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Diaspora 12:3 2003 Model Americans, Quintessential Greeks: Ethnic Success and Assimilation in Diaspora1 Yiorgos Anagnostou The Ohio State University People in media can help facilitate democracy or participate in its betrayal. —B.J. Bullert (7) Introduction: “White” Ethnicities as “Success” To tell stories of ethnic success is to speak about the nation in all its benevolence and generosity. National ideologies such as the American Dream, mobility, openness, and inclusiveness come to life any time the nation’s Others claim socioeconomic achievement. Stories of success turn the ethnic into the national as the former partakes of, and legitimizes, narratives of the latter. Alternatively, the ethnic can, on occasion, command the attention of the nation through the notion of success. The blockbuster status of the independent film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, released in 2002, is a case in point: the representation of an ethnic group within popular culture is such a hit that it generates a metadiscourse in the media about the film’s unprecedented popularity, and that, in turn, becomes its own kind of ethnic success story. The 1998 Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) documentary The Greek Americans provides yet another example of ethnicity’s impact on national cultural production. Indeed, the immense popularity of the documentary, largely framed as a tribute to Greek-American “success,” led PBS executive producers to launch a new series, “Homelands,” and to select Greece and Greek Americans as the first case study for this “new concept” that explores the transnational ties of American ethnic groups (“Return to the Homeland”). Ethnic accomplishment becomes a privileged metric for the national ranking of ethnicities, thereby raising many interesting questions: What is the cultural work of identity narratives that center on ethnic success? What kinds of issues does the success of popular representations of ethnicity raise? Furthermore, how do narratives of achievements by assimilated “white” ethnic groups intersect with the “assimilation” of racial minorities such as Asian Americans? And what are at the social and political stakes when “white” ethnics script their identities around achievement? 279 Diaspora 12:3 2003 This article reflects on a “white” hyphenated space, Greek America, to probe into the ideology of ethnic success and how it relates to the construction of the categories “white ethnicity” and “diaspora.” My argument is threefold. First I show that the abovementioned metadiscourse on ethnic achievement fractures the idea of a uniform Greek-American success. Greek Americans who have distinguished themselves in exclusive institutions such as Hollywood have done so as assimilated artists and entrepreneurs, not as accomplished cultural producers committed to promoting Greek ethnicity. In this case, social and material prominence has not been translated into successful ethnic production. I point out that despite the open ethnic identification of high-profile officials such as Michael Dukakis, George Stephanopoulos, and George Tenet, or artists such as Olympia Dukakis and Melina Kanakaredes, identification with Greek cultural interests may be perceived as a hindrance in elite institutions. In view of this cultural reticence, I argue, that Greek Americans in positions of privilege are becoming attuned to the potential for economic and cultural gains associated with the making of narratives on Greek ethnicity under conditions of liberal multiculturalism and globalization. As a result, a discourse is emerging by which an assimilated ethnic elite reconfigures and imagines itself as a vanguard in Greek cultural production in the Anglophone world. Second, I explore the process of ethnicization among economically , politically, and socially prosperous Greek Americans by closely analyzing a successful commodity that tells a story of ethnic success : the PBS documentary The Greek Americans. I establish that its narrative about ethnic socioeconomic success constructs Greek America as a homogeneous collectivity, in accordance with the script of American liberal multiculturalism. I argue that such an ethnic location represents yet another historical phase of Greek America’s politics of assimilation into hegemonic national narratives about otherness. My diachronic analysis of Greek-American narratives of assimilation shows that the positive valuation of ethnicity has historically been deployed in Greek America as a strategy of inclusion, by which cultural boundaries are fixed and stabilized in view of the contingent place of the ethnic/immigrant Other in the national as well as ethnic imagination. By assimilating Greek America...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-1568
Print ISSN
1044-2057
Pages
pp. 279-327
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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