ABOUT THIS BOOK
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ABOUT THIS BOOK
Athens, Ohio--Helen Papanikolas compellingly documents the impact that Greek immigrants have had on America--and conveys as well the impact of America on the immigrants and their traditions in An Amulet of Greek Earth: Generations of Immigrant Folk Culture, to be published by Swallow Press on August 15, 2002.
The fruit of deeply lived experience, and based as well on exhaustive research, this book explains the ancient Romiosini culture the Greek immigrants brought with them and the effect Americanization had on it. The word Romiosini comes from the Roman conquest epoch of Greece. This culture also melds vestiges of ancient Greece with folk songs and poems about the four-hundred-year Greek struggle for independence from Turkish rule. In a central position in Mediterranean trade routes, Greece was invaded many times.
A "fever" to leave for fabled America gripped Greece in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Papanikolas explains, as word spread that a man could make more money in a week there than in a year in the stony Greek fields or on the wharves. Labor agents arrived, arranging passage and promising jobs.
The boys and men who left their impoverished Greek villages for America came with amulets their mothers had made for them. Some were miniature sacks attached to a necklace; more often they were merely a square of fabric enclosing the values of their lives: a piece of a holy book or a sliver of the True Cross representing their belief in Greek Orthodoxy; a thyme leaf denoting their wild terrain; a blue bead to ward off the Evil Eye; and a pinch of Greek earth.
"Romiosini was a noble culture and also one of secrecy, shame, and blame-throwing, both in battle and ordinary life," writes Papanikolas. "From the time Greece was rediscovered after centuries of neglect, writers used the word individualists to describe the Greeks; they were so to the depth of their being. They did not accept authority--foreign, civil, or ecclesiastical--with bowed head."
Secrecy hid imperfections and family flaws; blame-throwing was essential for the poor, who could not surmount their plight. Greek pride is epitomized in filotimo, family honor, an ideal that could be especially harsh for women.
Between 1871 and 1930, more than 400,000 Greeks arrived in America; their peak year was 1907, during an economic panic. Among the last European immigrants to enter the United States, the Greeks were mostly single men who met hostility everywhere. Labor agents found them work in New England textile mills, in screw factories, and as pushcart peddlers. In the Midwest they worked in furniture factories and slaughterhouses. In the West they worked on railroad gangs and were miners. Along America's coasts they labored on fishing boats and loaded cargo ships. In the South they dug sewers. Everywhere, they worked in kitchens.
In the midst of their often dangerous and degrading work, coffeehouses, Greek-language newspapers, and churches became vital support institutions for the immigrants. Young Greek women clutching pictures of men they were to marry arrived in America. The women brought more Greek culture--food, gardens, embroidery, ways of rearing children.
Assimilation accelerated with immigrants' service in World War I. By 1920, some Greeks were flourishing in larger American cities as merchants and restaurateurs. However, the increasing numbers of Greeks in labor unions, and their role in strikes, angered many Americans. Greeks also faced problems from the Ku Klux Klan and the American Legion.
Papanikolas traces changes in America and the Greek community through the hardships of the 1930s Depression and the vast global and personal upheavals wrought by World War II. By the 1950s, the oldest grandchildren of the immigrants had become young adults--as American as they were Greek. Liberalization in the 1960s brought even more conflict with traditional Greek culture; yet interest in ethnicity also grew. Greek folk music and other aspects of Romiosini culture are cherished today, even as most of those with roots in Greece no longer define themselves first as Greek. The Greek Orthodox church remains vital, a lasting contribution to America.
The book has 120 photographs and illustrations, 25 in color, to help readers visualize all aspects of the Romiosini identity--including religion, clothing, food, and customs--that the text explains in detail. An Amulet of Greek Earth is an impressive capstone for Helen Papanikolas's long, distinguished writing career. Her most recent Swallow book is the novel The Time of the Little Black Bird, winner of the Utah Book Award for fiction. Her other Swallow titles are The Apple Falls from the Apple Tree: Stories and Small Bird, Tell Me: Stories of Greek Immigrants.
"Although I write about Greek Americans," she says, "I think there is a universal quality in their stories: the constraints of culture, envy, delusion, the influence of friendship, nostalgia, aging, and the trauma of allowing others to sublimate one's deepest feelings."
Helen Papanikolas has been recognized for her fiction and for her writing on ethnic and labor history. Kirkus Reviews said she writes "evocative portraits of a people on the cusp, and of a culture caught in its dying but still resonant last moments." Born in 1917 in Cameron, Utah, the child of Greek immigrants, she lives in Salt Lake City.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
PART I: ANCIENT LORE AND LOST GREATNESS
1. The Azure Land 3
2. The Byzantine Eagle I3
3. Seed in Numbers I9
4. Poverty and Communal Celebrations 3I
5. Death and Black Flowers 3 9
6. Stories for the Poor 42
PART 2: NATIONHOOD AND EXILE
7. Romiosini, the Beautiful Word 47
8. Toward the Unknown 5I
9. Leaving the Ships with Fleas 60
10. Shoeshine Boys 67
11. The Coffeehouse 70
12. The Greek American Press 76
13. Priests and Apostates 78
14. The Midwest and West 88
15. Strangers among Strangers 92
16. Riding the Rails 98
17. The Midwife Magherou IO9
18. Men Wanting to See the Sky II3
19. Maria Economidhou, Journalist II6
20. Picture Brides I22
21. Strikes and Strikebreakers 138
PART 3: AMERICANIZATION
22. Disorder and World War I ISI
23. The Ku Klux Klan and the American Legion I58
24. The Greek Cult of Success 164
25. America Swallows the Young I69
26. Refugee Songs for Solace 174
27. Straddling Two Cultures I79
28. Never a Nickel for a Drink 205
29. Archbishop Athenagoras 214
30. The End of the Great Immigrant Era 224
31. The Lost Native Land 23 8
32. Rebels and Pilgrims 245
33. Maria Callas: A Lost Childhood 25I
34. Anguish in the Confessionals 254
Epilogue: Vestiges of Romiosini 262