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by Peter Moskos

February 11, 2016

Greek Americans book review

My third book, Greek Americans: Struggle and Success (3rd edition), is probably the one you don't care about. But it's not often you come across a 12-page book review. Hell, for all I know, maybe you do care.

7 comments:

john mosby said...

Prof, my apologies on behalf of the commentariat for no one responding to this one. I'll try to make it up with this late comment.

Not having read the book, I'll ask you something that may be answered in it: To what do you attribute the success of Greek-Americans compared to other similarly-situated immigrant groups?

I am especially interested in the Ottoman-area immigrant experience, wrt any lessons that might be extrapolated to the current immigration from former Ottoman-controlled territory.

JSM

Peter Moskos said...

I make the argument that Greek peasants had an advantage over Europeans for two main reasons. Unlike European peasants, Greeks were literate and they were not serfs. The Ottomans taxed you, but they didn't own you. Ottoman subjects were used to buying and selling products in the market. This is a big business advantage. Even though many Greeks toiled in factories and mines, the Greek ideal was generally to open your own store and be your own boss. And there were Greek schools under the Ottomans. So even so-call uneducated Greek immigrants arrived with elementary education. Reading and writing and counting skills would have been a huge comparative advantage.

And though this would be more speculative, there might have been some American advantage by coming from the ethnic and religious diversity of the Ottoman Empire. Not certain if that can apply to the present day, especially with the hyper nationalism that followed WWI.

john mosby said...

Interesting. The same traits would explain the success of Maronites, Chaldeans, and Sephardic Jews. Do you think the small size of these immigrant communities was also an advantage? In that, compared to, say, Irish, the Greeks etc had to both stick together more and assimilate more?

JSM

Peter Moskos said...

Maybe. Probably, even.

But while Greek numbers were not near the level of the Irish, Greek numbers weren't small. (And the Greeks were less desperate than the Irish, ie: not literally starving.) Close to half a million Greeks came between 1890 and 1924. About 12,000 a year. (The Irish came at 40,000 to 90,000 a year for roughly 70 years!) Greeks were able to (and often did) live in Greek communities. I doubt there was a huge Chaldean neighborhood anywhere (I had to google Chaldean, by the way).

There does seem to be remarkable success of Orthodox Rûm and all the various Ottoman millets, particularly Jewish, in America. I would guess the key is a focus on education and ethnic identity/solidarity being stronger than class identity.

And when it comes to huge numbers, let's not forget America's largest ethnicity: the Germans. They did pretty well. And, under intense pressure, assimilated to the point of invisibility.

john mosby said...

"ethnic identity/solidarity being stronger than class identity" - I think I understand what you mean, but could you clarify?

JSM

Peter Moskos said...

The archetype was petite bourgeoisie. Identity in the old country was pre-industrial and not rooted in working class. Generalizing, of course, but Ottoman emigrants to America didn't bond over working-class solidarity and revolutionary ideals. Greeks and Maronites were not on the vanguard of the Wobblies. (Though see Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre for a fascinating exception.)

john mosby said...

Interesting. Also, there weren't many ethnic Turks, or Muslims of any variety, over here, so there really was a clean slate, as opposed to the old-country religious/ethnic battles that many external and internal migrants kept carrying with them (think Irish/English, Cath/Prod, etc).

Except, as you point out, the Germans, whose historic enemies have generally been other Germans! They couldn't help but bring their old grievants and grievances with them. But I guess they were able to come up with an internal truce on the way to total assimilation....

JSM