Yiorgos Anagnostou, Yiorgos D. Kalogeras and Theodora Patrona, editors. Redirecting Ethnic Singularity: Italian Americans and Greek Americans in Conversation. New York: Fordham University Press, 2022, Pp. vii-380. 11 Illustrations. Paper $35.00.

Redirecting Ethnic Singularity: Italian Americans and Greek Americans in Conversation contains eleven chapters subdivided into four parts, with a preface by Fred L. Gardaphe, an editorial introduction, and an afterward by Donna Gabbacia. As the editors state and as the volume’s title indicates, the goal is to create a “conversation between scholars working in the fields of Italian American and Greek American studies in the Unites States, Europe, and Australia” in order to move “beyond ‘the single group approach’—an approach that privileges the study of ethnic singularity—to explore instead two ethnic groups in relationship to each other” (1). According to the editors, this conversation is “necessary” to counter a “powerful academic discourse” that “tends to undervalue” the study of European Americans because they are seen as “largely assimilated into ‘whiteness’” (1) and therefore “assumed as already known, unworthy of further research,” a position that “discourages junior scholars from engaging these topics” (5). Setting their work against these epistemological and methodological biases, the editors make a case for “rethinking a host of academic assumptions that have had a major effect in the marginalization” of Greek and Italian American studies in order “to promote new knowledge about these subject matters” and thereby empower “Italian American and Greek American studies” (5).

The editors choose Greek and Italian Americans for this comparison because of “recurrent commonalit[ies].” Both are presumed to be clinging to “superficial and reactionary identities” that portend their “eventual decline or even apocalyptic loss” (5). Both have “been classified similarly in various historical periods by powerful social discourses” (5). Both were seen as “‘racially in-between’”—as “not ‘fully white,’ not ‘fully nonwhite’”—in the early 20th century of mass migration and then placed in the “same category as ‘white ethnics’ in the context of ethnic and racial competition for material and symbolic resources as well as the struggle for public visibility in the tumultuous 1970s” (5). Today, they are “rendered as ‘symbolic ethnics,’ with thin and readily disposable ethnic affiliations” (6). Crucially, the editors ask, “how US Italians and Greeks encountered and grappled with [such] assigned normative classifications” (6), thereby raising “the issue of self-representation” and therefore the “terrain to examine comparatively how two groups subjected to similar external representations worked out issues of survival, dignity, making a home, integration, mobility, status, and cultural reproduction.” These are topics the book “would not have been able to identify” through a single group approach (6).

Redirecting Ethnic Singularity keeps to its promise of giving voice to a still present Greek and Italian ethnic self-consciousness and agency and, as I illustrate in this review, its chapters explore and represent how each group addressed and resisted external challenges of classification, community organization, assimilation, and cultural continuity. In this way, the volume as a whole engages the academic discourse that marginalizes or ignores white ethnic identities, showing that such ethnics still exist and seek to represent themselves, their culture, history, and migration stories. At the same time, however, the volume’s contributors never directly address this academic discourse so that in the end it remains largely unnamed and unexplored. In the pages that follow, I maintain that this academic discourse must be named in order to make sense of the “epistemological and methodological biases,” which the editors note, as well as how it works to inhibit Greek and Italian American studies in the academy as well as ethnic self-representation. Accordingly, I will name and engage with two academic discourses, which I call Integrative Postethnic Pluralism and Critical Whiteness Theory. While both discourses minimize the presence and relevance of “white ethnic” self-representation, it is the latter, Critical Whiteness Theory, that is most adamant in wanting to assimilate “white ethnicity” into a totalized “Whiteness,” one in which it is not only undervalued but also regulated along specific lines of self-representation and agency. An understanding of this regulatory effect will help readers better understand what the editors mean when they claim that certain academic assumptions work to marginalize Greek and Italian American self-representation. This understanding will help readers better comprehend the book’s important contribution to ethnic and racial studies. Before I delve into this discussion however, I provide a detailed summary of each chapter below.

Part I, “Constructing, Historicizing, and Contesting Identities,” has three chapters.

In the first chapter, “‘Dirty Dagoes’ Respond: A Transnational History of a Racial Slur,” Andonis Piperoglou teases out the “transnational circulation of the racial slur ‘dago’” in the United States and Australia to demonstrate the “complex ways that Italian and Greek migrants were jointly amalgamated into a singular precarious racial group that did not neatly fit within the binary racial logic of whiteness” (25). Indeed, Piperoglou shows that in both countries the slur “dagoes” had a connotation of racial non-whiteness. He then focuses on Australia to show how Greeks and Italians resisted the slur by making a shared claim to European whiteness, which was the very basis of the slur itself: “One of the effects of this anti-dago resistance … was that the transcultural linkages and identity formation shared between Greeks and Italians was mobilized with the powerful exclusive racial paradigm from which the term ‘dago’ emerged” (38). Thus, according to Piperoglou, “It could be said that the circulation and contestation of the slur dago … marshalled Greek and Italian migrants to articulate solidary with each other publicly while simultaneously reinforcing a dominant white racial ordering that excluded Asian populations and dispossessed First Nation peoples” (38).

The second chapter by Stefano Luconi is titled “A Greek American Vice President?” Luconi focuses on Italian American voting strategies for the 1968 and 1974 Republican tickets “to test whether ethnic or racial determinants prevailed in shaping Italian American voting behavior” (48). He centers his analysis on Spiro Agnew’s place on the ticket in light of Agnew’s Greek identity as well as the fact that his chief rival for the position was John A. Volpe, an Italian American. It was Volpe’s loss to Nelson J. Rockefeller in the 1967 Massachusetts Republican Presidential Primary that undermined his political capital and led to Nixon’s choice of Agnew over Volpe. Given criticism of Nixon’s decision in the Italian American press, Luconi emphasizes that Italian Americans could have mobilized on the basis of ethnicity and “[stayed] home on Election Day or … cast their ballots for the Democratic Party” (53).

This did not happen, however. Instead, the Italian press quickly shifted its focus to other issues—African American rioting, the radicalization of the Black Civil Rights struggle, and the perceived unfairness of affirmative action policies—as grounds upon which to support Agnew and Nixon. And while Nixon and Agnew did not carry the Italian vote in 1968, the percentage of Italian Americans who voted Republican increased nationally, a trend that continued in 1972, with Italian American support for Republican candidates reaching over fifty percent in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York (61). On this basis, Luconi concludes that the voting patterns seen in these elections were part of an emerging trend: a shift in Italian American consciousness and political practice away from strictly ethnic interests towards those seen as intersecting with a shared racial whiteness.

In the third chapter, “Mediterranean Americans to Themselves,” Jim Cocola introduces “paraethnicity,” a central and unifying concept of the book. While this review cannot do justice to Cocola’s close analysis of Corso writings and especially of Kazan’s 1956 film, Baby Doll, in his intriguing opening section Cocola contextualizes Greek and Italian Americans in La Longue Duree as people “eclipsed” by “Anglo-Saxon settler colonialist power structures” as well as “by incursions of Ottoman, Spanish and British power and then Greek, Italian, and Turkish nation-states” (72). According to Cocola, this shared history as well as the “present-day vagaries of skin privilege and symbolic ethnicity” (see below on the definition of symbolic ethnicity) make Greek and Italian American expressive cultures “ripe for exercises in comparison,” which in turn “might lead to exercises in collectivity” (72-73).

Cocola finds precedent for such exercises in Gregory Corso’s poetic encounters with Greece and Elia Kazan’s films. He sees the work of Corso and Kazan as prime examples of how Greeks and Italians have long “invoked one another, or their respective homelands, in many literary and film depictions” (73) using, what he calls, “ventriloquized modes of self-reflection” (74)—that is, speaking a Greek self through an Italian character or vice versa. Cocola sees in such ventriloquized modes an incipient “Mediterranean American” identity, which, while not then articulated as such, is no less anachronistic than the term “Asian Americans” before its formal emergence in the 1970s (73-74). According to Cocola, although Greeks and Italians are not co-ethnics, they have become “co-nationals along similar trajectories, thereby accruing a kind of paraethnicity, linked through comparable but distinct descent lines, national origins, and subject positions” (76).

Cocola, however, does not define “paraethnicity.” Instead, he explains it in terms of its Greek roots (pará, meaning besides, near to, or contrary to, and éthnos, meaning custom, nation, or tribe). We might thus describe paraethnicity as shared identity based on similar cultural practices, values, and memories. Cocola closes by pointing Greeks and Italians to a “larger project” of linking “waves of Greek and Italian immigrant arrivals and their descendants to more distant and recent waves of Maghrebi and Mashriqi immigrant arrivals to the United States” (93).He closes by emphasizing that those who have “the Mediterranean in common” can gain much from listening to one another, serving not only the “mutual interests of Mediterranean Americans” but also the “wider project of transcultural solidarity in an increasingly fragmented and increasingly interconnected multiethnic and multicultural America” (94).

Part II, “Identity Construction in Two Ethnic Communities,” contains two chapters.

The first chapter, by Kostis Kourelis, is titled “Style and Real Estate: The Architecture of Faith Among Greek and Italian Immigrants, 1870-1925.” As the title implies, Kourelis compares cultural expression through Greek and Italian architectural styles and communal organizations in the United States. He argues that Italian and Greek immigrants who came to the United States encountered an American milieu that had embraced multiple European architectural styles which had gone through various reforms, revivals, and recombinations and which reflected ethnic, religious, and cultural differences. At the same time, Greek and Italian immigrants brought with them their indigenous knowledge and practices, along with their awareness of “the prestige endowed by Western civilization on the architectural masterworks of their homelands” (107).

Despite this, it was mostly conditions in America that shaped the way each expressed identity through church architecture. While Catholic parishes were centrally organized, they were shaped by the demographic that sustained them. That is, Italians moved into spaces previously occupied by other Catholics, predominately the Irish. Thus, initially, they adopted styles that were reflective of non-Italian tastes and only gradually built new churches to fit their own tastes. Greeks, on the other hand, occupied multiple buildings including Protestant churches, Jewish synagogues, and masonic lodges and had to contend with the fact that older Greek Orthodox architectural styles had been appropriated by the Ottomans and thus disassociated from Greeks and Christianity. Only loosely united with other Orthodox ethnic groups and largely autonomous in terms of communal organization, the Greek Orthodox were also more connected to national architectural developments in Greece. Given these differences, Kourelis concludes that “Greeks and Italians had inherited unique architectural traditions with their own historical afterlives” as well as an “institutional structure of real estate development that shaped the limits of reproduction.” Accordingly, their buildings cannot be “reduced to a single style and episode of urban development” (134).

Next is “Ethnic Language Education: A Comparative Study of Greek Americans and Italian Americans in New York City.” In this chapter, Angelyn Balodimas-Bartolomei and Fevronia K. Soumakis examine Greek and Italian immigrant efforts to maintain their respective languages in New York City. In Greece, where the state brought “the Greek Orthodox Church into its broader educational objective of nation building,” the Orthodox “faith became part of the formal curriculum” (144). Thus, both the state and church “participated in shaping the ideological prerogative of the education system as elementary education expanded during the nineteenth century” (144). Accordingly, education was widely seen by Greeks “as [a] means to better employment opportunity by the time of mass migration” (144), and “the Greek Orthodox Church would become the dominant vehicle through which Greek language and cultural education would take place” in the United States (147).

By contrast, “most Italian immigrants arrived in the United States with an attitude of indifference toward education” (148), and most immigrants still spoke their local dialect since the Italian state’s attempt to promote standard Italian in public education failed because of coercive policies and the intense localism of Southern Italian peasant culture. As a result, Italian immigrants emphasized manual labor as a means of economic mobility and saw little connection between language and identity. Furthermore, whereas Greek American leaders saw education as linked to Orthodoxy and therefore attempted to gain public recognition for Orthodox holidays, Italian American leaders viewed public schools as the vehicle for Italian language instruction, as the means to create a shared Italian American identity, and as the way to help the second generation integrate into mainstream American culture.

Finally, World War II would alternatively bolster and undercut Italian and Greek efforts, respectively. While the Italian language became suspect through Italian Fascism’s linking of language with race, civilization, and imperialism, as well as by Italy’s alliance with Germany and Japan, the Greek language became associated with an American ally’s heroic resistance to fascism. After the war, new immigration waves and attitudes of openness towards bi- and multilingualism nurtured and fostered efforts to promote continued Greek and Italian language instruction, a development that was further enhanced by increased transnational connections with the home countries. Today, interest in both languages continues, promoted by both the Greek and Italian governments’ ethnic educational organizations, and even by certain grass-roots actors. The authors conclude by noting that Greek and Italian language educators now recognize that “language learning promotes both global understanding and respect,” and so their respective “ethnic languages” are now to be seen as “heritage languages” and, thus, “should be available for all who want to study” them (168-169).

Part III of the volume is titled “Ethnic and Gender Identities in Literature and Music” and is comprised of three related chapters.

In “Identity, Family, and Cultural Heritage: Narrative Polymorphy in Let Me Explain Youand Catina’s Haircut,” Eleftheria Arapoglou uses a “transcultural” perspective for a close reading of the two novels, each centered on Greek and Italian women’s encounters with immigrant patriarchy and each deploying a polyphonic (multiple voices) narrative structure. In both novels, this transcultural perspective reveals “two levels of dialogic transculturalism: on one level, the ‘dialogue’ is established among the multiple narrative voices … within the two novels themselves; on a second level, the two novels, both of which negotiate experiences (such as ethnic and cultural affiliation) by means of discursive narrative practices, ‘talk’ to each other,” thus sharing a dialogic narrative model of identity constitution (188).

While Arapoglou reveals divergent experiences for these ethnic women (alienation for the Greek American and uprootedness for the Italian) (205), at the same time the women’s experiences converge as “the stories of two ‘ethnic’ women authors who are transculturally affiliated through their respective narrative discourses” and whose discursive strategies are “acts of self-authorizing that illuminate the overlapping experiences of Greek American and Italian American women as dominated peoples whose cultural practices resist oppressions of silence” (204). Arapoglou notes that the multivocality of each novel as a narrative strategy more accurately “represents the immigrant experience, both personal and communal, as textured and diverse, rather than uniform and homogeneous” (205). Thus, the ultimate advantage of reading Let Me Explain You and Catina’s Haircut “within a dialogic transcultural frame is that the complexities of immigrant women’s identities, origins, and journeys are not obscured by a homogenizing frame of reference serving hegemonic interests” (205). An additional advantage is that Arapoglou shows the reader that Greek and Italian American women authors can be seen to “form an artistic community that crafts its functional responses to the experience of migration on a dialogical aesthetic” (188), a self-conscious one.

Following this, Francesca De Lucia offers “Ethnic Investigations of the American Crime Scene: Comparing Domenic Stansberry and George Pelecanos,” which centers on a close reading of Stansberry’s The Last Days of Il Duce and Pelecanos’s Nick Stefanos trilogy. De Lucia prefaces her analysis with a discussion of “symbolic ethnicity,” a “conception of ethnicity that suggests that white ethnicity does not hold much depth and can be endorsed and discarded at leisure” because “descendants of Southern and Eastern European immigrants have merged into a broader white mainstream and that ethnic culture has been reduce to mere tokens” (214). Against this, she quotes Rudolph Vecoli who maintains that ethnicity is a “subjective sense of peoplehood based on common memories” (214; Vecoli 1995, 154) and especially Yiorgos Anagnostou who argues that ethnic identification is “‘a matter of deep psychic and cultural processes [that are] often beyond an individual’s rational control,’” one in which “‘white ethnics make and transform their immediate social worlds through disposing and practices that are not always recognized as ethnic’” (214, quoting Anagnostou, 2009b, 62, 99).

Drawing from these critiques, De Lucia reads the ethnic detective novels as ethnic practice—that is, as the expression of the authors’ ethnic consciousness expressed via their ethnic characters. As such, the authors “complicate” the classical, hard-boiled American detective novel, where “maleness, whiteness, and isolation” were central tropes, by giving “a specifically ethnic dimension” (212) to their characters. For Stansberry, ethnic Italian identity is at the center of the plot—it is pervasive, ubiquitous, unmeltable. For Pelecanos, ethnic Greek identity remains at the margins, melted into the American urban fabric but, from that position, always perceptible, always present. At the same time, while Stansberry’s protagonist “interacts with individuals of different immigrant backgrounds and races,” he remains detached from them as well as from the wider “fabric of American society” (233). By contrast, Pelecanos’s protagonist “goes beyond the representation of the ‘unmeltable ethnic’” through his “racially hybrid Greek American families” and the Black presence of the novel’s “unconventional setting” of Washington, DC (233). De Lucia attributes this divergence to the different World War II experiences of each group: the Greeks remained allies and friends of the United States, which allowed them to experience an uninterrupted history of incorporation. The Italians, on the other hand, were seen as potential enemies and aliens and, thus, forced to deal with “the trauma of fascism and of the internment of some of California's Italian Americans” (233). Thus, De Lucia concludes that “[b]y exploiting a genre that is traditionally perceived as being quintessentially white and ‘American,’” Stansberry and Pelecanos “put into discussion traditional ideas [of race, attachment, and alienation] related to US identity” (233).

Third, we have “Imaginative Living in Mediterranean New England,” by Panayotis League, a more personal and ethnographic account of his frequent interactions with his Greek and Italian-Spanish friends, all of them built around regular “Mediterranean socialites, Ottoman-era modal dance music preceded by home-cooked Italian and Greek delicacies and accompanied by Lesvian ouzo” (240). During these socialites, conversations developed “about [their] parallel and divergent experiences of in-between white ethnicity” (242). League strove to remain “out of the way” at these events, “participating less as a researcher hoping to elicit responses to particular questions and more as an equal partner in an organically unfolding conversation” (242). Letting his friends speak for themselves by reproducing their responses to questions about family history, ethnic affiliation, and personal identity, League concludes that their conversations revealed a “conscious cultivation of danced, sung, spoken, and tasted ethnicity at the intersection of these Mediterranean migrant groups as a deeply personal act of imaginative living … that both reproduces beloved aspects of inherited cultural practices and necessarily begets its own fields and contexts” (264). At the same time, he also notes that they avoided the topics of whiteness and race during their conversations about identity, suggesting that this may reveal the degree to which the “transition to whiteness has blunted the collective memory of racial otherness that so marked the lives of the first-generation migrants; even among this progressive crowd of academics and artists, the normativity of their ethnic whiteness gets no comment” (263).

The concluding section of the volume, Part IV, is comprised of the final three chapters of the book along with an afterward by Donna Gabaccia.

This part of the book begins with “An Ethnic Can’t Be Like Other People? The Construction of Greek Americans and Italian Americans in Kojak,” by Sostene Massimo Zangari. As the title indicates, the chapter focuses on the Greek American character Kojak, played by Telly Savalas, as “the son of a Greek immigrant” and “a tough, resolute cop” from the streets set amidst “the complex social and ethnic stratification of the contemporary metropolis as well as its ‘hidden’ power structures” (273). Zangari begins by closely analyzing the 1973 TV pilot, The Marcus-Nelson Murder, which was based on a true case in which an African American was coerced into confessing the murder of two young women. In the film, Kojak alone is skeptical of the confession and conducts a parallel investigation to reveal the true culprit. Zangari notes that the film highlighted both structural injustice as well as a positive ethnic hero, themes that would continue in the TV series, Kojak, which aired the same year and ran until 1978.

While Kojak is foregrounded as the “model ethnic” who fights structural injustices, Zangari emphasizes that not all white ethnics are uniformly portrayed as heroes, with Italian Americans often presented as icons of white ethnic racism and corruption. Notably, he situates Kojak within a multitude of similar police and detective shows that highlighted white ethnic characters, portraying them as part of “a conscious ethnic project … to reshape TV perception of ethnic groups” by assigning them roles that “allowed for complex portrayals” beyond the common stereotypes (292). Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, Zangari argues that the promotion of white ethnic characters not only helped bring awareness of issues to the American public but also served a “‘syntax of nationality and belonging’ that put Ellis Island [rather than the Mayflower] at the core of American identity” (293). Thus, Zangari concludes that the effort to reshape the perception of white ethnics was part of a wider effort “to legitimize the ethnic as a new form of representative American. … Children of immigrants, thus, not only started to be considered legitimate Americans: they came to embody the very essence of being American” (292).

Next is Yiorgos Kalogeras’s “Irrevocable or Irreversible? Authenticating Identities in Italian and Greek Immigration Documentaries.” Kalogeras focuses on two European documentaries about immigration to the United States: Gianfranco Norelli’s Pane Amaro (Bitter Bread, 2009; Italy) and Tassos Rigopoulos’s Defteri Patridha (Second Motherland, 2001; Greece). Kalogeras asks why these films appeared when they did and what their purpose might have been: “Are these European documentaries belated attempts by Italy and Greece to claim diasporas across the Atlantic” or have they been “produced to allay fears of ‘the immigrant other’ by reproducing it as oneself” (299)? By “immigrant other,” Kalogeras is referring to the contemporary “overwhelming influx of refugees and immigrants from the East and across the Mediterranean,” and his thesis is that the two documentaries “implicitly point to the prevailing argument among many European countries for and against the concept and realities of ‘fortress Europe’” (300). To support this claim, Kalogeras contextualizes the European films by comparing them to two American films: Gia Amella’s And They Came to Chicago: The Italian American Legacy (2007) and Maria Iliou’s The Journey: The Greek American Dream (2007).

Kalogeras sees these American films as “past-oriented narratives” (316) that portray immigration as a teleological story in which obstacles such as discrimination and disadvantage are overcome to achieve full integration into American society. According to Kalogeras, the films also aim “to promote a postethnic identity for the group” (302)—that is, an identity that “‘prefers voluntary to prescribed affiliations, appreciates multiple identities, pushes for communities of wide scope, recognizes the constructed character of ethno-racial groups, and accepts the formation of new groups as part of the normal life of a democratic society’” (302, quoted from Hollinger 2000, 3). However, in doing so, the American films elide problematics such as colonialism, slavery, and Manifest Destiny” (303), and they present “the themes of homelessness and displacement that immigration inevitably recalls to mind” as “simply midway stations on the road to embourgeoisement and Americanization” (305).

By contrast, Kalogeras’s European films depart from this teleological narrative. They are “future oriented” (316) films that “offer a more complex approach to identity formation and postethnicity,” underlying “not so much the inevitability as the irreversibility of the move from Europe to the United States” (305). Moreover, they “involve issues of race in their plotting of the US identity of the former immigrant,” predicating, “along with Hollinger[,] that ‘a post-ethnic perspective is not an all-purpose formula for solving policy problems but it is a distinctive frame with which issues in education and policies can be debated’” (306; Hollinger 2000, 3). Thus, Pane Amaro questions “the entire discourse of the immigrant’s American Dream” (307), emphasizing affinities based on shared experience of discrimination between immigrants and African Americans, insisting on “cross-ethnic and cross-racial allegiances” (307) and “not shy[ing] away from more radical activities,” such as unionizing, strikes, and Italian anarchism (307-308). Similarly, Defteri Patridha emphasizes the traumas of immigration by highlighting experiences such as illegal entry, “mail-order” brides (311), loneliness, loss, and melancholia, as well as the complexity of “Greek immigrant identity” through the story of a Nigerian immigrant to Greece who later migrates to the United States. The film thus refuses to treat “immigration to the United States as a teleological event … [nor] Greek American ethnic identity as well-defined and unproblematic” (311). Overall, then, the two European documentaries treat issues of immigrant assimilation, postethnicity, and racism as unresolved and ongoing issues that have “bearings on the refugee crisis facing ‘the new promised land,’ Europe” (316).

Michail C. Markodimitrakis follows with “American(ish) Rebels: Class, Gender, and Ethnicity in Moonstruck and My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Markodimitrakis argues that a close comparative reading of these films, which premiered in 1987 and 2002, respectively, shows how each foregrounds “the complexities of identity making among immigrants and ethnic Americans as they strive to find their place in American society” (327). While many ethnic films emphasize contrast between the ethnic group and “the dominant white culture,” these films “show their main characters attempting to redefine themselves in terms of gender, class, and ethnic categories” as related to both the immigrant culture as well as the majority American society (326). To do this, both films rely on stereotypes to highlight a “processes of ethnic belonging that [is] influenced by personal desires and interpersonal interactions,” thus avoiding “an essentialized view of ethnic differences” (326). Both films also reveal a “segmented assimilation” in which individual freedoms are achieved through upward mobility into the middle class and, with this mobility, a necessary distancing of the self from certain aspects of immigrant/ethnic culture. However, neither film presents upward mobility as a zero-sum game. Markodimitrakis concludes that upward mobility and the changes demanded by the more “liberal” American culture need not come at the expense of complete alienation from ethnic identity “so long as [the ethnic identities] reaffirm the core values of the elusive American dream and its derived happiness” (343).

In her “Afterward: Beyond Methodological Singularity,” Donna Gabaccia begins with her personal story into migration studies and, as someone “who writes on interdisciplinarity and methodology,” highlights “some of the critically important editorial choices” that shaped the volume” (353). The choice, for example, to recruit scholars across many disciplines and to privilege “encounters[,] comparisons, and identities” gives readers the opportunity to reflect on why certain topics were included while others were not, creating “space for readers to think about their own choices as they plan for future research” (353). Gabaccia also notes that the editors’ “foundational” choice to move beyond what she calls a “methodology of singularity,” the “study of an individual immigrant group or migration from a single modern nation,” is one that “deserves wide emulation” (354), and she asks readers how they might formulate their own research beyond singularity.

Gabaccia then provides a comprehensive overview of “the origins of methodological singularity” (354)—that is, its emergence out of the desire to document immigrants in their own specific languages and its subsequent movement away from “such hegemonic methodologies,” first, among “historians of American pluralism” (355) and, later, among “interethnic or intercultural” scholars (356). In line with her own reflexive voice, she emphasizes that future scholars should consider what may shape their own choices to move beyond singularity when choosing which groups and on what grounds to compare them. Gabaccia concludes with a commentary on “the analytical consequences of authorial positionality on scholarly production” and emphasizes the potential constraining influence of “disciplinarity” in structuring “the kind of knowledge scholars can produce” (358). She also discusses the importance of “institutional location”—that is, how “national scholarly cultures and publication genres” shape scholarly interactions as well as “their research assumptions and questions” (359). Finally, Gabaccia discusses the dimension of authorial positionality that is often the most difficult to discern: the authors’ cultural identification and identities” (360). She notes that some contributors to the volume wrote “reflexively in ways that signal[ed] identity positions,” but doing so was a choice left to individual authors. While such reflexivity is not “analytically” essential, she maintains that “more reflexive author biographies would be a welcome feature of future collections” (361).

Overall, Redirecting Ethnic Singularity is a remarkable text of rich and complex scholarship that bears close and repeated reading. I read it as “a book of agency and practice,” as a work in which individuals, singularly and in cooperation with one another, are active participants in the formation and reproduction of their own social world, past and present. As such, it is a work of “self-ethnic representation”—that is, the self-representation by Greek and Italian ethnics conscious of their own identities. As noted by the volume’s editors, this self-representation stands against a powerful academic discourse, which, as I have argued, is really two discourses that I call Integrative Postethnic Pluralism and Critical Whiteness Theory. It is to these that I now turn in order to provide the proper context and to highlight the book’s most valuable contribution to the study of race and ethnicity in the United States.

Both Integrative Postethnic Pluralism and Critical Whiteness Theory rightly recognize that racialized “Whiteness” was central to the establishment of the American nation-state. Whiteness was the central feature of the racial formation that legally privileged those designated as White, entitling them to state rights and benefits, while marginalizing those designated as non-White (see here Harris 1993; Haney-López 1996; Hooks 1997). This self-privileging centrality of Whiteness is White supremacy, the main legitimizer for the systemic violence deployed in the subjugation of Africans and Indigenous “nations” through slavery and settler colonialism. Moreover, White supremacy determined citizenship and migration policy, generally excluding or restricting non-Whites (primarily “Asians,” but also Mexicans and other Latin Americans). As such, “White identity” was based on a “color line” of difference through which the maintenance of Anglo-Saxon, Protestant supremacy was paramount (For an overview of this argument, see Roediger 2008).

Within this structure, the terms “race” and “ethnicity” served as generic markers that defined ranges of personhood within the state and determined individual and group fates. Today, “race” and “ethnicity” are differentiated as physical/descent-based and cultural/consent-based identities, respectively (see Cornell and Hartman 2004; Kivisto 2005). Thus, in the United States “ethnicity” is used to signal the “national” identity of new immigrants (that is, Chinese, Italian, Irish, Nigerian, Korean, Hmong, Brazilian, and so on), while these national identities are “melted” through the re-categorization of the five state-sanctioned racial categories—African American or Black, Asian American, Euro-American or white, Hispanic, and Native American, referred to by Hollinger as the “ethno-racial pentagon” (2000). Moreover, the somewhat anomalous term “White ethnic” (also rendered as “white ethnic”) is a particularly American designation, which “emerged from the collision of the nation’s immigrant history with its legacies of slavery, internal colonization, and Jim Crow” (Torkelson and Hartman 2020, 302) and which combines the two poles: “White,” for racial, and “ethnic” for ethnicity.

It is at this point, however, that the two discourses diverge.

Integrative Postethnic Pluralism treats the immigration of Southern and Eastern Europeans as a paradigm for understanding American immigration history, in general, and as a lens for predicting the incorporation patterns of current immigrants and the impact of their incorporation on racial and ethnic boundaries in the United States. Their pattern of incorporation was one of gradual assimilation and integration by which the everyday consciousness, practices, and values they brought with them to the United States gave way to “American” ways by the fourth generation. This resulted in either the disappearance of immigrant “ethnic identity” or its weak survival as “a symbolic ethnicity” that can be drawn upon for nostalgic reasons, celebratory occasions, or even political purposes (Gans 1979; Waters 1990; 1996; Song 2003; Anagnostou 2009a and 2009b debate with Gans 2009 and Waters 2009). At the same time, however, Integrative Postethnic Pluralism recognizes that this Americanization was also the process by which these immigrants “became White,” both because the two were seen as largely synonymous and because, in “becoming White,” they acquired the privileges accorded to “White” Americans within the social system (on immigrants “becoming White” see Eyerman 2022; Jacobson 1998; Guglielmo 2003; Roediger 2005).

This “melting” of European immigrants into American racial Whiteness had another consequence according to Integrative Postethnic Pluralism: it “remade the American mainstream.” Immigrant customs and practices did not simply disappear but were incorporated into the general population as shared “American” practices that inalterably moved the social identity of the county beyond its foundational Anglo-Saxon and Protestant Whiteness (see here Gabaccia 1998; Foner 2022; Ray 2016). Importantly, Integrative Postethnic Pluralism sees this immigrant refashioning of the mainstream as a continuing process tied to ongoing immigration and Americanization. Thus, the contemporary influx of immigrants that are predominately though not exclusively “non-white” will follow the assimilation and integrative trajectory of Southern and Eastern European immigrants and thus experience a diminution of the identities of their “home” countries in favor of an “American” identity, a process that will further loosen the ethno-racial boundaries of the United States—albeit now in a way that presents the possibility of a racial formation beyond the current American color line. (On this argument regarding immigration and the remaking of the mainstream, see Alba 1990, 2017; Alba and Nee 2003; Foner 2000; Gabaccia 2002; Hollinger 2000). Recognizing the structuring power of persistent anti-Black racism, however, Integrative Postethnic Pluralism is aware that “assimilation, even if it expands to embrace non-Europeans, is unlikely to dissolve racial distinctions entirely in the United States and end the inequalities rooted in them. Assimilation, then, provides no reason to end the struggle against the power of racism” (Alba and Nee 2003, 292).

Critical Whiteness Theory is decidedly in conflict with Integrative Postethnic Pluralism in its representation of immigration. The experience of “White” immigrants cannot serve as either a template or a paradigm because immigration was not a neutral social process but, rather, a racial project mediated by the American state through discriminatory practices (White privileging) in housing, education, and labor (Blauner 1972; Katznelson 2005). Thus, the “White Immigrant narrative” is really an exclusionary narrative: It (falsely) portrays European immigration as a normative pathway open to all immigrants when, in fact, American immigration policy was historically hostile to non-whites. Moreover, the White Immigrant narrative functions to judge and discipline non-white immigrant behavior, classifying it as virtuous, unvirtuous, or exceptional based on the putative “pull yourself up by-your-bootstraps” achievements of the white immigrant (see Lazos Vargas 1998). Finally, the White Immigrant narrative also functions as a defensive and reactionary narrative, one that deflects charges of “White privilege” by presenting the discrimination and hardships of white immigrants as equivalent to those experienced by non-white immigrants (Gallagher 2003). On these grounds, presenting white immigration as a comparative template imposes a “White sociological frame” on non-whites and masks the specific dynamics of Whiteness and White supremacy (see Lipsitz 2018; the debate between Kaufmann 2006 and Roediger 2006; and Brunsma and Wyse 2019).

In this frame, “Whiteness” is not just a persistent, albeit contingent, legal, and racial structure; it is more than that. It is “a pervasive dominant ideology that is enduring, invisible, and ubiquitous… [one] that aggressively encroach[es] on the lives of Black and Brown people over the course of a lifetime” (Hardy 2022, 9). Whiteness “has the power to create an elaborate social subterfuge, leading both whites and nonwhites to believe that the representations by which they live their lives and understand the world and themselves are naturally given, unchangeable ways of being” (Yancy 2004, 11). Thus, “to be a Person of Color, and especially Black, in the United States is to live a protracted life under a form of metaphorical white occupation” (Hardy 2022, 9). Moreover, Whiteness is seen as a “disease of the soul” and a “spiritual malady” that cannot be escaped no matter how much it is “examined and interrogated” (Trimble 2023, 50). Nevertheless, Whiteness must be constantly examined with the goal of bringing it to the full self-consciousness of White people so that the racial White subject may come to recognize how invisibility, normativity, and privilege underpin their own acquiescence in White supremacy (Frankenberg 1997; Matias 2016; Ignatiev and Garvey 1996; with the cautions of Flores and Moon 2002). As Bonnett puts it, the result is a “myth” in which “being white” is

an immutable condition with clear and distinct moral attributes. These attributes include: being racist; not experiencing racism; being an oppression; not experiencing oppression; silence; not being silenced. People of color are defined via their relationship to this myth. They are defined, then, as “non-whites”; as people whose identity is formed through their resistance to others' oppressive agency (1996, 100).

Ultimately, then, it is the very “ontology” of Whiteness itself, both as praxis and theory, that undermines any possibility of comparison between European (white) and non-European (non-white) immigrants. And, accordingly, it is the same ontology that undermines Integrative Postethnic Pluralism as a theory and vision of the future. Its premises and goals are not only invalid, but they also impede the possibility of a non-white self-consciousness that must be built against a structured, White oppressive agency (on the persistence of racism see Peller 2015; Bell 2018; Bonilla-Silva 2012).

Let us now return to consider how the book stands against these two academic discourses, which are themselves in opposition to one another.

In terms of Integrative Postethnic Pluralism, Redirecting Ethnic Singularity offers a challenge to the claim that “white ethnic” identity is largely symbolic or strategic—that is, an ethnicity of choice. For one, the book itself should be read as a work of self-conscious agency and practice, a work in which individuals, singularly and/or in cooperation with one another, are active participants in the formation and reproduction of their own social world, past and present. At the same time, read in conjunction with other recent studies of white ethnics, it becomes quite evident that Greeks, Italians, and other white ethnic groups continue to maintain social structures that produce an ingrained habitus (a person’s speech, style, perception, appreciation, and habits of mind and body) and subjectivity that distinguishes them from “other” White people as well as from non-whites (See, for example, Anagnostou 2009b; Becker 2015; Sciorra 2015; Krase 2017; Tricarico 2019; Pasto 2016; 2019. See also the 2018 video of a community meeting that took place in Boston’s North End to oppose to the building of a Super Starbucks at this neighborhood’s entrance, Proposed North End Starbucks Strongly Opposed at Public Meeting as well as another short oppositional film, The Last Little Italy.

Moreover, the assumption that ethnic choice is for “whites only” falters when we consider that the structure of this segregating assumption is itself rooted in a wider American system of racial formation, one in which all immigrants, both past and present, are given a predetermined set of American racial categories by which their own particular “national” identities are melted into their new American racial beingness (see Richomme 2009). These new racial identities are hardly “chosen.” Motivated by government policy, they become “naturalized” through mediating practices in educational and corporate settings. In this way all “ethnic” or “racial” identity in the United States is to some degree “performative” and, so, to claim that one is something more than/other than/beyond their American racial being (whether that is to be Italian, Greek, Korean, Nigerian, or something else) is to resist what is, ultimately, a White system of racial formation. It is this right of individuals to self-identity beyond the coercive binarity of the American color line that Redirecting Ethnic Singularity also claims.

To grasp some of the implications of this claim consider the book in terms of Critical Whiteness Theory’s critique of a comparative white/non-white immigration frame and its underlying racial ontology. Redirecting Ethnic Singularity implicitly assumes that white and non-white immigrants are both comparable and also intersectional. Each can inform the experience of the other. Thus, Zangari’s view of Kojak as an ethnic subject contesting anti-immigrant and anti-ethnic stereotypes, putting Ellis Island at the “core” of American identity, tacitly rejects the ontology of Critical Whiteness Theory in which Kojak can only be a White racial subject whose White Ellis Island-centric history of arrival, acculturation, and acceptance cannot be read comparatively but only against itself in terms of the teleological trajectory of a White self-consciousness that stands opposed to a contemporary, non-white immigrant consciousness. Similarly, the dilemmas faced by the Greek and Italian ethnic immigrant women that Markodimitrakis focuses on in Moonstruckand My Big Fat Greek Wedding can and do resonate across “the color line.” The stories constitute not only a “woman’s story” but an “immigrant story”—a story in which Greek and Italian ethnic immigrant subjectivity is not reducible to a “White” subjectivity that is ontologically and necessarily separate from a non-white immigrant subjectivity. Arapoglou does the same when she tells us that contemporary Greek and Italian American ethnic authors challenge “the view of American culture as homogenous” in order to emphasize “multiple cultural differences” and the “hybridity of US culture[s]” (186), a claim that flies in the face of Critical Whiteness Theory’s own homogenizing, color-line-enforcing logic—one in which ethnicity, white or otherwise, is necessarily disciplined into the familiar, proscribed, and performative, American racial categories. All the book’s chapters can be similarly read to some degree or other as resisting such racial homogenization.

On these grounds, I see Redirecting Ethnic Singularity not only as a work of agency and practice of ethnic self-representation but also as a work of racial transgression. The volume violates the boundaries of the current racial order, the color line, as both a book of theory and of practice. Thus, the volume challenges both a powerful academic discourse and a powerful state order, which together constitute an ongoing American “racial project” that is grounded in White supremacy and reinscribed through legally sanctioned categories and practices (on racial projects, see Omi and Winant 2014). It is to this racial project that the book refuses to acquiesce, and, in my reading, it is this transgressive aspect of the book that is its most valuable contribution to the study of race and ethnicity in today’s United States. The volume takes us not only beyond ethnic singularity but also beyond the racial “binarity” of the American racial order. Accordingly, if I had one criticism of the book, it would be that Redirecting Ethnic Singularity does not do this even more explicitly.

In his Preface, Fred L. Gardaphé writes that because we Greek and Italian Americans “failed to disappear in the great melting pot” (x) we are left with the question regarding what the future holds for us? I think that the answer lies in continuing the efforts of this book: to transgress the color line and to represent ourselves—Italians and Greeks—beyond both ethnic singularity and past racial binarity. This task does not preclude us from taking part in collective efforts to combat racism and other kinds of oppression. Rather, it “allows us” now, at long last, to reject what the editors referred to as “assigned normative classifications” (6). It encourages us to place ourselves “in-between” the neat racial order of things. Thus, by letting go of what Anthony J. Tamburri calls the “The Illusion of Inclusion” (2023), let’s make all things ethnic and racial “messy” by the ways of self-representation that Redirecting Ethnic Singularity has shown are still possible.

James S. Pasto
Boston University

June 29, 2023

James Pasto is a Master Lecturer at Boston University. His research interests include Italian American and Jewish history, critical theory, and the study of religion. His latest publication is “‘Goombish’: On Italian American Vernacular English and the Sonic Color Line” published in the Italian American Review (Winter 2019).

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