Sunday, 29 July 2012

Greek language maintenance in the diaspora - 2

This post is the second of a series that have been written specifically for the Hellenic New Zealand Congress, which will be holding a conference some time next year.

For the previous part, click here.

Before I began my research work in 1989, there had been only one formal study conducted about the migration patterns of the Greeks in New Zealand by Ian Burnley, originally conducted in 1966 - the year I was born! Burnley's research tells us that Greek people had been coming (and going, because for many immigrants of the time, permanent residence to New Zealand was not a consideration) to New Zealand since 1870: according to the 1874 census figures, there were 41 people in New Zealand of Greek origin (only one was female). Almost all of them were located in the goldfield regions at the time. Some chain migration helped establish a permanent presence of Greek people in New Zealand, mainly in Wellington, with pockets of Greek communities in other parts of New Zealand. The post-WW2 period was when Greeks came to New Zealand in greater numbers, due to the poor economic conditions in Greece, the labour shortage in New Zealand and the successful economic establishment of other Greeks in New Zealand.

Another interesting element of Greek migration to New Zealand lies in the fact that the greatest number of Greek arrivals at any one point in time occurred in the early 1950s, with the arrival of refugees from Romania who were of Greek heritage. They were not able to stay in Romania due to the Ceausescu regime, and had moved themselves to the homeland of their Greek roots, only to find that the impoverished 'mother country' was not able to fulfil their expectations - and so, they made their way to the New World, including New Zealand, mostly coming by sea, on the GOYA. On the surface, these Romanian-Greek displaced persons were not much different from their Greek-born counterparts who were already in New Zealand: they spoke Greek and they were Greek Orthodox christians. But the truth is that they were quite unlike the more settled Greek immigrants: they had already experienced migration once before, they were better educated (most were skilled labourers), and most importantly, their origins were urban, not rural, like the established Greek community of Wellington. In other words, they had already established an urban minority community in their own right, before they came to New Zealand to re-establish themselves,* unlike the predominantly rural immigrants from Greece who had never been part of a minority community.

Burnley also reveals that in the mid-60's, a staggering 90% of the Greek community of Wellington lived in the suburbs of Mt Victoria and Newtown, even though Greek households constituted only 10% of the total number of households in Wellington. But when I picked up on the research more than two decades later, I knew that this was in fact not the case. A sizeable chunk of research was missing; I realised I would have to provide a demographic description of the community before I could continue to describe the linguistic aspects of the community. I wanted to present a picture that was representative of the Greek community of Wellington in 1990.

In order to find out approximately how many people could be included in the Greek community of Wellington, I gathered community member lists from the various Greek special-interest groups: the university students' club, the soccer club, the netball club, the regional Greek associations (ie the Akarnanian, Cretan, Cypriot, Macedonian, Mytilinian and Ionian clubs), as well as the Hutt Valley Greek community members and the main umbrella organisation associated with the Greek Orthodox church in Mt Victoria. According to these combined lists, there were 710 households. Estimating 3 to 4 people per household, this gave a total of 2500-3000 people. Intermarried females were probably not very well covered in any of the lists, having lost their Greek name. It is also important to mention that 'estranged' Greeks (people of Greek origin who do not associate themselves with Greek heritage) have not been included in this figure. But my estimate corresponds with the 1986 census figures for those who stated Greek Orthodox as their religion: 2508** people (Table 2).

Census figures do not always reveal the truth. People are often asked to state where they are born and not what their cultural heritage is, which is a more subjective notion. Even when they are asked about their cultural heritage, they may be asked to choose from a pre-defined list using general notions (eg 'European', rather than 'Greek'). Stating one's religion is even more controversial - your parents may have indoctrinated you into a specific religion, but when you are at an age where you can take part in a census, you may have your own views about that issue. The telephone directory could have been used in a similar way (to locate Greek names), but names are deceiving; I was worried that I would be picking up on a remnant of people's heritage rather than an integral part of their cultural upbringing.

By 1986, census figures showed that there were approximately 1000 people in New Zealand who stated that they were born in Greece or Cyprus. Their offspring were not included in these figures, as they had been born in New Zealand. Neither were those 1950s immigrants of Greek descent who had been born in Romania and other parts of Eastern Europe (Table 1).

The above map shows how I marked the households on my combined lists. 85% of the total households (710) could be mapped in the area bordered by the Kent Terrace running to the coast, and southwards from Adelaide Road to the coast (Island Bay), and then eastwards to the coast. The remaining 15% of addresses were located mainly in the Hutt Valley (north of the map) and on the west side of Adelaide Road. It was hypothesised that those who lived beyond the central Wellington-Greek area would not be maintaining the Greek language at home.
The tables below show in which suburbs the households were located. Nearly 80% were situated in the same general area, while a significant 11.7% were clustered in the Hutt Valley, which forms a part of the Greater Wellington area outside the central city. It is noteworthy that in some suburbs (notably Hataitai and Mt Victoria), there were contiguous households - Greeks neighboured Greeks.

In order to show where Greeks were living in Wellington, I marked the addresses of the households on the special-interest lists on a map of Wellington. Of the 710 households, 559 fell in the same general area. Greeks now lived predominantly in Miramar (where a Greek Orthodox church was also operating), a move away from Mt Victoria (where the main Greek Orthodox church was and still is located), with Island Bay, Hataitai, Kilbirnie, Lyall Bay and the Hutt Valley (with its own Greek Orthodox church) also being well-represented (see maps and tables above).

Interestingly, the Greek state keeps its own records about the Greek population in New Zealand. They used similar sources to my own - but they did not update their sources, so they do not include my own research. That is one of the perennial problems of the Greek state - it is always lagging behind ...

It is now more than two decades after I completed my research. The Greek community will have changed somewhat since then. A new survey needs to be carried out, preferably all over the country, to identify possible cases of growth in numbers through new arrivals due to the European economic crisis. The Greek communities of New Zealand will be plagued by the same problem throughout their development: they are very small and less connected these days. But as I mentioned in a previous post, language maintenance can still be successful when the aim is correctly focussed.

* This led to rifts among the older and newer groups of immigrants, which I won't delve into here.
** Figures often quoted for the Greek community of Wellington are often in the range of 4,000-6,000. In 1990, I came to the figure of 2,500-3,000 using statistically reliant sources. Few people quote my figures - but no one to date describes the way they work out their inflated figures: a case of Greek statistics?  

In the next part of this discussion, I discuss the findings of the data that I collected about Greek language maintenance in the Greek community of Wellington.  

If you are interested in attitudes held in the Greek-New Zealand identity, you may also want to read the following semi-fictional short stories depicting life in New Zealand:
- Sandwich
- Roses chocolates
- The picnic
- The little envelope

You can find more of my writing about identity and New Zealand throughout my blog.

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