«Russell King, Anastasia Christou and Janine Givati-Teerling Sussex Centre for Migration Research, University of Sussex ABSTRACT This paper focuses on ...»
period of residence in the country:
[Back then] the style of living was so easy and cheap. That is another big, big factor… it does not make economic sense to live here any more… [Nowadays] Greece is very, very expensive – more expensive than the States and more expensive than most European countries… So getting back to when I lived here in the 70s, you can’t imagine how cheap it was. We used to pay the maid $5 a day for an entire day, so you could live really well. I mean, going out to eat was an everyday occurrence because it was so cheap… and the cost of living was just so low… It’s totally changed now. It’s totally the reverse… From a different age-group, Theodora and Nicholas articulated a similar critique of the materialism and rising cost of living in Cyprus in recent years, again making the historical comparison with the years of their childhood visits.
It’s all about how you look over here, it’s so … materialistic, and I don’t know how they can do it, because it’s so fuckin’ expensive as well, because coming here on holiday I thought Cyprus was so much cheaper, but actually living here, and now that the euro has kicked in, it’s really expensive. But everyone has to have a big house, they have to have their expensive car, they have to have their labels, they have to have their Louis Vuitton, and their Gucci … even if it’s totally tasteless, because they think it’s fashionable or they saw someone else with it, even if it’s a Russian millionaire who can afford to spend their money on rubbish. But …. What I’ve learned is, everyone is sacrificing so much to keep up this image, and basically they all either have two jobs or they are in serious amounts of debt (Theodora, 28, GC).
Did Cyprus change a lot over the years? Yeah, definitely … it’s huge … I mean apart from development, everything is building, financially like, it was always a place for offshore companies, but somehow they’re really come into their own, mainly through Russian money [laughs], there’s a lot of that. So the banks are lending like crazy, ‘cause it’s easy credit, and … there seems to be a lot more money, but not just that, it’s also like … we’re adopting the whole individualistic lifestyle as well, to a much greater degree than before, you know, like … yeah, you did get the feeling it was friendlier … fifteen years ago (Nicholas, 31, GC).
Closing the cycle: from childhood visits to child-rearing
Despite their sometimes critical opinions towards the rapid but inevitable changes as a result of globalisation and development, the general social environment of Greece and especially Cyprus is seen as very favourable to bring up the next generation – the children of the second-generation returnees. In this way the generational migration cycle is repeated, with the experiences of one childhood being reprised in the bringing up of the next.
Theodora, who was so critical of the materialism of Cyprus in the quote above, came round, later in her interview, to a much more positive evaluation of the country as a place to bring up children. Like many interviewees, she focused particularly on the safety angle, but also mentioned the more gregarious social life and the physical
environment of sea and mountains, so favourable to outdoor activities:
Don’t get me wrong, I said a lot of bad things about Cyprus, but there is a lot of good things too. Like the safety … I’ve reached an age where I am like, 28 and I got a serious relationship, a boyfriend, and if I think about having a life together, about having a family, I’d be … could I raise a family in London?
What life am I gonna give them? I would probably turn into my mum. As much as I hated that she was so strict with me, I would have even more reason to be with them now… you hear about stabbings go on and all. Whereas over here kids have such a wonderful life, they have a better upbringing – they go to school, half-eight, they finish at midday, they can go to the beach, they have the mountains, they can be safe, you know, as long as you mix them with the right people. And you do socialise more here, although the sun can make you feel a bit lazy, whereas in London… I was too tired, I just worked too far away [from home]. Whereas here, in the summer, it’s just one big massive party;
like now, it’s September, every night something is going on, someone is coming over, and you know … you got the sea, you got the mountains, you can go on walks, have activities… weekends away, or day trips away; we’re actually going out more than I ever did in England.
There are strong parallels between the arguments raised by Theodora about Cyprus and findings on Caribbean second-generation return migration. Research by Reynolds (2008:15-16) and by Phillips and Potter (2009:244-245) reveals many cases of second-generation British-born taking their young children to the Caribbean in order to bring them up (or have children there) in a ‘safer’ environment. Phillips and Potter (2009) theorise this type of return as the ‘lure of the ancestral home’ offering a better quality of life, especially in the face of social, economic and educational disenfranchisement in the UK. Stories of racial disadvantage and prejudice loom large in the British-Caribbean narratives (Reynolds 2008:15-16). Two other factors are important in motivating the Caribbean returns. First, local education is seen as more disciplined and achievement-oriented, and not a school setting where ‘black kids’ are stigmatised by the system or peer-pressured away from studying. Second, and especially for single mothers, a return to the Caribbean improves their quality of life, and that of their children, because of support from relatives, including retired parents who have also returned.
Apart from the racial element, which is much less evident in the Cypriot narratives of life in Britain, there are many similarities between Cyprus and large Caribbean islands like Barbados. They are post-colonial insular spaces whose societies have been heavily inflected by emigration in the past and by return now, and which have recently experienced strong economic performance led by tourism, offshore finance
and light industry. Yet in other respects this child-oriented pattern of secondgeneration return embodies a certain irony. As Reynolds (2008:12) puts it:
It is perhaps a strange paradox that first-generation parents migrated from the Caribbean to the UK in search of better opportunities and economic success for themselves and their children. Yet their children are motivated to return back to their parents’ homeland to achieve those same ambitions for themselves and their own children.
And with this return of the second generation, plus their children (how to define them – as third-generation or as the second generation of the second generation?), the cycle starts to repeat itself once again. These children, born in Greece or Cyprus of returned second-generation Greek or Cypriot parents, will have their own transnational ties back to their parents’ birth countries (Germany, the US, the UK);
maybe their grandparents still live there. Rose, now aged 54, relocated from her birth-country, the United States, in 1977 to Greece; she and her family took a holiday back to the US in 1994; for the children it was a trip to their ‘other homeland’.
Oh, it was fun, it was fun. The kids loved it at that point, they really liked it a lot. They considered Boston fantastic. My son was … because my son is into athletics… when he saw all those playing fields, the baseball fields [laughs] … He didn’t want to leave… No, they like the States a lot. We took them to Disneyland you know… and of course we went back so they could meet the other side of the family where I grew up… it was fascinating, you know, we had a good time.
Taking Greece and (Greek) Cyprus as homeland countries, this paper has examined the discourses and memories of childhood visits paid to these homelands by secondgeneration Greeks growing up in Germany and the United States and Greek-Cypriots born and raised in Britain. This topic has been rarely explored in the literatures on the second generation, return migration, and transnationalism. Hence, very few comparative studies are available.
Return trips with parents are generally remembered in glowing terms, for reasons of climate, time spent by the sea, the warmth of family and especially cousins, and above all freedom. Children were allowed to do things, go places, and stay up late, to a far greater extent than their parents would have permitted in the respective immigration countries. This can be explained by the generally ‘safe’ environment in Greece and Cyprus, and the surrounding safety-net of cousins and relatives who can be ‘trusted’ to look after the holidaying children, as well as the parents’ levels of confidence and familiarity in the homeland. But also holiday visits are times of the year when the normal boundaries of family discipline are relaxed, matching the generally relaxed mood of parents on vacation.
Looking back, many participants understand and identify with this feeling when talking about their own (future) children, believing that Greece and Cyprus are safer and pleasanter places to bring up children than large cities in the US, UK and Germany; this comparative link is especially strong with the Cypriot participants.
Visits home as teenagers however were sometimes seen as less enjoyable and more constraining – but, again this is often true of all teenagers’ views of holidays with parents. Some interviewees remembered being bored at that age on family holidays, or that they were constantly being watched and evaluated (cf. Levitt 2009, referring to Indian Gujarati return visits). Likewise children who were ‘sent back’ (mainly from Germany) to spend some years of their childhood in Greece were not always happy with such an experience.
Although some interviewees articulated a more or less direct causal connection between childhood visits and the subsequent decision to return to live in the homeland as adults, more often such direct links were not evident, and the adult return was seen as an individual project, albeit sometimes beset by family circumstances. Reactions to the experience of longer-term settlement were rather consistent amongst secondgeneration returnees: the warmth of the ‘family embrace’ fades as the pressures of everyday living take over, and both Greece and Cyprus have ‘moved on’ since the childhood years. Socially and economically, both countries are seen to have become less pure and authentic, and more materialistic and consumeristic. Immigration is noted as a significant recent phenomenon, with varying reactions. Joining the eurozone appears to have made both countries much more expensive to live in.
Our final point turns around how this modernisation and Europeanisation of Greece and Cyprus is interpreted by the ‘returnees’. One reaction noted from the Cyprus case was surprise at how liberal their Cypriot cousins’ upbringing had become, compared to their own sheltered childhoods in supposedly more liberal, open, cosmopolitan societies in the US or Northern Europe. There are complex processes going on here to do with rural vs. urban cultures, class and generational differences, and host and homeland communities. Most Greek and Cypriot migrants left their homeland at a time of economic stagnation and originated from rural areas. Since their departure economic and cultural globalisation has enveloped their homelands, along with EU accession and integration. Tourism, too, has been a powerful agent of modernisation, whilst rural-urban migration has drained the traditional character out of village communities. Meanwhile, international migrants have clung to their traditional values, reproducing microcosms of rural Greece and Cyprus in urban London, Liverpool, Stuttgart or the Greek districts of New York. Levitt (2009) refers to this holding on to old values from the homeland by migrants abroad as the ‘ossification effect’, seeing it as a spatio-temporal disjuncture between emigrants’ and nonmigrants’ actual and metaphorical journeys. This effect points up the contradictions and in-between positionalities of second-generationers both when they visit and when they relocate long-term; the positionalities and relationships can fundamentally change between these two types of return encounter. As Carling (2008) emphasises, relationships with non-migrants, both those who are positioned within transnational social fields, and those who are not, are all part of the ‘human dynamics of migrant transnationalism’, within which the second generation, and their visits home, are an under-researched component.
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