Saturday, July 13, 2013

Postethnicity


This is how, in a recent autobiographical piece in The New Yorker, noted crime fiction writer George Pelecanos recalls his youth: 

"There had been previous incidents as it was in my nature to push limits. … I'd perpetrated many other unlawful acts, and except for the most minor ones, had never been caught. Among them: breaking into houses in the middle of the night, just to see if I could; stealing the record collection of a friend's thirty-two-year-old boyfriend, a creep who I plain didn't like; an accidental shooting, for which I was not charged; riding in a stolen car; lifting wallets from the cloakroom of the Hot Shoppes in Langley Park, Maryland; shoplifting at Hecht's and Montgomery Ward; and stealing a Christmas tree with a guy whose father had recently died, because we thought the tree would make his mom 'happy'"*

In this personal piece one recognizes several aspects of Pelecanos' fiction: the crisp narration of law transgression; the everydayness of violence behind the shining fronts of malls and corporate lawns; a dark dive into America's underbelly. 

This is a fascinating autobiographical profile about youth rebelliousness. A confessional detailing how an American teenager acted out urban male toughness in the 1970s and 1980s. A narration of youth's insubordination. But as in Pelecanos' fiction, a moral asserts itself. At the end of the story, the follies of the youth yield to mature adulthood and moral rectitude, for which marriage serves as a catalyst. 

The excerpts above got me thinking about the personal telling of lives; what an author selects to disclose for the purposes of any given story, and how life stories of Greek Americans may illuminate ethnicity.

There is not a single reference to immigration and ethnicity in Pelecanos' testimonial above, although these topics are staples in his fiction and public tellings of his life. This is not meant as a criticism, of course. The author finds it necessary to put his American experience at the center of the story. The thing to note is that in doing so he brings attention to activities that the genre of "growing up ethnic" – now a popular industry – often shuns. 

The piece is instructive in a different way. Anyone familiar with collective narratives of Greek American identity will notice their vast distance from this personal story. The former sanctify ethnicity (the model ethnic image); the latter complicate this image. 

Here then is a critical route that increasingly beckons my interest. To understand the complexity of ethnicity it is necessary to probe beyond it; to explore the American component of the hyphen, which usually remains transparent in discussions of Greek America. Ethnicity requires discussion of postethnicity. 


* George Pelecanos, "Twisted." The New Yorker, June 10&17, 2013:54–55.


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