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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 5 Memories and Movies


In this concluding part of the book, I want to specifically address the key role that popular cinema has played in helping to shape a sense of an Italian consciousness, as it was understood by Italian émigrés to Britain.1 In the following chapters, I will be assessing the impact of the films that they saw prior to arriving as bulk recruitment immigrant workers in the 1950s. Importantly, 1955 was the year that saw cinema attendance figures at their highest, with 819 million people going to the cinema in Italy.2 In the same year that my father and many of his paesani3 left a small town in Sicily (Aragona, Province of Agrigento) for reasons of both poverty and unemployment, Italy’s economic miracle happened.4 In part, this miracle was made visible through the huge popularity of the cinematic experi- ence: ‘We had nothing but we could always af ford to go to the cinema.’5 As many were preparing to leave Italy, the cinema acted as a unifying factor in energising the creation of the memories that were to go on to have a significant role in the lives of the Italian diasporic community in Britain. This chapter will explore what some of these films were and will go on to question how one can begin to consider their impact on these migrants. It is a particular intention of this chapter to specifically address the films that were felt to be significant by those Italian émigrés that I interviewed, 1 For...

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