opposition of races and styles” in the city, and The New York Times regularly covers deeply entrenched animosities among various groups. And even though interviewees in the documentary register personal memories in relation to these histories, the camera neglects the city’s archive of conflicts between white ethnics and racial and religious communities, leaving unexamined the unequal power relations that have framed their historical encounters. The poetic mode privileges the aesthetic over the political, advancing the documentary’s overrid- ing argument, albeit in the most suggestive terms. In complex ways that I do not have time to elaborate here, the documentary imparts to the viewer an aesthetic view of history, one privileging the sublime. The Greek American journey toward inhabiting two worlds—the dream of inhabiting the hyphen—ultimately inspires awe and wonder. Embodying this multicultural dream, New York City becomes the camera’s epic hero. But this perspective elides the view of difference as a contested issue within Greek America, but also cross-culturally. Hence the docu- mentary does not (in fact cannot) narrate, say, the social forces contributing to the historical defeat of a thriving bilingual Greek America.


The Journey represents a truly transnational cultural production. Its sources of funding, venues of circulation, and networks of collaborators span the Atlantic. Funders include prominent Greek American philanthropists as well as The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, The Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, and The National Bank of Greece. Prestigious institutions—The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Film Institute, The Hellenic Parliament TV Channel, The Hellenic American Union, and Public Boadcast Television, among others—have hosted its screening. The Benaki Museum exhibited the archival photographs and a book featuring this material is available in Greek, with an English edition forthcoming. This is a work freighted with great cultural capital, enjoying wide access to multiple audiences. Its capacity to harness and build on multiple dominant discourses—the American valorization of white ethnicity as the template of the hyphen nation, the centrality of archival images in narrating immigration, Greek political interests in the achievements of the global “Greek diaspora,” and the xenitia discourse of loss and hardship—contribute no doubt to its transnational resonance and emotive power.


Where do we go from here? What is gained and what is lost once history is narrated as heritage for public consumption? The documentary invites critical reflection on the uses of electronic media to popularize ethnic history, strategies of representation, audience expectations and reception of ethnic narratives, the positioning of cultural producers vis-à-vis powerful ethnic and national narratives, the invocation of the Greek American example to effect changes in Greek society (the filmmaker has pointed to the Greek American experience as an argument for a multicultural Greece), as well as the institutional production, preservation, and circulation of the ethnic archive (The Proteus Archive Preservation Project was established in the process of making the documentary). Highly mediated by dominant discourses, The Journey has sparked institutional and popular interest in Greek America while managing to capture our era’s transnational zeitgeist. Its historical intervention in the interests of bilingualism and biculturalism requires full recognition. Still, urgent questions linger. Will there be a community of filmmakers who will negotiate this cultural capital to further the visual exploration of Greek America? What kind of funding and distribution resources will be available for works that cast a genuine look at issues confronting Greek America or venture to explore non-canonical journeys meandering its landscape? What are the audiences for these projects? And what is the function of modern Greek studies scholars in this enterprise? Cultivating a socially engaged tradition of Greek American documentary hinges upon the resolute determination of various constituencies to explore stories that matter to them in their full ethnographic complexity.


Yiorgos Anagnostou


(Originally published in the Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Vol. 27 (2), October 2009, pp. 453-456)

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Origin of the Iconic New York City Paper Cup



Why does the iconic New York City paper cup look so… Greek?

The designer of the cup, Leslie Buck, arrived in the U.S. after fleeing the Nazis during World War II. He joined a new company called “Sherri Cup” in the ’60s. He designed the cup, with no art training, with a Grecian theme and in the colors of the Greek flag, to appeal to… Greeks. It turns out that a large portion of the city’s diners at that time were owned by Greeks. It was an instant hit.

So, we have immigration, ethnic occupational segregation, and Buck’s ingenuity to thank for decades of cozy, New Yorky feelings inspired by that little cup.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Appraising a Certain Praise


A critic who offers nothing but praise to an established author inevitably steps on discards of his own making. It does not take discerning imagination to build a critic's winning pedestal. Just straighten the otherwise spiral staircase of literary criticism using power as the stepping stone. The laboriously made curves, the balusters resisting a certain order, the forbidden words crowded for refuge in an irregular turn, the polished surfaces of handrails detesting the linear touch, are all turned into debris: A pile of litter, for some, to erect recognition; a restless assemblage, for others, to keep shaking the regular column of canonical criticism.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Greek American Theater

“Prime Numbers” at the Greek Cultural Center’s (Astoria, NYC) original production. The cast includes Stephen Lundberg and Kalliope Koutelos.








The organizers of the upcoming 4th Symposium of the European Association of Modern Greek Studies (Ευρωπαϊκή Εταιρεία Νεοελληνικών Σπουδών) performed a great public service in publishing the presentation abstracts. This is useful not only to academics but also the wider public which has now access to the newest modern Greek scholarship by (mostly) European-based scholars.


The 358 page document listing the program and the abstracts is available online at:

www.eens.org/archiv/Kongress/2010/Granada2010.pdf

On page 175 of the above document there is a paper of particular relevance to Greek American studies, addressing
Greek American theater during the first half of the twentieth century.


So it happened that the announcement of the Symposium reached me at a time when I was reading a work with several references on the same topic.


In his Ph.D. dissertation, Kostis Karpozilos also discusses Greek theater in the U.S.

during the interwar years, but he recognizes its political function among working

class Greek Americans. As he shows, theater was an integral component

of Greek political culture in urban areas, sustaining the struggles of the working

class during the New Deal and the era of the "popular front."

All Roads Lead to ...

Photo Credit: Ana Chow, September 2, 2010 (Metepec, Mexico)

Will Didaskalos Deliver?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Performing Identity to the Beat of "My Big Phat Greek Rap"

"White girl, I mean Greek girl, got flavor: Angela Kariotis"

(This article originally appeared at, www.brooklynrail.org/2005/06/theater/in-dialogue-angela-kariotis)

FronteraFest is the largest fringe festival in the southwest and, I betcha, the most populist. It is an unjuried, first-come-first-served, four-week grassroots bacchanalia of performance in Austin, Texas, including a short fringe for pieces under 25 minutes, a long fringe for pieces up to 90 minutes, a Bring Your Own Venue component, and Mi Casa Es Su Teatro, a day-long event in 12 homes all over town. The work is almost entirely new and almost all locally-made: someone’s slides of their summer vacation, nude Butoh, and a musical about tupperware. As with all fringe festivals, the range of quality is wide.

It was against this chaotic fray that I first experienced the stunning performance work of Angela Kariotis.

Standing stark still in a sharp, focused pool of light, she began her one-woman piece, Reminiscence of the Ghetto & Other Things That Raized Me,a work of drama, biography and poetry—one of those cross-genre pieces that sometimes carries the label “hip hop theater.” Or, to sample her own language, it’s about:

ghetto lingo | the philosophy of the kool | perspective | imagination | hip-hop | dandelions | perseverance through creativity | broken English | Felix |
getting each other’s back | White girl, I mean Greek girl, got flavor?

Reminiscence, a story of growing up in a Jersey ghetto, is about Kariotis’s brother Felix and their mother, who immigrated from Greece and wound up raising her kids alone. When I saw Kariotis perform the piece in 2001, she was a graduate student at the University of Texas, working toward her MA in Performance Studies. Since then, the piece has expanded from 25-mintues to a full-length. On her website (www.angelakariotis.com), Kariotis says that the play “is about creating identity through place. Each segment explores a point of view from urban vernacular and false assumptions, economic status and self-worth.”

“In no way did I set out to write a hip hop theater piece,” she told me recently, but “I participate in the hip hop culture, I would say, where I grew up, I participate in that. So the first major work I created, it’s going to be an extension of myself.”

One segment is about redefining the term “ghetto”—from a pejorative to a prouder sort of adjective. “I heard so much in Texas, ‘That’s so ghetto,’” she continues. “I was like, What is that? What do you mean? I’ve never heard that before. I don’t like the way that sounds, because I don’t think the person saying that is coming from a place of knowing. It’s a negative intention.” Kariotis is big on intentions.

Rather, she says, “ghetto” means: “You made it into something. You use what you had in order to make it something. You are resourceful.”

FronteraFest was Kariotis’s first “stage” performance. Prior to that, she did poetry readings, and slam events. “I was used to a stationary space with limited movement,” she explains. So for her Short Fringe piece, she stayed still. “I figured that way, I couldn’t go wrong or fall off the edge.”

And it worked. She performed new segments of Reminiscence in 2002 and 2003. It won stuff—starting with Best of the Week & Best of the Fest honors. The full work was supported by the National Performance Network and premiered by Rude Mechanicals and Women & Their Work in Austin. She has performed at UCLA-Live (featuring DJ O) and on Russell Simmons’s Def Poetry Jam on HBO. Most recently, she’s been commissioned by People’s Light & Theatre Company in Malvern, Pennsylvania as part of their One Night Stand solo series, to write a new play called Say Logos / Say Word (or My Big Phat Greek Rap).

Words are, for Kariotis, extremely important. Vocabulary is extremely important. She is acutely aware of what language she speaks and what her audience hears.

So, here is how her story goes, most in her own words, interspersed with samples from her new text:

“The commission was, ‘We want you to write a play about home and family.’ But then I was in to this whole Greek thing for a minute, this whole roots thing, you know, what is my responsibility now based on who and what came before me? Is being a poet, a philosopher in my blood? Where do I stand in line?”

So what did she do? She went to church.

“I was in church, I was praying. When the shit happens, I got to pray. I don’t know what else to do. Please help me write this play, Oh God. So I’m in church and I’m like, Oh, Anything, Give me something.”

The first thing out of the priest’s mouth was, “What does it mean to be Greek?”

Kariotis was like, “Man, the turnaround time on that is quick.”

So, she tells me, “he says this thing, he gives wonderful oration, ‘To be Greek is not to be inherited, it is earned.’ And I asked him for a copy of the sermon as a tool, as a reference guide. And he’s like, no. And I’m like, wha’?”

The priest told her that all the information from his sermon was available to her—through research. “So you know what this means, I had to read all these playwrights, I had to read all these philosophers. Okay, Socrates. Okay, Aeschylus. Okay, I’m a playwright. I’m an actor. I’m a philosopher, you have to be a philosopher to be a writer.”

Greeks don’t go to Astoria anymore, Mama warns. The Oracle sees, they’ve moved to the suburbs. No, not now, not when I finally learned to use the Subway! Ela mesa, ela pisu, come back, and stay! Astoria is a myth. It was like Canal Street. 125th Street. The center of a circle, the zip code on a letter to Mytilini, Agaptimou Hrisa, sou efhoume na ise kala. Pira mulivi ki harti na sou grapsou gyi na micro nisaki.

from Say Logos/Say Word

Kariotis has a very specific goal—to bridge the gap between ancient Greece and modern Greece. “The ancient playwrights, these words, they’re taken away from our culture,”she explains, tracing how these artists have been appropriated from Greece by mainstream history. “So Aristophanes, Aeschylus, they’re ‘the ancients.’ Maybe if they were Greek playwrights, it would help me own it, it would help me relate to that lineage. But because of this ancient business, they are taken away from me. They’re not mine. What artists do is, they’re inspired by their predecessors. If my predecessors are taken away, what vein do I live in?”

The revolutionaries and warriors of Greece from Odysseus to Bumbolina to Gregoris Afxention believed Freedom is not something you are born with, you must fight for it. Zito Eladda! My ratza is something I claim, like I own it. I am other, because I am Greek. Not white. White are the colonizers. Greeks are the colonized. “What does it mean to be Greek?”

from Say Logos/Say Word

Kariotis uses her work to invite you over. You’re camped out in her living room, but you’re remembering, as she says, “your own circumstance.” She’s very clear. She’s certain. She wants her own rememberings, her home, to help spark you to work through your own. “I just don’t want you to hang out with me—yeah, for a little bit—but I want it to remind you of things.”

What kind of things? Home. Love. Food. Family. The basics. Where we are from.

“If Aeschylus was known for his phraseology and his poetics in his time, how can I do the same thing in my own time, with these characters?”

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