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Migrant Memories

Cultural History, Cinema and the Italian Post-War Diaspora in Britain

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Margherita Sprio

Migrant Memories provides an innovative perspective on the power of cultural memory and the influence of cinema on the Italian diaspora in Britain. Based on extensive interviews with Southern Italian migrants and their children, this study offers a fresh understanding of the migrants’ journey from Italy to Britain since the early 1950s. The volume examines how the experience of contemporary Italian identity has been mediated through film, photography and popular culture through the generations. Beginning with an analysis of the films of Frank Capra and Anthony Minghella, the book goes on to address the popular melodramas of Raffaello Matarazzo and ultimately argues that cinema, and the memory of it, had a significant influence on the identity formation of first-generation Italians in Britain. Coupled with this analysis of cinema's relationship to migration, the cultural memory of the Italian diaspora is explored through traditions of education, religion, marriage and cuisine. The volume highlights the complexities of cultural history and migration at a time when debates about immigration in Britain have become politically and culturally urgent.

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Chapter 1 Cultures of Migration

Extract

This part of the book provides an overview of the literature that is specific to Italian migration to Britain and some of the most important historical markers that relate to an Italian presence in Britain will be addressed in relation to diasporic identity formation. Whilst actual images of Italians in Britain were very scarce until the post-war era, Italians in Britain in cinema are still rarely visible, even today.1 Two important historians, Lucio Sponza and Terri Colpi, provide a useful platform for Italian migrant history across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Britain. They both use statistical data as a way of actualising experience and making it factually consistent, but with little accounting for the impact that this data has on the individual Italian migrants concerned. Sponza and Colpi approach their statistical data gathering in dif ferent ways. Sponza utilises the research that he has collated to formulate a focused historical account of a particular period in Britain. Colpi uses a similar approach but centres her thinking on the more visible aspects of cultural identity, with one of her books being a complete visual account of Italian migrants in Britain.2 Other writings that I analyse utilise the secondary experience of Italian migration in order to test out a variety of historical and cultural hypothesis, for example, the work of Gabaccia and Fortier. These two scholars work across dif ferent continents and time planes3 but utilise the diasporic experience to either present an historical account 1 One of the few exceptions...

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