University of Sussex
SCMR_WP_65_From_First_Generation_Guestworkers_250511.pdf (425.92 kB)

From first-generation guestworkers to second-generation transnationalists: German-born Greeks engage with the 'homeland'

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:47 authored by Russell King, Anastasia Christou, Jill Ahrens
Few studies have been made of the 'return' of the second-generation children of migrants to their parental homeland. In this paper we examine this 'migration chronotope' for German-born children of the Greek labour migrants who moved to Germany in the early postwar decades, initially as 'guestworkers', later becoming more-or-less settled immigrant communities. We focus on two life-stages of return: as young children brought back to Greece for annual holidays or sent back for longer periods, usually to stay with grandparents; and as young adults exercising an independent return, usually leaving their parents (the first generation) behind in Germany. Our source material is twofold: a review of the limited German literature of the 1970s and 1980s on Greek migration to and from Germany; and our own recent field research in Berlin, Athens and Thessaloniki where we interviewed 50 first- and second-generation Greek-Germans, the majority of them second-generation. We find the practice of sending young children back to Greece to have been surprisingly widespread yet little documented. Often such family separations and transnational childhoods were disruptive, both for the family unit and for the individual child. Memories of holiday visits, on the other hand, were much more positive. Independent, adult return to the parental homeland takes place for five main reasons, according to our interview evidence: (i) a dream-like 'search for self' in the 'homeland'; (ii) the attraction of the Greek way of life over the German one; (iii) the actualisation of a 'family narrative of return' inculcated by the parents but carried out only by the adult children; (iv) life-stage triggers such as going to university in Greece, or marrying a Greek; and (v) return as 'escape' from a traumatic event or an oppressive family situation. Yet adapting to the Greek way of life, finding satisfactory employment and achieving a settled self-identity in the Greek homeland were, to a greater or lesser extent, challenging objectives for our research participants, some of whom had become quite disillusioned with Greece and re-identified with their 'German side'. Others, on the other hand, were comfortable with their decision to 'return' to Greece, and were able to manage and reconcile the two elements in their upbringing and residential history. Comparisons are made with other studies of second-generation 'return', notably in the Caribbean.


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University of Sussex



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Issue number 65

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