Greek Emigration to Latin America: 1900-1950 by Alexander Kitroeff

By Alexander Kitroeff

Published in the Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora, Vol 26/1 - Year 2000


ALEXANDER KITROEFF teaches European History at Haverford College.. 


From the article:

There are currently about 50,000 Greeks living throughout Latin America, most of whom emigrated after the Second World War (Agapitidis, 1964; Katsomalos 1972). Earlier, emigration from Greece to Latin America, during the first half of the twentieth century, was so small it hardly seems worth the trouble examining. Only a few thousand people left Greece, or the Greekinhabited regions of the Ottoman empire, and settled in Latin America. By comparison, over the same period almost half a million Greeks emigrated to the United States. Between 1900 and 1945, even Canada witnessed the arrival of many more Greeks than any single Latin American country. Nonetheless, Greek emigration to Latin America, despite its small proportions, offers researchers a chance to test theories about emigration, during the first half of the twentieth century, that have been developed on the basis of the North American experience. For if one is going to come up with an overall understanding of this phenomenon, in this particular era, one does have to take into account the entire spectrum of Greek emigration. Thus, despite its small proportions, Greek movement toward Latin America, before the Second World War, cannot be ignored. The generally accepted conclusions drawn from studying emigration to the United States in the early twentieth century, can be summed up as follows: the persons emigrating were not the poorest, most were seeking to make money as quickly as possible, and, connected to this, most of them were initially planning on a short stay. The wave of Greek emigration to the United States, which involved roughly 400,000 persons between the 1890s and the early 1920s, was prompted by the collapse of the price of currants, which had become a major export. A blight on French vines was a boon to Greek production, centered mainly in Peloponessos, but when French vines recovered, the price of Greek currants dropped precipitously. Research has shown that the emigrants, primarily from Peloponessos, left Greece in an attempt to find ways to preserve the new, higher standard of living they had achieved during the currant boom of the 1870s-1880s. Several studies have suggested that family-based interests, including keeping up with the high price of dowries, that was a result of the economic boom, propelled many Greeks to emigrate. At any rate, there is a great deal of evidence that shows it was the relatively wealthier inhabitants of rural Greece who were the first to emigrate (Kitroeff, 1999).

Their motivation made the emigrants choose mostly urban occupations that would guarantee high wages, either in manufacturing or in the service sector. Virtually none of them chose to settle in rural areas and pursue farming, which entailed a more long-term commitment in the New World and a much longer wait for financial gains. By the same token, they did not plan to stay longer than a few years in the United States. Although easy and quick profit was not something all could achieve, the high incidence of return migration, more than 25 percent of the total arrivals in the early twentieth century, confirms that many did not plan to settle permanently across the Atlantic.

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