GN: You began your Keynote with the assessment that what drove the conference was “renewed academic interest in Americans of European origins”. What brought about this “renewed interest”?
YA: Researchers noted the psychological and social relevance of ethnicity in the lives of these individuals as “the need to belong” and to provide roots in order to combat alienation, but the depth and range of this identification were not adequately recognized, at least for some American ethnics. Neither was the role of communities in the formation of ethnic identities adequately recognized.
GN: What are some of the ways in which ethnicity is expressed?
YA: A dilemma for families these days is whether to catch an Italian or Greek American festival for the weekend! Cultural expressions of ethnicity proliferate: a blockbuster film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, for example, makes ethnicity a desirable form of belonging. Artists explore heritage, and publishers find value in ethnic family and community history. Writers and poets turn to ethnic experience as a source of inspiration, and ethnic autobiography flourishes…nowadays even young people write memoirs about “growing up ethnic”. Diaspora has become a buzzword; even the U.S. government endorses it.