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Culture

Dan Georgakas’ Insights on Greek-American Detroit

February 25, 2017
Eleni.Sakellis, Eleni Sakellis

My Detroit, Growing Up Greek and American in Motor City by Dan Georgakas provides unique insights into the Greek-American experience. The prolific author, academic, poet, political thinker, and TNH contributor shares the details of his life honestly and offers a bit of social commentary as well.

There is a sense of nostalgia for a place that no longer exists and for those of us who grew up in neighborhoods like the one Georgakas grew up in, we can relate on a very personal level. The reader may not agree with all the conclusions the author draws, but they are drawn from his personal experience and from years of study.

His erudition is clear, and the reader will learn a great deal about Detroit in the 1950’s and 60’s. The history may not be as well-known as it should be and Georgakas never shies away from difficult issues. The ambivalence the children of immigrants often feel is there. Georgakas is not afraid to challenge conventional ideas.

Stories of the immigrant experience seem especially poignant now in view of current events and reminding us that we are all from somewhere else and that diversity is a cornerstone of the richness of the American experience is increasingly important.

Georgakas brings the people and the history to life in his book so that we feel as though we know his family members and the neighbors whose lives intersected for a time in the old neighborhood.

Even if we grew up in Astoria or Chicago and not Detroit, the Greek culture, traditions, and heritage have molded our experience. We share with the same pride the Greek-American success stories and the contributions of those who struggled so their children and grandchildren could have a better life, though there were many who slipped through the cracks as well. Change seems to be the only constant. Georgakas’ Detroit may no longer exist, but the memory of it lives on in his book.

Georgakas was also the subject of a documentary film entitled Dan Georgakas: a Diaspora Rebel by filmmaker Kostas Vakkas. The film screened at the 17th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in 2015. In it, Georgakas, professor and director of the Greek American Studies Project at Queens College in New York, tells his life story and his experiences in growing up in Detroit.

Georgakas told TNH at the time of the film screening that “my rebellious perspective is linked to growing up in a working class district of Detroit and being born Greek and American. Life had greatly improved for all of us as a result of the leftist reforms begun in the 1930’s. I wanted to accelerate that kind of change. As a child of immigrants, I was not programmed to consider all things American as normal and positive. This made it easier to go against convention.

In a similar fashion, as an American, I was not programmed for traditional Greek culture either. Much of my subsequent writing and activism has been directed at melting the mind-forged manacles that prevent us from understanding a new economic order based on mutual aid would be far superior to our present competitive system.”

He added, “I am less influenced by [the philosophies of revolutionary Karl] Marx and [anarchist Peter] Kropotkin than by the logic of Aristotle.”

My Detroit, Growing Up Greek and American in Motor City by Dan Georgakas is available online.

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