It's Greek to Me: The Politics and Shape of Greek-American Identity

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Title: It's Greek to Me: The Politics and Shape of Greek-American Identity
Author: Boukourakis, Angela
Advisors: Walt A. Wolfram, Committee Member
Carmine Prioli, Committee Member
Sheila Smith McKoy, Committee Chair
Abstract: The purpose of this thesis is to examine how native Greeks and first-generation Greek-Americans identify or disidentify with "Greek-ness," "American-ness," or both in their struggle to achieve an ultimate, successful balance of a third "space," one that expresses their Greek-American identity. In order to come to certain conclusions regarding the formation of Greek-American identity, I examine Greek-American life from a historical overview that spans as early as the first Greek-American communities of the early 1900's, to Greek-Americans of present-day society. I look at how Greek-Americans perform "Greek-ness," "American-ness," or "Greek-American-ness," through language choice and the altering of traditional gender roles, in an attempt to achieve the third "space" of "Greek-American-ness." I discuss their use of Greek and English languages in the first chapter of the thesis from a qualitative, sociolinguistics study I conducted in spring 2003. In addition I examine females' and males' altering of traditional gender roles, and their implications, in several Greek-American texts, including Helen Papanikolas's novel, The Time of the Little Blackbird, and her story collection, The Apple Falls from the Apple Tree, Nia Vardalos's film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Nick Gage's memoir, A Place for Us, and Eleni N. Gage's memoir, North of Ithaka: A Journey Home through a Family's Extraordinary Past, for the purposes of this thesis. These texts most effectively illustrate the altering of traditional gender roles and the affects of interethnic marriage. I found that the definitions of Greeks and Greek-Americans have always been ambiguous. Furthermore, Greek-American identity continues to be so in contemporary America, as a result of white, American socio-historical and socio-cultural constructs of race and ethnicity. Other findings include the fact that American-born and Greek-born Greek-Americans consider themselves different from other Americans, as well as from the Greeks who live in Greece. Both groups express their "Greek-American-ness" through language choice, altering of traditional gender roles, and lifestyle patterns characteristic of American life. Both males and females successfully achieve the third "space" of Greek-American identity in contemporary America. However, from a historical perspective, males assimilated more easily, and more often, than females. In addition, it took females much longer than the males to achieve this third "space," because of Greek traditional gender roles, which automatically allowed males more freedom for self-definition than the females, as a result of Greek patriarchal society in which these original roles were constructed. Finally, contemporary Greek-Americans are assimilating more than ever before, since influx of Greek migration patterns has significantly slowed down, from the last working class group who came in the early 1980's. This is probably the last group of first-generation Greek-Americans, so assimilation will become even more prevalent amidst later generations with the passing of time, unless Greek-Americans find ways to preserve their history and culture. This is why it is important to unearth Greek-American immigrant literature currently out of print, and to continue to write about the Greek-American experience, so future generations have a way to connect to their cultural origins and embrace the history that sets them apart as distinctively Greek-American.
Date: 2007-04-18
Degree: MA
Discipline: English

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