Dan and the Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora

by Alexander Kitroeff

I replaced Dan Georgakas on the editorial board of the Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora (JHD) in 1982. I was the first new addition to the board since 1978 when Leandros Papathanasiou and his Pella Publishing took over the Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora and it began a new life with Dan, Paschalis Kitromilides, Peter Pappas and Yiannis Roubatis as members of the board. Eventually they all stepped down, but I stayed on long enough to be joined by Dan in 2005.

Did I say I replaced Dan? Wrong, he was unreplaceable. I mean that both metaphorically and literally. Among Leandros’s many attributes was a fierce loyalty to his collaborators. Paschalis and Yiannis had gone back to Greece, but Dan was still around, and Leandros was still in touch with him, soliciting his advice. That is how the Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora always worked, Leandros was an ex-officio member of the board.

JHD issues in Dan’s bookshelves (2019)

Sometimes when I questioned one of his moves Leandros would simply say «μα ο Νταν ο Γεωργακάς συμφωνεί!» (but Dan Georgakas agrees!). Thus, Dan functioned as a sort of intimidating eminence grise of the Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora in my mind until I met him for the first time at Pella’s offices on 36th street in Manhattan and I was surprised at his down to earth humility.

Our paths would cross several times in the years between his departure and his return to the JHD editorial board. We both wrote for The GreekAmerican, the English-language weekly published by Fannie Petallides-Holiday who was also the publisher of the Greek language daily Proini. For the first four years of its life, between 1986 and 1990, The GreekAmerican was a unique voice in the community thanks to its editor Peter Pappas. It pioneered a lively and often critical reporting and commenting on Greek, Cypriot, and community affairs, broaching topics that were either taboo subjects or too marginal for the rest of the Greek American media.

The GreekAmerican’s orientation, in other words, was well within Dan’s wheelhouse and his articles especially those on Greek American subjects opened my eyes to the diversity and richness of the Greek experience in America. A six-part series of Dan’s articles on the Greeks in America, a response by sociologist Charles Moskos and a rejoinder by myself appeared in the newspaper in October and November 1986 and subsequently appeared, in an augmented form in the Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora in 1987. The “Moskos–Georgakas” debate, as I called it, had to do with a disagreement over how the Greek American political left had appreciably influenced Greek Americans and their institutions. The exchange between those two scholars remains to this day in my mind as an example of the high caliber of intellectual thought that shaped that early period of Greek American studies.

Both Moskos and Georgakas were respectful, indeed appreciative of each other’s work and, like all useful academic debates, theirs set the agenda for the next generation of students of Greek America. Kostis Karpozilos’s excellent doctoral dissertation and book on the Greek immigrant Left, and Lamprini Thomas’s vivid documentary on labor organizer Louis Tikas originate in Dan’s unearthing of that aspect of Greek American history. I was also profoundly influenced by both their perspectives. In my rejoinder I suggested that both were right for different periods of the Greek presence in the United States in the sense that a series of deportations of Greek radicals during the anti-communist witch-hunts in the 1950s, and the Greek American upward social mobility and a tendency to prefer to be one’s own boss circumscribed the Left if not its legacy after the mid-twentieth century. And thinking about their exchanged spawned the seeds of my current plan of writing a book on Greek-owned diners in America

There is no better proof of the creative synergy between Dan Georgakas and Charles Moskos, despite their differences, than the Greek American studies conference they organized at the Immigration History Research Center in 1989, on the occasion of the opening of the collection of papers of Theodore Saloutos, author of the seminal The Greeks in the United States in 1964. The presence of both, along with Helen Papanikolas, made this a momentous and very inspirational occasion. A portion of the conference papers were published by Pella in a volume co-edited by Georgakas and Moskos and the rest appeared in a special issue of the Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora in 1989 with their introduction. Dan also included an article entitled “Toward Greek American Studies.” It opened with the sentence “We appear to be at the end of what I would call the heroic period of Greek American Studies,” and explained that up to that point there was little career advantage or indeed even notice to be gained by academic work on Greek America, but now, as he put it, “individuals trained in various disciplines and gifted amateurs have more or less parachuted into the academic gap to create what is now a substantial body of knowledge.” He followed that by a discussion of Saloutos’s pioneering book explaining how although he considered some parts of it flawed, he expressed abundant admiration for his work.

Dan’s expectations of the future of Greek American studies proved somewhat too optimistic because the field limped along for a while, but his view most certainly raised the spirits of those of us trained in various disciplines or were gifted amateurs and continued their work. For me what resonated most of all was Dan’s judicious treatment of Saloutos’s work. Not only because I share both his admiration and sense that there are some weaknesses associated with the era that his work was produced. More because our field is small, and we can do without the toxic “scholarly” practice of wishing to debunk the work of earlier scholars so as to stake a claim of originality and mastery of whatever new fads are stalking the halls of academe.

This brings me to when Dan came back on to the editorial board of the Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora in 2005. The journal was experiencing, yet again, a difficult moment. To come to think of it, many of its moment were difficult and sustained by the sheer energy and commitment of Leandros Papathanasiou who published and printed the journal shouldering all the costs with no support from any academic institution or foundation in the United States or Greece. Subscriptions, that were very few compared to the wide respect the journal enjoyed, never did cover production costs, and contributions were always difficult to procure. In 1990, Peter Pappas and Yiannis Roubatis stepped down from the editorial board leaving me as the sole survivor.

I turned to Kostas Myrsiades, a Comparative Literature professor at west Chester University who was editor of College Literature, an academic journal based at his institution. Thanks to Kostas, with whom I formed a two-person editorial board, the Journal of Hellenic Diaspora revived and enjoyed more than a decade of growth during which its workings became more streamlined. But battle fatigue finally took its toll, and the finances were becoming equally burdensome.

It was Dan Georgakas to the rescue. I can safely say, if he had not joined the editorial board the Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora would not have lasted as long as it did, ceasing publication in 2013. Dan shared one major characteristic with Leandros, that is he wanted to find articles good enough to publish without caring very much whether they adhered to academic conventions. In fact, scholarly was in, but jargon was out as a rule of thumb. I was always more academically oriented, but that made for a nice creative tension gaining the Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora a new lease of life.

And it was very much due to his indefatigable energy and his ability to function as an activist academic. He had a look at the names of the advisory board and reluctantly agreed to preserve it since we needed “academic tinsel” as he put it. But brainstorming with Dan always had to have a bottom line, a deliverable to the journal as it were. “Do you have a practical suggestion or are you just hatching ideas” he once asked a former editor who was just tossing thoughts around with no answer on an issue at hand.

Dan was going strong when I and Yiorgos Anagnostou visited him and Barbara in March 2019, energetic, reflective, warm without a bad word for anyone as we spoke about his experiences. Had Leandros managed to keep the Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora still going we might have spent time discussing incoming manuscripts. Most, for sure, solicited by him. He had maintained close ties to those persons trained in various disciplines and those gifted amateurs. One person he asked to do a review on a book on Cavafy prefaced her acceptance by telling him “I am a fan of your work.”

We are all fans.

Alexander Kitroeff’s latest books are The Greek Orthodox Church in America: A Modern History, and The Greeks and the Making of Modern Egypt.