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"Repats" make Greece home

Descendants of Greek migrants find that the old country doesn't feel like home.

Thousands of people wave Greek and American flags while watching the Greek Independence Day parade on Fifth Ave. in New York, March 28, 2004. (Jeff Christensen/Reuters)

ATHENS — In the second half of the 20th century, poverty and instability drove more than a million Greeks to leave their homeland. Now many of their children, and grandchildren, are coming back.

Drawn by the pull of their roots and the slower pace of life in Europe, thousands of hyphenated Greeks are returning to their ancestral land. But these “repatriates” often find life here isn’t as simple as they expected.

As a child, Greek-American Anna Haughton spent summers in Greece with the family of her Athens-born mother. She considered herself Greek and thought every American went “home” to their country during school vacations.

Now 47, Haughton has been living in Athens for the past six years. She doesn’t regret the move, but says it’s changed the way she thinks of herself.

“I love Greece. I feel like this is my second home, if not my first home, “ said Haughton, a U.S.-trained lawyer who helps Greek-Americans settle property disputes. “I feel less Greek living here. I feel more American.”

There are no exact statistics on the number of returned Greeks, but according to the U.S. Department of State, there are between 90,000 and 100,000 American passport holders in Greece, and most of them are dual citizens. Thousands of Greek-Canadians, Greek-Australians and other members of the diaspora have also claimed Greek citizenship under a law that grants passports to anyone who can prove they have a parent or grandparent who was a Greek citizen.

A number of other European countries, such as Italy and Ireland, also grant the right of return to members of the diaspora and have experienced similar waves of returnees.

Most Greek “repatriates” have close family connections in Greece and many, like Haughton, have inherited property here. But they also often struggle with language and cultural differences — and the perceptions of other Greeks.