«Russell King, Anastasia Christou and Janine Givati-Teerling Sussex Centre for Migration Research, University of Sussex ABSTRACT This paper focuses on ...»
Linking childhood visits with adult relocation If ‘memories are the glue that holds past and present together’ (Agnew 2005: 19), what are the links between memories of childhood visits and later decisions to relocate to the ancestral homeland? The relationship between the return visit and return migration has been addressed for the Caribbean by Duval (2004), although in the context of first-generation visits and return. Duval argues that ‘migrants use such trips both to retain ties to their former homeland and to aid in their social reintegration upon permanent return’; the return visit is seen as a ‘conduit’ through which migrants are able to maintain ‘social visibility’ in their ‘external’ homeland, as well as a ‘transnational exercise bridging identities’ between the two poles of the migration (2004: 51, 54, 62). However, two things differentiate our study from Duval’s and make our research questions inherently more complex. First, since we are dealing with the second generation, notions of ‘home’, ‘homeland’ and ‘return’ are more fluid and harder to pin down. Second the connections we are trying to make are between childhood visits (it was adult visits in Duval’s case) and return, which takes a lot of the direct agency away from the explicit decision-making link.
The narrative evidence that we have collected does not give a consistent answer to this question about visit-return links. Sometimes a direct causal connection is made, but in other cases different factors are at play, such as the way an individual’s return is embedded within wider family dynamics of migration and return, or of marriage or relationships (or their break-up), or just serendipity.
‘I felt I was coming home’: essentialised readings of return Mike’s remark at the end of the last quote reveals that, for him, Cyprus has always been home, despite being brought up in London and not making visits to Cyprus in his early childhood (in an earlier quote he said he was taken on holiday to English seaside towns since return visits to Cyprus were not feasible when he was a young child in the 1950s). Mike maintained that he always felt Cypriot and always knew that one day he would come and live in Cyprus, although, unusually, this did not
occur until he was 53:
[Growing up in London] I felt Cypriot in every way, although to listen to me now I’m very English…Cyprus was always a good destination for a holiday, I mean although you’ve got the pick of the world I always wanted to come to Cyprus, ‘cause I liked – I’m talking about the 60s and 70s when Cyprus had villages, you know – I just loved that way of life. It’s gone now, which is sad… to find it now you have to go up into the mountains… I knew one day I would come to live in Cyprus, it’s something that’s always been inside, I don’t know how or when but I knew… I knew I would eventually settle here… (Mike, 57, GC).
Mike’s essentialised view of himself as incontrovertibly Cypriot, and of Cyprus as his natural home, was echoed in other narratives – each, however, reflecting different circumstances, as one would expect, and each reflecting, again in different ways, the link between childhood upbringing (including homeland visits) and subsequent ‘return’. Thomas had been pressurised by his parents to continue with the Greek High School in Germany rather than attending the German one any longer. This preserved his ‘Greekness’ (above all his competency in the language), and combined with regular summer visits, shaped his later decision to move to Greece to attend university
and develop a career:
…I had just finished the third year in High School and I had to choose whether or not to continue with the Greek High School on a regular basis without attending the German one any longer. I had just had a very nice summer in Greece. My mother would tell me constantly to continue with the Greek school, for us to return to Greece, you know the usual things we are told… And she got her way, she managed to convince me […] I simply wanted to return to my homeland. Every summer we would go to Greece and during the summer Greece is always very beautiful with a lot of sun and sea; we were nostalgic for this when in Germany. I can say that this was the basic reason (Thomas, 29, GG).
What we see here is a kind of ‘family narrative of return’ – led in Thomas’s case by his mother – which, together with the idyllic summer visits and the warm climate, nurtured the desire of Thomas to ‘return’ to Greece, which he does at the age of 19,
independently from his parents. Another example, this time from Cyprus:
My father would bring us over, he has eight brothers and sisters, my mum has six, and most of them were living over here. So he would take us around the whole of the island, you know, meeting them, making sure we knew our roots, and knew our family, knew who we were, you know. And that was what did it [made my mind up about moving to Cyprus]. I never wanted to go back home [from these visits], never; whenever we were leaving I’d be, like, ‘oh I’m so sad, I don’t want to go, let’s stay here’ … So I always wanted to [move to Cyprus] one day, yeah, yeah, I did. My mum and dad, you know, I think every Cypriot family over there [in England] always says, you know, ‘once we get ourselves [this or that], once we get enough [money], once we’re old… we’ll go back’; it’s always like that, I think it’s inside them somewhere… they always want to go home (Alexandra, 37, GC).
What is also interesting about the way the parental narrative of return is passed on to the second generation is that it often results in the second generation inheriting this desire and turning it into reality, whereas the parents themselves do not return, at least not when their children do. This perspective is developed more explicitly in research carried out by Tracey Reynolds (2008) in the Caribbean. According to Reynolds, the family narrative developed around the ‘myth of return’ is integral to the British-based second generation’s return orientation; these narratives ‘act as important social resources in sustaining the second generation’s emotional attachment to the family homeland and in influencing the decision to return’ – alongside, of course, other practical considerations (Reynolds 2008:2).
Our final example of the ‘coming home’ narrative connected to an essentialised ‘I am Greek’ identity formation comes from Stamatis. Given his age (63 when interviewed) and his parents’ modest background as economic migrants in the US, Stamatis did not ‘reconnect’ with Greece until his first visit in 1966, aged 21. The visit was prompted by his father inheriting some land which needed a family visit to sort out. Stamatis went off backpacking, meeting up with relatives and getting acquainted with the country and its politics. In this fairly long extract, he takes us through the events leading up to this first visit, its significance to him and his subsequent expressions of identity; he also reveals an unusual awareness of the ‘layers of reflection’ inherent in memory reconstruction and interpretation. Perhaps this is not so surprising as he subsequently pursued a peripatetic career as an academic, writer and political activist, moving back and forth between North America and Greece, finally settling in the latter in his 50s.
No, we didn’t really have the means [for me to visit Greece as a child]. My family was fairly modest in income. The reason we ended up reconnecting with Greece is that my dad – we lived in California at that point – my dad was notified by the Greek consulate in San Francisco that he had inherited some property… and he had to go there to settle up the legal situation… So my parents planned a vacation, a trip to Greece… and I decided to go that summer … an event that was deeply emotional… two and a half months in Greece, and that was my reintroduction to Greece, the summer of 1966. […] Lots of memories… for me it was like, um… I guess it turned out to be a lifechanging experience, although I didn’t think of it that way at the time, but it was. I … you know, this goes back through layers of reflection where you kind of change what the original experience was about so it was hard to get back what it really meant to you the, um… But I immediately felt at home in Greece… Thinking back on it, it has to do with my mum, for whom the feeling of patrida (homeland) was very important, and I mean from that first trip my parents would go every summer to Greece. Well they did get somewhere in advancing the property situation, but it remains unresolved as of today and I don’t expect it will ever be untangled and I don’t really give a damn […] I wanted to be Greek, and I wanted to be Greek so bad that I told people I could speak Greek when I couldn’t speak Greek… I am learning, I am getting there, you know. Anyway I don’t know what it was exactly but there was that sense of patrida which was the core sense… (Stamatis, 63GA).
‘It’s like taking someone from Siberia and putting them on a beach in Havana’: other transnational childhoods In our combined sample of ninety-plus participants, there was a minority – small but significant – who had spent longer periods of time in the parental homeland as children. Their experience of ‘childhood transnationalism’ was therefore less fleeting than the periodic short-term holiday visit, the main focus of this article. We found two different patterns of longer-term childhood presence in the ethnic homeland.
First, there were children who were ‘sent back’ by their parents to be cared for by relatives for a number of years. This pattern was mainly a feature of the GreekGermans, where the primary objective was to enable both parents to work, and therefore earn, in Germany. The child would be raised in Greece, often into school years, and so would experience part of their childhood and education there, and part in Germany. The second pattern was when the entire family returned to the home country, so that the children, who may well have had prior experience of regular holiday visits, were then taken back to continue the latter part of their schooling in Greece/Cyprus. In the second pattern, the link between childhood visits and an independent adult return cannot be made. Instead the respondent makes three-way connections and comparisons between the first part of their childhood abroad (including holiday visits), the second part of their childhood in the homeland, and their subsequent life as adults.
It is not possible to categorise or generalise either of these two patterns of childhood return as ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ for the individuals concerned because of the small numbers involved, and because of the individual and personalised circumstances and relations beyond the immediate migration story, which are obviously highly diverse.
What we do in our case-study material below is to take a few examples to illustrate varying experiences and outcomes. Because of the different temporality of their childhood-into-adulthood mobility patterns we also comment, via their narratives, on their adult lives in their ‘two countries’, which is also the topic of the final main section of the paper, which follows this one.
We take each of the two patterns outlined above in turn. Lydia, 34, is a secondgeneration Greek-German who spent part of her childhood back in the village of origin of her parents in Thrace in the care of her grandparents. As the first part of her narrative reveals, she came from a family with a history of migration even before her parents moved to Germany. The following passages from her interview are in three parts: family migration history, her childhood split between Thrace and Germany, and her subsequent reflections.
I come from a family of refugees. My grandparents were born in Eastern Thrace [in Turkey] and in 1922, when the population exchange took place, they moved to the opposite side of the Evros River [the Greek-Turkish border] to [names village], where they started their life all over again. I thus come from a family that was well acquainted with poverty. My parents got married in [names village] – it was a traditional arranged marriage [spouses selected by parents]. They both had a common goal and that was to have a family and escape poverty and hunger. So they migrated to Athens, made some money, then returned to the village and then, during the military junta, they left for Germany… My father was the first to go, and then my mother joined him.
They didn’t know a word in German. Those were tough years for my parents.
They worked hard because… they wanted to send money to their parents at home. [After me] my brother was born, he too like me spent the first years of his life with our grandparents in the village. We used to see our parents once a year.