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Italian American Cultural Fictions: From Diaspora to Globalization


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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What does a reflection on Italian American identity imply at a time when Italy is no longer a starting point for migrants but a destination for them, sometimes in extremely dramatic circumstances? Originally writing in the summer of 2013, at the height of the still tragically unresolved refugee crisis on the island of Lampedusa, off the coast of Sicily, the Neapolitan author Erri de Luca noted that

in one or two generations’ time, having landed on this island on a makeshift boat will be a title of nobility. The grandchildren who will have become members of the leading class will boast that they go back to a grandparent thrown by the waves in Lampedusa. (my translation, De Luca, 2015, p. 82)

Here, De Luca is envisioning Lampedusa as a kind of Ellis Island and hinting at the process that has brought Italians in the United States from a position of destitution and marginality at the beginning of the twentieth century to one of meaningful presence in various sectors of American life, including politics and show business.

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