Giota Tourgeli (Γιώτα Τουργέλη), Οι Μπρούκληδες: Έλληνες Μετανάστες στην Αμερική και Μετασχηματισμοί στις Κοινότητες Καταγωγής 1890-1940 (Brouklides: Greek Migrants in the United States and Transformations in the Communities of Origin 1890-1940), Athens: EKKE e-books, available online: https://ebooks.epublishing.ekt.gr/index.php/ekke
Giota Tourgeli’s monograph, Brouklides: Greek Migrants in the United States and Transformations in the Communities of Origin 1890-1940, adds yet another piece to the puzzle of early twentieth century Greek American migration history as viewed through the lens of transnationalism. Tourgeli focuses on the micro and macro effects of migration on Greece and particularly the Peloponnese. She explores a variety of sources, setting the stage for a multifaceted understanding of the Greek American diasporic narrative.
In her introduction, Tourgeli situates her work within the broader context of migration studies by using transnationalism as a conceptual and interpretative tool. Brouklides is contextualized in terms of place (the Peloponnese, where the first migration chains emerged); time (the period between 1890 to 1940); the theoretical and methodological context (transnationalism); and the kind of documentary sources (primarily private letter collections as well as the records of translocal associations, formal institutions, and the transnational press).
Tourgeli’s main contribution to the existing literature of Greek migration and transnationalism—an approach first introduced by Ioanna Laliotou’s (2004) pivotal work—is her attention on the communities of origin rather than the communities immigrants constituted abroad. Thus, the transformative dynamics of transnational actions and interactions are primarily focused on the homeland, including their impact on social structure, family and kin patterns, business practices, and entrepreneurship, among others.
In the first chapter, Tourgeli acquaints readers with the field of transnationalism. She defines terms and concepts as well as typologies and antinomies, such as assimilation versus transnationalism. In the second half of the chapter, the author delves into the causes of transatlantic migration from Europe, in general, and from Greece, in particular. She examines the type and structure of this “new migration” (male-dominated, temporary, invoked by household strategies) and provides readers with the “profile” of a potential migrant in terms of age, gender, and community of origin, among other characteristics. The author further depicts the positioning of Greek migrants within the U.S. labor market, their initial proletarianization and the eventual “success story” of their entrepreneurialism, hinting to a critique, however, of the success narrative with explicit references to migrants who “did not make it” or who remained stranded in precarious, exploitative working environments. Tourgeli also presents the positionality of Greek migrants within their host societies, revealing the pressures they faced from racism to expected assimilation and from unionization to exploitation by fellow Greeks. Because transatlantic movement and fluidity are central to the author’s ensuing analysis, it is here that Tourgeli applies the idea of border-fluidity by stressing the recrossings of Greek migrants, many of whom made multiple trips across the Atlantic, during the period.
While this chapter—chapter one—could be considered an expansion of the book’s introduction and therefore should have been more concise, the story it tells is often that of the stereotypical narrative of Greek transatlantic migration. The author treats the United States as “one” homogenous space by relying on the illusory term “America,” and she also portrays Greek migrants as a homogeneous single type. But this approach fails to recognize the local, regional, and personal specificities of the immigrants. For example, migrants from rural areas mostly entered the United States as unskilled farmers, while migrants from urban centers often claimed skilled labor specialization when they arrived in the United States. Age and marital status also played an important role and were often connected to the repatriation potential of each individual, with older and married migrant men being more likely to return than single adolescents. In addition to treating the United States and migrants as homogeneous, the author also fails to distinguish popular migrant destinations from less popular ones. Had she made this distinction, readers would have acquired a better understanding of such issues as adaptation; social, marital, and work possibilities available to migrants in their new communities; as well as their degree of “belongingness” in local associations. Finally, communities of origin also are grouped together without any recognition of the contrasting disparities between, say, a semi-urban, railway-accessible community in Arcadia and a remote mountain village in Southern Laconia. Had this information been included, readers would have acquired a better understanding regarding the migrants’ access to the “American dream,” which often depended on their place of origin. They would also have a greater understanding of migrant backgrounds—their occupations, level of education, exposure to the world, and their social networks, just to name a few.
In chapter two, Tourgeli focuses on the “New Economics of Labor Migration.” Here the emphasis is on the multiple functions of remittances for the purpose of understanding the household strategies attached to migration. The discussion centers around the dynamic, developmental impact of remittances, focusing on the flows of migrant capital which brought about significant changes in the communities of origin. Thus, while rural peasant families were deprived of their migrant kin labor—resulting in the abandonment of more intensive cultivation—they were also relieved of burdensome debts, which were paid off with remittances from their migrant kin who were fulfilling familial obligations. Thus, repatriating migrants that possessed even small amounts of capital challenged the long-standing usury system that scourged rural communities in Greece. As Tourgeli illustrates, this transformative dynamic occurred in tandem with the social reproduction of migration networks: to secure future economic benefits, migrants had to remain in America, while their kin in Greece could remain at home, experiencing an improvement in their living standards and life options due to remittances sent from abroad. Tourgeli concludes that the economic aspects of transnationalism invigorated familial ties by solidifying household strategies and roles. This solidification strengthened mutual dependence within households and ensured that a migrant’s role as father, husband, or son remained active as he displayed loyalty and care from abroad, continuing to provide for his family in the same manner he would have done had he remained in Greece.
The third chapter of Brouklides shifts focus to the sociocultural transformations that affected the communities of origin. Being the lengthiest chapter of the study, it first explores the “culture” of migration as an ideological framework that encouraged departure from village life while fermenting the “American dream” in the imaginary of the Greek peasant. Certain communities of origin were certainly less isolated and introverted than Tourgeli portrays them to be. Translocal marriages, seasonal agrarian labor, schooling, trade, and military service, all contributed to peasant mobility. Nevertheless, chapter three illustrates how news of migrants’ success and prosperity reached their places of origin (through letters, demonstrations of wealth by kin who had remained in Greece, return visits, and the local press) and how such news inspired other households to follow the migratory route. Here, Tourgeli’s nuanced analysis also explores changes in consumption patterns in the villages, spanning from food to clothing, and from the making of elaborate and well-equipped houses to material goods and accessories, which illustrated the newly acquired status of “success” and “prosperity.” The cultural connotations of material belongings have already been addressed in a number of migration studies (Svašek 2012; Lalioutou 2004; Dounia 2014; and Koltyk 1998, to name a few). Tourgeli furthers this discussion by extending analysis to understudied cultural habits pertaining to health and hygiene, “proper” diet, pastimes, free time, use of language, and adherence to religious duties as channeled through the interconnections between transnational spaces. New moralities are also discussed, in connection with the departure of convicts, the return of “reformed subjects” (αναμορφωμένων υποκειμένων), and the prevalence of new social hierarchies brought about by the return of the “migrant elite.”
It is worth noting, however, that while Tourgeli’s multifaceted analysis is both thorough and revealing, interchangeable references to migrants, visiting-travelling migrants, returning migrants, and repatriates (as the main bearers of new habits) calls for finer classification and greater clarification. Further, Tourgeli neglects to include a much-needed discussion regarding her selection criteria of the sociocultural aspects of life she chose to include in this chapter. It is also not clear why gender or cultural associations are not considered in this chapter on sociocultural life but, instead, are discussed in other chapters (namely, chapters 5 and 6). It is also not clear how new moralities along with food habits were incorporated as sub-chapters on sociocultural transformations, while other facets of sociocultural life were not.
In chapter four, which is focused more on social anthropology, Tourgeli discusses family and kin relations, as well as marriage and marital markets in transnational networks and spaces. Of utmost interest is her analysis of female fertility and marital strategies, addressing changes in the marital market, decision-making regarding marriage (whom to marry and when), as well as family strategies relating to child-rearing and reproduction. The position of women, as well as shifting gender roles and identities, are also explored here, with an emphasis on women who were “left behind,” adding to the discussion initiated by Linda Reeder (2003), Caroline Brettel (1987), and others. Finally, since conjugal and intergenerational relations are an integral element of the fabric of kin ties in transnational households, Tourgeli also discusses difficulties emanating from the physical absence of males as heads of households and husbands.
Chapter five centers on the economic transformations brought about by migration with a special emphasis on the entrepreneurial endeavors of return-migrants. Investments in estate holdings and innovative agricultural projects initiated by the returned/repatriated migrants are discussed, along with an extensive palette of other occupations, including small- and larger-scale manufacturing, trade and technology, as well as the tertiary sector of tourism and entertainment. Tourgeli illustrates how return-migrants not only brought back their groundbreaking business plans, but also invested in cutting-edge technological equipment and new consumerist niches. She illustrates how migrants promoted their sales through avant-garde advertising campaigns and how they introduced otherwise hard-to-reach American products by assuming the role of local business representatives. Although there is a great deal of repetition in her exhaustive analysis, the reader becomes well-acquainted with the multifaceted economic roles of return-migrants. What remains vague, however, is the thin, fine line that is drawn between migrants and repatriates.
In the next chapter, emphasis expands to groups, rather than individuals, with the focus turning to migrant associations, their structures, organizations, and the transnational scope of their activities. While local, regional, and gender categories are considered in relation to participation and active involvement in associations and local organizations, factual numerical data is unfortunately missing. Thus, while the reference to the low participation of women in local associations abroad (236) is surely accurate and to be expected, it is not supported with relevant data. Such data, especially in terms of place of origin, class, gender, and age, would have been particularly useful to readers. On the other hand, the author’s choice for a chronological approach to the activities of Greek American associations is commendable as it allows readers to appreciate the shifting visions and priorities of Greek American benefactors towards their region of origin. Finally, while Tourgeli’s data focuses heavily on the Tegea Association, it is noteworthy that she discusses not only good-faith cooperation between the Athens-based, Greek American regional organizations and the corresponding local associations, but also cases of disjuncture and rupture between these groups.
Readers of Μπρούκληδες will appreciate the rich and diverse data presented concerning Greece’s transformation because of transatlantic migration in the first half of the twentieth century. Since most studies on Greek migration to the United States focus on the lives of migrants in various American settings, or on the transnational bonds with the homeland as viewed from the migrants’ perspective rather than that of locals in Greece, the author’s focus on Greece’s transformation is the most important contribution of Tourgeli’s study. Readers will also applaud the author’s meticulous use of various sources and archival material, ranging from the scholarly literature on this topic to information garnered from local presses. Still, another strength of the study is its focus on the understudied actions and interactions of migrants, such as their business endeavors in Greece, their infrastructural investments, and their fostering of new moralities, ideologies, and habits in Greece. More to the point, despite the author’s initial promise of a “microhistory” that was to focus primarily on a small village in Laconia, it is in fact her broadness of scope in addressing various localities that will be of greatest interest to readers.
Yet, despite all that is positive in Μπρούκληδες, the monograph could be improved. For example, a tighter structure—one avoiding repetitions and overlaps—would have made it easier for readers to navigate. In addition, avoiding the use of terms interchangeably throughout the book (for example, the lack of distinction between migrants, migrant-tourists, and repatriates) would have made it clearer. Moreover, all-inclusive references to “America” or to “migrant” could have been further refined with such characteristics as age, gender, community of origin, years in the United States, place of settlement in America, and naturalization status. Finally, as previously mentioned, the microhistory, which the author initially announces as the focus of her work, is not fully delivered. Thus, while evidence often centers on various communities of Laconia and Arcadia, extensive references to other parts of the Peloponnese (Patra, Corinth, etc.) and even to other parts of Greece (Mesologgi, Karpenisi, Naupaktos, etc.) appear throughout. From a microhistory perspective, regional variations such, for example, the decisive differences between small, semi-nomadic, semi-mountainous, and remote Agioi Anargyroi and neighboring Tripoli, as well as semiurban Tegea, should not have been overlooked.
In closing, Μπρούκληδες contributes to the existing literature on the Greek American transnational experience, shedding light on the impact of migration on localities and regions in the historical homeland. The book fills historians and others interested in this field with hope for the future of Greek American studies, and one hopes that an English translation will be forthcoming to make this research available to the broader international public.
Margarita Dounia teaches Social Anthropology at HAEF-Athens College. She is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Her research interests focus on migration, emotions, memory, gender, correspondence, photography, and film. Her most recent publications include a contribution entitled “When I came to Canada all I did was Cry: Emotions of Migration among Greek Women in Post-war Montreal,” in Emotional Landscapes: Love, Gender and Migration, edited by M. Borges, S. Cancian, L. Reeder (2021), and “Transnational Practices and Emotional Belonging Among Early 20th Century Greek Migrants in the US,” in Genealogy (2020).
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