Monday, August 28, 2023
Wednesday, August 23, 2023
Historian Donna Gabaccia (1997 & 1998) offers a framework to think about strategies of inclusion of Greek diaspora and migration studies in the Greek university.
Tuesday, August 22, 2023
Δεν συμμερίζομαι την άποψη ότι λόγω του σχετικά μικρού ενδιαφέροντος στην Ελλάδα για τους «ελληνοαμερικανούς» θα έπρεπε να το θεωρούμε θετική εξέλιξη κάθε φορά που εμφανίζεται μια νέα αφήγηση (ντοκιμαντέρ, βιβλίο, οδοιπορικό, κείμενο) για αυτήν την (ετερογενή) ομάδα στην χώρα.Δεν θα πρόκρινα αφηγήσεις για παράδειγμα μονομερούς αναπαράστασης της ομάδας (για τον προφανή λόγο ότι αποσιωπούν ιστορικές και πολιτισμικές αλήθειες, εναλλακτικούς τρόπους θέασης, και αποφυγής επίμαχων θεμάτων). Ο κίνδυνος η επιλεγόμενη αλήθεια να προσληφθεί ως η μια και μόνη ελλοχεύει, ιδιαίτερα σε περίπτωση που δεν κυκλοφορούν ευρέως οπτικές αντίθετες με τις επικρατούσες ή που δεν υφίσταται έντονος κριτικός διάλογος. Μπορούμε να αναγνωρίσουμε φαντάζομαι τις αρνητικές συνέπειες αυτής της κατάστασης.
Χρήσιμο θα ήταν εδώ να μην λησμονήσουμε την κατάσταση στην Αμερική είκοσι πέντε χρόνια νωρίτερα. Αρχίζοντας την δεκαετία του 1990, μια σειρά από λαϊκά αφηγήματα που σκοπό άλλο δεν είχαν παρά να φιμώσουν την ετερογένεια της ομάδας άρχισαν να εξαπλώνονται στην δημόσια σφαίρα χρηματοδοτούμενα από ελίτ των οποίων τους ιδεολογικούς στόχους εξέφραζαν.
Τότε ήταν ελάχιστοι αυτοί από εμάς που σε δημοσιεύσεις πολέμησαν τις στενές τους αλήθειες. Προσωπικά θεώρησα ότι η αποδόμηση ήταν αναγκαία ώστε να αποφευχθεί η φυσικοποίηση της μονομερούς τους οπτικής και να ονομαστούν οι τακτικές που επέβαλλαν την αλήθεια τους εις βάρος της ιστορικής αλήθειας. Αυτό βέβαια σήμαινε μια τεράστια επένδυση χρόνου και προσπάθειας που κάτω από άλλες συνθήκες θα διοχετευόταν πιο παραγωγικά αλλού πιστεύω.
Θα ήθελα να αντισταθώ την μεταφορά αυτής της κατάστασης στην Ελλάδα. Υπάρχει μια ιστορία ελληνοαμερικανικών σπουδών, ένας τεράστιος πλούτος γνώσεων και θεωρήσεων παραγμένος με μόχθο, και η πραγματικότητα ότι η κάθε διασπορά αποτελεί ένα ετερογενές πεδίο το οποίο παρουσιάζει προκλήσεις στην αναπαράστασή του. Όσοι φιλοδοξούν να αναπαραστήσουν την διασπορά λοιπόν έχουν τεράστιες ηθικές και πολιτικές ευθύνες στο πώς θα πλαισιώσουν το εγχείρημά τους.
Monday, August 21, 2023
One of the questions that brings us together is how we approach migrant letters, how we read them; what questions we ask and how they matter.
From my part, this is the question I would like to ask: Is it possible that migrant letters could serve as resources to think Greek migration differently? By saying “differently” I do not mean enhancing our available knowledge about the topic. I mean whether there is a prospect that the letters might raise questions that have not been asked before. Can we approach the letters as agents for a new way of thinking Greek migrant historiography?
I realize that there are limitations in this path of inquiry.
This is because migrant letters are a highly mediated form of communication. They commonly refrain from expressing controversial feelings or new ideas, and if they do so, they do it guardedly. We know that one of the primary communicative functions of the letters was to affirm family relations, including gender conventions, and contribute to economic and social decisions within a household. They often offered highly selective content with the aim of easing a family’s anxieties and fears.
Still, pursuing the idea of letters as agency for rethinking Greek migration is tempting. The archive could potentially offer new insights on at least three domains (interrelated): (a) new understandings of migrant subjectivities; (b) the making of subjectivity as a function of social spaces; and (c) the relation between subjectivity and power. This approach may take us to new topographies of subjectivity and agency.
My point of departure is the necessity, I believe, for theoretically informed readings. Our workshop invites us to reflect on migrant letters, a topic which entails a pair of terms, “letters” and “migration.” Regarding the first term, we know that letters to do not mirror social reality, they are mediated representations of that reality. As a result, scholars have developed sophisticated conceptual insights to address the interpretive challenges associated with this archive: they draw from theories of literacy and rhetoric as well as ethnohistoric triangulation to grapple with silences, allusions, and selective omissions in the content.
If for these scholars, content cannot be treated as self-evident, the same can be said in connection to the second term in the pair, “migration”; migration and the figure of the migrant are far from being self-evident categories; one might think of migration as a non-linear, multifaceted process crisscrossed with structural constraints and agency, ambivalences, difficult dilemmas, conflicts––both internal and external––emerging identities and therefore self-transformations, new social relations, new social formations. Reading “migration” in the letters then requires theoretical reflection on how we mean migrancy and the migrant subject.
In developing these ideas, I will not be saying anything that has not been said before in migration studies. I just want to foreground an approach that centers analysis on subjectivity, its connection with social spaces, and the connection between subjectivity and power.
When we speak about migration we speak about a basic fact: migration involves mobility of human bodies. It is about an embodied experience which involves all kinds of passages; crossings of geopolitical borders as well as emotional, cultural and class boundaries. As a result, migration is about cross-cultural encounters with new systems of values and beliefs––such as racial hierarchies and class structures––as well as intimacies such as interethnic love.
We know that identity is produced “in, not prior to the process of interaction with others” (Papastergiadis, 14-15). Migration, understood as a series of encounters, engenders therefore emergent multiple identifications and modes of belonging. It also involves deeply-felt structures of feeling: experiences of violence, vulnerability, exclusion and inclusion, insecurity, and dreaming.
All this in the context of discourses regarding the fitness of the foreigner in the nation, illegality, competing nationalisms, and capitalism. It can be said that migration involves structures, affect, and actions and the ensuing negotiations. How migration is felt and acted upon and under what conditions. Letters offer a potential site to explore these processes from the vantage point of the migrant, which directs our attention to the question of subject formation.
Letters place the speaking subject––mediated to be sure––at their center, and, in doing so, they privilege, one might say, attention to a migrant’s perspective. A series of letters therefore stands to offer insights about the vicissitudes of migrant subjectivity. As we know, this attention to migration as subject formation has gained traction in migration studies.
Nikos Papastergiadies has captured the shift from structuralist and voluntarist models of migration toward a subjectivity-centered model”:
“The real force which causes migration is always seen as being external to the actions of the migrants. Whether migrants are seen as being pulled up, or pushed out of their traditional homes, by the invisible hand of modernization, or being displaced by the restless drives of capital, their own agency, in the process of social transformation, is always rendered secondary to, or determined by, these external forces. There has been little attention to the way the patterns of migration are in a dynamic relationship to the actions and understandings of individual migrants” (Papastergiadis, The Turbulence of Migration: Globalization, Deterritorialization and Hybridit,y 35) A migrant’s subjectivity is in a process of “flux and flow”––“the identity of the migrants is not subordinate to external categories, but formed out of their own experience of movement and settlement” – Our task, therefore is to place “greater emphasis on understanding the complexities of representing migrant subjectivity” (35).
Self-transformation is not a linear process. Particularly in emergent situations like the first years of migrancy, but also later, it involves ambivalences, situational performativity, and contradictions, which are often overlooked in the language of acculturation and assimilation. Instead, we have to gain a great deal by theoretical language of “contact zones,” “third space,” syncretism, performativity, translanguaging, and detteritorialization. We need, in other words, to attend to theories of subject formation.
Because migration, particularly in its early phases, connects with frequent moving, the letters offer a potentially valuable site to examine migrant subjectivity in relation to space and time. We can imagine, I believe, the power of social spaces––both at the microlevel of locality as well the macrolevel of a town or city––to generate shifting subject positions and forms of agency. The workspace––work in mines or small businesses––the church, the kafeneion, the railroad station, the amusement park, the movie theater, the urban experience contrasted with the rural, must have enabled different modes of feeling, social action, desires, and imaginaries.
Migrant movement across social spaces and therefore through time was not a neutral experience but a process which “has produced novel forms of belonging” and identity (Papastergiadis, Turbulence, 5). Peasants are turned into an industrial proletariat or entrepreneurs, which may involve radical self-transformation. They may reinvent themselves, breaking from the past or accommodating the past into the present. We can think here of the transformation of Greek immigrants as political subjects within the American labor system.
If we accept that a migrant represents a “mobile social position,” then letters, particular serial letters, could offer insights on how social space and time mediated migrant subjectivities, which might produce a new topography of migration.
It would be of interest to examine the extent to which these social spaces found a place in the communication with relatives, friends or lovers back in the villages––and how. We have a great example of an extended exchange of letters across a span between Aspa, a cosmopolitan Greek woman in Smyrna and Wilhelm, her German beau early in the 20th century. It offered material to reconstruct both the life story of Aspa along the biography of a city. The letters functioned as as a transnational space where Aspa would learn about Germany and her fiancé about Smyrna, creating social imaginaries about these places. The letters created a third space where, everything comes together, the here and there, “subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history” (Soja 1996: 57). It would be a treasure indeed if we could find letters that speak about the United States beyond the cliché of streets paved in gold.
Migration of course entails also group action: it is about the making of settlements, the formation of communities and the establishment of institutions. It involves deterritorializing practices such as the founding of schools in the host country and reterritorializing practices such as the American Hellenism identity narrative; or the architecture of early 20th century Greek Orthodox churches. Transnational connections but also disconnections are features of this phenomenon.
We cannot think about these processes ––both subject formation and institution building––outside relations of power. Power relations set emigration in motion, in the first place––and power relations shape the experience of newcomers in the host country. Emigration, for example, is commonly connected with state capitalism and underdevelopment in the periphery; or political and legal pressures on ethnoreligious minorities such as the Ottoman Greeks. Or simply when the power of tradition, perhaps patriarchal family structures, is felt as stifling.
In migration journeys the migrant finds himself entangled in regimes of power such the discourse of nativism and assimilationism, connected with whiteness and class exploitation. Also, the power of Greek nationalism and collectivism. Immigrant women faced the power of American eugenics and Greek patriarchy. As we very well know, these power relations are not experienced similarly by all––in other words we cannot speak of a universal migrant subject; instead they are a function of gender and class positions as well as other variables.
When we speak about migration then we speak about a politics of movement, a kinopolitics. I use the term politics here in the broad sense of relations of power which shape a subject’s––or a group’s––formation. Issues for example of consenting to or resisting racial exclusions; consenting to or resisting assimilation. The question then is not merely how migrants felt and thought about their experiences in connection to larger structures; but how emotions, reflections, decisions, and action were generated in connection to power relations. Is it possible that some of the letters at least register these experiences?
Inevitably the question of power raises the question about resistance to dominant narratives. Raymond William’s notion of emergent culture could direct us to new oppositional cultural forms such as immigrant-black relations; alternative cultural forms such as interethnic marriages. His notion of residual culture could direct attention to the ways old world culture such as patriarchy shapes the lives of women and immigrant organizations and how they were resisted.
There is also the question of underrepresented or peripheral demographics:
non-Greek speaking Ottoman Greek Orthodox subjects; or the rebetes and working-class bohemians. Divorced or young widowed women. Women who married non-Greek men; men crippled in. mine accidents.
Letters are perhaps one among the most important archives we have in our disposal to build a history from below. If we wish for the archive to potentially serve as an agent for new understandings of Greek migration, we may wish to also explicitly read the archive for cues or information that would challenge certain canonical truths about migration now but also at the time of their production.
I can think of the nativist truths that views the migrant Other as an irreducible Other. State and nationalist discourses which view the migrants as national subjects. The xenitia discourse portraying migration exclusively as exile. The middle-class ethnic narrative of migrant working-class unionism as agitation, unAmerican and unGreek.
How do letters could help us identify migration beyond hegemonic narrations, to produce alternative knowledges?
Once we approach the archive as a source of revisionism and contestation, the analysis of migrant letters becomes a purposeful project. By “purposeful,” I mean the conscious effort to recover letters from silenced or peripheral subjects and demographics––unionists, women industrial workers, feminists, maverick intellectuals, and other misfits. Also, direct attention to published letters of intellectuals and artists, letters in fiction, or the representation of letters in popular song.
In conclusion, the letters offer a potential resource to creat new topographies of migrant subjectivity and agency, or in other words re-collect Greek American history. This is a political project, if we accept that the Greek American migrant past has been appropriated by ethnic and national elites––including their organic intellectuals––which reduces the complexity of immigration to fit their social and class interests.
Presentation in the workshop, Analyzing and Digitalizing Greek Migrants Correspondence, The Panteion University (Department of Political Science and History, Athens, Greece. Organized by Lina Venturas, June 3, 2023.
Saturday, August 5, 2023
Η κάλυψη της παρουσίας των Ελλήνων στη Νέα Υόρκη στο πρόσφατο οδοιπορικό «Στους Δρόμους των Ελλήνων» (ΕΡΤ) με έβαλε σε σκέψεις πως θα φάνταζε μια πολιτισμική γεωγραφία της πόλης που θα συμπεριλάμβανε τα εξής και πιθανόν να κέντριζε το ενδιαφέρον του ελληνικού κοινού.