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Italian American Cultural Fictions: From Diaspora to Globalization


Francesca de Lucia

This book focuses on the development of Italian American cultural identity throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

Italy is becoming a destination, rather than a starting point for immigrants. Immigration remains a source of tension and debate both in the United States and in Europe. Analyzing the evolution of Italian American identity, from diaspora to globalization, from emblematic to latent ethnicity, can thus prove insightful.

Disparate works, including novels, films and newspaper articles, both by Italian and non-Italian American authors illustrate this paradigm. The catalyst for this transformation is the Second World War, which allowed Italian Americans to take part in the struggle to liberate Italy from Fascism, establishing in this way a connection with their roots while adhering more closely to mainstream American society through participation in the conflict. Post-war expressions of Italian American culture include the development of women’s writing, cinematic interactions with American Jews and African Americans, and the works of two novelists, Don DeLillo and Anthony Giardina, who embody different aspects of latent ethnicity.

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The starting point of the metaphorical journey undertaken by Italian Americans can be located in the reflections of Henry James in The American Scene (James, [1904]1993), which were discussed at the beginning of this work. James expresses a sense of incommunicability in his interaction with Southern Italian immigrants, noting the impossibility of: “the play of mutual recognition, founded on old familiarities and heredities, and involving, for the moment, some impalpable exchange.” Throughout the twentieth century, Italian Americans have succeeded in establishing precisely such processes of recognition and exchange by engaging in a creative dialogue both with the dominant culture and with other minorities. It may also be noted that some of James’ observations on immigrant presence in the United States almost seem to anticipate aspects of latent ethnicity; despite a process of assimilation that he considers unavoidable, he wonders about the possibility of the subsequent re-emergence of the positive traits that he attributes to immigrants:

It has taken long ages of history, in the other world, to produce [their various positive properties] and you ask yourself, with independent curiosity, if they may really be thus extinguished in an hour. And if they are not extinguished, into what pathless tracts of the native atmosphere do they virtually, do they provisionally, and so all undiscoverably, melt? Do they burrow underground, to await their day again? – or in what strange secret places are they held in deposit and in trust? Isn’t it conceivable that […] the business of slow...

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