Saturday, January 12, 2019

Another Take on Elia Kazan's "America, America"

Last night I watched Elia Kazan’s award winning 1963 film, America, America.  (Among Kazan’s two-dozen films are On the Waterfront, East of Eden, A Gentlemen’s Agreement, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Splendor in the Grass). It’s the autobiographical story of his Greek family’s flight from Turkey to the US at the turn of the 20th Century.  I’ve seen it many times, and never fail to be moved by the sacrifice and determination shown by poor, third world immigrants driven by the thought of making it to America for a new beginning.  Every American born to US citizenship should see this film if only for a better understanding of what those not blessed to be born here are willing to endure for the chance of making a life in America.
I know that subject is topical, but that’s not why I watched the film or wrote the preceding paragraph. In fact, I planned on following up on that opening paragraph with an upbeat portrait of how things are looking for Greece this summer, inspired by reports that tourism in 2019 will exceed even last year’s record setting numbers.
That should be good for the economy. Yay.  But then I started reading through the Greek newspapers (English language versions), as I do most mornings, and lo and behold I saw a series of headlines that gave me pause.  Here they are in bold, straight from The National Herald, America’s largest circulation Greek newspaper.
Greece’s Jobless Rate Falls to 18.2%, Lowest Since 2011
That’s down from a high of 27.9% in 2013, but for those under 25 years old, there’s a 38.5% jobless rate, down 2.8% from a year ago. Neither percentage reflects the 700,000 (92% professionals and college graduates) who since 2010 have fled this country of less than eleven million. The government—up for election this year—is touting these jobless rates as good news, even though they remain the highest among the nineteen Euro-based economies, and are higher than US Great Depression unemployment rates at the same point in that financial crisis.

Greece’s 3.94 Euros [$4.49] Minimum Wage Among EU’s Lowest

As measured in purchasing power, among European Union members Greece’s minimum wage exceeds only Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Bulgaria, and outside of Europe it trails all countries described but Brazil. It is a situation reflective of long ailing economies compounded by relatively high costs for goods, food, and fuel.  Government promises to change all of that have not come to pass.

Buried by Tax Hikes, Greeks Can’t Pay, Debts to State Soar
Greeks are buried under tax hikes they cannot pay, private sector bank deposits continue to fall precipitously, and debts owned to the State have jumped to over eleven billion dollars—“most seen as uncollectable,” because years have passed and much is owed by businesses “no longer in existence.”

To put all of this into more detailed perspective, you might want to consult an article I came across in The New York Times, written by Nikos Konstandaras, entitled, “Greece’s Great Hemorrhaging.” On the point about debt he wrote, “But not only is the public debt greater than it was in 2009; citizens’ incomes have been slashed, their assets devalued, their property lost, their debts multiplied.”

Yes, Greece is a tourist paradise, nothing like the Turkey depicted in America, America that drove Kazan’s family to emigrate.  But for those at the turn of the 21st Century who bear the brunt of Greece’s continuing economic crisis—and do not share in the fruits of its flourishing tourism, or see a light at the end of the nation’s tunnel of ever constricting economic measures—they’re worried about what will become of them and their families.

It’s how responsible families think…leading some to become refugees.

I think I’ll watch America, America again.



  1. The situation in Greece is horrible still. What a mess.
    Of course, there is a mess over here for the 800,000 federal workers not receiving paychecks for an alleged reason that needs no discussion here.

    A friend whose relatives came to the U.S., from Eastern Europe, fleeing anti-Jewish pogroms, as did my maternal grandparents, reminded me that many of these refugees had no documents. They grabbed whatever funds they could and their children and ran for their lives.

    This should be remembered. And it's probably true of people of many nationalities.

    My Irish relatives fled hunger and poverty, among other ills.

    None of them lived well. I remember this every day when I see the White House's frenzied hostility to these poor refugee families.

    1. Each wave of immigrants seems to be met with hostility on the part of many who forget that their own ancestors faced the same sort of antipathy.

  2. I read that article in the NYT too, and thought 'Jeff should read this'. My next thought was, 'Of course, he already has...'

    1. Thanks for the brain wave energy, Michael. I'm certain that's what led me to finding it...and avoid wallowing in the news out of D.C.

  3. Neighbors who are suspicious of migrants forget that one person's ancestors were immigrants and the other person is a European immigrant. I think there's some bigotry involved here, unfortunately, among nice people.