Open polis: New Yorker runs for Athenian office
To many Greeks, she is "the chocolate Aphrodite" a television celebrity they call simply "Yvette."Skip to next paragraph
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But to African and other immigrants struggling to make a life in this historically homogeneous country, Yvette Jarvis is something else: an ally.
Born in New York, educated in Boston, this basketball star turned talk-show host, who moved to Athens 20 years ago, hopes to become the first black person elected to municipal office in Greece.
If elected Sunday, Jarvis would take a council seat in a city trying to cope with a massive influx of immigrants and a rising tide of xenophobia.
In recent years, the number of immigrants in Greece has soared to more than a tenth of its 11 million population. Many Greeks blame migrants for rising crime and delinquency. As in other European countries, immigration has become a volatile political question, one few politicians are comfortable with. Jarvis has made it the centerpiece of her campaign.
She wants to trim bureaucratic hurdles in the migrant's path from illegal to legal status. She also criticizes a lack of acceptance of other cultures here and the isolation of immigrants into ghettos.
"Just recalling my own upbringing as a black American, I have a history of knowing exclusion and racism," Jarvis says. "This is a chance for me to be a role model to immigrant children here. So many of those children don't have an identity, and there are no role models here of immigrants succeeding."
Yet her life story is quite different from that of the impoverished, desperate people who wash up on Greece's shores from places such as Albania, Ethiopia, and the Philippines.
Jarvis grew up with four siblings in the tough neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn, then won an academic and athletic scholarship to Boston University, graduating magna cum laude. After falling in love with a Greek basketball player, she moved to Athens, where she was signed on as a player for the leading Panathinaikos basketball team, earning the nickname "Black Diamond."
Ever nimble and increasingly popular, Jarvis later became a cosmetics model an exotic beauty dubbed by Greeks as the "chocolate Aphrodite" and a nightclub singer. Now a Greek citizen and fluent Greek speaker, she debuted as a talk-show host nine years ago.
Jarvis acknowledges that there is a difference between the way Greeks view her as an exotic import and the way they perceive other immigrants. She recalls a woman telling her on the campaign trail that something needed to be done "about those blacks," gesturing to Africans selling wares on the street.
"I'm so familiar to them [Greeks], I'm tous dikous," meaning "one of them," says Jarvis, who frequently switches to Greek in conversation. "I just have to keep reminding them, 'Just like you let me in, you have to let them in,' " Jarvis says. "I also have to remind them that [Greeks] were given a chance [when they immigrated to] other countries."