- My Detroit: Growing up Greek and American in Motor City
Various complexities revolve around the publication of a book. Some of them involve the notion that a book's publication is a literary and cultural event, but publication also is a social and political event. This is the nature of Dan Georgakas's My Detroit: Growing up Greek and American in Motor City. It is a captivating text of about three hundred pages, divided in twelve chapters, which eloquently displays both the literary virtues of the author and the craft of the social researcher. On the one hand, it is very easy to recognize the obvious writing skills of the author, since he has been contributing for years to many Greek American and American publications. On the other hand, the author also has been involved in a wide range of studies of ethnicity, community, politics, labor history, and film.
What is essential in My Detroit is the author's voice. At first, the book may be characterized as a memoir that seriously discusses immigration, ethnic identity, and Greek American communities in America, but also it is about American culture—marginal and mainstream. In this sense, we come to the realization that if My Detroit is a memoir, then it is a different kind of memoir. The term "memoir" is used to describe something closer to autobiography than this essay-like literary narrative. "Memoirs" are usually preceded by a possessive pronoun: my memoirs or his/her memoirs. "Memoirs" often are a kind of scrapbook in which pieces of a life are pasted. My Detroit must be read as an essay, since by following the track of the author's thoughts and struggles, one achieves some understanding of a plot and an adventure.
In My Detroit, Georgakas does not simply tell us the story of his life, but muses upon it, trying to unravel what it means in the light of his current knowledge. Georgakas offers retrospection as an essential part of the story, and we as readers are led to be entertained by the story. Moreover, we are invited to enter into dialectic with Georgakas himself about how to understand the present through this past. The past presented is one that the author brings across with a great level of familiarity from the personal to the collective by frequently swapping "I" for "we" and vice versa.
From the very beginning, he states that this is a book about change. That change can be geographical or cultural, as in the case of his family immigration [End Page 147] from an agricultural and more traditional Greece to an industrialized and more modern part of the New World. His comments range from the relationship of Greek mothers to their sons and the problems of "dating Greek girls" to confronting racial segregation in high school and forming friendships with Arab Americans. In short, he deals passionately with sociopolitical conflicts and the desire for ethnic identity, community, and continuity in America. Always, it is a narrative of change that is both "desired and not desired, anticipated and unforeseen" (11).
Georgakas, who has written and edited a number of books dealing with the American labor movement, has also published a monograph titled Greek America at Work (1980). In My Detroit, as in Greek America at Work, he goes beyond the stereotype of Greeks as basically diner owners and waiters to examine Greek involvement in the American labor movement and history, which is not widely known, but significant. Georgakas's My Detroit sheds light on the hidden history of working class Greek America, and puts in context the relationship of immigrants' histories and the larger American society.
For several decades now, Dan Georgakas has been an editor at Cineaste and a commentator on Greek and Greek-American cinema. However, the current film critic and film historian that he is remembers the mysticism of the Greek films he used to watch growing up in Detroit, and how films, actors, music, and images of Greece played a great role in shaping and influencing his Greekness, as...