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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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Domestication of Ethnicity: The Fictions of Women

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One of the most relevant aspects of the changes caused by the Second World War was that after 1945 women writers of Italian descent started to express themselves in significant numbers. This in itself reflects the evolution of Italian Americans during the war years and their aftermath, since women in the early immigrant community had limited opportunities for self-expression and individual assertion as a result of living in “the culture that silence[d] their ethnicity and the ethnicity that silence[d] their gender” (Giunta, 2002, p. 81). The struggle to overcome this situation had repercussions both on the thematic and stylistic choices of Italian American women writers. Italian American women started writing fiction in English at a later stage than men, towards the middle of the twentieth century when, as a result of the transformations caused by the Second World War, Italian Americans were leaving immigrant enclaves, adopting a middle-class lifestyle and generally acquiring a more self-assured identity. This situation gave women greater agency, as well as giving them the opportunity to engage in creative writing. Consequently, women writers of Italian descent have a different perspective on early immigrant history and on the founding myths created by male writers, which are usually based on the ideas of work and social martyrdom. The first group of Italian American female authors is characterized by Northern Italian descent and their texts reflect an immigrant experience that often differs from that of writers originating from the Mezzogiorno. These factors mean that the...

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