Feeling Italian: The Art of Ethnicity in America by Thomas J. Ferraro

By Thomas J. Ferraro

2006 American booklet Award, awarded by way of the prior to Columbus Foundation

Southern Italian emigration to the USA peaked an entire century ago—;descendents at the moment are fourth and 5th iteration, dispersed from their previous commercial neighborhoods, professionalized, and completely built-in into the “melting pot.” absolutely the social historians are correct: Italian americans are fading into the twilight in their ethnicity. So, why is the yank mind's eye enthralled through The Sopranos, and different pix of Italian-ness?

Italian American identification, now a mixture of background and myth, flesh-and-bone humans and all-too-familiar sketch, nonetheless has whatever to educate us, together with why every one people, as voters of the U.S. 20th century and its persisting cultures, are to some degree already Italian. Contending that the media has turn into the first automobile of Italian sensibilities, Ferraro explores a sequence of books, videos, work, and documents in ten dramatic vignettes. Featured cultural artifacts run the gamut, from the work of Joseph Stella and the tune of Frank Sinatra to The Godfather’s enduring recognition and Madonna’s Italian historical past. In a prose type as brilliant as his topics, Ferraro models a sardonic love track to the artwork and iconography of Italian America.

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Extra info for Feeling Italian: The Art of Ethnicity in America

Example text

Maria let herself believe, so others could believe, that she was merely and only a confused, conscientious, love-besotted girl overwhelmed—tragically lost, even to herself —by a devastating fit at the fatal hour. But was it so? The very first fact about Maria that Pucci enters into the narrative record concerns the obscure night when Cataldo first took the girl’s honor. The one thing Maria knew for sure about how it happened was that her clothing—a long wide skirt, several underskirts, corsets, tailored blouses, and stockings—had not been torn.

Anthony, protested against what they saw as a characteristic instance of the law blaming the victim (Anthony argued that a false promise of marriage be criminalized), but neither their sociological empathy for Maria nor the legal analyses they offered could be heard against the fever-pitched anticipation of the electrocution to come. Dominating the press, especially in New York City, were phrenological and physiognomic portraits of Barbella, whose personality was supposed honor to be legible in the shape of her skull and body.

10 The immigrants were loud—speaking dialects much harsher than Tuscan Italian—and they smelled, from lack of washing but also from their wretched surroundings and unfamiliar cuisine. Even their foodstuffs set them uncomfortably apart: “fish that never swam in American waters . . 11 Riis, a former police photographer turned housing reformer and no fool, swore that in 1890 almost none of the parasitical criminality of the Five Points—be it opportunistic or organized—was of Italian origin. But the Southern Italian’s vaunted tendency to sudden excessive emotion, according to Riis, could and did cause trouble between friends— competing in cards or love or whatever the local coinage of esteem— 15 16 honor that occasionally resulted in violence, which was, more importantly, “settled,” if at all possible, without the involvement of the police: The wounded man can seldom be persuaded to betray [his attacker].

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