Italian Americans and the impact of their five centuries of history in America – La Voce di New York


                "We believe that Italian Americans have a history that should generate serious interest on the part of those who care about the history of the United States, Italy, immigration, and globalization ... Contrary to what was previously thought, we know that Italian immigrants came from a rich tradition of social and political activism…. I believe it is a shame that "nativism" has taken hold on many Italian Americans ... It is quite obvious that Italian Americans do not know - or have forgotten - their history as descendants of immigrants .... "              </p><div>
                <p style="text-align: right;"><em>In English</em>

The cover of the Italian edition

On May 1, for the NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò program “Everybody at home” we interviewed historians William J. Connell (Andrew Carnegie Fellow and La Motta Endowed Chair in Italian Studies, of Seton Hall University) e Stanislao Pugliese (Professor of History and Queensboro UNICO Distinguished Professor of Italian and Italian American Studies, of Hofstra University). You can see that interview in the video below, with an introduction by the Professor Stefano Albertini. It was conducted in Italian and was motivated by the publication of the book in Italy History of the Italian Americans, Le Monnier, 2019 (The Routledge History of Italian Americans)

Here we present a more comprehensive version of the same interview, both in English and in Italian. In it, the two editors of the volume, which includes essays written by numerous academics, offer us their answers to the same questions posed in the video in Italian, but this time elaborating on their opinions in a more extensive way.

First of all, let’s try to get a better idea of ​​how this incredible volume came to life. For the first time, we have the work of various authors on the history of Italians in America spanning five centuries, in which the author of each chapter is considered an expert in various academic periods or disciplines. Is it correct to say this?

William J. Connell

William J. Connell: “Obviously we have to thank each of the approximately 40 writers who contributed to what is an easy-to-read and consistent volume, as well as to charitable foundations UNIQUE National and the Shooting Club who gave us financial support. TO Maddalena Tirabassi our deepest gratitude for your work with us as editor of the new edition in Italian. Three of our authors, Francesco Durante, JoAnne Ruvoli and Robert Viscusi unfortunately, they have died in the past three years, and each of them played a crucial role as the volume took shape. There are a number of factors that have come into play in putting the project together. First of all, Stan and I felt the need for a rigorous academic-Italian story instead of repeating old ethnic stories and fables (however fascinating or tragic these may be) and focusing on the vast scope of the experience. Italian-American. Second, the Italian American Studies subject has grown in universities in the United States and also in Italy, but in the past scholars both in Italy and in the United States often followed divergent agendas regarding the Italian diaspora, and this was an opportunity to make them work together. Third, we need a good textbook for our students – many of whom wonder what the term means. “Italian-American ”today, and if it will have a meaning in the future. Fourth, we wanted to model our project on the great collaborative stories produced in Italy – the best known those of Einaudi and UTET – and this offered us a means to bring together the various methods and discoveries of a vital and enthusiastic community of prominent scholars. One last observation. There is a risk of studying any ethnic group that becomes self-centered – what a species of omphaloskepsis (admiring one’s navel) prevails, if only Italian Americans study Italian Americans, so that within the academy a kind of ghettoization can be achieved. We are of the opinion that Italian Americans have a history that should generate serious interest on the part of those interested in the history of the United States, Italy, immigration, globalization and many other issues. For my part, the fact is that I am not an Italian American – the name Connell is Irish – but I think this is an important and fascinating field to work on. “

Stanislao Pugliese

Stanislao G. Pugliese (Photo Marion Ettlinger)

Stanislao G. Pugliese: “Bill realized the need for this volume and he deserves credit for convincing UNICO National and the Target Shooting Club of its relevance. The subject matter is so vast and the research so abundant that no single person could be qualified to write a book of this size. This is why the collective nature of the project. The three dozen contributors were extraordinary in working with us, accepting suggestions and presenting the work on time, with professionalism and dedication, were truly an inspiration. Studies on Italian Americans have now reached such a point where we must confront colleagues in other disciplines. Having established the foundations for our field of study, we can now invite our colleagues in other disciplines to dialogue, such as gender studies and work studies with the idea of ​​how history is the basis and the indispensable foundation for the whole erudition of the future “.

The English Edition

This interview takes place on May 1: many Italians in Italy do not know that Italian Americans were protagonists of the trade union movement at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Of course, in the United States, the first day of May is no longer celebrated (Labor Day is in September), yet then the struggles for labor rights saw the Italians in America at the forefront of organizing the strikes. Why were the Italians among the main protagonists of the struggles for workers’ rights in America?

WJC: “It is true that in most of the world, May 1st is celebrated as Labor Day. It also happened in the United States, until the late 1800s. But after the tragedy of Chicago in Haymarket Square where 17 protesting workers were killed by the police on May 4, the fact that the dates are so close frightened the authorities, who worried that the celebration of May 1 would actually turn into a commemoration of the Haymarket “martyrs”. So the government moved Labor Day to this country in early September, a “neutral” day which, as has been explained, is equidistant between Independence Day (4th July) and Thanksgiving (late November). As for the role of Italian Americans in the workers’ movement, in the early years of immigration, so to speak between 1880 and 1890, the fact is that a large number of Italian new arrivals were hired as “scabs” – to break the strikes. Agents there they enlisted in places like New York or Boston and then sent them without much of an explanation to places in the interior – mines and farms – to take the work of regular employees who were on strike. Since 1890, however, with the arrival from Italy of socialists and anarchists, the so-called “subversives”, which are described by the historian Marcella Bencivenni, it is these immigrants who give leadership and union skills that they had already acquired in Italy, and could speak (and publish newspapers and magazines) in the Italian language, so that a large number of Italian American workers were organized. After this, Italian American workers have become quite relevant within the unions, and their leaders have become prominent in the workers’ movement. “

SGP: “Contrary to what was previously believed – that Italians arrived in the USA without a political conscience – we know that Italian immigrants came from a rich tradition of social and political activism. This is contrary to Edward Banfield’s thesis that southern Italians were paralyzed by what he called the “Amoral familism.” They had been members of peasant leagues and agricultural cooperatives, Catholic mutual aid associations, the CGL (General Labor Confederation) and active in socialist and anarchist movements. Carlo Tresca it was the most famous and the most extravagant and Sacco and Vanzetti they were the most tragic. But there were many others, including Italian American women who played a very active role. On May 1 in America he was then associated with these radicals; hence the decision to move the party to September, in an attempt to make it more ‘American’ and less radical. “

Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco, with Sacco’s wife, Rosina, in the prisoners’ dock, Dedham Massachusetts, 12 July 1921 (two days before they were pronounced guilty). Photo: Boston Globe / Getty Images.

But on those union struggles, is it true that the Italians were part of the most violent groups? What did they put bombs on? The tragic story of Sacco and Vanzetti and their death sentence: were the two anarchists completely innocent? Did they pay for others?

Luigi Galleani’s anarchist bomb-making manual, Health is in you! , c. 1905. The cover portrait is of the French anarchist bomber Ravachol. Photo: Library of Congress.

WJC: “Society in general was much more violent than it is today. Sacco and Vanzetti were anarchists. They belonged to a group that adhered to the ideas of Luigi Galleani who believed in the ‘propaganda of the facts’ and who published a manual to manufacture bombs entitled Health is in you !, where is it health it means salvation. In other words, ‘You can save yourself by building bombs!’ The Galleanists were responsible for a series of bombings against establishment figures, including an explosion in Wall Street which cost 38 lives in 1920. Sacco and Vanzetti were associated with these anarchists. But there is good reason to believe that Sacco and Vanzetti were not responsible for the theft in Braintree, Massachusetts of which they were accused. Instead it appears that they have been framed for their political beliefs. And their Italian origin only worsened the situation “.

SGP: “Anarchists were the feared terrorists of society even before the First World War and aimed at heads of state. Gaetano Bresci (an Italian anarchist who lived for a period of time in Patterson, New Jersey) assassinated King of Italy Umberto I in 1900. (A year later, American President McKinley was assassinated by a Polish anarchist.) There were currently two schools of anarchism: the most “philosophical” one led by Enrico Malatesta, which denounced political terrorism, and the most violent faction led by Giuseppe Ciancabilla and Luigi Galleani.

The Galleanists believed in the principle that the bourgeois capitalist order would always resort to violence to protect its interests, so that violence in the cause of driving it out – “de facto propaganda” – was justified. Sacco and Vanzetti were not anarchists when they arrived from Italy. It was their experience in America who acted as a catalyst for which they joined the Galleanists. Whether or not they took part in the crime for which they were accused – the theft on the shoe farm and the murder of a guard – it is disputed that their trial was a mockery for justice “

Since being great activists for the right to work, suddenly with the advent of fascism in Italy, many Italian Americans are taking a heir to the Duce and black shirts. Because? How did Benito Mussolini manage to be so successful among Italian Americans? And this “admiration”, why did it still remain alive in Little Italy?

Italo Balbo

WJC: “If there was a moment that crystallized what the Italian Americans felt for Mussolini at that time, this was what happened during the Chicago’s World’s Fair in 1933, when one of the fascist leaders of Italy, the charismatic aviator and minister Italo Balbo, he flew with 24 seaplanes in close formation over the Atlantic and landed them one by one on Lake Michigan in a powerful demonstration of Italy’s technological ability and precision. For the Italian Americans of Chicago, who at that time were subject to the worst possible stereotypes in what was Al Capone’s Chicago, where the Valentine’s Day massacre it was still fresh in everyone’s mind, this became a magical and liberating moment, which was then commemorated when a street along the lake in Chicago was called “Balbo Drive”. In the years during and after the Second World War, when fascist Italy declared war on the United States, there have been various attempts, some very recent, to change the name of the street. But nobody was successful. “

SGP: “Fascism represents what I call a ‘compensation ideology’ for Italian Americans. After being disparaged and despised by the Americans, they told him that they were nothing more than accordion players and ice cream vendors, they immediately reacted to Mussolini’s claim that they were the descendants of the twentieth century of the Roman Empire. Many Italian Americans viewed the Pacts with approval Lateranense with the Roman Catholic Church. They donated their gold wedding rings to help finance the invasion and conquest of Abyssinia. They rejoiced when Mussolini declared an African Empire in May 1936. Mussolini ingeniously monopolized the Italian Americans, preying on their precarious position in America. I believe that the tide of public opinion could have changed when Fascist Italy aligned itself with Franco in the Spanish civil war. And the tireless work of Italian – American radicals and of exiled exiles like Gaetano Salvemini and Arturo Toscanini he helped in the fight against fascism. Today it is still there a segment of Italian Americans who long for Mussolini. This I call the “culture of nostalgia.” They say – again! – that ‘Mussolini made trains travel on time’ and that ‘Mussolini did many good things; his only mistake was to get together with that Hitler rascal ‘(!) “.

Let’s talk about mutual aid associations: in their origins, many were born in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to help emigrants who arrived in America and did not speak a word of English … Over time, these associations have disappeared, or have become much more powerful but also much more conservative; lobbies that certainly attract successful and powerful Italian Americans. Is this so?

WJC. “The phenomenon of associations both in Italian and Italian-American culture requires a thorough study. In Italy, religious confraternities, Masonic lodges, Rotary clubs, cycling clubs among others, immediately come to mind. In the United States the mutual aid associations of the last part of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century tended not to be united but rather were dispersed in specific districts of the Piccole Italie where Italians of the same country or region had settled creating not so much “Piccole Italie” but Piccole Sicilie (New Orleans ), Piccole Perugie (the Chambersburg section of Trenton, New Jersey) etc. There is a change when the Order Sons of Italy in America (which has only recently become theOrder Sons and Daughters of Italy in America) was founded to create a national lodge network. UNICO National was founded in 1922 in Waterbury, Connecticut — a city pardoned since 1909 by a beautiful replica of the Torre di Siena del Mangia — when a number of Italians were denied admission to the local Lions Club. There are still many many small local organizations — they are called “social clubs” – but the big national organizations (here I should also mention there NationaL Italian American Foundation, NIAF) attract politicians to their conventionthe. It is also true that these organizations tend to attract conservatives and Republicans, but they are not political clubs. Basically these are charitable and patriotic organizations. Many of the members are Democrats. In 2000 Bill Clinton gave the main speech at the NIAF Convention: I know it well because the person who prepared the White House speech called me for suggestions on what to say. Barack Obama presented the keynote speech at the NIAF Convention in 2011 … it is interesting that Donald Trump has not yet done so.

SGP: “Some Italian American mutual aid companies in the United States were imported from Italy, some were of local origin. Other organizations such as the Order of Sons of Italy in America have positioned themselves nationally. Both local and national mutual aid organizations were inherently ‘conservative’ in the best sense of that term: they were created with the express purpose of preserving Italian culture. The project to preserve culture has turned into political conservatism. While the Italian Americans were more and more assimilated into American society, they absorbed the ethos of political conservatism, especially when they moved from the Little Italies of the centers urban to the surrounding suburbs. But let’s not forget that for each Antonin Scalia, there’s a Mario Cuomo “.

From left, Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Martin Scorsese in the illustration by Antonella Martino

Italians and show business. How much have Italian Americans contributed to the success of Hollywood with their great actors and directors, singers? And Hollywood, what responsibility does it have in affirming the stereotypical image of the Italian American peasant, violent and mafia, unfortunately still so common among Americans?

WJC. “One of the chapters in our book, written by Giuliana Muscio, describes going back and forth between Italy and the United States in a truly irresistible way. A particularly interesting fact is that most of the films shown in Italy in the early years had been produced in the United States by Italian immigrants. The films shot in Hollywood were directed at bourgeois hearings in Italy. The films shot on the East Coast, in a large studio in Newark, for example, were mainly Neapolitan productions in dialect, characters and plots. As for the importance of Italian Americans in the film industry there is, as we well know, along the register of honors of actors (Valentinor, Sinatra, De Niro, Pacino …) and directors (Goat, Coppola, Scorsese …) Movies have always been fascinated with mobsters. There is nothing new in this. An important moment was undoubtedly in the 1970s, when instead of the actors non-Italians in roles of bad people like Al Capone, Italian American actors have begun to take those parts. They were really good actors and some of the films are really very good too. It is true that given the best films and the best actors, certain representations tend to be imprinted in the mind. But there was already an exaggerated fear of organized crime among Italians that began to expand much earlier in American society, around the time of investigative hearings of Senator Kefauver which were shown on television in the 1950s. If one listens to one of the most famous radio shows of the 1940s, Life with Luigi, there is no reference to organized crime. But in the 1950s stereotypes return.

Actor Robert De Niro with director Martin Scorsese during the filming of Goodfellas, 1990. (Photo: Alamy)

SGP: “Here I would recommend two books: Naples / NewYork / Hollywood by Giuliana Muscio is That’s love by Mark Rotella. Italian Americans played a critical role in the development of the entertainment industry, often together with Jewish immigrants. Despite all that influence, they could not erase the stereotypes of the mafia, the Latin lover (Valentino) and the ‘peasant’. It may be that these stereotypes corresponded to the need to fill some deeply rooted psychological needs – such as the cowboy myth that is so essential to American history – that it is almost impossible to eliminate them. Perhaps it would be a better strategy to take them seriously and to distinguish between great works of art and exploitation. Films that show Italian American culture in a more realistic way should be favored “Give Us This Day” by Edward Dmytryk (1949, based on Christ in Concrete of Pietro Di Donato), Household Saints by Nancy Savoca (1993), “Wait Until Spring, Bandini by Dominique Deruddere (1989), based on the novel by John Fante), “Big Night” by Stanley Tucci (1996), and “Mac ”by John Turturro (1992)

The good news is that Leonardo di Caprio is about to produce and act in a film in which he will tell the story of Joe Petrosino to the Americans … What do you think? Will it serve to give a more realistic image of the contribution of Italians to America?

Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino (left), New York City Police Department, 1903. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62–137644

WJC: “Maybe. But you have to keep in mind that that the criminals persecuted by Petrosino were Italians – those of the black hand. It was a bit like Falcone and Borsellino who, since they knew Sicily so well, were able to put a stop to the mafia. Petrosino was a non-Irish New York policeman as many were. He knew Little Italy like the palm of his hand. And, of course, he was assassinated in Palermo — like a number of other heroes. “

SGP: “Well, it took more than a century, but Hollywood has finally decided to tell the story of Petrosino. This is a very welcome positive development and we should encourage other similar projects. I am not quite sure how much it will be helpful in dismantling the old stereotypes, above all because Petrosino was assassinated by the mafia in Palermo. So, ironically, the story can end up accentuating the problem. “

Let’s go back to politics: Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pompeo, have in common the P of their surname and the fact of being Italian-American, but then politically they seem so different … Yet the Italian-Americans have been very successful in politics. Is this because of their way of being, their character and their culture, or simply of Italian Americans if they find so many in the upper floors of politics because they know how to divide well among all the political forces? In short, they have never been ghettoized en masse on one side only … But the White House? Is it still a taboo?

During the New York mayoral election of 1950, Eleanor Roosevelt met with the four candidates. Three of them were Italian American. From left to right: Paul Ross, American Labor Party;
Judge Ferdinand Pecora, Democratic Party; Mrs. Roosevelt; Acting Mayor Vincent R. Impellitteri, Experience Party; and Edward Corsi, Republican Party. Wounders won. Courtesy of Bettmann / Getty Images.

WJC: “In my introduction to our history, I say that the eighties were the decade in which Italian Americans” really made it “to enter American society. Not only in politics (Mario Cuomo), but in law, architecture, medicine, women’s rights, education, the automotive industry. I don’t see this more as taboo than the White House, as it once was. Instead, what is changing is the idea that the “Italian American” is relevant as a particular identity. Many Italian Americans (AI) simply consider themselves Americans and don’t give much weight to their offspring now that discrimination has diminished and exogamy has become commonplace. One of the things this story tries to do is to demonstrate how that identity was once important and how it has changed over time. “

SGP: “The highest symbolic point of the political power of the Italian Americans was perhaps in the election of the mayor of New York in 1950 when all three contending candidates were Italian Americans: Ferdinand Pecora (born in Sicily), Edward Corsi, and Vincent Impellitteri (born in Sicily, which then won). I don’t think there is anything inherently inherent in Italian American culture that favors great politicians. And our experience is such that we position ourselves on the whole spectrum, which is perhaps a good thing. As for the White House: I remember hoping for Mario Cuomo to show up and my disappointment when he stepped back. Although there are still strong stereotypes, I don’t see why an Italian American man or woman could not be elected to the White House. “

Another stereotype about Italian Americans is that families did not have their children study, at least not as other ethnic groups who arrived in America in the same years would have done … Is that so? Yet these days, when everyone on TV sees Dr. Anthony Fauci and considers him the greatest scientist against the pandemic, here they also do not see a son of the Italians of Brooklyn? What do you think? Is it a legend? Italians are everywhere also in science and academia …

WJC: “In the early years of mass immigration, the boys had to find work as soon as possible. There was the phenomenon of crafts, hydraulics to cite a common example, where the craft passed from father to son. But there was also resistance from the education system. It was the educator Leonard Covello in New York who led the way in showing that Italian American children, when they were given an opportunity, they could excel. And when success became possible, Italian American families embraced it in the period after the Second World War. Italian Americans today have a high level of academic achievement. “

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, listen as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony S. Fauci delivers remarks during a coronavirus update briefing Thursday, April 16, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

SGP: “Reality is a little complicated. As James Periconi notes in our book, there was a vibrant culture of reading, writing and publishing among Italian Americans. I remember my father trying to learn English by reading the newspaper with an Italian-English dictionary after a day of hard work. At one point, there were nearly 200 Italian-language newspapers in the US. At the same time, the terrible needs of a brutal economic system often dictated that the boys go to work in factories of exploiters and farms at the completion of elementary school. There could also be some sentiment protracted by the Italian rural culture of not educating the kids ‘a little too much’ for fear that they would separate from the family. And there was a pernicious thought in certain neighborhoods not to aspire very high, that is, not to try fate. So it was good to become a pharmacist, but don’t try to become a doctor. It was OK aspire to be a teacher but not a professor. It took more than a generation to surpass some of these ideas. And of course there were cultural stereotypes that while Asians and Jews were ‘brilliant’, Italian Americans were not up to par. As late as in the late 1980s, there was a common cultural stereotype that Italian American children were unable to face the challenge of university studies. My wife personally suffered from this injury. Today, she is a professor at Pace University! “

Knowing of this interview, a friend and colleague of mine who has a column on La Voce in New York, the famous Rai correspondent Tiziana Ferrario – she also worked for years in New York – asked me to reveal what she still considers a mystery : But why do Italian Americans, during their celebrations and big parties, never value today’s Italy but always make a caricature of that of many years ago that practically no longer exists? Maybe they don’t know modern Italy? It’s possible?

WJC: “Well … currently, I’m not sure what it means to ‘Italy of many years ago’? The Columbus Parade or the NIAF Convention usually celebrate Ferrari cars or Ducati motorcycles or other similar things. These can be considered modern. The people who organize these events, especially men, but with a few women, are between 50 and 70 years of age and they remember and glorify the Italy of Sofia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Marcello Mastroianni … If instead it means the cuisine from many years ago, zeppole etc., this seems understandable in a popular environment. Slow Food does not suit the thousands of people at the San Gennaro festival. But I am sure that if Tiziana Ferrario can introduce them to a rich man corporate sponsor that represents what you consider as modern Italy, certainly will have a hearing! I remember that the president of one of the American organizations personally asked me to organize a celebration of the Armi manufacturing company, Beretta, with a display of guns … I had to say ‘no’ to this idea “

columbus day parade

The Italian police force has marched with their Lamborghini Huracan, which transports organs and blood all over Italy.

SGP: “It is entirely possible. For some Italian Americans, the Italy they embrace is the product of what I have defined above as ‘the culture of nostalgia’. They imagine a rural and pastoral Italy of their grandparents or great-grandparents. Maybe they think of Italy as the ‘dolce vita’ after the Second World War. Caricature comforts, but is not realistic. Dato che la maggior parte degli italoamericani non leggono ne parlano l’italiano, non hanno familiarità con l’Italia come paese moderno, complicato e difficile. Alcuni preferiscono l’immagine dell’Italia come è raffigurata nelle brochure di viaggi e le reclami dei ristoranti (pensa a Olive Garden) piuttosto che un paese che lotta con problemi come l’immigrazione, disoccupazione giovanile, e corruzione. Queste realtà non devono intrudersi nella celebrazione del Columbus Day“.

Andiamo ad affrontare l’elefante ben visibile nella stanza: molti italoamericani si sono presi una sbandata per Trump. Ma di questo presidente –  e qui parlo da quello che io noto da direttore de La Voce di New York – gli italoamericani sembrano supportare di questo presidente proprio l’aspetto ideologico più aggressivo nei confronti degli emigranti, illegali o legali che siano. Insomma quel tipo di ideologia “nativista” che proprio gli italiani d’America subirono al loro arrivo negli USA. Come è potuto succedere? E’ stato così facile per molti  italoamericani dimenticare la loro storia di sofferenza di immigrati?

WJC: “Io credo sia una vergogna che il ‘nativismo’ abbia fatto presa su tanti italoamericani. Alcuni critici li accusano usando questa frase: ‘Gli ultimi a entrare, chiudono la porta dietro se stessi’. Ma in questo caso non è entrata nell’America per se, è piuttosto l’entrata nei più alti scaloni etnici che come ho detto si è avverata quando gli italoamericani “ce l’hanno fatta” negli anni del 1980. Per essere onesto, sono ottimista. Penso che nel futuro ci sarà una assennata riforma dell’immigrazione e che la gente che è allarmata oggi diventerà più tollerante”.

Trump-Mussolini (by Antonio Giambanco for VNY)

SGP: “Purtroppo, è del tutto ovvio che gli italoamericani non sanno — o se ne sono scordati — la loro storia come discendenti di immigranti. Potremmo fare vedere – parola per parola – che quello che gli italoamericani dicono oggi degli immigranti recenti, lo si diceva di immigranti It-Am (italoamericani) anni fa. ‘Sono sporchi. Sono dei criminali. Sono pericolosi. Si rifiutano di parlare la lingua. Sono qui solo per trarre vantaggio dal sistema. Non diventeranno mai ‘veri’ americani’. Questi italoamericani sono ignari dell’ironia. Come ha detto Fred Guardaphé, gli italoamericani soffrono di ‘deficienza di ironia’. Se, nel 1906 qualcuno avesse detto che in 100 anni (2006), ci sarebbero stati due italoamericani nella Corte Suprema (Scalia e Alito), molti avrebbero pensato che fossero pazzi. E invece, gli italoamericani (gli It-Am) hanno lottato e hanno prosperato. Quindi perché non dare ai nuovi immigranti la stessa opportunità? Io vedo there battaglia per il Columbus Day nello stesso contesto: la vecchia guardia che è così investita nella festa che non riesce a immaginare altri modi per celebrare la storia italoamericana è simile ai sostenitori di Trump che non vogliono immaginare un tipo differente di America”.

Concludiamo: per tutti questi anni, gli italiani in Italia e gli italiani in America non si sono “riconosciuti” come fratelli e sorelle, insomma sembra che non si siano mai compresi e anzi spesso si siano sopportati a vicenda. Ora, il vostro libro è un prezioso studio rigoroso e scientifico su quello che è stata l’esperienza degli italoamericani in 4 secoli d’America ma è solo destinato agli studi accademici, oppure ha l’ambizioso obiettivo anche di  voler svelare finalmente gli italoamericani agli italiani e quindi trasformare anche il rapporto tra questo popolo diviso da un oceano?

WJC: “Uno dei nostri autori, il defunto Robert Viscusi, descrive in maniera elegante la combinazione di desiderio, ansietà, timidezza e paura con cui gli Italiani guardano all’Italia. Pensano all’Italia nello stesso modo che gli orfani pensano a parenti lontani. Sanno di essere relazionati, ma non sanno come saranno accettati e infatti sono stati spesso rigettati nel passato. I loro genitori e nonni hanno lasciato l’Italia di loro volontà— è l’Italia non aveva nessuna obiezione al loro partire. Ora che è stato pubblicato nella lingua italiana per lettori italiani, con le sue ricche illustrazioni e narrative irresistibili, il libro può diventare un mezzo formale per presentare questi orfani ai loro cugini perduti da tempo. Potrebbe risultare anche in alcune adozioni”.

SGP: “Il libro aspira a fare appello sia ad accademici che al pubblico in generale. Non ci deve essere un ‘ghetto’ di studi italoamericani solo per studiosi e uno per il publico in generale. Per più di un secolo molti accademici italiani non hanno pensato agli italoamericani come dignitosi di attenzione accademica. Noi eravamo i ‘cugini cafoni del mezzogiorno’ che hanno lasciato la patria e dovevano semplicemente essere dimenticati. Ma il lavoro dei nostri colleghi e contributori in Italia, Simone Cinotto, Maria Susanna Garroni, Stefano Luconi, Antonio Nicaso,

Rosemary Serra, Maddalena Tirabassi, Edoardo Tartarolo , e lo scomparso Francesco Durante (e il suo magistrale magnum opus in due volumi Italoamericana), ha cambiato il modo in cui gli italiani vedono e capiscono gli italoamericani. Nello stesso modo che gli italoamericani non possono capire la loro storia senza capire la storia dell’ emigrazione. Speriamo che il libro inspiri un’altra generazione di studiosi e lettori”.

La folla alla Festa di San Gennaro a Manhattan (Foto di Angelo Pennati)

Ancora se vi va… Questa è una domanda che non siamo riusciti a far nel video: ma l’identità italiana esisteva nelle masse di immigrati arrivate negli USA dalla penisola e le sue isole? Sapevano e sentivano di essere italiani? O come avveniva ancora pochi anni fa nel North End di Boston, le strade si dividevano tra pugliesi, siciliani, campani e calabresi? Insomma gli italoamericani hanno forse difficoltà a comprendersi con gli italiani, perché questi sono diventati e sentiti “italiani” solo dopo che molti di loro erano già partiti per l’America?

WJC: “Indubbiamente questo è un punto centrale. C’erano molti immigrati che si consideravano campani o calabresi piuttosto che italiani. Per queste persone, ‘Italiano’ era una classificazione impostagli dagli Stati Uniti. Tutti sappiamo che, dopo l’Unificazione, Massimo D’Azeglio ha detto ‘Abbiamo fatto l’Italia. Ora dobbiamo fare gli Italiani’. Per molti di questi immigranti in America, che hanno mantenuto i loro sentimenti e legami locali, non è stato il governo nazionale italiano, ma gli Stati Uniti che li hanno ‘fatti’ italiani”.

SGP: “Farò la parte dell’avvocato del diavolo e dirò che forse non è stato un male che gli italoamericani abbiano abbracciato lentamente l’identità sia ‘italiana’ che ‘americana’.

E anche in Italia, forse la resistenza a una identità singolare italiana non è da lamentare. Nonostante tutta la propaganda dal Risorgimento in poi, lo stato nazione non ha adempiuto con il suo scopo o obbligazioni. Non c’è prova migliore che appena è stato possibile, milioni di italiani hanno lasciato la patria. Questo è un atto di accusa contro la formazione e lo sviluppo dell’Italia. Oggi, si può dire che molti degli italiano sono soddisfatti con il loro paese. E forse è stata una buona cosa che gli italoamericani hanno resistito la domanda da parte del re o di Mussolini di considerarsi ‘italiani’ prima di tutto e poi calabresi o napoletani o siciliani. Questa sarebbe una perdita di cultura sia in Italia che in America”.

Infine mi piacerebbe il vostro pensiero su quello che si racconta molto nel vostro libro: e cioè come ci furono degli italiani che influenzarono con le loro idee e il loro esempio anche l’esperimento americano delle origini…  Penso per esempio a Mazzini quando scrisse “in nome del popolo, per il popolo e dal popolo…”

WJC: “Così tu dici che la frase di Mazzini ha influenzato quella ‘del popolo, per il popolo e dal popolo’ di Abramo Lincoln. Ci sono sempre stati prominenti americani che hanno prestato attenzione a intelligenti scrittori italiani come Beccaria e Mazzini. Spesso menzionato, per esempio, è il vicino di casa di Thomas Jefferson, Filippo Mazzei, che si dice abbia formulato l’espressione, ‘Tutti gli uomini son creati uguali,’ che poi ha trovato la strada per entrare nella bozza della Dichiarazione dell’Indipendenza. Qui devo dire che preferisco prendere una posizione che io credo sia tutta mia e molto controcorrente. Se uno legge I padri fondatori americani attentamente per le loro referenze alla storia italiana, quello che risalta continuamente è il modo in cui hanno studiato i dettagli dei fallimenti delle repubbliche italiane del medioevo e del rinascimento, governi che uno dopo l’altro sono rimasti succubi a tiranni. Hanno letto di Siena, Milano, Firenze, Padova e molte altre città. Eran del parere che le repubbliche di Venezia e Genova fossero delle oligarchie dispotiche. Hanno studiato Le storie Fiorentine del Machiavelli molto più attentamente del Principe and gods Discorsi. Hanno letto persino in latino e nel volgare le cronache publicate dal Muratori nel Rerum Italicarum Scriptores. Io penso che il più importante contributo al progetto americano constava in questa serie di esempi negativi che hanno dimostrato loro come le repubbliche possano fallire. Ciò detto, speriamo che le repubbliche di oggi, sia l’Italia che gli Stati Uniti, abbiano ancora molta vita davanti a se…”

SGP: “Trovo l’interpretazione di Bill sia affascinante che convincente. Quel poco che io so sulla prima parte della storia degli Stati Uniti pare che confermi quanto ha detto. In contrasto alla lettura comune e semplicistica della storia americana, mi sa che i padri fondatori fossero più sensibili alle ironie e senso tragico della storia; un senso della storia più Greco-Romano che Anglo-Sassone. Una cosa che di sicuro hanno imparato dalla storia italiana è come possa essere precaria la libertà”.

William J. Connell

William J. Connell è un Andrew Carnegie Fellow. Alla Seton University è Professore di Storia è ha la cattedra La Motta Endowed Chair in Italian Studies. IS’ stato Founding Director dell’Alberto Italian Studies Institute. I suoi libri includono Machiavelli nel Rinascimento; Sacrilege and Redemption in Renaissance Florence (co-autore Giles Constable); Anti-Italianism: Essays on a Prejudice (co-ed Fred Guardaphé); La città dei crucci: fazioni e clientele in uno stato repubblicano del ‘400: Florentine Tuscany; Structures and Practices of Power ( co-ed Andrea Zorzi); e una molto elogiata traduzione del Principe di Machiavelli.

Stanislao Pugliese

Stanislao G. Pugliese (Photo Marion Ettlinger)

Stanislao G. Pugliese è professore di storia europea e Quennsboro Unico Distinguished Professor od Italian and Italian American Studies alla Hofstra University. IS’ l’autore, editore, o traduttore di quindici libri, tra i quali Bitter Spring: a Life of Ignazio Silone. E’ l’editore di Fear of Freedom of Carlo Levi e della prima traduzione all’inglese del lavoro di riferimento di Claudio Pavone A Civil War: a History of the Italian Renaissance. Con Brenda Elsey, e co-editore di Football and the Boundaries of History: Critical Studies in Soccer; Con Pellegrino D’Acierno è co-editore di Delirius Naples: A Cultural History of the City of the Sun.

Traduzione dall’inglese all’italiano a cura di Salvatore Rotella


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