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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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Representations of Italian American Internment

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The wartime persecution and internment of non-naturalized Italian Americans, which took place on the West Coast in 1941 and 1942, have been generally removed from the group’s cultural consciousness, as was to a lesser extent the more prolonged anti-Japanese American campaign. In the case of Japanese Americans, the trauma of mass relocation has eventually become a key defining experience after the first phase of suppression in the early post-war period. It occupies a central space in Japanese American literature: both in the works of direct witnesses of the camps (Toshio Mori, Hisaye Yamamoto), and in those of younger authors inspired by familial memories (Ranha Reiko Rizzuto, Julie Otzuka). On the other hand, the less disruptive experience of the West Coast Italians who were arrested or temporarily deprived of their livelihoods in the course of 1942 has very limited echoes in creative writing, and chiefly appears in a few brief memoirs, such as those collected in Lawrence DiStasi’s Una Storia Segreta (DiStasi, 2001). Many of these pieces tend to minimize the impact of the anti-Italian measures, and do not express disillusionment or rancour towards the American government. For instance, Velio Alberto Bronzini describes the experience of his parents, who lost a thriving produce business and could reopen it only when they succeeded in becoming naturalized:

My parents never held any hard feelings towards this country. They always felt like they were responsible for what happened. My father often said that the biggest mistake they ever made was...

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