Southern Variant Theory

Time of arrival, the nature of the available labor markets, and the size of the Greek community all contributed to determining the region in which one would settle. Rates of adaptation regionally compare the seed of adaptation in the North and the South. Charles Moskos coined the term “southern variant” in order to explain the rate of selective adaptation between the two regions.[1] Southern variant is the idea that Greeks who immigrated to the southern region were able to achieve “economic and residential upward mobility faster and in greater proportion than Greeks elsewhere.” Greek immigrants in the south were able to do so because they realized earlier than others that America would become their permanent home and therefore began to adapt earlier into Greek Americans.[2] Georgakas states “all barriers to economic, social, and political advance were lifted when it was clear the immigrants has transferred their cultural and political allegiance to their new nation.”[3] Because Greeks began adapting earlier to American culture in the south they were able to hold better relations with white customers which would only help their income. In addition changing ones surname was common for Greeks in the South because it helped them to not stand out as much. Odzack states that “name change only works in society where the host is okay with the immigrant blending.”[4] This statement illuminates that Southerners wanted Greek immigrants to adapt to their society and not stick out. The biggest difference for Greek immigrants in the south being able to achieve upward mobility sooner than those in the North is due to African Americans being at the bottom of the food chain in the South. This helped deflect “stereotypical dislike from members of the dominant society.”[5] It is suggested in the book Demetrios is Now Jimmy that so long as Greeks imitated the attitude of other whites in regards to racial codes they would be able to do well.

A common advantage for southern Greeks was due to self-employment. Many Greeks in Alexandria in the later years were either self-employed or worked for family or a family friend from their home country. Odzack points out that “family would learn the business then go into it themselves.”[6] Economic prosperity fueled many Greeks in the South to adapt. Southern Greek immigrants followed a method of selective adaptation to American culture. Selective adaptation is the willingness to accommodate coupled with calculated resistance on the ways of their new environment.[7] Success was particularly important to Greek men. The concept of honor, a strong concern for how others perceived them and an innate competitiveness only drove Greeks to strive for upward mobility.[8]

Unlike citizen with large Greek enclaves, Greek merchants dealt with local clientage creating daily interactions with Americans. Interacting with Americans regularly presented the need and opportunity to learn English and imitate local habits. It was important to the idea of the Southern Variant that Greeks were not at the bottom of the food chain in the South. Because African’s were the most looked down upon in the south, it helped draw away from the stereotypical dislike members of the dominant society would have for Greeks. [9] Odzack states, “the significant number of blacks raised immigrant one up on the chain, easing their entry into social and commercial circles.”[10] Greeks would follow the Jim Crow laws of the South. Although Greeks could and would work in both white and black areas of town, and employ blacks, Greeks learned to observe strict segregation practices. It was not uncommon to for Greeks to hire African American workers and have them work alongside the rest of their family members. But proximity would not and did not bring solidarity.[11]


Below is an example of a Greek immigrant in Alexandria who supports the southern variant theory.



[1] Odzak, “Demetrios Is Now Jimmy, 10.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dan Georgakas, “The Now and Future Greek America: Strategies for Survival,” Journal of Modern Hellenism, no. 21/22 (Winter2004/2005 2004): 2.

[4] Odzak, 67.

[5] Ibid, 47

[6] Ibid, 17

[7] Ibid, 20

[8] Ibid., 61.

[9] Ibid, 61

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid