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.
Italian Americans in Jewish and African American Cinema
Italian Americans began interacting with other groups in the early decades of the twentieth century. Exchanges – both in the form of phenomena such as moving away from immigrant enclaves or intermarrying and cultural exchanges – became increasingly widespread after the transformations caused by the Second World War. Italian American-derived motifs have had a significant impact on cinema, reflecting not only the influence of artists of Italian descent in the film industry but also the increasing importance of Italian Americans in various sectors of US society. In this perspective, interactions take place between Italian Americans and a broader mainstream as well as with other minorities. In cinema, this tendency is represented by different genres and artists as exemplified in two re-elaborations of the gangster film, Miller’s Crossing (Coen, 1990) and Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog (Jarmusch, 1999), as well as Spike Lee’s (1989) portrayal of Italian American life in Do the Right Thing. Both Miller’s Crossing and Ghost Dog combine aspects derived from Italian American culture with those of other ethnic minorities in a postmodern light. As Jewish American directors, the Coens playfully revisit the image of the 1930s ethnic cinematic gangster, whereas Jarmusch deconstructs the myth of the Italian American Mafioso by fusing together the elements of different ethnic environments and conveying a sense of unreality and alienation. On the other hand, Lee’s bold, vivid evocation of racial tensions in Brooklyn explores both the decadence of Italian American communities and the possibility of more positive interactions that could defy bigotry...
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