Book Review: The Italian-American Experience — One other Immigration Story
At a time when immigration reform is once more difficult this immigrant nation, this time involving the Hispanics, it is useful to be reminded of another group that, like the Hispanics, first met with a less-than-warm welcome but eventually earned a seat and voice at the American desk: the Italian-Americans.
Explorers Emigrants Citizens: A visual History of the Italian American Experience provides that reminder, with a rich assemblage of archival photos, maps, posters, and letters culled from the vast holdings of The Library of Congress, along with text that sets the settings of various chapters of the Italian-American story. A multi-author work, the lead authors are Linda Barrett Osborne, a former senior writer and editor at the Library and a fourth-generation Italian-American, and Paolo Battaglia.
Like the excellent mini-series Latinos broadcast earlier this year on PBS, Explorers Emigrants Citizens steps manner back to tell the Italian-American saga from first contact with the Americas, with Christopher Columbus being only one of many explorers. These explorers forged their approach for imperial and commercial gain but also out of the questing spirit of the Renaissance. Beautiful archival maps accompanying the text give a sense of the unknown reaches the explorers faced and had to fill in.
The e book then focuses on the huge waves of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century, when Italian laborers came to these shores to do the arduous work of building this country’s cities, roads, bridges, churches. At one time half of all stone masons in the U.S. had been Italian-Individuals. But the newcomers were not always welcome, seen instead as competition by earlier immigrant groups who most well-liked that the ranks of labor be replenished by their own British and North European stock. Thus the “clannishness” of the newcomers, as they sought solace in their own neighborhoods, mutual aid associations, social clubs, and the Roman Catholic church; ultimately, an estimated forty percent of the newcomers returned to Italy.
The authors do not shrink from addressing this harsh reality, when Italians have been openly referred to as “wops,” “dagos,” and “guineas,” not only by the larger public but in addition in the media. After African-Americans, Italians suffered the most number of lynchings of any population group in the U.S. The hurt of stigma was conveyed by the newcomers in letters stone island mesh badge home to the old nation. Nor do the authors shy from addressing the mobster reputation hooked up to Italian-Americans that began with the real Al Capone during Prohibition and prevails as we speak, with the fictional Tony Soprano in the popular Tv series The Sopranos.
But the authors’ higher purpose is to show the rich tapestry of the entire Italian-American experience, beyond stereotype, and here the e book shines, particularly as visible historical past. Filmmaker Martin Scorsese introduces the guide, a considerably anomalous selection, provided that some of his films (Mean Streets, Good Fellas) reinforce the lawless stereotype; he does write movingly of growing up in New York’s Little Italy, which today is way lowered in measurement, crowded out by a rising Chinatown.
What compels the reader are the human beings in the a whole bunch of photos — waving to loved ones on the pier in Genoa; crowded in steerage on transport ships to America; being processed at Ellis Island. There are the teeming road scenes of Little Italy, with immigrant distributors and shopkeepers; the teeming slums; and the teeming tenement flats, with a mattress solely toes from the stove, as whole families had to be accommodated in a Island single room. There are the parochial schoolrooms; the night lessons the place adults nonetheless of their work clothes realized English; the religious processions and fiestas. Onerous work is the main impression of these photographs: robust arms and wiry bodies engaged in heavy building and factory work in the city, and beyond the city, in coal mining, farming, orchard work. Because of the need to contribute to the family’s survival, children had been compelled to work, typically in harsh conditions.
Exemplary figures in this early period include Sister Cabrini, later canonized, who established throughout the country an astonishing number of medical facilities, schools, orphanages, and other helping institutions — sixty-seven in all. Lesser identified is New York City detective Joe Petrosino, who led the Italian Squad that fought the “Black Hand” extortion racket and who was key in integrating more Italians into law enforcement.
After World Battle II, the assimilation process eased and Italian-Americans began participating in public life on a large scale. How do we depend the ways In sports, there’s DiMaggio, Rizzuto, Berra, Marciano, Graziano, Montana. In fashionable culture there’s Sinatra, Como, Bennett, De Niro, Pacino, stone island mesh badge Coppola, and Scorsese. And in politics, Italian-Americans finally contended for power — for mayor (LaGuardia and just lately de Blasio in New York City); for governor (Pastore, Rossellini, the Cuomos); and for Congress in increasing numbers, including women (Ferraro, Pelosi).
It was in the world wars that Italian-People made their patriotic level to the larger public, documented in a photographic part that is very shifting. Giant numbers of Italian-American men joined American troops in World Battle I. World Battle II forced a extra painful choice, when the previous country and Mussolini aligned with Hitler. Italian-People fought gallantly for the Allies, with 24 earning the Congressional Medal of Honor, usually in the Pacific theatre and infrequently at the cost of their lives. Stirringly, the authors be aware the 120 Italian-American firefighters, police officers, and rescue personnel who died on 9/eleven.
For many who know and love Italy, Explorers Emigrants Residents does a wonderful job of demonstrating how Italy’s capacity for “humanistic regeneration” has been transplanted in the new World. More a family album than scholarly tract, this volume belongs in the home library. Uncle Vito would love it, certo.
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