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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 4 Cultural Identity and Assimilation


In the Western philosophical tradition, there is a pervasive prejudice against, and a deep fear of, any consideration of the individual as a category of expe- rience and knowledge: ‘What is individual or singular is always relegated to the level of idiosyncrasy, and thus, by definition, outside knowledge and theory.’1 With this in mind, this chapter will address the idea of cultural assimilation by looking at some of the lived experiences of the diasporic Italian/British community members. As the previous chapters illustrate, the consumption of cultural expression emerges from a complex set of rela- tionships between the focus of this expression and the actual experience of cultural formation. A variety of dif ferent aspects of this experience will be considered, and both the historical and cultural markers of the Italian presence in Britain are considered throughout. Cultural stereotyping and its representation will be investigated alongside other mediated versions of the Italian diasporic experience in Britain.2 All stereotypes are based on grains of authenticity and the power of the cinematic image is not to be underestimated in its ability to formulate an understanding of oneself that is actually a mirror of a larger perception based on fantasy: ‘I always felt I let the side down, like I wasn’t Italian enough for the British and then never British enough when I was in Italy with my family. I never fitted in, where ever I was. 1 Patrizia Violi, ‘Language and the Female Subject,’ in Of f Screen: Women and Film in...

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