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The Spartan Greeks of Bridgetown - PDF - / Send As Email
by J. Mayone Stycos
In Common Ground, December 1948, pp. 61-70 - Previous Article / Next Article

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THE SPARTAN GREEKS OF BRIDGETOWN
J. MAYONE STYCOS
W H E N an alien group emigrates from a
foreign land, it carries little of that culture
in its baggage but very much of it in its
mind. When a poor Spartan farmer
comes to America, he cannot carry his
mule, his plow, or his olive trees, and
neither can he transport the more artistic
and hterary manifestations of his culture.
But what he can transport to the new
land he carries easily and unforgettably in
his head—the customs, the folkways,
and mores, the ways of thinking and behaving
that he learned in his home
country. -
Upon arrival in America he discovers
that these cherished and to him almost
sacred ways of thought and action are not
observed by Americans at all. Since from
childhood the Greek ways of thinking
and acting have been drummed into him
by his parents, substantiated and elucidated
at his school, codified and legalized
by his government, rationahzed and
sanctified by his religion, and observed by
all his significant human environment
until emigration, it is very difficult for
the average Greek even to tolerate the
radically different thoughts and customs
of Americans, and almost impossible for
him to adopt and believe in them. Consequently,
he observes askance the freedom
of the American children and the equality
of the husband and wife; he tastes with
disdain the flat and spiceless American
foods; he listens with an uncomprehending
horror to the thumpings of American
jazz, and eyes aghast the levity with
which American courtship and marriage
are considered. He wonders why Americans
drink so relatively infrequently and
become intoxicated so often, why they
. rush madly everywhere and die before
they have time to retire, why they work
with phenomenal vigor and leave all their
accumulated savings to their children.
The immigrant Greek cannot understand
and, even if he does understand,
largely dislikes much of the culture he
sees. His natural reaction is to band together
with his fellows, to group with
those who share his language and his
beliefs, and to avoid Americans as much
as possible. But unfortunately for the
Greek, he is here not on a visit or a vacation
but for the purpose of making
money. He left Greece not because he
disliked its customs of its teriram btit because
he was dissatisfied with its economy;
and once in America it is only Americans
who can enable him to rnake a living. If
he attempts then to form a cordon around
himself and his fellows, this cordon will
become the very noose which will result
in his economic strangulation. The more
he expresses distaste for Americans and
their customs, the more he is heard speaking
Greek, the more he avoids American
society and ways of behavior, the less
successful will be his business. It is bad
enough that his name is Spiropolous—
people will know and watch; but let him
act like Spiropolous (i.e., a foreigner)
and people will avoid him and his business.
The Greek, as most other aliens, is
between two fires. On the one hand he
61
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