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Migrant Memories

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


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 2 Historicising the Italian Diaspora in Britain


Gabaccia’s final question and a central premise of this book is the follow- ing: whose ‘civiltá’ is at stake when thinking about the diasporic migrant? A contributing theme of this chapter is to further investigate the creation of an Italian identity that negates the idea of a mediated commercial pres- ence of Italians that is the stereotyped image throughout the world, and one that is the most common representation of Italianicity throughout the world: ‘It is not the civiltá Italiana of the largest of Italy’s diaspora, the ones formed by the workers of the world as they travelled the globe ceaselessly in search of economic security’.1 The other parallel image is that of the mafia, and this is another creation under consideration here. Gabaccia considers symbols of ‘labour migrants civiltá Italiana’2 through the language of food and mafia associations explored by film directors such as Scorsese.3 She only very brief ly addresses the film industry and sees specific (criminal) Italian representations as an indicator of a particular version of Italian identity that is most commonly understood as being authentic.4 She mentions the characterisations of the Italian criminal in the Mafiosi style from the early era of the 1930s and on to more recent Italian-American representations through the work of the previously mentioned Italian (Sicilian) American director, Martin Scorsese, and his films such as Goodfellas (1990).5 Sadly, 1 Gabaccia, Italy’s Many Diasporas, 188. 2 Ibid, 189. 3 Whom Gabaccia feels has spread these American versions of old Italian stereotypes...

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