Italian American Cultural Fictions: From Diaspora to Globalization

by Francesca de Lucia (Author)
©2017 Thesis 182 Pages


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.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Emblematic Ethnicity: Fictions of the Italian American
  • Italian Americans from a Mainstream Perspective
  • Documenting Fascism and World War II in an Italian American Perspective
  • Fictions and Memoirs of the Italian American War Experience
  • Representations of Italian American Internment
  • Domestication of Ethnicity: The Fictions of Women
  • Italian Americans in Jewish and African American Cinema
  • Latent Ethnicity: Metamorphoses of Italian American Identity
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Series index

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I would like to express my gratitude to the following people who offered support and guidance for this project.

The present work would not have seen the light of day without the assistance of Professor Paul Giles, who first helped me with its development in Oxford.

I would also like to thank Professor John Paul Russo for his advice on the section on fascism and Italian Americans; this was also the basis for my article in Italian Americana (de Lucia, 2008), which was awarded the prize for the best historical article of 2008.

My thanks also go to the Italian Association of American Studies and in particular to Professor Stefano Luconi, who has offered academic insights and friendship throughout the years.

The members of the Polish Association of American Studies, and in particular Professor Dominika Ferens and Dr Ewa Antoczek, gave me stimulating suggestions and warm hospitality as the biennial conferences have been an opportunity to explore at length various aspects of research on the United States and different places in Poland.

Professor Agnieszka Soltysik and Professor John Blair first opened my eyes to the universe of American studies.

Professor Benedetto Bongiorno of the University of Palermo provided precious information on Sicilian dialects.

Professor Holli Schauber of the University of Geneva allowed me truly to understand the Italian American educator Leonardo Covello’s idea that “the heart is the teacher”.

I am indebted to Rita Ciresi and Anthony Giardina for answering my questions in such an enlightening way and allowing me an insight into their narratives.

I would also like to thank my family, including my parents, my aunt Luisa de Lucia, and Giuseppe Trautteur, as well as my friends scattered in various parts of the world.

The final revision of the volume took place while I was in China, teaching first at Zhejiang Normal University in Jinhua, and later at Minzu University of China in Beijing. Spending more than two years in the People’s ← 7 | 8 → Republic of China certainly modified my outlook on matters of literature, ethnicity and identity. I would therefore like to thank all the people, Chinese or not, who helped me discover this world, in particular Ruan Beyi and Maryia Yastreblyanska, and all the Chinese students who were patient enough to attend my classes.

Finally, special thanks go to someone who will never read this book but who nevertheless gave unwavering and indispensable support: “the cat would come here and curl on the rug, and there was a stillness, a special grace […] that the cat brought to the room” (DeLillo, 2016).

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What does a reflection on Italian American identity imply at a time when Italy is no longer a starting point for migrants but a destination for them, sometimes in extremely dramatic circumstances? Originally writing in the summer of 2013, at the height of the still tragically unresolved refugee crisis on the island of Lampedusa, off the coast of Sicily, the Neapolitan author Erri de Luca noted that

in one or two generations’ time, having landed on this island on a makeshift boat will be a title of nobility. The grandchildren who will have become members of the leading class will boast that they go back to a grandparent thrown by the waves in Lampedusa. (my translation, De Luca, 2015, p. 82)

Here, De Luca is envisioning Lampedusa as a kind of Ellis Island and hinting at the process that has brought Italians in the United States from a position of destitution and marginality at the beginning of the twentieth century to one of meaningful presence in various sectors of American life, including politics and show business.

After eliciting little interest from the old country for decades, the plight of the millions of Italians who emigrated to various destinations, and, in particular, to the United States, is becoming an object of attention both from the academic point of view, as reflected in the publication of volumes such as Storia dell ’Emigrazione Italiana (Bevilacqua et al., 2002) or Francesco Durante’s two-volume anthology of Italian American literature (Durante, 2001 and 2005), and from a more popular one, as shown by the success of Gian Antonio Stella’s book, L’Orda: Quando gli Albanesi eravamo noi (Stella, 2002), or the RAI documentary Pane Amaro: Quando I Migranti Eravamo Noi (Norelli, 2011). These latter two works emphasize in their titles how a parallel might be drawn between the sometimes suppressed and censored memories of Italian emigration and the often-controversial questions surrounding the current presence of immigrants from the Third World or Eastern Europe in Italy.

The beginnings of Italian America were difficult: immigration was prompted after the unification of Italy in 1861 as a way to relieve demographic pressure in the impoverished areas of the south of the peninsula, ← 9 | 10 → known as the Mezzogiorno. Immigrants escaped the miseria and a climate of social oppression to encounter new forms of exploitation as well as nativist discrimination in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. Currently, more than a century after the first significant waves of Italian immigration, the group’s historical trajectory has reached a stage where it is interwoven with that of other ethnic groups as well as with the American mainstream, through a series of exchanges and mutual influences.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (June)
Italian Americans Literature Immigration Ethnicity American Studies
Bern, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 180 pp.

Biographical notes

Francesca de Lucia (Author)

Francesca de Lucia is an Italian and Swiss double national. She is currently teaching at Minzu University of China in Beijing, and has previously worked as an associate professor at Zhejiang Normal University. She holds a PhD from the University of Oxford. The focus of her research is on ethnicity and American identity in literature.


Title: Italian American Cultural Fictions: From Diaspora to Globalization
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184 pages