While researching The Woman Left Behind, I had to deep-dive into my memory and the memories of others to retrieve stories about Greeks escaping their poor villages in search of a new life, money, and sometimes just adventure. Their arrival into the USA during the first decades of the 20th century found bigotry in the streets, in the newspapers and in the laws of the land. It was far worse than anyone expected it to be. So many Greeks I interviewed pretended otherwise and I struggled to understand their embarrassment. If I pressed them, they quietly revealed the truth.
Stratis Mizetras entered the USA in the early years of the 20th century. It was a time Americans felt free to express their intolerance for foreigners as usurpers, aliens and job stealers. They wanted them to become Americans faster: change their dress, change their names, change the way they looked and spoke. They wanted them to pledge their allegiance and look grateful. However, by 1920, they wanted them to leave.
The American dream for many was a nightmare. Bigotry was a disease that was easily transmitted. It became a contagion when presented with ideas and slogans by politicians and media barons as being reasonable. There were many excuses: they are stealing our jobs, they are swarthy, smelly and shifty looking, and they don’t want to fit in. Besides, they don’t look or act like us.
The Ku Klux Klan began as an anti-migrant movement, especially the darker skinned Italians and Greeks. From coast to coast they shouted for Americans to boycott their businesses. The Immigration Restriction League said America was not for ‘those inferior races’. In Omaha, an entire Greek neighborhood was burned down, forcing Greeks to leave the city. In the state of Washington, hundreds were force to flee by train or boat. In Idaho, Greeks were not allowed to walk in public parks while being labeled thieves, crooks and degenerates. America developed a mob ideology, forgetting the Bill of Rights and the famous words at the base of the Statue of Liberty. By 1924, the infamous Johnson Reed Act made sure southern Europeans were no longer wanted. Both Democrats and Republicans convinced congress, but we don’t read about this in history books, do we? Unfortunately, there is an American amnesia about this recurring ugliness. It always returns with a disguise” stealing jobs, anti-Christian, clandestine clothing, dark skin, big noses.
Today in the USA and around the world, this is happening again and rehashing the same excuses, trying to revive the bigot’s creed