Anastasia Christou and Russell King, Counter-Diaspora: The Greek Second Generation Returns “Home.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Department of the Classics. 2014. Pp. 307. Cloth $75.00.
George Kaloudis, Modern Greece and the Diaspora Greeks in the United States. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. 2018. Pp. 250. Cloth $100.00.
by Alexander Kitroeff
New studies on the Greek diaspora are always welcome additions to what is a small but steadily growing subfield of Modern Greek Studies. George Kaloudis, who teaches at Rivier University in New Hampshire, examines the historical trajectory of the Greeks in the United States and their relationship to Greece. Anastasia Christou, who teaches at London’s Middlesex University, and Russell King of the University of Sussex analyze the phenomenon of return migration to Greece from the United States and Germany. These studies complement each other to some extent because Kaloudis’s historical account, which is painted in broad strokes, reminds us of the antecedents of present-day return migration by pointing to the flow of persons away from the Greek lands over the ages, while Christou and King’s study of return migration illustrates the human dimension of diaspora–homeland relations.
George Kaloudis’s Modern Greece and the Diaspora Greeks in the United States is a historical account that begins in the fifteenth century and ends in the present. Kaloudis divides this lengthy span into four chronological periods, each of which is addressed in a separate chapter. The first stretches from the fifteenth century to 1830, the second examines the period from 1830 to 1939, the third considers the period from 1940 to 1970, and the fourth extends from 1970 to the present. Each chapter includes a discussion of the reasons prompting Greek emigration, the political developments in Greece, the activities of Greeks in the United States, their gradual integration into American society, as well as their evolving relationship with Greece. Against this broad historical background, Kaloudis poses the question of whether diaspora Greeks have “acted as modernizers or an obstacle to progress” (xiv). His inspiration for this question is the diaspora’s role immediately before and after the Greek revolution of 1821, when Greeks abroad played an important role in shaping the course of Greek independence and, to a lesser extent, the establishment of the modern Greek state. The diaspora Kaloudis is concerned with is that of the United States, and the purpose of his inquiry is, in his words, to “provide the reader with much better understanding of the ‘place’ of the Greek Diaspora in the United States” (xiv), as well as the extent to which Greeks in the United States were able to contribute to the modernization of their historical homeland the way the Greek merchant diaspora was able to do in the nineteenth century. Concluding that Greeks in the United States were unable to emulate the role of the nineteenth century diaspora, Kaloudis ends by offering his own recommendations of how the synergy between the Greek state and the diaspora in the United States can be improved.
Kaloudis’s study is based entirely on English-language secondary sources and includes four main themes: the history of Greece, the causes of out migration, the Greek American experience, and relations between the diaspora and the Greek homeland. The author makes very good use of a broad range of sources, especially those relating to the history and sociology of Greek America, and he includes well-chosen quotes to illustrate the points he makes in the book.
Its strengths aside, including the author’s recommendations for enhancing homeland–diaspora relations, this book invites questions about its historiographical approach in three areas. Kaloudis’s approach belongs to a genre of studies on Greeks abroad that treats this group as a diaspora without engaging the literature of diaspora studies and the various definitions of diaspora that literature has produced. Instead, the reader comes to understand that Kaloudis is adopting a conventional definition of that term, namely the dispersion of a people away from their homeland who maintain some connection with that homeland. In short, Kaloudis’s chronological narrative uses the term diaspora to describe Greeks outside of Greece, with the underlying assumption being that they maintain a connection to their homeland. Still, he recognizes that during several of the periods under discussion the diaspora’s bonds to Greece are weakened and therefore should not be taken for granted.
By adopting a conventional and thus a loose definition of the term, Kaloudis is all the more easily able to treat this topic with broad strokes, portraying the diaspora as a phenomenon that stretches over several centuries, beginning with his discussion of the causes of emigration and moving to a consideration of settlement patterns, as well as relations with the host society and with Greece. This wide-lens approach to the diasporic phenomenon is one that other authors have also adopted, most notably Ioannis Hassiotis in his Επισκόπηση της Ιστορίας της Ελληνικής Διασποράς (Survey of the History of the Greek Diaspora), which appeared in 1993. Another work along these lines includes George Yannoulopoulos’s chapter on the Greek diaspora in a 1985 volume of essays entitledThe Greek World: Classical, Byzantine and Modern, which was edited by Robert Browning. Kaloudis makes good use of both studies and, like all surveys, the strength of his volume is that the reader is reminded of the long chronological span of Greeks abroad and the continuity and changes of their presence over time. By the same token though, one can never be sure what, if any, is the most appropriate time frame for a long historical look at the Greek diaspora. It is not entirely clear why he uses the sixteenth century as his point of departure.
Because Kaloudis’s synthesizing abilities are very strong, he produces a well-balanced, general picture of several centuries of migration and settlement abroad. By the same token, however, this general view can overlook the complexities of the diasporic condition at ground level, most importantly the ways particular groups within the diaspora relate to their homeland. The value of using a conventional definition is that it provides us with a valuable overall picture of the diasporic condition. The drawback to this approach is that the reader is not afforded a close-up, detailed view of that condition.
Kaloudis’s use of the term diaspora to examine the Greeks in the United States raises a second issue. There has been an ongoing debate about the applicability of the term in the case of Greek America. This has resulted in diametrically opposed views expressed by a range of thoughtful analyses, and which have been summed up in Yiorgos Anagnostou’s article, “Where Does ‘Diaspora’ Belong? The View from Greek American Studies” (2010). A book-length study such as Kaloudis’s should have acknowledged the existence of this debate even if the author had chosen not to engage with it.
A third issue Kaloudis’s study raises is the extent to which one should discuss the political history of a nation state when focusing on its diaspora. Specifically, his study pays a great deal of attention to Greek politics. Helpful as that background may be to an uninformed reader, as well as for framing the causes of emigration, at times the reader may sense that the narrative strays too much in that direction. An indication of this privileging of the homeland over the diaspora is the book’s periodization that partially conforms to turning points in Greek history rather than those of emigration and settlement in the United States.
If one is seeking to understand diaspora–homeland relations on an ethnographic scale—that is, on the level of individual experiences and perceptions—one need look no further than Anastasia Christou and Russell King’s Counter-Diaspora: The Greek Second Generation Returns “Home.” This is a study of the return of diasporic Greeks to Greece “and their evolving and often ambivalent sense of ‘belonging' and conceptualizations of ‘home’” (5). Christou and King’s inquiry is organized around three specific research questions: first, how are images of the homeland and a sense of Greekness constructed abroad and passed on to the foreign-born diaspora generation; second, what factors stimulate the second generation’s decision to move to Greece; and third, how do the returnees react when the idealized picture their parents painted of Greece is shattered by the present-day realities of Greek culture and society they discover upon their return?
In addition to these questions, the authors also suggest that there are three larger epistemological issues their inquiry raises: what are the family and gender aspects of an individual’s relocation; what does their homeward movement tell us about diasporas; and—since the book is based on interviews—what is the significance of the narratives the returnees produce not only as data but also as a way of constructing their own identity in the new environment in which they find themselves?
Divided into six chapters, the book opens with an explanation of the aims of the study as well as its theoretical parameters. It also discusses the research that has been conducted on return migration of other ethnic groups. In their “framing” of the study, the authors are extremely precise in defining terms, such as diaspora and return migration, so much so that this chapter is as long as the other chapters of the book. The second chapter is mainly about the methodology that Christou and King employ; it accounts for their decision to focus on a small number of selectively chosen Greek American and Greek German returnees and thoroughly explains the interview methodology used to conduct the interviews. The third chapter discusses the lives of the returnees in Germany and the United States and the stories they were told about their ancestral homeland. The fourth deals with the process that their relocation to Greece entailed, paying special attention to the respective narrative of each interviewee. The fifth chapter reveals that, upon encountering Greek reality when returning to Greece, the returnees’ homecomings were unhappy.
In the sixth and final chapter Christou and King reflect on the broader conclusions of their findings. Eschewing a grand narrative approach that would yield a single overarching conclusion, the two authors prefer to offer a series of observations by way of conclusions. For example, they illustrate how the accounts they recorded were formed by gender and generational factors and also how the second generation’s return to Greece questions the idea that diasporas are literally dispersed and torn away from a particular homeland permanently. Moreover, the absence of a definitive overall assessment is consistent with Christou and King’s wish to portray the second-generation returnees as representatives of a variegated, rather than a one-size-fits all, Greek diaspora community. In any case, the sum total of these observations clearly suggests that the focus of this study—the second generation—provides multiple, interesting ways of understanding the complexities of the diasporic condition and of return migration.
By the same token however, we are left wondering about their parents’ generation and whether the images of Greece they transmitted to their children were entirely idealized or whether the children themselves romanticized those descriptions of Greece. One wonders about the respective differences in the ways the idea of Greekness and Greece were constructed in Germany and the United States. The authors point to similarities as well as differences between the Greek American and Greek German diasporic environments (240-241) and contrast the sociological characteristics of the Greeks in each case. They also indicate that Greek return-migration patterns from the two countries were different (58) without fully pursuing the implications this has on Greek Germans’ quite distinct reaction when relocating to Greece. Indeed, more could have been said about the differences of Greek-identity formation in the United States and Germany by way of justifying and legitimizing this interesting but bold comparison between Greek Americans and Greek Germans. While the uninitiated reader will be aware of the different ways these two societies have treated immigrants over the past decades, that does not preclude the type of comparison offered by Christou and King. Instead, it does invite a more thorough elaboration, especially if this book is to function as a springboard for additional comparative work along the same lines in the future.
Overall, Christou and King’s meticulous and detailed study is an impressive achievement with many virtues. An ethnographic study wrapped in a multifaceted theoretical framework, it brings to life the ways diaspora and homeland are lived and experienced at the individual level. Some readers may experience difficulty in reading through the extensive theoretical discussion, the deliberately slow, self-reflective account of its methodology and its report-like format—a format that favors the constant enumeration of the points to be made. However, it is important to note that the authors treat these issues with clarity, and they reward the reader with what follows: viscerally worded quotes from interviewees that relate to life in the diaspora, their decision to return, and the jarring landing they experienced in Greece. While the returnees strike a few positive notes, overall their assessment of Greece ranges from embarrassment to disappointment. The quotes often betray a naiveté rather than an idealization of Greece but definitely ring true and problematize the notion that the diaspora and homeland enjoy a smooth relationship.
The two studies on the Greek diaspora reviewed here are too different to be compared. However, by juxtaposing them we observe that they shed light on the broad range of approaches to the study of Greek diaspora–homeland relations. Kaloudis’s big-picture account poses the question of how much continuity exists between the Greek diasporic community and the homeland. Christou and King’s ethnographic and sociological perspective makes us pause and question the ways Greece appears and is constructed in the diaspora. Finally, these studies also demonstrate that the study of the Greek diaspora is not something a single academic discipline can achieve. Instead, history, as well as sociology, can enhance our understanding of this complex phenomenon.
Alexander Kitroeff is Associate Professor of History at Haverford College. He specializes in the history of identity in Greece and its diaspora in a broad range of fields, from politics to sport. He served on the editorial committee of the Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora from 1980 to 2013, the year the journal ceased publication. He has published four books,The Greeks in Egypt, 1919-1937: Ethnicity & Class; Griegos en América [The Greeks in the Americas]; Wrestling with the Ancients: Modern Greek Identity and the Olympics and Ελλάς, Ευρώπη Παναθηναϊκός! 100 Χρόνια Ελληνική Ιστορία [Greece, Europe Panathinaikos! 100 Years of Greek History]. His new book, The Greeks and the Making of Modern Egypt: From Muhamad Ali to Nasser, is being published by the American University of Cairo Press and will appear in early 2019. He has also completed a book-length study of the history of the Greek Orthodox Church in America in the twentieth century. He has collaborated as historical consultant with director Maria Iliou in four documentary films, including “The Journey: The Greek Dream in America.” Kitroeff and Iliou are currently working on a new project, a five-part documentary on the history of Modern Athens.
Cover Image credits: Graphic Design: POST-SPECTACULAR- S. Galikas.
For the International Symposium “Greek Diaspora-Tangible and Intangible Material and Identities” by the “Museology-Cultural Management” Interuniversity Postgraduate Program, the Fulbright Foundation in Greece and the Institute of International Education, 2017 Thessaloniki, Greece.
Anagnostou, Yiorgos. “Where Does ‘Diaspora’ Belong? The View from Greek American Studies.” Journal of Modern Greek Studies 28, no. 1 (May 2010): 73–119.
Hassiotis, Ioannis.Επισκόπηση της Ιστορίας της Ελληνικής Διασποράς [ Survey of the History of the Greek Diaspora]. Thessaloniki: Vanias, 1993.
Yannoulopoulos, George. “Beyond the Frontiers: The Greek Diaspora,” in The Greek World: Classical, Byzantine and Modern, edited by Robert Browning, 187-198. London: Thames and Hudson, 1985.