Conference - June 22-23, 2018

Homeland-Diaspora Relations in Flux

Greece and Greeks abroad at times of Crisis

St Antony's College, University of Oxford.

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Presenting paper

It’s All Greek to Me: The Impact of Mass Media on Contested Immigrant Identity

The first two decades of the twentieth century were a time of worldwide social upheaval. The European continent experienced revolution and war which altered national borders, economies, and affected the identities of its populations. This resulted in the largest immigration wave from Europe in US history. Consequently, the turbulent times in Europe received extensive US mass media coverage. One area of interest for this coverage was the impact that these factors had on the identities of immigrants from Southeastern Europe. An example of such an identity was that of the Ottoman-Greeks, an immigrant minority group from the Ottoman Empire. The main thrust of this paper is to reveal the role which American and the Greek-American press played in the negotiation of Ottoman-Greek identity. In the arena of the mass media, Americanism and Orientalism exerted social pressure on Ottoman-Greek immigrants to conform to their standards of identity. These standards stipulated that the acquisition of Whiteness, and thereby American identity, was only attainable through the public rejection of Ottoman identity and expression of Greek identity. This essay will use select articles from the New York Times, and the National Herald (Grk. Ethnikos Keryx), to argue that mass media was an important forum for Ottoman identity rejection. It will be evident from these articles that interlocutors used tenets of Americanism and Orientalism in their arguments. Furthermore, this paper will show that mass media reflected an on-going social debate within the Greek immigrant community about Ottoman-Greek identity. This debate involved the promotion of supposed Greek cultural ideals and the subversion of Ottoman identity on one side, and the defense of Ottoman-Greek identity on the other. Evidence for the presence of the social debate exists in excerpts from in-depth semi-structured interviews conducted with descendants of immigrants from the Ottoman Empire. After evaluating the connections between the mass media debate and the social debate, this essay will attempt to draw parallels to modern identity suppression in modern immigrant communities.

Author bio

George Topalidis graduated from Southern Connecticut State University in 2012 with an M.A. in History and also holds an M.S. in Microbiology from the University of Connecticut. His research interests include contested racial identities, immigration, and post-memory. The subject area of his research is early 20th-century emigration from the Ottoman Empire to the United States. He is the founder and project coordinator the Ottoman Greeks of the United States Project in the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida. He is currently in his first year as a Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology and Criminology & Law.
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