Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Bicentenary and Contemporary Greek Identity in Relation to Interethnic Encounters

For my contribution to the conversation about the bicentenary, I have been discussing a host of narratives which connect the Greek revolution with the making of contemporary Greek identity in relation to historically disenfranchised populations. My initial sample of narratives included both Greece and the diaspora (see my presentation at the Yale conference on the Greek Revolution and the Diaspora here). 

But as I turn my talk into a book chapter, and in the interest of space, I focus exclusively on the diaspora component. Still, the section on Greece belongs to the broader problematic of the paper, namely bicentenary narratives which place the making of Greek civic identities in the context of interethnic encounters and in relation to people not historically connected with the revolution. 

I am sharing this component here: 

An essay by Dimitris Christopoulos (2021) brings the Greek revolution and the making of a Greek civic identity today in conversation. The author singles out the first provisional revolutionary constitution––voted by the national assembly of Epidaurus on January 1, 1822––as a prism to reflect on citizenship practices in modern Greece. As the “most robust birth-right citizenship [jus soli] law Greece has ever known,” he writes, the Epidaurus constitution calls to “reexamine Greece’s version of ‘we the people’” in the context of the country’s multiethnic present. Do we consider the children of the immigrants “members of the Greek nation”? he asks. “Do we want them in our polity? … who do we want to be, after all?” 

Christopoulos reminds us that a revolution “confronts the primary political question of power”: “who has power, who claims power, who questions power, who gains power. It defines those we want, those we expel, those we tolerate, those we prefer, those with whom we proceed and those we leave behind.” 

This position recognizes that identity is more than an act of defining the self; it implicitly or explicitly positions the self in relation to others. As John Gillis’s (1994) statement in the epigraph indicates, “every assertion of identity involves a choice that affects not just ourselves but others” (5). 

Two hundred years since the revolution, the question of Greek civic identity is raised once again with urgency in view that since the 1990s, at least, Greece has become the destination of waves of immigrants. The reigning jus sanguine (the right of blood) at the time presented a legal barrier for conferring citizenship rights to immigrant children born in Greece and consequently a roadblock for their social integration and mobility. It is upon the Greek state’s power to legislate, and the Greek people’s power to decide about the place of non-ethnically Greek demographics such as immigrants, refugees, and their children in the polity. 

The birthright legal principle of the revolutionary era¬¬––whose cycle ended in 1835––presents a legacy, Christopoulos advocates, to be adopted and adjusted (1) to the current circumstances of multiethnic Greece. And while in fact the legal framework has been shifting since 2015 toward an inclusive jus soli ideology, the place of naturalized immigrants and their children in the nation is still contested. 

Will those immigrants who are conferred the legal right of citizenship be rendered as equally Greek in the national imaginary? The question requires further reflection about the necessary political arrangements and cultural mechanisms toward this inclusion. It also calls for investigation about how certain intersections between civic and cultural Greek identities might facilitate the process of inclusion.

Yiorgos Anagnostou 
October 2021. 


1. For the ideological and pragmatic motivations regarding the criteria for citizenship in the provisional constitutions during the revolution see E. Vogli, «The Greek War of Independence and the Emergence of a Modern Nation-state in Southeastern Europe (1821-1827)», στο Plamen Mitev et al (επιμ.), Empires and Peninsulas: Southeastern Europe Between Karlowitz and the Peace of Adrianople, 1699-1829 (Berlin 2010: LIT Verlag), σ. 194–195]. 

2. On the question of the Greek revolution, American philhellenism, and the question of freedom as public diplomacy, see here

Works Cited 

Christopoulos, Dimitris, «Giannis Antetokounmpo and 200 Years of Greek Revolution», OpenDemocracy, 8 March 2021, [accessed June 10, 2021].

Gillis, John, «Memory and Identity: The History of a Relationship», στο John R. Gillis (επιμ.), Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity (Princeton 1994: Princeton University Press): 3–24.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Neglected Books

I am rereading with great interest Yiorgos Kalogeras' «Εθνοτικές γεωγραφίες: Κοινωνικο-πολιτισμικές ταυτίσεις μίας μετανάστευσης» (2007), an important book about various facets of Greek America. This is how it is described by the publisher:

«Το βιβλίο "Εθνοτικές γεωγραφίες" αποτελεί καρπό έρευνας, συγγραφής και επανασυγγραφής μίας δεκαπενταετίας. Τα επιμέρους κεφάλαια επικεντρώνονται κατά κύριο λόγο στην πρόσληψη και κατανόηση της ταυτότητας που οι Έλληνες μετανάστες στις ΗΠΑ και οι απόγονοι τους προβάλλουν στα κείμενα τους. Ο συγγραφέας εξετάζει λογοτεχνικά, ιστορικά, ανθρωπολογικά και κινηματογραφικά έργα, αναλύει γνωστά και καθιερωμένα από την κριτική κείμενα όπως το "Αμέρικα-Αμέρικα" του Kazan ή την "Ελένη" του Gage, αλλά και ανασύρει από τη λήθη άγνωστες μορφές του ελληνισμού της Αμερικής που σημάδεψαν την εποχή τους όπως η δημοσιογράφος Δήμητρα Βακά».

Εθνοτικές γεωγραφίες is often cited in theoretically-oriented publications in Greek. It asks hard questions about Greek American institutions, and engages critically with canonical texts. But as far as I can tell, it has not been reviewed in U.S. journals specializing in Greek America and diaspora. I cannot help but wonder why.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Epitaphios: A Poem, a Song, a Dirge (Writing for the local community)

The story of the poem “Epitaphios” starts with a newspaper photograph depicting a mother lamenting over the body of her dead son, killed during a peaceful protest by tobacco workers, in May 1936, in Thessaloniki. The victim was one among a total of twelve dead workers in a strike “drowned in blood by the dictatorial government” at the time.

When poet Yannis Ritsos (1909-1990) saw this dramatic image, moved he rendered it in poetry. Initially entitled “The Dirge” (Miroloi), it was published the same year in a leftist newspaper. It was later expanded to 324 lines and renamed “Epitaphios.” 

This is the opening two couplets: 

My son, flesh of my flesh, dear heart of my heart, / little bird in the poor courtyard, blossom in my desert, How is it that your eyes are closed and you do not see me cry, / and you do not stir or hear my bitter words? 

The final form of the poem consists of twenty stanzas of eight rhymed couplets (with some exceptions). The fifteen-syllable meter and the rhyming are unfortunately sacrificed in its rendering into English. Bilingual readers will readily recognize the loss in the translation: 

Στη στράτα εδώ καταμεσίς τ’ άσπρα μαλλιά μου λύνω / και σου σκεπάζω της μορφής το μαραμένο κρίνο. 

Here in the middle of the street I let down my white hair / and cover the wilted lily of your form. 

The poem has an interesting music life. Musician Mikis Theodorakis (1925-2021) composed eight songs based on selective verses in 1958, and soon later Manos Hadjidakis (1925-1994), another prominent composer, arranged the same music for recital-hall performance. 

“Epitaphios” is a lamentation, a public expression of intense grief, which is put into music and sung, something which is not unusual in Greek religious and social life. An ancient tradition, lamentations express heightened grief, not only about the loss of human life but also social and political crises. There are folk lamentation-songs, for example, about the fall of Constantinople. Early in the 20th century, the experience of emigration––xenitia––generated folk songs about a family member venturing into an uncertain, dangerous future. There is also a rich tradition––now vanishing––of dramatic performances of ritual laments in rural Greece, particularly the regions of Mani, Epirus, and Crete. Laments are about shared grief and collective participation in its experience. 

Significantly, “Epitaphios” draws from both the religious and folk traditions of lamentations. It draws recurrent motifs and images such as lavish praise for the deceased and incredulity in the case of untimely death. These motifs heighten the emotional involvement of the participants. Greek Orthodox readers will recognize the connection between the title of the poem–– “Epitaphios”––and the ecclesiastical tradition, as it obviously evokes the lament “Epitaphios Thrinos,” the dirge of the Virgin Mary and the mourning women at the tomb of the crucified Christ. The poem draws from several images and themes in Mary’s lamentations. They share, for example, the theme of unjust death. Christ is crucified “as a criminal among criminals” (stasis 1.8), and is “unjustly condemned” (1.56), just as the dead laborer is killed unjustly “for demanding adequate wages for his work”: My son, what wrong did you commit? From unjust men / you sought payment for your own labors. Or, if “with his physical beauty Christ beautifies the natural world” (stasis 1.9), the son’s beauty is lavished by the grief-stricken mother: Eyebrow, smooth as braided silk and drawn with a fine pen, / an arch where my glance would perch and rest 

The poem also builds on folk imagery, such as the metaphor of bird (“pouli”), a term of endearment with which mothers frequently address their male children: “The dead boy is a frail bird who has flown from the cage”; “his hands are folded like the wings of a sick bird.” In the example of “Epitaphios” modern poetry interfaces with ecclesiastical and folk traditions. Secular lamentations may be disappearing in Greece, but they acquire a new “life” in poetry and musical compositions. But this does not happen without controversy. 

“Epitaphios” has been stigmatized “as dangerous and blasphemous,” and was included in a public book-burning event by the dictatorship of John Metaxas (1936-1940). For the Greek left, in contrast, it is a “slogan song.” It was performed, for example, outside a Salonica hospital in 1963 to mournfully protest the assassination of parliamentary deputy and pacifist Grigoris Lambrakis. Poetry and politics are often interwoven in Greece, and “Epitaphios” is not an exception. 

Yiorgos Anagnostou 

Credits for the translation and analysis: Rick M. Newton

Sunday, June 27, 2021

From the Point of View of College Students: What is a subject worth the attention of Greek American studies? [Food, connections with cultural identity, Greek Orthodoxy, and Greece]

"When thinking about important topics to study under the realm of Greek America, one that is significant to me is the study of the Greek food in America, particularly how it is a way for Americanized and later generations of Greek Americans to retain aspects of their culture as well as their religion. As a 3rd generation Greek American, food is the most common way I connect with the culture of my mother and grandparents. My yiayia makes delicious dishes, heavily influenced by the food she ate growing up and the food made by other Greek Americans she is friends with. She attempts to pass on her recipes to her children and grandchildren, but this is sometimes difficult because “a cup of flour” to her is flour filled to the brim of her favorite mug. Nevertheless, eating and enjoying these dishes brings us together and makes us feel Greek without being in Greece. This topic is an important one to study because, just like it is for me, for many it is a way to connect with the culture of their ancestors in a country across the ocean. It would be interesting to study how food connects later-generation Greek Americans to their heritage.

The topic is also relevant because Greek food is heavily influenced by the Orthodox religion that is common in Greece. There are many fasting and feasting days in the liturgical calendar that require certain foods be eaten. For example, many Orthodox Christians avoid eating most meat and animal products during the forty days leading up to Easter. This means there are many meals and cookies that are made specifically during this period of time. Then, on Easter, a popular meal is roast lamb, supposedly representing Jesus as “the lamb of God.” Greek recipes like this not only tie Greek Americans to Greece but also tie them to the Orthodox religion. To study the connection Greek food has to religion in America, I would ask if later generation Greek Americans still hold these connections; do they know that recipes like lentil soup are often made during the Lenten season? Do they feel a connection to the Orthodox Church through these meals?

Lastly, a question I would ask you in particular is what are the best ways that later generation Greek Americans can keep aspects of their Greek culture? Since I am half Greek and a second-generation American, how can my future children stay connected to this culture that will only be a sliver of their heritage?"

[My note: Given the centrality of Greek food in Greek American family, social and public life, it is astonishing––isn't it––that there is no systematic scholarship on food cultures in Greek America]

Saturday, June 26, 2021

From the Point of View of College Students: What is a subject worth the attention of Greek American studies (Redefining Greek American identity among the youth, intergenerational cultural distance)

Something that fascinated me is how the younger Greek Americans are redefining their identity nowadays. I think the older generations are noticing a change or general trend of perhaps different priorities or emphasis on other aspects of Greek culture than what they would like. I have been noticing in the Greek community, in St. Louis (my hometown), that the older generations are expecting a lot more from the younger generation Greek Americans as far as the language and religion aspect of being Greek. However, I don’t think the youth has fully embraced their Greek heritage as their grandparents or older generations would want. I think this tension can cause distance between these generations which I have seen with my peers personally. Thus, it would be important to explore how young Greek Americans are defining being a Greek American in today’s society. I personally think this may help the two points of view understand each other better and may show which direction Greek Americans are headed as far as preserving Hellenism in the future. Some specific questions would be what do the youth want to take away from their Greek American community socially and religiously? How do they plan to (if they want to) maintain their Greek background? I also wonder how Greek Americans connect with other Greek Americans whether this is through the Greek community or in school/college. It would also be interesting to find out what specific Greek traditions they will continue if they had any growing up in their household. I feel like as if right now there may not be a general consensus for these questions, but it's still worth it to explore.

2) Ask these scholars a question of your own choice. Please be creative and insightful, devote some time thinking seriously the questions you will be asking.

My grandparents, parents, and other members of my Parish in St. Louis fear that there will be a loss of Greek culture, at least the aspects that were highlighted by Greek immigrants that came to the United States. I personally can see their point as younger generations are redefining what it means to be a Greek American. I know that there are multiple factors as to why this can happen. I was wondering if scholars believe that a loss of some aspects of Greek culture (if not all) is inevitable based on what we know today. I know it can be challenging to predict this, but it would be interesting if there was any research or statistics that supported one way or another. Going off that question, I am curious to know if scholars believe there is a way to potentially change that outcome, if the data supports that the loss of Greek culture and traditions is inevitable.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

From the Point of View of College Students: What is a subject worth the attention of Greek American studies? (Immigrants, Greek Americans, and Historical Homeland Politics)

"An important topic I would like the academics to research is Greek Americans’ involvement and stand in politics and other important matters back at home in Greece. This topic is important to me because I have seen other groups of immigrants who although probably lived here so many years still keep updates on what goes on back in their homeland. Some even have protests and other supportive activities here in America to support and raise awareness about what goes on in their country such as Palestine. Every year there are protests that happenings in many different states to show how what happens in Palestine is very unjust and how they need help. Also, these types of activities bring together people of all kinds, not only different generations of immigrants but also people from other parts of the world, because at the end of the day everyone is fighting for human rights. So if the academics did a research on this topic, I would like to see if Greeks also do the same things as other American immigrants I’ve seen do. Some of the questions they should be asking in their research topic is what generation of immigrants are the participants, do they do a daily update on what goes on in Greece, how involved are they, do they send money back home to relatives that still live there, and to other people who might be in need. Does their stand on politics in Greece effect their stand on politics in America?

Questions for scholars: What made you become interested in research? How often do you participate in new research? Do you ever feel like this isn’t what you want to do anymore? Does information you find in your studies often change your perspective in life and the way you live? What is one of your most interesting research topics, and what made you decided to pursuit that research?"

Monday, June 21, 2021

College Students: What is a subject worth the attention of Greek American studies? (Psychology of Immigration)

One of the homework assignments in my Greek American class this semester (Spring 2021) was asking students the following: 

1) What is an important topic of personal significance to you that you would like scholars of Greek America to explore? Why is this topic important (to you, or the country, or Greek America)? What questions should they be asking in their research of this topic? 

 2) Ask these scholars a question of your own choice. Please be creative and insightful, devote some time thinking seriously the questions you will be asking. 

A topic I feel is an important one for research is the emotional toll immigrating to America as a Greek person can have on the mental health of Greek Americans. This topic is important to me because psychology is something I am very interested in, but the state of a person’s mental health also affects their daily life. There is a number of hardships associated with moving to a new country, especially when leaving behind family members is involved, and these hardships can easily take a toll on anyone's mental health. Some questions I feel would be of importance in this area are understanding what sorts of difficulties in the process of immigration have been most upsetting or stressful. Also, how these struggles may be impacting people's day to day lives, and if there is an outreach for help. The personal problems of singular Greek Americans are not talked about as much as the widespread issues, and I feel there should be more attention put towards the mental health of individual citizens. Individual questions could be about issues of current life in America, and how often they think about their problems with adjusting and how much of a stressor these worries are causing. 

One question I have regarding Greek America is how much of the Greek culture remains in Greek American families through second, third, fourth, etc. generations of Greek Americans. How much of the culture remains as families get farther away from the original immigration? We have learned in class that many families have become less and less traditional as time goes on and children are often much less traditional than their Greek parents. Along with this I would like to know how they perceive this straying away from tradition will affect Greek American culture in the United States. Will Greek culture remain a large part of American society, or as Greek Americans become more Americanized will this start to change?

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Covid-19 and Poetry: C.P. Cavafy’s “Things Ended”

Early this January, mentally and physically exhausted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I turned to poetry for solace. This included the work of Constantinos Cavafy (1863-1933), the world-renowned poet of the Greek diaspora (he spent most of his life in Alexandria, Egypt). His poetry beckons me regularly.

What I was hoping to tap into this time was Cavafy’s didacticism; his tendency to offer lessons for life. I knew “Ithaca,” one of his most famous didactic poems, by heart. Was there a lesson somewhere in his oeuvre, no matter how oblique, for living amid a pandemic? I was curious.

It was early in his book of collected poems that I froze. Here it was, “Things Ended” (Τελειωμένα), or in another translation “Finished,” staring at me. Written in 1911, it directly spoke about our condition a century later. I kept reading, and rereading. I was transfixed. 

Engulfed by fear and suspicion, 
mind agitated, eyes alarmed, 
we try desperately to invent ways out, 
plan how to avoid 
the obvious danger that threatens us so terribly. 
Yet we’re mistaken, that’s not the danger ahead: 
the news was wrong 
(or we didn’t hear it, or didn’t get it right). 
Another disaster, one we never imagined, 
suddenly, violently, descends upon us, 
and finding us unprepared—
there’s no time now—
sweeps us away.

Read from the perspective of our experience under Covid-19, “Things Ended” feels dramatically prescient.

Cavafy’s unadorned, prose-like verse communicates this message clearly: it is impossible to accurately predict the danger that will haunt humanity next. We agonize over an anticipated crisis, but this is in vain; the real danger lies elsewhere. “Another disaster, one we never imagined, / suddenly, violently, descends upon us,” the poem warns us in no uncertain terms.

The poem makes this situation applicable to all humanity. The repeated use of the plural pronouns “us” and “we” makes the reader part of a shared predicament. We try to prepare ourselves for what we think threatens us, only to discover how mistaken we are in predicting the disaster that will be descending upon us. “The news was wrong /(or we didn’t hear it, or didn’t get it right). Another disaster, one we never imagined…” The conclusion is sober, we are all in it, there is no place to escape.

It is part of being human to worry over impending disasters. The first two stanzas communicate this state of being dramatically: The short lines are packed with words conveying deep distress––fear and suspicion, agitation and alarm.

This fright is exhausting and requires vast psychic resources, taking a huge mental and physical toll on us.

What are we to make of the main message in the poem? Are we condemned to perpetually miscalculate the nature of a future catastrophe? Are we to live fatalistically or under constant, conscious panic that a destruction impossible to predict is just around the corner? Are we to turn apathetic and let developments slap us to the ground?

There is indeterminacy in life, true. Humans are not omniscient and omnipresent. But it is this condition, after all, that drives human curiosity to know, to understand their world.

The poem, I believe, refrains from an all-consuming pessimism. It opens the space for an instructive lesson: “… that’s not the danger ahead: the news was wrong (or we didn’t hear it, or didn’t get it right).

Perhaps the poem is heeding that we should be more alert, more careful, more imaginative in attending to signs and warnings? Perhaps it implies that we should keep cultivating areas of human endeavor that we currently deem irrelevant in practical terms (say, poetry) but may prove vital for our psychic and physical survival in the future?

But didn’t we, at some level, already know? In the early 2000s, the “World Health Organization developed a global outbreak alert and response network shortly after the SARS outbreak.” This was almost twenty years ago. We knew about the deadly effects of the various strains of coronavirus and the ominous threat of a pandemic because of it.

But we did not hear the warning well, “for that was not the danger ahead, the news was wrong,” we thought?

Yiorgos Anagnostou
(published in the community magazine Greek Ethos, Spring 2021, 12)

Friday, June 18, 2021

College Students: What is a subject worth the attention of Greek American studies? (Growing up and Identity through the life cycle)

One of the homework assignments in my Greek American class this semester (Spring 2021) was the following: 

1) What is an important topic of personal significance to you that you would like scholars of Greek America to explore? Why is this topic important (to you, or the country, or Greek America)? What questions should they be asking in their research of this topic? 

2) Ask these scholars a question of your own choice. Please be creative and insightful, devote some time thinking seriously the questions you will be asking. 

This is an answer that asks researchers,"what makes them decide what to devote time and resources to what they research?" 
For me, the thing I would like to see most from those who study Greek American topics to ensure that they view Greek Americans as human beings, not just as objects to be studied. Many Greek Americans, myself included, are very proud to be Greek, and their Greekness plays a large part in their identity. However, we are more than just Greek, and I think it would do researchers good to keep that in mind. As for a specific topic I would like to see covered, I think the social dynamics in Greek Orthodox church communities in America would be an interesting one. Growing up in the church was one of the main ways I was taught my Greek culture. Especially now in modern times, the dynamic at play here is quite unique. Specifically looking at the youth, the parts of their childhood spent at the church are likely what will define their connection to the culture for the rest of their lives. 

I believe that the best way to understand Greek Americans is to understand how they grew up. I think some interesting questions to try and find answers to is what the youth think of their culture. Are they involved in culture related activities to please their parents, or because they genuinely enjoy them? Would they consider their primary social group to be their Greek friends or their American friends? Do they feel they fit in better at school or at church? These are just a few of the many questions that I think would have valid answers. Of course, it is not easy to interview small children, but i believe it would be possible to ask these questions of teenagers. Something that could be quite interesting is to interview these Greek Americans at a young ages, say 15, and then interview them again every 5 years if possible to see if their views on their culture change as they grow up. This is an important topic to me personally as in my experience I know my views on the culture has changed. When I was a kid, I detested Greek school and complained about it constantly. When my mom made me join Greek dance, I complained about having to spend an extra evening at the church. By the time I was fifteen I had graduated Greek School and found myself missing it, as my very best friends were made there. Greek dance practice was the highlight of my week, and I even found myself taking a leadership role in my troupe. Now, in college I chose to take more Greek language and culture classes, and have found that many of my Greek friends who go to different colleges are jealous that I have the opportunity to do so, despite having hated Greek school as much as I did as a child. This leads me to theorize that this is a common experience in the Greek American community, and yet there is no research to support it, which is why I would propose it as a topic of study for Greek American scholars. My question to these scholars would be what makes them decide what to devote time and resources to what they research?

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Archival Material: Public Conversation about the Role of Greek American women (Description of a video)

SUPERWOMAN REVISITED: The Changing Roles of Greek American Women

"Today’s Greek American women face many of the same problems as other women in American society but they have the addition hardship of overcoming the stereotypical roles of Greek women This program examines the status and the changing roles of Gr American women, discusses their struggles and achievements, and looks at what the future holds for them. Our guests, Bar Spyridon-Pope - Ass’t Secretary of the Navy, authors Constance Callinicos and Eva Catafygiotu Topping, and former National Philoptochos President Dionisia Ferraro, come from diverse backgrounds and fields and make for an informative discussion (color) (English) (29 min.)"

Year circa late 1980s, early 1990s?

Description: Cited from the Wayne State University Library Catalogue

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Students on their Greek American Research Interests (1)

 One of the homework assignments in my Greek American class this semester (Spring 2021) was the following:

1) What is an important topic of personal significance to you that you would like scholars of Greek America to explore? Why is this topic important (to you, or the country, or Greek America)? What questions should they be asking in their research of this topic?
2) Ask these scholars a question of your own choice. Please be creative and insightful, devote some time thinking seriously the questions you will be asking.
I am sharing one answer (more will follow):
One topic that is of personal significance to me that I would want Greek American scholars to research is how Greek Americans are contributing to the environment. Although Greek Americans are nowhere near a majority of the population in the United States, the ethnic group is large and impactful enough that this research would be important. The environment in general is a very important topic to me, as we only have one planet Earth and are currently destroying it. I have taken several classes throughout my academic career that has taught me about all of the different ways mankind has altered the natural state of our planet, and how we are abusing our natural resources that the environment provides and will soon run out of those resources. Greek Americans most likely contribute to this problem in positive and negative ways, and I would like to see research on just how the ethnic community is impacting the environment.
Some questions that researchers should ask the Greek American community includes: "Do you care about the environment?" "Do you recycle?" "Would you ever consider using reusable energy in your home (solar, wind, hydropower)?" "Do you know any environmental issues that are impacting your local community or surrounding areas?", "How often do you discuss the environment, in a casual, professional or academic situation?" "Are you aware of the lasting impacts that industrialization and globalization has on the global environment?" I believe that these six questions will give Greek American researchers a very good insight into how much the Greek American community knows and cares about environmental issues. One question that I would ask these hypothetical scholars is if they care about the environment and take steps to lighten their carbon footprint in their own lives?


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Προσωπικές Διαδρομές, Επαγγελματικές Στροφές στη Διασπορά

Τα σύνορα έχουν καθορίσει τη ζωή μου. Γεννήθηκα σε μια μεθοριακή πόλη, την Ορεστιάδα του Έβρου, όπου το σύνορο ήταν αναπόφευκτα παρόν, είτε στον υπαρκτό γεωγραφικό ορίζοντα, είτε στις καθημερινές συζητήσεις, είτε στο συλλογικό φαντασιακό ως φάσμα του πολιτικού και πολιτιστικού «Άλλου». Ήταν σε αυτό το «τριεθνές σημείο» όπου για πρώτη φορά βίωσα την εμπειρία του περάσματος των συνόρων· το βήμα πέρα από τα διαχωριστικά όρια, τη μεταφορά από τον οικείο στον ανοίκειο χώρο, τη συνάντηση με το διαφορετικό που αυτή η διάβαση συνεπάγεται. 

Η διάσχιση συνόρων αποτελεί μια εμπειρία που δεν είναι δυνατόν να γενικευθεί· βιώνεται σε συνάρτηση με τη συγκεκριμένη ιδιότητα του διαβάτη. Προσφέρει σαγηνευτικές υποσχέσεις σε ταξιδιώτες, προβλέπει συγκεκριμένες δυσκολίες για φτωχούς μετανάστες, και προτάσσει άδηλο μέλλον για τους πρόσφυγες. Όλους όμως τους προτρέπει να κάνουν συγκρίσεις μεταξύ του εδώ και του εκεί, του τότε και του τώρα. Οι διαδρομές πέρα από τα σύνορα προβάλλουν νέους γεωγραφικούς, πολιτιστικούς και χρονικούς προσανατολισμούς. 

Τίθεται βέβαια το θέμα της απαγόρευσης της διάβασης. Όταν τη δεκαετία του 1990 δεν ήμουν σε θέση για χρόνια να επισκεφθώ την Ελλάδα από την Αμερική όπου διέμενα, συνειδητοποίησα τη δύναμη των θεσμών να ματαιώνουν ατομικές επιθυμίες διάβασης. Κυρώσεις σφραγίζουν ακυρώσεις. Τα σύνορα, όπως όλοι γνωρίζουμε στις μέρες μας, δεν ελέγχονται μόνο με τα συρματοπλέγματα, αλλά και με τα πλέγματα πολιτικής εξουσίας. 

Ένα από τα πιο καθοριστικά περάσματα της ζωής μου ήταν αυτό της μετανάστευσης στην Αμερική. Πώς να χωρέσω σε μία παράγραφο τις ποικίλες διαδρομές μου από τη στιγμή που έφτασα στο Μπάτον Ρουζ της Λουιζιάνας στις 20 Δεκεμβρίου του 1985 –με πτυχίο πολιτικού μηχανικού από το Αριστοτέλειο Πανεπιστήμιο– μέχρι σήμερα; Η απάντηση είναι απλή, επιγραμματικά. Η εμπειρία μου δεν ήταν αυτή ενός τυπικού μεταπτυχιακού φοιτητή. Και τα σύνορα που διέσχισα δεν ήταν μόνο γεωπολιτικά και πολιτιστικά. Σχεδόν δεκαπέντε χρόνια αργότερα, το 1999, στο Κολόμπους του Οχάιο, έλαβα το διδακτορικό μου στις ανθρωπιστικές και κοινωνικές επιστήμες. Σήμερα μοιράζομαι αυτό το κείμενο μαζί σας ως πανεπιστημιακός στις ανθρωπιστικές επιστήμες. Στον ενδιάμεσο χρόνο –35 ολόκληρα χρόνια– παράλληλα με τις σπουδές μου, εργάστηκα για βιοπορισμό ως busboy, σερβιτόρος (έξη συνεχή χρόνια), ντελιβεράς, δάσκαλος σε σχολεία της εκκλησίας, βοηθός ερευνητή και λέκτορας, μεταξύ άλλων· άλλοτε παρέδιδα ιδιαίτερα μαθήματα ως καθηγητής, και άλλοτε τηλεφωνικούς καταλόγους στα προάστεια. Η στροφή στη διαδρομή από «πολιτικός μηχανικός» σε «καθηγητής διασπορικών σπουδών» ήταν επικίνδυνα απότομη. Έλειπαν και οι οικονομικοί πόροι και η τεχνογνωσία για την απαραίτητη μελέτη, ελάχιστα ήταν –και επομένως απίστευτα σημαντικά– τα προστατευτικά κιγκλιδώματα. 

Αυτού του είδους η διάσχιση επαγγελματικών και ταξικών συνόρων συνέβαλε στο να κατανοήσω βαθιά την αβεβαιότητα, την αστάθεια, τη ρευστότητα, το κόστος της φυσικής και ψυχολογικής εξάντλησης, το ήθος της αμοιβαιότητας, τη δύναμη της επιθυμίας και της αλληλοβοήθειας. Ακόμη να βιώσω πώς η προσωπική θυσία μπορεί να θυσιάσει σχέσεις με αγαπημένους αν υπάρξει απροσεξία. Όλα αυτά σε έναν υλικό και αισθηματικό χώρο που βιώνεται ως κατάσταση του «μεταξύ». Ακόμη κινούμαι μεταξύ δύο κόσμων και δύο γλωσσών· μεταξύ παρελθόντος και παρόντος· μεταξύ επιτυχίας και αποτυχίας. Κάποτε κινήθηκα μεταξύ θετικών και ανθρωπιστικών σπουδών, μεταξύ μονιμότητας και παροδικότητας, μεταξύ νομιμότητας και φόβου της παρανομίας. 

Με άλλα λόγια, βίωσα έντονα (και συνεχίζω να βιώνω σε διαφορετικό βαθμό και κάτω από διαφορετικές συνθήκες) την εμπειρία της «μεθορίου», δηλαδή της κοινωνικής πραγματικότητας όπου διαφορετικά πολιτισμικά στοιχεία συναντώνται, κάποτε συναρθρώνονται δημιουργικά, κάποτε αποκλίνουν, κάποτε συγκρούονται. Ή ακόμα αιωρούνται στο νου και το συναίσθημα, χωρίς να αποκρυσταλλώνονται σε μια ευδιάκριτη φόρμα, σε ένα προσδιορισμένο σύνολο. 

Εκ των υστέρων διαπιστώνω πως αυτή η προσωπική εμπειρία της μεθορίου προσδιόρισε παράλληλα και τα θέματα που με έχουν απασχολήσει στην ακαδημαϊκή μου διαδρομή τα τελευταία είκοσι χρόνια. Η συνάντηση των μεταναστών με διάφορες μορφές της αμερικανικής νεωτερικότητας (εργατικό κίνημα, αμερικανισμός της μεσαίας τάξης) στις απαρχές του εικοστού αιώνα. Οι πολιτιστικοί χώροι τού σήμερα όπου η κοινωνική μνήμη και τα αξιακά συστήματα του παρελθόντος συνδιαλέγονται με τα ενδιαφέροντα και τις ανάγκες του παρόντος. Οι τρόποι με τους οποίους η δεύτερη γενιά πλοηγείται τις διαφορές της από την κουλτούρα των μεταναστών γονέων. Η ομιλία των αγγλικών με ελληνική προφορά. Άτυπες ιδέες και πρακτικές. Η καταπληκτική και τόσο προκλητική εμπειρία να συντάσσω αυτό το κείμενο σκεπτόμενος σε δύο γλώσσες – μια διαδικασία που συνεχίζει να με εκπλήσσει. Οι διαδρομές αυτές δεν παύουν να μου προσφέρουν την κινητήρια δύναμη να συνεχίζω με πάθος την εξερεύνησή τους, χτίζοντας στην πορεία κάτι στέρεο –ένα θεσμό, ένα αρχείο, ένα σύνολο γνώσεων– εν μέσω της ρευστής μεθορίου της διασποράς. 

Γιώργος Αναγνώστου

Νοέμβριος 2020

Saturday, April 17, 2021

“My Aunt Bessie” by Elaine Thomopoulos

I read my newspaper, oblivious to what was happening around me. Suddenly a woman knocking on my car window made me jump. "Excuse me. I have to back up. Can you move your car so I can get out?" 

Had I seen a ghost? The woman looked like my Aunt Bessie, who had passed away many years ago. After I pulled out to make room for this woman to move her car, tears flooded my eyes. I remembered Aunt Bessie and missed her. Yes, this woman looked exactly like her. Her features were chiseled as if she were a Greek goddess. She had soft brown eyes and fine grey hair pulled back in a bun, showing her high and perfectly shaped forehead. The only thing that differed was that she did not have the high cheekbones that my Aunt Bessie had, cheekbones like a model's.

 Aunt Bessie is in the middle, with her two sisters, to the left Emily, to the right, Pauline.

Aunt Bessie was a quiet, dignified woman with a lot of energy and a heart of gold. She spoke in a soft velvet-sounding voice, putting you at ease with her gentle interest and concern. 

A child of immigrants growing up during the depression, married at 17, she faced life with strength and inner resolve. I got to know her best when she worked at my parents’ grocery store. She worked not only to help my mother (her sister) and her brother-in-law, but also to supplement the family income. Admired by her customers, she put her heart and soul into her work. A real treat for us when she stayed overnight at our home so she would not have to make the long commute back to her home. Our whole family loved and admired her so much. 

My thought went to Aunt Bessie's funeral, with family and friends paying tribute to this wonderful woman. The priest at the funeral spoke about her but instead of comforting me his flippant words made my heart ache, and my mouth feel like vinegar. He relegated her to the background by casting her in the traditional subservient Greek woman's role. He loftily related how she assisted her husband and three children in their accomplishments, not mentioning what she herself had accomplished. He did not bring out the qualities that made Aunt Bessie the person she was. I will always remember her for the person she was––a strong, vibrant woman whose memory lives on in my heart.

April 2021

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Two examples of the "Growing Up Greek" Genre

I am really disappointed that the "Bridge" ( project never took off, despite the promising start. Its development was beyond my control. But let us not forget some important contributions featured in the site, including two in the "grow up Greek" genre. See the pieces by Zeese Papanikolas and George Karnezis:

Great material for teachers, researchers, and the broad public.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Writing for the Local Greek American Community_Manolis Anagnostakis’s «Επιτύμβιον» (Ethos Magazine, Fall 2020)

“I am not a professional poet,” Manolis Anagnostakis (1925-2005) declared in an interview. Poetry for him was a craft he practiced occasionally; one means of expression. Anagnostakis was also a publisher of a journal, an editor of prose and poetry collections, and a public writer and speaker. He published book reviews and translations, using his wide-ranging writing to speak about the social and political issues that confronted post–World War II Greece. 

“Epitaph” (Επιτύμβιον), the poem that I discuss here, belongs to the collection The Target (1969-1970), published during the Greek junta (1967-1974). I chose it as an example of the moral and political concerns that Anagnostakis brought to the forefront of his work, and also because it showcases his irony and prosaic style. 


You died and you, too, became: the good one. 
The brilliant human being, the family man, the patriot. 
Thirty-six wreaths accompanied you, three homilies by vice presidents, 
Seven resolutions on the wonderful services that you have rendered. 

Ah, Lavrenti, only I knew what scum you were, What counterfeit, your whole life a lie. 
Sleep in peace, I will not disturb your serenity. 
(I, living a whole life of silence will pay a king's ransom for it, not the price of your sorry skin.) 
Sleep in peace. As you always were in life: the good, The brilliant human being, the family man, the patriot. 
                           You won’t be the first or the last. 

The choice of the title, Επιτύμβιον, in purist Greek (katharevousa) is not accidental. This register is connected with the official language used by the state and the elites until 1976, when it was abolished, and a contrast between public and private. 

Indeed, the title introduces us to the formal state event described in the first stanza: the state’s recognition of a deceased citizen. Accordingly, the language reads like a pompous official announcement. “Seven resolutions” affirmed the determination of the state to honor this individual. “Three homilies by vice presidents” extolled his virtues. 

In this formulaic farewell, the speaker of the poem directly addresses the deceased, allegedly concurring with the homilies. The deceased was brilliant, an esteemed citizen who embodied the virtues of two veneered institutions, the family and the nation. 

But the second stanza brings about a reversal. The speaker abandons the second-person “you” and instead turns to the confessional first person “I.” As the speaker moves away from the scene of public recognition into his own private thoughts and feelings, his language loses its formality and becomes every day, ordinary, and true. 

The speaker’s revelations paint a picture dramatically opposed to both the deceased’s public image and his opening becomes ironic. The deceased, Lavrentis, was not the honorable person the state ceremony wants him to be. In the eyes of the speaker, he was a scum, a counterfeit, unworthy of public honoring. 

Of course, Lavrentis stands as a symbol of the deceitful everyman. He “won’t be the first or the last.” The speaker doesn’t provide evidence to substantiate his indictment. This is not what interests him. Instead, it’s the revision of history. 

The speaker aims to expose ethical and political hypocrisy, to challenge the promotion of “ideal” social norms (patriotism, family values) for personal gain. He criticizes state officials who join in this game of deception, individuals and power structures who blatantly mislead the public. 

The poem’s sharp irony exposes what the speaker sees as hypocrisy, alerting citizens to show vigilance about the truth of official public memories. Let us attend, the poem instructs, to the knowledge that is at odds with official accounts, to the valuable counter-memories to the statements enshrined in an Επιτύμβιον. 
Yiorgos Anagnostou, Director, Modern Greek Program, OSU

Note: Translation of poem into English by Neni Panourgia.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Ενδυναμώνοντας τις σπουδές διασποράς ανά τον κόσμο ως γέφυρα αυτογνωσίας και αλληλοκατανόησης

(Ομιλία στην ημερίδα, “Ενδυναμώνοντας τις γέφυρες μεταξύ των Ελληνικών Πανεπιστημίων και της Ελληνικής Διασποράς”, το οποίο διοργανώθηκε από το Υπουργείο παιδειας και Υπουργείο Εξωτερικών [Ιανουάριος 21, 2021]).

Θα ήθελα να ευχαριστήσω την Ελληνική πολιτεία γι αυτήν την σημαντική πρωτοβουλία και πρόσκληση να συμμετάσχω στην σημερινή εκδήλωση σας. Είμαι ο Γιώργος Αναγνώστου και είμαι κάτοχος της νεοσυσταθείσας έδρας «Μιλτιάδης Μαρινάκης» για την Ελληνική γλώσσα και κουλτούρα στο Πολιτειακό Πανεπιστημίου του Οχάιο των ΗΠΑ. 

Θα ήθελα να σταθώ σε έναν σημαντικό όρο στον τίτλο αυτής της συνεδρίας, στην έννοια της «γέφυρας» και της σημασίας της για την σχέση των Ελλήνων επιστημόνων της διασποράς με τα Ελληνικά πανεπιστήμια καθώς και την Ελληνική κοινωνία. 

Η γέφυρα είναι ένα ζωτικό σύμβολο που προσφέρεται για σκέψεις και δράσεις επικοινωνίας, δημιουργίας συνδέσμων, διάβασης, συνάντησης, και αλληλοκατανόησης. 

Ως πανεπιστημιακός σε Πρόγραμμα Νεοελληνικών Σπουδών στην Αμερική αποτελεί ευθύνη μου εξ ορισμού να δημιουργώ γέφυρες σε πολλαπλά επίπεδα. Γέφυρες με τους φοιτητές μας, γέφυρες ως μέρος της διασποράς στις ΗΠΑ με την τοπική κοινότητα, γέφυρες πίσω με την Ελλάδα, γέφυρες με τον πολιτισμό και τις τέχνες, και την εκπαίδευση. 

Στο Πρόγραμμά μας επιτελούμε αυτές τις λειτουργίες μέσω της διδασκαλίας, της έρευνας, και του ρόλου μας ως διανοούμενοι που απευθύνονται στον κόσμο εκτός του πανεπιστημίου. 

Η διδασκαλία λειτουργεί πολυδιάστατα. Συνδέουμε τους Ελληνοαμερικανούς φοιτητές μας με τις ρίζες τους, και συντελούμε στην κατανόηση του νεοελληνικού πολιτισμού από τους Αμερικανούς φοιτητές μας. Καταπολεμούμε στερεότυπα. Μέσω θερινών εκπαιδευτικών προγραμμάτων που γίνονται στην Ελλάδα και συγκεκριμένα το Πρόγραμμα ΘΥΕΣΠΑ του Εθνικού και Καποδιστριακού Πανεπιστημίου Αθηνών συνδέουμε τους φοιτητές μας με τα Ελληνικά πανεπιστήμια και βιωματικά με τη χώρα μας. 

Αυτά τα προγράμματα λειτουργούν καταλυτικά για τους φοιτητές μας καθώς τους εισαγάγουν σε γνώσεις και εμπειρίες του Ελληνικού πέρα από τις προσωπικές και τις οικογενειακές τους εμπειρίες. Πολλοί φοιτητές περιγράφουν αυτό το άνοιγμα των οριζόντων τους ως μια ριζική πολιτιστική μεταμόρφωση στην σχέση τους με την Ελληνική γλώσσα και κουλτούρα. 

Όσον αφορά την έρευνα, σας απευθύνομαι ως ένας πανεπιστημιακός που έχω αφιερώσει σχεδόν τρεις δεκαετίες στην κατανόηση της Ελληνοαμερικανικής κοινωνίας. Θεωρώ ότι η λειτουργία μου απαιτεί δράσεις πέρα από την ερευνητική καταξίωση στον πανεπιστημιακό χώρο της Αμερικής (ο οποίος και είναι εξαιρετικά απαιτητικός). Ως πολίτης της διασποράς κρίνω απαραίτητη την επικοινωνία της έρευνας μου τόσο με το ευρύτερο Αμερικανικό, Ελληνοαμερικανικό και Ελληνικό κοινό. 

Σε αυτό το εγχείρημα έχω βρει θετική ανταπόκριση από εφημερίδες και περιοδικά στην Ελλάδα όπως το ΒΗΜΑ, τα ΝΕΑ, ο Πολίτης, The Books’ Journal, Marginalia, τα Σύγχρονα Θέματα και άλλα. Επενδύω σε αυτόν τον τομέα ώστε η έρευνα μου να συμβάλλει σαν γέφυρα κατανόησης μεταξύ του Ελληνικού κοινού και των Ελληνοαμερικανών.

Όσον αφορά την σχέση μου με τον χώρο του Ελληνικού Πανεπιστημίου έχω βρει πρόσφορο έδαφος στο Αριστοτέλειο Πανεπιστήμιο, κυρίως στο τμήμα Μουσειολογίας μέσω του Προγράμματος υποτροφιών της Ελληνικής διασποράς του ιδρύματος Νιάρχου. Ο στόχος ήταν και παραμένει η ανταλλαγή δεξιοτήτων για την δημιουργία ενός μουσείου Ελληνικής διασποράς και μετανάστευσης στην Θεσσαλονίκη. Επίσης τα τελευταία δύο χρόνια συνεργάζομαι με δύο συναδέλφους, επίσης από το Αριστοτέλειο, με σκοπό την επιμέλεια ενός βιβλίου που συγκρίνει την Ελληνοαμερικανική με την Ιταλοαμερικανική εμπειρία. 

Σε αυτό το φόρουμ, σε αυτήν εδώ την γέφυρα επικοινωνίας πού δημιουργήσατε, θα ήθελα να μεταφέρω τα εξής. Πρώτον είναι απαραίτητη η ενδυνάμωση υπαρχόντων και η δημιουργία νέων κέντρων έρευνας της Ελληνικής διασποράς. Εννοώ τις νέες, υπάρχουσες καθώς και υπό διαμόρφωση διασπορές· όχι τις χαμένες πατρίδες. 

Συχνά αναφερόμαστε και εκφράζουμε υπερηφάνεια για τον παγκόσμιο Ελληνισμό αλλά οφείλουμε να αναρωτηθούμε κατά πόσο τον γνωρίζουμε. Υπάρχουν τεράστια κενά στην κατανόησή της έννοιας που αποκαλούμε «παγκόσμιος Ελληνισμός», που αποτελεί μια πολυδιάστατη και πολύπλοκη κοινωνική πραγματικότητα την οποία οφείλουμε να κατανοήσουμε υπεύθυνα μέσω συστηματικής έρευνας και ανταλλαγή καινοτόμων ιδεών. 

Θα ήθελα να τονίσω την αναγκαιότητα των καινοτόμων ιδεών ώστε επιτέλους τα προχωρήσουμε πέρα από κοινοτοπίες και ιδεολογικές απλουστεύσεις. 

Επίσης το θεωρώ χρέος, όπως ανέφερα, να επικοινωνήσουμε αυτήν την γνώση εύληπτα στο ευρύτερο κοινό. Η υπεύθυνη γνώση μας της Διασποράς αποτελεί δημόσιο αγαθό, πηγή αυτογνωσίας και σχεδιασμού πολιτιστικής πολιτικής. 

Δεύτερον, όπως γνωρίζουμε, οι γέφυρες απαιτούν σημαντικούς πόρους, δεξιότητες και σκληρή εργασία όχι μόνο για την δημιουργία τους αλλά και την συντήρησή τους. 

Ως Έλληνες και πανεπιστημιακοί της διασποράς γνωρίζουμε από πρώτο χέρι την τεράστια ενέργεια που απαιτεί η διατήρηση και ανάπτυξη επικοινωνίας και με το Ελληνικό κοινό και με τα Ελληνικά πανεπιστήμια. Υπάρχει ένα όραμα στις γέφυρες που δημιουργούμε και επιθυμούμε περαιτέρω να αναπτύξουμε. Ο τρόπος με τον οποίο η διεθνική κοινότητα των επιστημόνων με την υποστήριξη των θεσμών θα μπορούσαν να συμβάλλουν σε αυτό το πρότζεκτ χρήζει διαλόγου και αξίζει ως πολιτιστική επένδυση. 

Σας ευχαριστώ. 

Γιώργος Αναγνώστου