eyes on the U.S.

Crisis Sends Greek Emigrants - Some For A Second Time - To 'Little Greece' Of NY

Official numbers are next to impossible to come by, but the ongoing debt crisis in Greece seems to be sparking a new wave of New York-bound emigration. For some, like "Mike" from Astoria, Queens, this is actually their second stint in th

A Greek bakery in New York (flickr4jazz)
A Greek bakery in New York (flickr4jazz)
Claire Gatinois

NEW YORK - It's been just about a year since Michaelis Klouvas came back to live in Astoria, a section of Queens, New York that is also known as "Little Greece." During his two-decade absence, the area has changed. The influence of his native country, so present before his departure, seems to have faded. Klouvas finds that Astoria is more mixed now, more Latino. "Before, there were Greek restaurants. Greek shops. Signs everywhere in Greek," he recalls.

Klouvas explains that once they had made enough money, a lot of Greeks packed up and headed for the more upscale suburbs on Long Island or in New Jersey. Others, like him, went back to Greece.

"Biggest mistake of my life," he says. "But my wife wanted the family back together again." That was in 1988, about 20 years after Klouvas first came to America to join his father, a carpenter, who'd emigrated to New York to seek his fortune. The situation back in Greece had improved a lot, so Klouvas – who now goes by the name "Mike" – decided along with many other of his exiled compatriots to go home.

For Klouvas, the first years back in Athens were admittedly quite nice. Business was good. There was plenty of money to go around. He opened a successful restaurant called Arxomani. "People used to line up to get in," he recalls. But then the crisis ruined everything. In three years, the country saw its GDP drop 11%. Unemployment jumped to 20%. People from the working and middle classes were hardest hit.

Subsidies, pensions and minimum salaries were all cut. "Today, in Greece, there isn't enough money to buy clothes, let alone go to a restaurant," says Klouvas.

More than 60 years old, white-haired but still chirpy, Klouvas decided to start all over again and head, once more, to the United States. He now works two jobs: one, as head manager of a restaurant that is about to open; the other as a waiter. Needless to say, he works long hours. "From 8 a.m. to sometimes 2 a.m. the next morning," he says. It's the price he must pay to have a little bit of money stashed away before his wife and two daughters arrive from Greece later this spring.

Tapping into old-school social networks

How many others are in the same situation? It's impossible to say with any certainty. While some Greeks have taken the steps to acquire residency papers, or are in the long process of applying for them, others are likely living in Astoria illegally. But there are definitely signs that immigration from Greece is on the rise. Last year the number of Greeks who flew into New York via JFK airport was up 20% compared to 2006. And at the Immigration Advocacy Services in Astoria, a nonprofit organization that helps newcomers navigate residency paperwork, staff have observed a 50% rise in Greek clients in just the past year.

It's safe to imagine too that given Greece's ongoing economic problems, there are plenty more who would like to make the trip. "All the Greeks want to come live here," says Spiro, a heavyset young Astoria resident who was born in the United States – and has the America flag tattooed on his right arm.

New York isn't, of course, the only landing point for U.S.-bound Greeks. But the community of Astoria remains a real magnet for many because of the personal ties people still have: often immigrants already have a brother, sister or parent living in Queens, something that can provide both a practical and psychological boost.

Stratos – who goes by the name "Steve" – is a case in point. The friendly 42-year-old arrived in Astoria about two months ago. He barely speaks English, but he dreams about a career as a soccer coach. For now he makes his living working as a clerk in small grocery shop owned by a friend of his mother's.

But for others, those without family members or connections, coming to the United States is a challenge, and a risk. "Back in my day, it was much easier," says Elias Tsekerides, president of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York, an organization that promotes Greek culture.

Tsekerides, who arrived in 1963 and has two children he proudly calls "Greek-Americans," says he often receives letters or phone calls from people in Greece asking for help or advice about how emigrate. "People have sent me their resumes. But we're not an employment agency," he says.

Still, for the Greek families who stayed put in Astoria, there's something comforting about this second generation of arrivals. It's hard to say for sure, but at the recent Greek Independence Day Parade, the turnout seemed bigger than usual.

Read the original article in French

Photo - flickr4jazz

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!