This article contributes to the literature on return migration of second-generation immigrants. Based on fieldwork on Greek migrants in Italy, it does so by examining the potential for and the actual performance of counter-diasporic migration. The research findings show that emotional attachment and a general desire to return to the homeland characterize the second-generation diaspora Greeks in Italy, although the possibility of an actual return may be imaginary. Regarding the reasons for counter-diasporic migration, there are numerous pull factors, including a prominent emotional and symbolic attraction. Greek origins, the bonds of kinship, and the presence of a transnational network play an important role in strengthening the relationship with the homeland and in shaping a life project founded on a strong desire to return to their ancestral homeland. In this sense, counter-diasporic migration represents another element in the cyclical movement that characterizes the Greek Diaspora with the phenomenon discussed in this article, as the final and long-awaited return home.

Introduction: Return migration

The study of return migration has received considerable attention in the academic literature. The first studies, published in the 1970s and 1980s, focused on the return of first-generation immigrants who had previous social ties with their country of origin and on immigration as an object of analysis (Braun 1970; Bovenkerk 1974; Cerase 1974; King 1978; Behrmann and Abate 1984; Thomas-Hope 1985). These studies tended to distinguish migrants whose return was part of the initial migration strategy from those who desired to settle permanently in the host country and then decided, or were forced, to return for economic, political, or social reasons. Other social scientific studies [End Page 129] have shown that the main reasons for returning to their homeland were not economic but rather depended on the strength of their family ties (Gmelch 1980). This was particularly true for temporary migrants, many of whom left with the intent of returning and who therefore maintained strong ties with their country of origin in order to facilitate their return (Brettell 2000; Foner 2000).

More recently, much of the literature on return migration has focused on specific ethnic groups and the role of the diaspora in their migration (Takenaka 1999; Feng and Page 2000; Kulu and Tammaru 2000; Shuval 2000), as well as on migrants as central players who maintained delocalized social relationships (Constable 1999; Kennedy and Roudometof 2002). These approaches consider and necessarily adopt notions of global mobility (Urry 2000; Baas 2014), recognizing the deterritorialized nature of individual identities and practices (Papastergiadis 2000). In the last few years, studies of return migration have become increasingly prominent due to the contribution of many scholars, such as the collection of papers edited by Jorgen Carling and Marta B. Erdal (2014).

In addition to the term return migration, scholars have used other expressions to describe the movement of migrants back to their homelands, among which are "reflux migration," "homeward migration," "remigration," "return flow," "second-time migration," "repatriation," and so on (Gmelch 1980, 136; Duval 2004, 52). In employing these concepts, scholars have analyzed various interesting issues, reflected in the context of multiculturalism and globalization, such as the identification of the ability to adapt in the host country (Waldorf 1995; Owusu 1998; Arowolo 2000), the process of reintegration in the homeland (King 2000; Long and Oxfeld 2004; Boccagni 2011), the pressure applied by the family still in residence in the country of origin, the dynamics promoting transnational social relations, and their role in both facilitating return migration and defining the process of national identity formation (Duval 2004; Horst 2007; Chan and Tran 2011; Sinatti 2015).

While there is an extensive literature on return migration of the first generation, the same cannot be said for the second one. However, in recent years, there has been a gradual increase in the number of studies devoted to them. These have considered long-distance and transcontinental cases (Levitt and Waters 2002; Münz and Ohliger 2003; Potter and Phillips 2006, 2008; Reynolds 2008; Conway and Potter 2009; Yamashiro 2011) or return migration in an intra-European context (Kulu and Tammaru 2000; Wessendorf 2007). Other works focused on this subject within conceptual domains, such as the mobilities paradigm, the transnational approach, and diaspora studies (Binaisa 2011; Reynolds 2011; Van Liempt 2011; Vathi and King 2011). [End Page 130]

In regard to the Greek second generation, the many contributions by Anastasia Christou and Russell King on the experience of return within transoceanic or intra-European contexts must be mentioned (see Christou 2002, 2006c; Christou and King 2006; King and Christou 2010). While focusing on the return to Greece of second-generation Greek-Americans and Greek-Germans, the authors analyze many of the core aspects that are constitutive of "counter-diasporic migration" (Christou and King 2010). Their works are concerned with issues of identity, place, sense of belonging, holiday visits, network ties, and global forces by problematizing the notions of second generation and return migration. There are other works that discuss the phenomenon of return migration to Greece from the previously established Greek diasporas, especially for the first generation and in part for the second generation from the 1950s up until today. Using a variety of methodologies, these studies span all continents (North America, Europe, Australia, Africa, Asia) and touch on both contemporary and historical diasporic experiences. Among these, Theodore Saloutos (1956) on Greek Americans who repatriated in the 1920s, Anastasia N. Panaga-kos (2003) on Greek Canadian women, Klaus Unger (1986) on German-born children, Tsolidis (2009) on the daughters of Greek emigrants in North America and Australia, and Marina Petronoti (2009) on the case of mighadhes, who are nationals whose fathers and mothers are Greek and Eritrean, respectively. In addition, there is a significant number of contributions on ethnic Greek immigrants from the former Soviet Union to Greece (Vergeti 1991; Hionidou 2000; Diamanti-Karanou 2003; Voutira 2004; Hess 2008; Popov 2010).

With regard to the return migration of members of the second generation, we must ask some semantic questions. How can we speak of a so-called return when referring to individuals who go to a country that they are not from? How can we find appropriate terms to describe the migration of people to a place where they have never really lived, but which they know well from their parents? The lack of a specified terminology reflects the different ways in which migrants and their children refer to their place of origin and the means by which they have experienced home and developed a sense of belonging. Thus, several scholars have attempted to address the question of terminology. Examples of this endeavor are the introduction of the concept of "ancestral return" by Frank Bovenkerk (1974) and King (1986) and the term "roots migration" by Susanne Wessendorf (2007), related to the definition of identity shaped by the sense of nostalgia and used in describing the move of the Italian second generation from Switzerland to Southern Italy. Others propose the notion "ethnic return" (Tsuda 2003) in order to analyze, for example, the large-scale migration of the Japanese second generation from Brazil to Japan. [End Page 131]

In discussing the return migration of the Greek second generation who took part in this study and in recognizing the heuristic importance of all these terms mentioned, it seems valid to add the concept of "counter-diasporic migration" proposed by Christou and King (2010) and closely linked to the configurations and the theory of diaspora. The people surveyed fall within the definition of "ancestral return," in light of the fact that they moved to the country to which they are related by descent and family ties. At the same time, in addition to the genealogical specificity of their return, their experience of mobility can be contextualized into a broader phenomenon of counter-diaspora and can therefore be extended to other generations. Moreover, both in reference to the first and the second generation, the emergence of factors like a constant orientation to their homeland, a strong emotional attachment to their ancestral land, and a universal desire to return lead us to confirm the classical notions of diaspora (Safran 1991; Clifford 1994; Cohen 1997). Consequently, the use of the concepts "ancestral return migration" and "counter-diasporic migration" is appropriate to capture the uniqueness of the migration project and the experience of the Greek second generation.

Research aims, objectives, and methods

This paper stems from a larger research project that deals with the Greek diaspora in contemporary Italy, a group that has not been sufficiently studied (Pelliccia and Raftopoulos 2016). In light of the absence and fragmented literature on this topic (Manousakas 1991; Nikas 1991; Chasiotis, Katsiardi-Hering, and Ambatzi 2006; Solaro 2006; Kornetis 2007; Korinthios 2012; Pelliccia 2012), this research attempts to make an important contribution to the studies on the Greek diaspora globally by proposing qualitatively different perspectives and viewpoints in the study of human migration. While we have some information that allows us to reconstruct, albeit partially, the different stages and the evolution on Greek diaspora in Italy today, the literature does not provide much information on the Greek second generation in Italy. Thus, the originality of this work lies in its analysis of a geographical/ethnic group that deserves much more study.

My research project is divided into two sections. The first part is concerned with a historical reconstruction of the Greek diaspora in Italy using unpublished documents collected in Greek, Italian, and American archives. The second part is based on long-term and thorough fieldwork that has taken the Greek second generation as its reference target, namely, persons currently living in Italy with at least one parent of Greek nationality. In addition to [End Page 132] individuals born in Italy, I included individuals who moved to Italy at the age of no more than six years old (preschool age) because—despite the fact that the Italian population census registers them as foreign-born—sociologically they are virtually indistinguishable from the narrow definition of second generation (Andall 2002).

The field research on second-generation Greeks had many objectives, and it investigated topics such as family history, identity construction, especially as it relates to their sense of their Greekness, their degree of involvement in Hellenic institutions and other so-called sites of belonging, roots tourism, transnational practices, and the phenomenon of counter-diaspora. This article focuses one of these topics, that is, counter-diasporic migration, both by those who talk about moving and those who actually do it. It does so by investigating their motivations and discourses about such things as their desire to return to their ancestral and their life expectations if they did.

Contacts with the main Greek institutions in Italy was the starting point of this research, including the Greek Embassy, some Greek Consulates (first of all, the Greek Consulate in Rome), the Federation of Greek Communities and Brotherhoods of Italy, as well as all Greek Communities in the Italian territory by their presidents. In addition, the representatives of some Italian-Greek associations/foundations that are active on the internet have also been involved as informants. Among these, the information portals on Greece were extremely useful and, especially, the social networks that the Greek community developed. People belonging to the reference target were selected for in-depth study using a strategic points for sampling method.

This snowball sampling method has proven very useful, allowing for a better identification of respondents and, at the same time, for a conscious selection of individuals from whom to obtain useful data and insights. Thus, by adopting the saturation criterion, a "progressive construction of the sample" can be reached by creating many chains between the persons interviewed and obtaining a diversification of the sampling units (Glaser and Strauss 1967). Moreover, the identification of various informants has helped to reduce the time of the execution phase and has allowed for the removal of many obstacles in creating a climate of confidence, socialization, and mutual understanding.

As this method is based on a qualitative approach, a statistically representative sample was not collected in the case of this study; accordingly, the results cannot be generalized to the entire universe of the Greek second generation in Italy. However, I followed an approach based on a flexible methodology that allowed me to describe the complexity and the dynamics of the object of study, thus avoiding all-encompassing generalizations. [End Page 133]

The fieldwork was carried out via structured questionnaires and through the collection of life stories. The use of these two research techniques provided for a better understanding of the phenomenon. In fact, while the questionnaire provided information and data, the life stories allowed for a deeper penetration into the issues and a direct access into the world of the interviewees, as well as the opportunity to achieve a so-called vision from within as a meaningful form of social knowledge. For the collection of life stories, in-depth interviews were used. They provided a moderating guide in order to cover the topics during the interviews.

During the field research, 256 individuals were interviewed via the questionnaire. A small number of the interviews (21) involved individuals belonging to the group who were part of the counter-diaspora, that is, ones that had moved from Italy to Greece. The issuance of the questionnaire was almost always face-to-face, with only a very small minority being sent via the internet. The interviews were conducted in Italian from May 2014 to February 2015. I used two specific questionnaires: one addressed to Greek second generation residents in Italy and the other to those who had moved back Greece. The questionnaire included a large set of questions. One section concerned counter-diasporic migration. Members of the second generation living in Italy were asked if they would go to live in Greece permanently, how often they go to their homeland, and what were the reasons for a possible move to Greece. Those living in Greece were asked when they moved from Italy to Greece, what prompted them to leave Italy for their ancestral homeland, and whether life in Greece had lived up to their expectations. Among all participants, 70 life stories were collected through in-depth interviews. The purpose of these interviews was to obtain a deeper understanding of the issues raised in the questionnaire by analyzing the relationship between their attachment to the birth-country of their parents and their (potential/actual) homeland return. Moreover, collecting life stories allowed me to examine the means facilitating their counter-diasporic migration and to understand the process of identification, negotiation, and adaptation at the level of perception, practices, imagining, and expectations relating to the parental homeland.

In the following sections, I will explore these topics through an analysis method that combines questionnaire data with the narratives by second generation members, with the aim of making the reading and understanding of the issues clearer. [End Page 134]

Research findings

Potential counter-diasporic migration: Desire and myth of ancestral return

In reference to the sociodemographic characteristics of the individuals who live in Italy, the data shows a slight majority of women over men, 53.2% and 46.8%, respectively. As for age, the sample is predominantly young. In fact, nearly half of the respondents belonged to the age group of 10–34 years old (49.8%), followed by 35–60 year olds (33.6%), and then those over 60 (16.6%). With regard to the 10–34 years-old group, it is important to note that almost all are adults and do not live with their parents. In fact, only a very small minority are younger than 18 years old (10 people) and, consequently, does not affect the data analysis significantly. This means that most people in the sample would not have been influenced by the views of their parents, and so their opinions are largely their own.

The overwhelming majority (82.6%) of people surveyed were born in Italy, and of the remaining, 13.6% were born in Greece and 3.8% in other countries (Egypt, Switzerland, Albania, England, Romania). Those who were born in Greece came from every region of the country, including Attica, the Aegean, Central and Eastern Macedonia, Thrace, Western Greece, and Thessaly. With regard to the spatial distribution of residence, a broad regional coverage was achieved. Indeed, except for Basilicata, all regions of Italy were represented. Almost half of the individuals lived in Central Italy (49.4%), and a large part inhabited in Northern Italy (31.5%), while the cases of individuals who lived in the South were lower (19.1%). In reference to citizenship, 61.7% possessed exclusively Italian citizenship, compared with those who had dual citizenship (31.9%) and those who were only Greek citizens (5.5%). By aggregating all cases including Greek citizenship, and therefore also individuals born in a third country, nearly four out of ten were Greek nationals. With regard to marital status, considering the young age of most of the sample, more than half (61.8%) were single and had no children (66.7%). Married couples accounted for 28.8%, followed by divorced/separated (6.4%) and widowed (3.0%). In most cases (92.3%), the target group was made up of children of mixed marriages, almost always one parent born in Greece and one born in Italy.

Regarding the migratory experience of their Greek parents, migration flows to Italy cover a period of about eighty years from the late 1920s to the first decade of the twenty-first century. However, the first migrations to Italy started only during and after the Second World War, in the mid-1940s, constituting 25.6% of the group. The next three decades saw the most impressive influx, accounting for 57.1%, with the peak occuring in the 1970s (30.9%). On [End Page 135] the contrary, since 1980, we see a gradual but significant decrease of migration to Italy (17.4%), mostly due to sentimental reasons. Analyzing the reasons that prompted the parents to move to Italy, the research results showed that the main reason was to study abroad (32.1%). Another significant motivation was connected to events during the Second World War (11.9%). Following their Italian partners to Italy (11.9%), the presence of family members or relatives in Italy (11.9%), and being married to an Italian (8.2%) were just as important, followed by work-related reasons (5.7%) and political reasons (5.4%), the latter mainly in relation to the period of the military dictatorship in Greece. Finally, to a lesser extent, there was the choice to follow their parents to Italy (4.0%), geographical proximity (2.6%), cultural affinity (2.3%), and the presence of friends in Italy (0.9%).

Figure 1. Ancestral return migration and second-generation Greeks in Italy. Desire to live in Greece (%). Source: Andrea Pelliccia.
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Figure 1.

Ancestral return migration and second-generation Greeks in Italy. Desire to live in Greece (%). Source: Andrea Pelliccia.

After having described in detail the sociodemographic data, the phenomenon of ancestral return among the Greek second generation living in Italy can now be analyzed. As many as 41.5% of respondents claimed that they would go to live in Greece, compared with 24.0% who did not consider a possible move and 34.5% who were not able to answer (Figure 1).

Analyzing the structural variables shows that, while there is no significant difference between men and women, age and place of residence do seem to have a considerable influence on peoples' desire to return to the country of their [End Page 136] parents (Figure 2). In the first case, the highest rate is among the age group 35–59 years old (48.7%), compared to individuals between the ages of 10 and 34 (35.4%). With regard to geography, residents of Northern and Southern Italy show a higher desire to return to Greece, with percentages of 44.9% and 46.7%, respectively, compared to those living in Central Italy. Taking citizenship into consideration, there was a high level of indecisiveness among holders of Greek citizenship (four out of ten people), while Italian citizens of Greek descent professed the least desire to return to their ancestral land. Marital status also had an impact on the potential counter-diasporic migration: comparing married people with unmarried people, the former are much less undecided (21.2%) than the latter (43.6%). Finally, a last important observation can be made by comparing the interviewees whose parents come from the regions of mainland Greece with the descendants of those who come from the islands. In this case, among the former there is a higher incidence of a desire to return (41.0%), by a difference of over 7.0% compared to the descendants of the islanders.

Figure 2. Desire to live in Greece by age, area of residence, place of origin of their parents (%). Source: Andrea Pelliccia.
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Figure 2.

Desire to live in Greece by age, area of residence, place of origin of their parents (%). Source: Andrea Pelliccia.

Some have argued that the relationship between members of the diaspora and their country of origin changes over time and space. The orientation towards the homeland generally would weaken with each passing year because of the integration process in the new country or with the succession of generations (Child 1943; Soyer 1997; Luconi 2001; Foner 2002). However, this [End Page 137] argument does not work for Greeks in Italy. On the contrary, an ideology of return that could lead to the realization of that dream for both generations was contemplated. Such an ideology was the result of a cultural background made up of codes and values internalized over time. Family socialization, through a strong ethnic and cultural component, incentivized the possibility of returning to Greece, as did living relatively close to the country make such a move more realizable than if they lived Australia, for example. The repeated visits to Greece and the constant reference to the motherland at the material, symbolic, and emotional levels emphasized the ideology of return and even made people consider their stay in Italy as transitory and their return to Greece as inevitable.

I cannot define Roma as home, I don't feel at home at all. Even because of people who are completely different from people who live in Athens. I see it as a step: I can say that for me Italy is a country of transit and Greece a country of destination. My mother told me that she already knows that I'm going to live in Greece and I'm going to marry a Greek man!

(Mavra, female, 25 years old, origin of the father: Athens)

Without a doubt, frequent and constant traveling to the places of their parents' origin were effective transnational practices for the second generation that facilitated the counter-diasporic migration. The imagery of Greece was constructed, modified, and communicated not only through organic images, that is, the family stories in Italy, but also through induced images through roots tourism. In addition to family, roots tourism can operate as an agent of primary socialization. In fact, regular return visits allow people to become familiar with their place of destination, helping to eliminate any sense of strangeness. We can see confirmation of these points among the interviewees who have traveled to Greece frequently in the last five years, as well as those among whom the desire to return to their ancestral homeland is quite high. Indeed, as shown in Figure 3, between those who have been to Greece very often (more than three times) and those who have traveled there rarely (once), we see a gap of 17.1% (46.5% versus 29.4%).

Bilingualism is another powerful factor in generating a desire to move to Greece. Maintaining some elements of Greek culture, especially the language, makes a counter-diasporic project feasible and makes integration into Greek society easier. It is no coincidence that among those with better language skills the desire to return is much higher (48.3%) than those with a lower level of Greek language proficiency (28.7%).

During the collection of life stories, several members of the second generation claimed that they imagined a future in Greece but with no real intention of actually moving, at least not for some time. For them, migration is [End Page 138] postponed to some undetermined future time. Their enjoyable summer trips and their sentimental attachment to a Greek identity create a desire to live there, but these feelings are counterbalanced by their material and emotional commitments in Italy, such as work and personal relationships. In this case, return is linked to myth. In other words, though they have a desire to return, they never will. For them, the j ourney home remains a dream. The possibility of a final return to their homeland, especially in the era of an increasingly globalized and interconnected world, may be imaginary and include the concept of the "myth of return" (Dahya 1974; Anwar 1979). Generally, in the social science literature, the myth of return is described as an unfulfilled possibility or desire of migrants to return to their country of origin. However, what is important is not the myth in itself but its function. The myth of return allows the Greek second generation to affirm and maintain both internal and external ties between the two shores of the Mediterranean. In other words, using this concept creates a sense of transnationalism, since members of the second generation think and act on both scales, while managing to be simultaneously here and there. This involves the promotion of cohesion, as well as the strengthening of kinship and ties of community both in Italy and in Greece.

Figure 3. Desire to live in Greece and frequency of traveling in the last five years (%) Source: Andrea Pelliccia.
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Figure 3.

Desire to live in Greece and frequency of traveling in the last five years (%) Source: Andrea Pelliccia.

However, other life projects linked to the move to Greece are more tangible and concrete. In these cases, joining the counter-diaspora is related to a personal project developed in a totally independent way, within a dialogic [End Page 139] and dialectical relationship connected to individual and family stories. These people do not move to the place that their parents came from, but instead go someplace else based on factors of where they can get a job or simple personal preference. Nonetheless, for them, it is still a journey home.

I would like to live in Greece. Greece is not so far away, especially now with the means of transport that are evolving as well. I would live in Athens, otherwise in Thessaloniki. I've never been to Thessaloniki and I'd like to know it. I would go there for the Erasmus program. Athens is a city with less traffic than in Rome and the metro reaches everywhere. In Athens life is good. When I went for a scholarship and I was there two months, I had an amazing time. So I go there every year. I'd like to work as an interpreter and translator or to work for some nongovernmental organization. I think that it is not a dream but a project that I want to achieve. I will do it! Last summer, in Athens, I thought it and I said "I want to live in Athens!"

(Maria, female, 26 years old, origin of the father: Athens).

In describing the reasons for a possible move to Greece, participants depicted a fairly articulate scenario (Figure 4). From the responses to the questionnaire, Greek origin of the family is the main reason (18.7%). Among other significant reasons, there were cultural affinity (16.4%), quality of life (15.8%), presence of relatives and family (11.1%), work opportunity (11.1%), and presence of friends (9.1%). This data shows that there were many pull factors, including some powerful emotional and symbolic ones. Origins and cultural roots, the presence of a transnational and social relational network, and cultural affinity play an important role in strengthening the relationship with the homeland and in shaping a life project founded on a strong desire to return to the ancestral home. In this sense, counter-diasporic migration can be understood as the logical closure of the cycle of the diaspora, that is, as a final and long-awaited return home. The following narrative fragment is indicative of many stories told by other interviewees and summarizes very efficiently an emotional attachment to a symbolic ground and a sense of generational continuity linked to a centuries-old family history.

I would like to live in Rhodes. For me it would be an ancestral return, because otherwise I could live anywhere else. The reasons are related to my origins. From my mother's side we have a piece of land in the village of Lindos, in St. Paul's Bay, on the side of the church that has always been part of the land of my grandmother. There my grandfather tanned animal skins and used that place to wash them. I'm very attached to that Bay. We have that piece of land by four generations, dating back to 1870. My roots have remained there, because I come back home and I have a safe place. After two hundred years, I'll be able to see again what my grandfather did. Bringing with you, along your path in life, things where you came from is [End Page 140] priceless! That's the beauty of life, when there is a continuity. The first time I was in Rhodes I felt right at home, like I was born there. And every time I go there I feel a thrill. I am very attached to that land (Giovanni, male, 51 years old, origin of the mother: Rhodes).

Figure 4. Reasons for a possible transfer to Greece (%). Source: Andrea Pelliccia.
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Figure 4.

Reasons for a possible transfer to Greece (%). Source: Andrea Pelliccia.

The quality of life was also given as a factor in generating a desire to move to the country of their parents. Despite the intense economic crisis that Greece has been going through over recent years, many members of the second generation tend to emphasize the positive aspects of Greek society, having a feeling of uneasiness in Italy and highlighting the negative aspects of life in Italian cities. The search for a psychological well-being and a general satisfaction of a way of life, pleasant climate, less environmental pollution, natural landscape, desire for freedom, preexisting social ties are all indicators of a quality of life that, in the words of the people surveyed, Greece fully embodies.

As the case with other studies of the ancestral return of second generation (Dikaiou 1994; Christou 2006a, 2006b; Wessendorf 2007; King and Christou 2010), a theme that emerged from these interviews was the construction of idealized notions of Greece, even after roots tourism. According to Christou (2006a, 840), the second generation could collide with a "national pragmatism" that was understood as a distinct habitus, where the political, social, and cultural dynamics intersected and expressed a particular consciousness in time and space. When Greek second-generation members came into those spaces, [End Page 141] carrying their habitus and their preexisting knowledge of the place, a split emerged in the processes of both adaptation and identification. The life stories of some interviewees showed that the return to Greece for vacation represented an experience that did not involve any type of negotiation and adaptation at the level of perception and practices. This kind of short stay was mainly oriented towards positive, relaxing, and carefree moments and experiences. Therefore, both time and space were not indicators of pragmatism about permanent residence, and the psychology of the visitor while staying in Greece did not articulate other aspects than those relating to vacation. In addition, temporary residence as part of a summer holiday was permeated with a seemingly traditional Greekness of food, sea, sun, language, singing and dancing, visits to archaeological sites, traditional festivals, and so on. In other words, the risk is to create a distorted and mythologized vision of Greece (idiótopos) and its lifestyle. Thus, the land of origin is seen as a mythical place of desire in the diasporic imagination, like a shelter in an idealized home.

At the same time, however, other participants in the study showed a greater sense of realism and knowledge of contemporary Greece, deconstructing the essentialist image anchored in the mythic iconography and acquiring a greater awareness of the many real and serious problems in the country, such as the economic crisis, the difficulty of living in a summer tourist destination year-round, or the difficulty of getting access to social services. For these people, the lure of idyllic summer Greece was offset by the practical realities of living there all year.

Despite a strong emotional attachment and identification with Greek culture, it is not the case that subscribing to the myth of return will result automatically in a permanent move to Greece. As shown above, a minority of respondents claimed that they have never considered counter-diasporic migration as their life's ambition. There were various reasons behind decision, including material and emotional conditions related to their situation in Italy (work, family, partner, and so on), domestic changes in Greece, intergenerational conflicts, the view of Greece as a simple holiday destination, the death of an important relative (Greek parent or grandparent), the lack of home ownership, or a poor knowledge of Greek. A sense of skepticism and distrust was also widespread, especially in regard to finding a job in Greece. Unlike for those who expressed the desire of an ancestral return, among those who did not, economics figured prominently. A sense of pragmatism and a full knowledge of the financial and social crisis, especially unemployment, has prevented them from considering a move to Greece as an option. Therefore, while traveling there frequently and [End Page 142] always preserving a spiritual connection to it as their imagined second home, they do not contemplate permanently migrating there.

I don't want to live in Greece. I have never thought about it before. Because I think I would have less possibility to work there. I've grown up with the prejudice that Italy is a country more advanced than Greece in terms of labor. Well, maybe it's not even true, because I've never worked there. But I have the impression that Italy is more European than Greece. Especially in the latter period when Greece has been going through a tough crisis (Marinella, female, 51 years old, origin of the father: Chalkida).

Actual counter-diasporic migration: The realization of the myth of ancestral return

As mentioned above, 21 people whom I interviewed had moved from Italy to Greece, fufilling their dream of returning to their ancestral homeland. Permanently moving to Greece was for them the final phase of the diasporic cycle. Moreover, it can be added that when they returned to Greece, their ties with the country of their parents not only were more robust than those who lived in Italy but were even greater than that of the first generation, who did not consider repatriation as goal in life. As we will see below, we are dealing with individuals who possessed most of the things needed to facilitate the move to Greece, such as having a high level of education, being perfectly bilingual, coming from a wealthy family, having a skilled occupation, possessing a cosmopolitan orientation, and so on. Even frequent traveling and maintaining family relationships helped to facilitate the return by incorporating the myth of return through roots tourism. In fact, frequent visits helped to maintain their connection to the local society in Greece, making it less likely that they would be seen as an outsider and thus easier for them to integrate into the local community.

The group of return migrants consisted of 12 women and 9 men. Their ages ranged from 26 to 68 years old, with the average age being 38. Except for four cases of people who were born in Greece and moved to Italy before the age of six, all the others were born in Italy, mostly in the cities of the North. As for the place of destination, the majority went to live in one of the cities on mainland Greece (Athens, Thessaloniki, Parga, or Volos) as opposed to a minority who preferred an island (Rhodes and Crete). Most of them held Greek citizenship and were unmarried. Regarding their living situation, only six lived alone; the rest resided with family or relatives. Most lived in a house owned by their family, while others rented an apartment. Nine people lived with their spouse or partner whose citizenship, except in one case, was Greek. [End Page 143]

This group was characterized by a high level of education and professional qualifications. In fact, there were 18 people who had university degrees, including some doctorates. In addition, besides their outstanding language skills—many of them passed as native speakers—all were multilingual beyond their Greek and Italian fluency. Regarding their professions, most got highly skilled jobs. Intellectual, scientific, and highly specialized professions, such as being a lawyer, an architect, a pharmacist, or an alderman, were the most frequent. Following these, there were jobs in tourism and business administration. With reference to the sociodemographic characteristics, a final observation is that most of them were children of mixed couples, with a higher number of fathers (15 cases) rather than mothers (9 cases) having been born in Greece.

For most of the interviewees, the move from Italy to Greece took place before 2009, the year when Greece's economic crisis began to take hold. Only six people moved to Greece after 2009, and two of them returned to Italy soon thereafter.

What factors have prompted this group of second generation to leave Italy for Greece? What led them to realize the dream of returning to the ancestral homeland? Once again, we see the importance of the emotional dimension. In effect, most respondents stated that the Greek origin of their family, the presence of family members or relatives in Greece, and the quality of life there as the main factors for migrating. Therefore, the reasons for the return are more closely related to their social and emotional life, and the people interviewed did not leave because of a sense of exclusion or unease in Italy. Rather, they tended to emphasize the positive aspects of Greek society. A strong sense of emotional attachment and nostalgia for the ancestral land had triggered thoughts of returning, as did a form of rootedness and a search for their cultural identity. Therefore, the return home symbolized a restoration of identity, and the migration was facilitated through the family network. The majority of people surveyed chose to live in the place where their parents came from, fulfilling their elders' hope that one day their children would return to the homeland. As for the second generation living in Italy, this shows a form of translocalism that was connected more to the birthplace of their parents than to Greece as a whole.

The decision to move to Greece was part of broader processes wherein the desire to return, the presence of kinship networks, and previous family migration experience seem to prevail over rational calculations and macroeconomic factors. However, although less frequently, there were reasons linked to concrete job opportunities or to certain structural factors. Examples of these are cases in which people decided to move to Greece for a job in their father's architectural firm, for a professional experience after sending a curriculum [End Page 144] vitae, or for the presence of their parents in Greece, which would allow for the availability of home ownership and the reduction of costs and expenses.

While moving to their ancestral homeland, the second-generation members redefined their existence and interacted within a new diasporic space in relation to specific social, historical, and political conditions. Multilocality and translocality are connected to the act of negotiation for those who enter this space. Returning to Greece, with all its memory and imaginary contents, subverted the fixity and reflected the fluid process of change and adaptation as an experiential reaction to the ethnonational narrative. In the course of their life in Italy and before implementing the project of counter-diaspora, second-generation Greeks could have built a unified vision of Greece according to an essentialist discourse. Consequently, while going to live permanently in the country of their parents, they would have to compare imagined notions of Greece with realilty. The settlement process made them more aware of the nonmutual correspondence between expectations created before emigration and real structural and social conditions in Greece. All this entailed a clash with the national pragmatism that I discussed earlier, implying the emergence of splits in the process of adaptation and identification.

When answering the question whether living in Greece corresponds to the lifestyle they imagined, some people responded negatively. In particular, it concerns those who moved to Greece in recent years during the socioeconomic crisis. In such a case, the domestic changes in the country, starting from the social, economic, and cultural consequences generated by the crisis, have given rise to a sense of disillusionment and frustration in contrast to their idealized vision of Greece. Thus, actual migration allowed them to gauge the changes in their domestic lives and, at the same time, to remove the conflict between imagined notions and the actual experienced reality.

I went to live in Athens in December 2013. Living in Greece does not match what I imagined. When I was a student it was much better than I imagined, but now it's different. Because routine has swallowed me. When I was a student I always went out with friends, I went to university and parties, I was out all day. Now I didn't do it, the crisis has negatively impacted on my life. Now I cannot afford what I had before, like so many others. I'm sure if there wasn't that damn "Troika" things would be different. Things I cannot afford diminish more and more, so eventually I found myself alone (Nikoletta, female, 31 years old, origin of the mother: Athens).

The counter-diasporic migration project can also reflect and create conditions of exclusion and alienation rather than of well-being and belonging. In order to offset these conditions, those contemplating a move have to act on [End Page 145] the negotiation of the negative aspects with the positive, trying to reconcile the sense of disillusionment and the symbolic imagery with the entry into a new transitional space. In other words, they need to create a bridge between the mythical vision of the ancestral place and the actual experience of life there, making it flow into a new home dimension. The search for a sense of belonging, identification, and authenticity involved multiple negotiations regarding the construction and interpretation of the concept of Greekness. Such a concept is not homogenous but is subject to variation in space and time, based on transnational interactions, counter-diasporic experience, domestic changes, and the degree of extension practically determined by members of Greek second generation. The effort to decipher the spaces of the diaspora was an attempt to translate performative transnational interactions. These interactions were not limited to the concept of home; rather, they also included struggles over identity and over finding a sense of belonging in a contemporary Greece that is constantly changing, especially in the postnational and postmodern circumstances that have led to the challenging of Greekness as a concept. From the field research, it emerged that another consequence of the contradiction between imagined notions of ancestral homeland and lived reality is the disappointment in being labeled as "Italian," thus becoming "foreigners in their own country." In an effort to reach a "full-fledged" Greekness and acquire an authentic and longed for identity, they had to deal with the risk of cultural exclusion in a logic of an "hierarchy of Greekness" (Triandafyllidou and Veikou 2002). However, the counter-diaspora in Greece allows them to overcome the tourist status and the in-betweenness condition, and a prolonged settlement can strengthen their sense of belonging, to such an extent that they can even identify as local Greeks. In addition, as described in the following passage, their final transfer represented an effective operation for deconstructing an essentialist and mythical iconography of the ancestral land, as it allows them to realize what living in Greece really means and to consider Greece no longer as a mere vacation place or a temporary residence.

For me, before leaving, Greece was a wonderful but unknown thing. When I came to live here I found out new things, new people, and new environments through which I have changed and grown up. While making new experiences I have become more complex than before and this has affected the perception of this place. Previously, I wished so much to be labeled as Greek. I wanted to perfect my pronunciation and to be taken for a local. I didn't know how life was here, I had just a vague idea. After my university studies, I was very curious to find out what living in Greece really meant and to try living here. I didn't want the regret of not knowing what life is really like here. That was the main reason pushing [End Page 146] me to come here. I didn't know what to expect. I only knew the summer image of Greece and I was curious to find out how staying here all year was. Ever since I was a child I thought it (Marta, female, 31 years old, origin of the father: Chanià).

The concept of Greekness and the process of labeling necessarily lead us to reflect on the question of how second-generation migrants rebuild their cultural identity as a result of the return project in Greece. Greek diaspora, in line with postmodern and poststructuralist conceptualizations, implies the existence of a network of multiple and hybrid belongings and a combination of dialectical identities and positions (Pelliccia 2017). As for the second generation living in Italy, the actualization of counter-diasporic migration involves the construction of hybrid identities. In the same interview quoted above, the interviewee carefully explained the complex process of identity perception leading her to full awareness of her hybrid condition.

Then I realized that I didn't care to be considered Greek and that my identity was not composed only by the nationality factor. I am a person with a personal history and path. Not being taken for a local doesn't take anything away from me. On the contrary, it adds an ingredient to my identity. This is a conclusion that I reached only after a bit of time. I can say that I've developed a sort of hybrid identity. I don't feel that I was denied something (Marta, female, 31 years old, origin of the father: Chanià).

As regards the cultural labeling and social categorization process, an effect may be a sense of a double absence driving them to feel neither Greek nor Italian. An example is the case of an interviewee who has experienced an incompleteness of living and yet a feeling of freedom together with it. While her sense of disorientation has denied her immediate access to a well-defined identity, causing her to feel out of place, it has made her feel much more free, as well.

Culturally I feel that I'm neither Italian nor Greek, even though this expression may sound a little negative! In Rome I was considered "the Greek" who lived in Italy and when I returned to Greece I was "the Italian" who lived in Greece. Even now it is so. When I'm in Italy I don't feel Italian 100%, but as a person with Italian origin. This also happens in Greece. Rather, in Greece it's even stronger. I perceive this double identity as a double absence and sometimes I feel bad. However, this thing gives me freedom because I am neither Greek nor Italian. It's a special feeling because it's like flying while really being nowhere. It is not always a bad feeling, it depends on the situation (Irene, female, 33 years old, origin of the mother: Karditsa).

The counter-diaspora develops many forms of human mobility in terms of two-way flows of migration and stratified social processes connecting Greece [End Page 147] with Italy. This may result in media transnationalism, namely, in the use of new media technology, but also in practices that entail physical crossing of geographical borders, such as traveling to Italy. The interviewees claim to travel frequently to Italy, in particular for reasons related to the presence of family members or relatives and for holiday. Theirs is a "bifocality" (Vertovec 2004), allowing them to be here and there at the same time, resulting in activities and behaviors based on a dual perspective, and including the possibility of developing a transnational identity through the internalization of social classifications and ethnic meanings of both countries. In an increasingly globalized world, in light of the possession of dual citizenship and their participation in crossborder activities, members of the second generation who moved to Greece are characterized by a strong diasporic cosmopolitanism that does not collide with the sense of attachment to Greece. Some life stories describe a desire to remain living in the ancestral land, despite the propensity to a multidirectional mobility. Their future is everywhere: between the two shores of the Mediterranean or anywhere else on the planet. For the time being, it is important that the myth of return to ancestral land has been actualized and the long-awaited dream of diasporic reciprocity has been realized.


This article contributes to the literature on return migration by second-generation migrants. Moreover, it contributes to a broader knowledge of the relationship between the Greek diaspora and ancestral return. Because of the total absence of studies on Greek second-generation migrants in Italy, this analysis fills a major gap in the literature on a group that deserves much further research. Finally, it speaks to a topic of interest within the field of Greek diaspora studies and Modern Greek Studies.

The analysis presented here helps us to understand better the phenomenon of counter-diasporic migration that allows us to combine the notion of diaspora with issues related to the country of origin, such as second-generation Greeks' attachment to the birth-country of their parents and the process of identification, negotiation, and adaptation to the parental homeland. In this sense, ancestral return could be considered as a part of the social dialectic between Greek diaspora and the concept of home.

Through field research on the Greek second generation in Italy, I have analyzed the potential and the actual counter-diasporic migration. One of the most interesting findings to emerge from this study is that the emotional attachment and a general desire to return to ancestral land characterize the [End Page 148] Greek diaspora in Italy. Such an attachment does not conflict at all with the structural conditions of their long-term settlement in Italy. On the contrary, it survived for several generations. Much of the current scholarship suggests that the orientation towards the homeland weakens with each passing year because of the settlement process in the new country or the succession of generations. However, the results of my research forces us to revise this generalization, demonstrating that the Greek second generation turned largely towards the country of origin, even more than the first generation. Obviously, for those living in Italy, the desire to return does not always result in a real return. The possibility of a final return to their homeland may be imaginary and include the concept of the myth of return. However, as I have argued, what is important is not the myth itself but its function, as it allowed second-generation Greeks to renew ties with Greece, to strengthen the bonds of kinship, and to keep alive what we can call the subjunctive world.

Another interesting aspect of this study is the positive correlation between the return migration project and variables such as traveling and language facility. In fact, both frequent traveling to the parental homeland and bilingualism represented effective and powerful tools facilitating the counter-diasporic migration. Regarding the reasons for the ancestral return, research data revealed a great number of pull factors, as well as a prevalence for emotional and symbolic ones when compared to labor and job prospects, especially in light of the recent economic crisis in Greece. Greek origins and the presence of a transnational network played an important role in strengthening the relationship with the homeland and in shaping a life project founded on a strong desire to return. In this sense, counter-diasporic migration represents the logical closure of the cycle of the diaspora, that is, as a final and long-awaited return home. This is even truer for second-generation Greeks who have finally realized the myth of return.

Future studies are needed to extend our knowledge of ancestral return and the association between the homeland and the context of diasporic community, particularly regarding second and subsequent generations. Moreover, in the light of the complete absence of literature on Greek second-generation migrants in Italy, including returning Greek-Italians, it is hoped that researchers will enhance the understanding of this population and the issues related to it. A limitation of my research was the small size of the sample of second-generation Greeks who moved from Italy to Greece permanently. This limitation is reinforced by the fact that the annual series on return migration to Greece stopped in 1977, and we have no official statistics on second-generation returns. In the future, it would be interesting to study a larger sample of people who [End Page 149] have been residents in Greece for a long time in order to better examine the possible changes in the adaptation and identity formation processes. Such studies might allow for a useful and comparative understanding of the other, longer-established Greek diasporic communities, especially in reference to concepts such as attachment/belonging to Greece, identity, and home. In addition, they will help us to better analyze the power and limitations of the diasporic imagination, as well as the relationship between the expectations created before emigration and the reality of long-term settlement.

Andrea Pelliccia
Institute for Research on Population and Social Policies
Andrea Pelliccia

Andrea Pelliccia is a sociologist and researcher at the Institute for Research on Population and Social Policies of Italian National Research Council (IRPPSCNR). His research interests include various issues relating to migratory processes within contexts of transnationalism and interculturalism. In recent years, his studies have focused on various aspects of contemporary Greece, particularly on Greek student mobility and diaspora in Italy.


I would like to thank the Greek Embassy and the Federation of Greek Communities and Brotherhoods of Italy for their moral support of my research.


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