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Italian American Cultural Fictions: From Diaspora to Globalization

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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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Emblematic Ethnicity: Fictions of the Italian American

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In his article “A Literature Considering Itself: The Allegory of Italian Americana”, Viscusi ([1991]2006) claims that, while the Anglo-Saxon Protestant mainstream identifies its origins as a group in the sense of religious mission articulated by the Pilgrims, the role of Italians is that of demiurges who create America. As they gave a name and form to a previously unknown mass of land, Columbus and Vespucci function, in Viscusi’s words, as “primeval progenitors or projectors of the very ontology of the New World” (Viscusi 2006, p. 151). From this point of view, Italians in the United States are endowed with the status of a creating deity. This is visible not only in the memories of the era of the great explorations but also, for instance, in the expression “making America” used by immigrants to indicate having success in the United States. Moreover, Italians frequently became construction workers, which allowed them to think of themselves as literally fabricating American cities, often at a very high risk. Yet this myth of the Italian American’s divine creative role is interlinked with the notion of the sufferings endured by immigrants, sufferings brought about in the old country by the upper classes of Italian society but also through forms of systematic discrimination imposed by better established ethnic groups in America. Hence, the divine role of the immigrant becomes that of a suffering Christ figure, as the first Italians who settled in the United States were strongly marginalized and perceived themselves as humiliated victims,...

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