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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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Italian Americans from a Mainstream Perspective

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As Italian Americans began to create their own narratives in the early decades of the twentieth century, mainstream America also displayed an interest in the world of Italian immigrants, suggesting the establishment of exchanges between communities as well as the gradual diffusion of Italian American culture in a broader context. Two prominent images emerged in this context: that of Sacco and Vanzetti, whose tragic ordeal had a strong impact on the American collective imagination, giving a wider dimension to the myth of the martyred immigrant. Furthermore, the two Italian anarchists’ efforts to appropriate the hegemonic culture and its language indicate an early form of appropriation of the mainstream culture on the part of Italian Americans, albeit in paradoxical and highly traumatic circumstances. These elements are highlighted in the works of two non-ethnically identified authors, John Dos Passos and Upton Sinclair, who focus on the Sacco–Vanzetti case respectively in USA (Dos Passos, [1938]1960) and Boston, August, 1927 (Sinclair, [1928]1975).

Italian Americans began to occupy a more central position in the 1920s and 1930s, in a completely different form, not as ideological martyrs or victims of social and ethnic intolerance but rather as transgressing figures who were the object of fear but also of veiled admiration. Indeed, the Prohibition years and their aftermath saw the development of the character of the gangster in popular literature and, more significantly, in cinema. While the portrayal of Italian Americans as criminals (generally inspired by Al Capone) may suggest...

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