By coming to live in my parents' homeland, I went through the process of reverse migration . One of the reasons this takes place is when conditions in the homeland have improved since the time of the immigrants' departure1. Before going through reverse migration, people have probably gone through an identity conflict - they don't feel happy with the identity they are expected to live up to in their adopted homeland or country of birth. This has an effect on their integration in the wider community. At first it is not discernible; when it becomes apparent, it is difficult to reverse its effects.
When I lived in New Zealand, I called myself a Greek New Zealander. I subconsciously believed that this meant that I was born and raised in New Zealand, while my parents were Greek immigrants. I spoke the Greek language, ate Greek food, was a member of the Greek Orthodox church, attended Greek cultural events, and thought of Greek culture as the roots of my past, amongst many other things which I did not share with many other New Zealanders. Interestingly, I could never bring myself to call myself a 'New Zealander' or a 'Greek' alone. But I had no qualms calling myself a Greek New Zealander, because New Zealand was known to be a multicultural country. At the same time, I also knew that some of the attitudes held by my parents were not compatible with mainstream society . Therefore, I did not try to perpetuate them, and I purposely avoided confrontations where the differences would be accentuated.
Since I could feel the differences, I knew that they were very real. This is unlike my Kiwi counterparts who did not perceive differences, apart from the more obvious low English language skills associated with immigrants. But I knew there were more differences than that, and these differences were not discussed openly among Kiwis - it felt politically incorrect to claim that people were different in a culturally diverse country which aimed towards a common melting-pot set of standards2. In other words, I was a kind of 'closet Greek'. Hiding one's sexual orientation was never encouraged throughout my time in New Zealand; but hiding one's cultural differences was (in my point of view) encouraged.
This used to be a very taboo subject area , but is now being talked about more openly , as New Zealanders are now being encouraged to explore their roots. A Ph.D. thesis by Greek-New Zealander Athena Gavriel (2004) has been based on this very discussion: " We are different and the same: Exploring Hellenic Culture and Identity in Aotearoa New Zealand 3". Gavriel has written some very moving poetry on the same subject: " Not being a part of the majority culture, adds another dimension to the often asked question, 'Who am I? '" She mentions the dilemmas faced by the immigrant of choice
Visions of a better life... as well as those of the fleeing refugee
I did not want to come here!This partly shows that the first generation (in particular, but not only) did not assimilate well into the Kiwi lifestyle, which can be attributed to carrying too much cultural baggage . Later generations were better assimilated - but (I would argue) only when they reached adulthood, and not necessarily as children, because there was still a long way to go before the boundaries of tolerance were found . Through Athena Gavriel's poetry , we get a clear statement of the conflict she feels when she thinks about her Greekness in relation to mainstream society:
To say because I am Greek I must have this or that quality, attitude or value,For some immigrants, there is no choice available to return to their former homeland. In my case, there was . Although many parts of Greece where the Greek immigrants to New Zealand were from remained undeveloped, with, at the most, improved roads and basic amenities (water supply, electricity and phone line), Crete was one of the few places that saw great development, mainly in the tourist sector. Hence, conditions were markedly improved since my parents' time, and there were many employment opportunities in the area when I arrived. What's more, I was not the alone in deciding to cross three continents in only one direction to come to live in my parents' homeland.
1For Greece, this happened at about the time of her entry to the European Union (and the rest is history, as the whole world now knows).
2This discussion borders on the Paul-Henry effect - what makes you a New Zealander and what doesn't.
3 If anyone knows how I can get a copy of this thesis in electronic form, I will be indebted.
In the next part of this discussion , I discuss reverse migration - what happens when immigrants and/or their children, who were born and/or raised in the New World, decide to return to live in the homeland?
If you are interested in cultural studies, you may also want to read the following:
- Caramel milkshake
- A shopping trip
- Greek girl in London
You can find more of my writing about identity and New Zealand throughout my blog.
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