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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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Fictions and Memoirs of the Italian American War Experience

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Italian American authors have generally tended to avoid direct representations of the traumatic phase of the Second World War, suppressing from their collective imagination even the situations where their ethnic background became an advantage, such as during the Allied occupation of Italy, where they could contribute to the appeasement of local populations thanks to their knowledge of local culture and dialects. Overall, Italian American authors have chosen not to represent this experience in literature – or, if they have, they have done so in a perspective that minimizes ethnic elements. For instance, the poet John Ciardi does not address his Italian American identity in his collection based on his experiences as a pilot in the Pacific theatre, Other Skies (Ciardi, 1947), even though the themes of immigration and Italian culture are prominent in his oeuvre, and Mussolini does make an appearance in a poem describing modern Rome. This may be attributed to the fact that combat against the Japanese, who were perceived as being profoundly alien and often almost inhuman, was a deeply different experience from the war in Europe. American soldiers of Italian descent in some cases preferred the East Asian front because in this way they avoided having to antagonize the land of their origins or the potential dilemma of fighting against relatives enrolled in the Italian forces, as noted by Mangione and Morreale in La Storia (1992); yet, Ciardi never mentions this aspect in his poems, nor in his recollection in Studs Terkel’s The Good War...

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