Disseminating the Story of the
Italy-to-The USA-Avventura

James C. Mancuso
February, 2000

Introduction: An Optimistic Assessment

What is the story that is to be told about the great Italy-to-The-United-States avventura? What might the descendants of the avventura want other citizens of The USA to know about this great adventure and its consequences? Who is working to produce an accessible record for use by the future generations that will enter the earth and then move from place to place over the earth?

Surely, anyone would agree that those who can do so should record a movement of 4,000,000 people and their culture? Future generations will profit from understanding the origins of that culture and the ways in which that culture survived its transplanting. By what kind of record can one understand the triumphs and the failures of the people who carried that culture and passed it on to their children and grandchildren?

Until recently, one could easily evoke agreement about the slow pace of the production of insightful and balanced records that the person-in-the-street could readily access. One could support the claim there were not enough writers who concerned themselves with leaving this kind of record. There were not enough people who were interested in reading this kind of record. There were not enough outlets for publication of the records of the avventura had been written.

Happily, things have been changing rather dramatically. Writers and scholars have been producing solid material, and they are filling the gaps in the literature. A crop of very active young writers and artists, many of whom are descendants of the immigrants, have been working to produce a clearer record of the nature of the culture which the immigrants brought to this country. Publishers and the producers of other media are releasing better and better material on the topic. There is more financial support for such publishing ventures. There are more and less expensive outlets for the records that producers have created. In short, there's good reason to be optimistic about the extent of and quality of the record that is being produced today.

Before elaborating on some of the reasons for my optimism, I would like to review some ideas about why the recording of the story of the Italian-Americans has been somewhat spotty over the last 75 years. What has been happening to dilute the pessimism about whether or not an adequate record of the Italy-to-The USA avventura would be left behind? Why has it taken so many years to dispel that pessimism?

Why the Slow Pace in Getting Out The Story
of The Italy-to-The USA avventura

When those who controlled the media outlets were criticized for the lack of accumulation of a widely disseminated, adequate record of the avventura they routinely would say, "Italian Americans don't read!" Or they would say, "We simply don't have a an audience for that kind of material."

Let me suggest another set of reasons for the slowdown in the pace at which the record was being produced and the sparseness of the audience for the record that was being produced.

The ideology of minding one's own business. To set the scene for my analysis, let me remind the reader of one of the most important ideological phrases in all of Italian culture. "Bada alle cose tue!" "You tend to your own things!!"

This phrase was one of the most significant watchwords of the culture that the Southern Italians and Sicilians brought to The USA. The caution developed out of hundreds of years of experiences that the contadini had accumulated.

It must be understood that a mere 60 years before the beginning of the great migration, Southern Italy and Sicily were still essentially feudal states. Anyone wishing to develop an idea of what conditions underlay the development of the ideologies of the people in that part of the world should read a history of the efforts to establish Republican governments during the period that Napoleon supported efforts to diminish the power of the aristocracy of Europe. A very readable account of that period may found in the book by Thompson (1905/1935). Or, one can read an account of the Bourbon monarchs produced by Acton (1956,1961 ), a writer who tried to be more sympathetic to the Bourbon monarchy. A reader of those books who has attended schools in an educational system that reflects a strong Anglo-Saxon tradition might be very surprised at reading about the ways in which the British supported the silly monarchs who ruled The Kingdom of Naples and Sicily. In my reading, I came across the term absurd as a descriptive term for Ferdinand III and his wife Maria Carolina. In my judgment that is a totally adequate term. These monarchs were downright buffoons. Besides, they were described as the ugliest royal couple in Europe!!! They tolerated a nobility who treated the contadini who lived on their lands as less than slaves. The nobility had hundreds of ways to extract money and labor from these oppressed people. If the nobles were unable to terrorize the people through the corrupt courts and penal systems, they could call on the services of the thugs that they employed for this purpose. We should note that these gangs of thugs provided the model for the corrupt elements who later became known as the Mafia.

Consider one example of the small, but effective, ways in which the nobility could control their contadini. The nobles had a favorite way to get money from the peasants on their lands. They taxed salt. Now, one would think that the people could have avoided paying tax by not using salt. The landowners had a way of correcting that. Each town in the domain was simply required to buy a certain amount of salt, and that was that. There was no way of getting around paying the tax on salt.

If one reads the history of that period, he/she will better understand the power of the phrase, "Bada alle cose tue." When Napoleon and those whom he had supported were removed from power, Ferdinand and Maria Carolina returned to rule over Southern Italy and Sicily. The ways in which they took their revenge on those that might have shown republican sympathies had to convince the general population that minding one's own business was far safer than trying to become involved in political and social action.

The ideology of minding one's own business was brought to The USA and remained sound advice among the Italian immigrant families. If the passing on of that ideology was not convincing enough to the young people, then other examples were made available to the immigrants who came to the USA. People like Sacco and Vanzetti, who clearly were identifiable as leftist thinking political activists, served as a good example of what could happen to someone who thought that taking part in the political struggle was more important than minding one's own business. Other examples also were available. Carlo Tresca was well known as a very forceful labor leader, and he also made no secret of his socialist orientations. Tresca's mysterious murder, in 1943, was well publicized in Italian-American communities. His still unsolved murder would have given people cause to consider the futility of minding the business of the people in power.

It was not surprising that some of the early leaders in the Italian-American communities were oriented toward social activism that would make it easier for the people who held little power. Albert Rosellini, Vito Marcantonio, and Joseph Aliotti were among the outstanding individuals who emerged from the coterie of young activists.

Rosellini proved to be a very adept politician who chose his battles very carefully and eventually had a tremendous influence on the status of the state of Washington. He served as state senator for 25 years, during which time he became very popular in the state. In 1956 he became governor, and he occupied that position for eight years. He needed to face down the constant efforts of the press and his rivals to discredit him and to associate him with objectionable elements in the state. In 1972 he lost another bid for the governor's seat. Two weeks before the election, when Rosellini had been ahead 13 points in the polls, a Seattle newspaper published a nefarious character's unsupported allegations of Rosellini's association with criminal elements. Thus ended his political aspirations. His accomplishments were such that today he could be singled out as the most effective governor in the state during the 20th century.

Joseph Aliotti became a highly respected, and very popular mayor of the city of San Francisco. He had made his fame as a talented lawyer who became expert in the laws by which the auto companies could be sued for destroying the transit systems of major U. S. cities. His future in a political career appeared most promising. He easily might have become governor of California; and he, rather than that star of second-rate movies, might have become the first former governor of California to occupy The White House. Instead, Look Magazine ran a story that claimed that he had associations with underworld figures. Ten years later he won his suit for defamation against Look Magazine. In the meanwhile, his political career was in shambles, and Look Magazine was bankrupt!!!

The press and the power holders found it easier to discredit Marcantonio. He made no secret of his strong socialistic leanings, and he vehemently opposed The USA's involvement in the cold war. The press found it easy to mark him as, at least, a "communist sympathizer." Additionally, Marcantonio made no secret about his willingness to show his appreciation of and affinity toward Italian culture. He learned to speak Italian fluently, and participated in a variety of Italian cultural activities and events. Despite his accomplishments in the U. S. (a leader in civil rights and labor legislation) he could not aspire to a position higher than that of representative of his district - the district of Manhattan known as Italian Harlem.

One must keep in mind that people like Rosellini, Marcantonio, and Joseph Aliotti attained their successes during the era that tens of thousands of young Italian-American men were attending colleges through the benefits of the G. I. Bill of Rights. Any of those young men who were aware of the ways in which these notable political leaders were treated by those who held power in the broader society could easily be led to the conclusion that there was little to be gained from maintaining an affinity to one's Italian heritage - particularly if , through maintaining that affinity, one could be identified as a social activist - a liberal, or a "communist sympathizer."

In that atmosphere one would need to exercise care about deciding to write about the ways in which the Italy-to-The-USA immigrants had struggled to establish their family's well being. Better to Bada alle cose tue! Stick to your own things! Try to enter the professions within which one could more easily succeed without expressing social or political opinions that might offend the power holders. Besides, the Italian-American community could not readily understand why a young man would spend eight to ten years to become a successful writer or a doctor of philosophy when he could become a "real doctor" with the same effort!

Educating the offspring of immigrants to abandon connections to their cultural heritage. A second factor must be considered as one explores the reasons for the slow start that the Italian-Americans had made in getting their story across. As the young members of the families of Italian Americans were being educated they were being convinced that it was their "patriotic duty" to yield any interest in their Italian heritage. Leonardo Covello (the esteemed teacher and friend of Vito Marcantonio), one of the first Italian Americans to make a name in the field of education in The USA, said, "We were becoming Americans by learning to be ashamed of our parents" (1958, p. 43).

The efforts to encourage the children of the Italian immigrants to drop any of their connections with their heritage is nicely reflected in the writings of Ellwood Cubberley (1909). In a little volume on education, Cubberley first described southern Europeans as "illiterate, docile, lacking in self reliance and initiative, and not possessing the Anglo-Teutonic conceptions of law, order, and government" who "tend to set up here their national manners, customs and observances" (p. 15). He then advised, as follows:
Our task is to break up these groups of settlements, to assimilate and amalgamate these people as part of our American race, and to implant in their children as far as can be done, the Anglo-Saxon conception of righteousness, law and order, and to awaken in them a reverence for our democratic institutions and/or those things in our national life which we as a people hold to be of abiding worth. (Cubberley, 1909, p. 15)

This quotation was not written by a rabid member of the Ku Klux Klan. This is the writing of a man who was considered to be one of the most outstanding educators in The USA during the first quarter of this century. Elwood Cubberly was the dean of The School of Education at Stanford University. The School of Education building at Stanford bears his name!

The feeble response to early efforts to get out the story of The Avventura. These two factors, then, served as major deterrents to promoting young people's inclinations to record their heritage: (1) the ideology of minding one's own business, and (2) the pressures on young people who were tied to the Italian culture to drop that culture.

Consider the work of those people who did attempt to record the history of the Italian immigrant heritage. A reader can detect a distinct orientation by reading some of the early published material; like that written by Pietro DiDonato or by Mario Puzo. These writers wrote about struggle. Their texts attempted to cast the plight of the immigrant into a frame of struggle between exploiters and those being exploited. In a way, they were trying to show the immigrant that he/she still faced conditions that he/she had faced in Southern Italy under the nobility. Now, however, they faced those conditions on a new continent in the mines, factories and construction sites of capitalist exploiters. The implication underlying these propositions was that through concerted co-operative action the immigrants could correct the balance between the exploiters and the exploited.

This same kind of ideology also guided the work of two of the most noted painters who attempted to depict the condition of the Italian immigrant to The USA. Among the most notable of the painters who treated Italian immigration themes we can find Joseph Stella and Ralph Fasanella. For a brief period the works of Joseph Stella received wide attention, but that work is now relatively unknown. Fasanella lived and worked long enough to become an icon among those who have prompted the dissemination of information about the avventura. In an age when social activism has become suspect, the message-free, super abstract, inaccessible works of Frank Stella - no relative to Joseph - command top prices and are displayed in special spaces in the art galleries of the country.

I think that we can judge that these efforts to frame the Italian-American experience into a framework of struggle did not appeal to the Italian immigrants. For a great many reasons, I believe, left-wing thinking did not resonate with Italian-Americans. One simply needs to read the history of Southern Italy and Sicily to understand the strength with which the immigrants held to the ideology of "tend to your own affairs." In the land from which the immigrants came, concerted co-operative social action never had worked in the past. Indeed, efforts to engage such action would more likely have led to cynicism and, in many, many instances, to very painful death. The best examples of the climate that sustained the ideology of "tend to your own affairs" are to be found in accounts of the two French-supported, failed attempts to eliminate the monarchy during the period of 1799 to 1815. In the first place during this period of incessant struggle thousands of ordinary people died, either at the hands of the rebels or at the hands of those who supported the monarchy. And, as we can expect, those who actually attempted to take part in the political activity of removing the monarchy suffered fates worse than a quick death. The person-in-the-street in Sicily and Southern Italy learned quite well that one best avoids political activity, even if such activity promises to lead to the eradication of a corrupt, absurd, stupid leadership.

We need to remember that these efforts to install governments that might have replaced the Bourbon monarchy took place only 60 years before they beginning of the great Italy-to-The USA avventura. And, they did not get rid of the absurd monarchy until 1860, when Garibaldi finally came through and then handed the territory over to the developing constitutional monarchy of united Italy. There is little record of how much of this history was in the memory of the immigrants. It is quite clear, however, that they did not respond enthusiastically to work like that of DiDonato, the early work to Puzo, and the artistic works of Stella or Fasanella -- work that might have prompted correction of injustice through communal effort.\ \

The influences of academic reaction to disinterest of students. One can conjecture about another line of consequences that resulted from rejection of appeals to struggle to overcome the unacceptable conditions which many of the immigrants suffered. Many social scientists in academic circles put considerable credence in the efficacy of concerted, communal action. I still find myself annoyed at instructors who berate Italian-American students for failing to join in supporting programs such as affirmative actions and what is call multicultural education. The line which most annoys these instructors is; "Our forebears came with nothing, they worked hard, and they made it without all kinds of special considerations and assistance. Everyone else should do it the same way." One can imagine that Italian-American students will not be encouraged by many of their teachers to write essays, term papers, etc., which will support this proposition - so those students simply will fail to write anything.

Among other things, I'm sure, the thousands of professors of literature who followed the ideology of Sigmund Freud would have needed to find explanation of the lack of students who undertook to present portrayals of Italian immigrant life. To Italian-Americans, whose views of sexuality were quite down-to-earth, Freudian interpretations of life and literature would be downright silly. Such interpretations were especially prevalent through the decades during which offspring of the avventura entered colleges in great numbers. How could the student who found convoluted, deep psychological concepts to be unattractive put himself/herself under the tutelage of a professor who might encourage him/her to incorporate those concepts into his/her literary productions?

Consider the example of a professor of English literature teaching Seventeenth Century British literature. The professor believed that one should find high pleasure from reading the plays known as The Restoration Plays. When Charles II was returned to the British throne, in 1660, his "enlightened" associates supported the production of the French-influenced drama that centered around the sexual interplay of the personages represented in the plays. Sexual activity was a very private matter to the offspring of Italy-to-The-USA avventura. If the offspring of an Italian immigrant chose not to write an essay that celebrated the "sophistication" of those dramas; he/she would, of course, show rejection of the orientation of the professor. The professor's evaluation of an essay that did not celebrate sex would surely help to convince the student that he/she did not have the "sophistication" to produce compelling writings. Sex was becoming a mainstay of American literature. As Mario Puzo discovered between the writing of The Fortunate Pilgrim and the writing of The Godfather, the critics and the readers wanted sex scenes. Puzo gave them a rather startling sex scene in the first pages of his very successful novel.

Seeing that the offspring of the immigrants were not enthusiastic about taking on the task of recording their heritage, the disappointed professors were willing to adopt the proposition that the offspring of immigrants merely reflected the low-level of intellectual involvement of the Italian immigrant culture in general. Further, they could find other ways to explain their disappointment. It was quite easy to see, even without formal studies, that the Italian immigrants very strongly held to the ideology of "tend to your own affairs."

Since the academic world had greater faith in the idea of communal action, they viewed the ideology of "tend to your own affairs" as being a very negative feature of the Italian immigrant culture. The willingness of academics to judge that ideology as negative found its best expression in the Banfield's (1958). book, The Moral Basis of a Backward Society.

Banfield went to the Southern Italian province Potenza to study and to explain the lack of economic progress in one of the villages in that province. As a result of his studies, Banfield coined the term amoral familism, by which to categorize the behavior of the person who adopts the following rule: "Maximize the material, and short-run advantage of the nuclear family; assume that all others will do likewise" (p. 83).

Banfield recognizes that the ideology of amoral familism has its roots in the long history of degradation and the poverty of the lower classes. He writes:
The mechanism which produces the ethos of amoral familism is undoubtedly complex, consisting of many elements in a mutually reinforcing relation. The dreadful poverty of the region and a degraded status of those who do manual labor. . . . Are surely of very great importance in forming it; they are structural features, so to speak in the system of causes. (p. 139)

Banfield, however, was not satisfied to attribute the strength of the ideology of "tend to your own affairs." to degradation and poverty. At a number of points in the book, he suggests that the suspicious, family-centered activity of the people of the region actually does not have a sound external basis, since the relationships between the classes are actually quite cordial. So he believes that he must find other explanations of the source of the family-centered ideology. He ends up judging that the ideology originates from incorrect child-rearing practices:
"The indulgence of parents toward children and their willingness to allow children to be selfish and irresponsible -- 'carefree' . . ." (P.151). "The reliance upon blows to direct behavior and the capricious manner in which punishment is given" (p. 151).

Consider the effect that Banfield's book would have on the offspring of the Italian immigrants taking sociology courses at universities throughout the country. A practice which the people of Southern Italy had adopted to protect themselves from a very corrupt political and economic system is treated as a very negative feature of the Italian immigrant culture; as immoral! Further, the presence of that ideology ultimately is to be attributed to bad child-rearing practices!

Who would want to show that he/she has any affinity for such a "backward" culture?

Writing negative stories and negativism toward writing as an Italian-American.  One can find, as one would expect, that these conditions would offer an open field for writers who wanted to demonstrate that they did not to have an affinity for such a backward culture.

One of the best examples of such literature is the book written by Marianna De Marco Torgovnick. Torgovnick (1994) published a series of essays several of which include extremely negative evaluations of many events of her life as she grew up in the Italian-American community in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. It is not unusual to find in her text comments like the following: "Italian-Americans in Bensonhurst are notable for their cohesiveness and provinciality; the slightest pressure turns those qualities into prejudice and racism" (p. 7). Torgovnick concluded that the best way to escape the burden of being identified as a carrier of the Italian-American culture was to marry someone from Jewish background and to cross Brooklyn's Ocean Parkway. It must be noted that in the last essay in Torgovnick's book she does raise the possibility that she was misled when she failed to use a more balanced perspective as she wrote about aspects of the Italian-American community in which she grew up.

Within other texts among the recent spate of publications by Italian-American women, one can readily find characterizations of Italian-American life that echo the characterizations produced by Torgovnick. As an example, one can consider a small book, The Test, written by Dorothy Bryant (born Calvetti). The book deserves to be on the reading list of anyone who wishes to explore the writings of Italian-Americans. Bryant writes in a very compelling style. Throughout the book, she weaves in colorful descriptions of the practices of Italian-American traditions, customs, and ceremonies. In my estimate, she, like Torgovnick, fails to offer a balanced view of "the woman's experience of being stifled in a male world." Certainly, this theme will play well in women's studies courses, but there are grounds for criticizing the playing of this theme when the theme is not balanced by an effort to understand the origins of the ideologies that fostered the conditions that prompted such "stifling."

Bryant does give some of the background of the father of the Italian-American woman narrator of the story. Apparently the father of the narrator was the son of an immigrant who went to the coal fields of Montana, where the immigrant contracted the dread anthracosilicosis that results from inhaling coal dust. The drudgery and oppressiveness of immigrant life in those coal fields has been aptly described in numerous sociological and historical works, and Bryant should certainly have familiarity with those works. The son -- the father of the narrator -- left the coal fields as soon as he could find his way to California. He encouraged his Montana family to join him. In California the narrator's father (who had become an expert auto mechanic), with the help of his diligent and dedicated wife, established a successful auto parts store. Small wonder that the family headed by this father would demand rigid adherence to customs and traditions that had seemed to have produced what the parents of the family had judged to be success. How did the parents acquire and elaborate the validity of those ideologies? Why would any thoughtful person fail to show understanding of such parents as those parents belittle divorce, free spending of finances, a "gay" life style, etc.? Is there not irony involved in Bryant describing the narrator of the story showing impatience at her parents for their intolerance of her son's gay life style, while concomitantly giving little attention to the possibility that the narrator should feel discomfort at her own intolerance of her parents' ideologies? Could Bryant have given a more balanced picture of the ideologies of the parents of the narrator? Could it be possible that, for some reason, a writer who invalidates the ideologies of the offspring of Italy-to-USA immigrants seeks to show "political correctness?"

George Cuomo, who produced a series of eight novels, had not taken up the matter of his Italian-American background until he wrote his seventh novel. In that novel (1983) Cuomo portrays a protagonist who came from a family in which the father originated in an Italian immigrant background and the mother came from a German immigrant background. As he describes the growing-up years of the protagonist, Vinnie Sirola, he draws up a portrait of a very dysfunctional Italian immigrant family. In this book of 591 pages, Cuomo repeatedly describes the Italian-American family as superstitious, crude, and untrustworthy. Though the protagonist is a highly admirable person, whose admirable qualities seem to be related to his father's influence, one would have to judge that these two men appeared in this family by some sort of miracle. To his credit, Cuomo did write an eighth novel (1993) in which he gives a far more balanced picture of an Italian immigrant family.

Two dramas provide other examples of negative portrayals of Italian American families by Italian-Americans. David Simpatico (1996) in writing his drama MACS: A Macaroni Requiem models Albert Innaurato's play Gemini (1977 ) by doing the "politically correct" things; that is, by writing a play in which a central character suffers on account of his practice of a lifestyle once known as homosexuality. Simpatico and Innaurato's protagonists, of course, have a very hard time of it; because they are members of Italian-American families! It well-known that Italian-American families would be, as Torgovnick has put it, "prejudiced and racist!!!" Simpatico's play is particularly strident in portraying the Italian-American family as being a bevy of crude, foul-mouthed slobs. Innaurato, being a more skillful dramatist, does the job with somewhat more finesse. As a result, as Thomas Belmont (1999) has noted, Innaurato's play, "Gemini was a proletarian puppet show that, with its scatological language and depictions of hurled food and poor hygiene, confirmed for its predominantly upper-middle-class audiences every cliché that they ever wanted to believe about Italian-Americans in particular and working people in general"  (p. 10). In any case, audiences who watch either of these plays will have no difficulty concluding that Innaurato and Simpatico (as a second rate imitator), would be pleased to leave the impression that they have no connections to the culture of the Italy-to-The-USA avventura..

John Ciardi represents a particularly interesting case of a writer from Italian- American background. Ciardi deservedly achieved the reputation as an outstanding USA poet. He is credited with completing the first American English translation of Dante's Divine Comedy. Critics consistently offer high praise to this translation and to all of his poetry and writings about poetry.

Ciardi (1971) did write a superb collection of poetry in which he sets out a rich portrayal of the activities of his Italian-American immigrant family. The poetry in this book is an affirmation of Ciardi's great skill both as a poet and as a recorder of the resourcefulness of his family. He did not write material that one could regard as expressions of overly negative evaluations of Italian-American life.

Despite this assessment of his work, one must judge that Ciardi had a very difficult time coming to terms with his Italian-American background. When he was asked to join a scholarly Italian-American organization, he refused to do so in a letter in which he berated the members of that organization for separating themselves from the scholarly community in general. When he was asked about the reception and status of his book, Lives of X, he responded in a somewhat testy manner, indicating that he does not want the book to be viewed in terms of its Italian-American content, but wants the work to be assessed strictly in terms of the quality of its poetry. Additionally, he resented being discussed as an "Italian-American poet." He claimed a right to be judged simply as "a poet."

Ciardi's troubled relationship with his orientation to his heritage might be traced to his experience during World War II. In an interview which is published in Studs Terkel's (1984) book, The Good War Ciardi gives an account which indicates that his family had not taught him properly the ideology of the "Bada alle cose tue." He tells that as a graduate student he had signed petitions favoring the socialist-oriented Spanish Loyalists. Though he joined the U. S. Air Force during World War II and had been destined to become a navigator, and thus an officer, his political background was uncovered and he ended up serving as a tail gunner on B-29 bomber. He goes on, in the interview with Terkel, to tell of the absolute terror that he experienced each time that he went on a mission. If he had failed to learn from his family to tend to his own things, he certainly had his lesson while he was in the U. S. Air Force in the Pacific theater. It was not his business to worry about helping to tell the story of The Italy-to-The-USA avventura. It was his business to become the highly esteemed poet he did become. Nevertheless, everyone should read Lives of X, both for its poetry and for the balanced portrayal of Italian-American life.

The literary career of Gay Talese would stand as a special case study of a writer attempting to record some of the events surrounding the avventura. One must turn a fascinated gaze on the trajectory of his career: (1) Write a book about the doings of the underworld as a reflection of Italian-American life [Talese, 1971]; (2) Capitalize on the ways in which the broader society gratefully responded to that kind of defamation by becoming a self appointed apologist and spokesperson on the topic of Italian-American writers; (3) pick up the theme of Italian-Americans as heir to the ideology of Bada alle cose tue, continuing to stress the unacceptable aspects of that ideology, and explain the relative paucity of Italian-American writings by emphasizing the tendency of Italian-Americans toward maintaining "secrecy" about one's background [Talese, 1993]; (4) Capitalize on the notoriety achieved in this process, write another book "Unto the Sons, a huge unrelenting documentation of his father's Calabrian background and a rehash of Italian immigration history {, that} does not, as fiction might have done, transform facts and characters into art" [Barolini, 1999, p. 124; material in brackets inserted by JCM]. As I read Barolini's characterization of Unto the Sons as "unrelenting documentation" I immediately thought of "unrelenting put-down" of Talese's father and the culture from which his father had immigrated. Not only does the novel fail as art, it fails to reflect even a modest understanding of the origins of his father's life-style and ideologies. His descriptions of his father ooze with resentment.

Like some other highly successful Italian-Americans (Ponselle, 1982, Mancini, 1989) who personally tell their family's stories, Talese shows no inclination to demonstrate an understanding of his father's approach to life. The text of this book is particularly difficult to digest when a reader is tempted to conclude that Talese has engaged in outright fabrication. At some points, especially when he has elaborated a negative aspect of the people being described, a reader would need to be quite gullible to believe that he is presenting something that might actually have occurred. As I read this book I found it more entertaining to search out those paragraphs in the book that do not contain a slur on Italian or Italian-American culture

As I read the book, I became convinced that Talese revealed high motivation toward showing that he originated in a slightly noble, landowning family. In other words, he wanted his readers to be sure to understand that his family were not cafoni (rustic boors, vulgar fellows), who had no recourse other than to leave Calabria. Or, as one reviewer stated, he appears to have been more interested in telling about his father's cousin, who went to Paris and became a tailor to the very rich - unlike his father, who ended in Ocean City, New Jersey, where he became the tailor to middle class bible thumpers.

In short, one can claim that there now exists a plethora of easily accessible texts, in a variety of genre, in which writers emphasize the flawed character of the Italy-to-The-USA immigrants and their immediate descendants.

Yet, there is reason to be optimistic about the possibilities of accelerated productions of texts that contain a more balanced view of the Italy-to-The-USA immigrants and Italian-Americans?

The Current State of The Effort to Tell
The Story of The Italian-American Avventura.

Currently, there is good reason to be optimistic about the prospects for leaving behind a readily available, balanced record of the avventura and the descendants of the immigration. I make this claim on the basis of having watched progress over the last twenty years. In the following text, I can give only some of the evidence for the causes of my optimism.

As I attempt to assess the reasons for the changes that have taken place, I come to a speculative conclusion which I would like a share with readers. Strained as it may seem, I think that one of the major events which increased the flow of popular material that chronicles the avventura was the publication of Mario Puzo's extremely successful novel, The Godfather. As easily as I can find much to criticize about the effects of that novel, I believe that I can understand the many reasons for its success. I believe that its success was largely attributable to that fact that Italian-Americans were not particularly offended by the book. Italian-Americans might have deplored the major theme of the book, but they found the underlying ideology of the book to be quite acceptable. If one thinks about it, he/she can see that the book is a celebration of the ideology of tending to your own affairs. Puzo in creating the figure of The Godfather, Don Corleone, portrayed a character who constantly expressed the idea that a real man takes care of his own affairs. He doesn't waste time by appealing to the structural institutions of the society, and he has no faith in the possibility that those institutions will change as a result of communal action! Bada alle cose tue! - however it must be done!

With the success of Puzo's novel, those who wish to write about Italian-American themes became aware that they did not need to interpret the life of the immigrant in terms of struggle through communal action in order to achieve a righting of deplorable conditions. One could write about the successes of those who simply went ahead, faced the problems that they encountered, found personal solutions to those problems, and succeeded in assuring a satisfying life for himself/herself and his/her family. Even academics found that they could comfortably offer a balanced picture of how this ideology assured the success of so many prominent offspring of Italian immigrants. Amoral familism no longer appeared to be all that amoral!!!

Angelo Pellegrini, a fine Italian-American writer who is not as well known as is Puzo, offers a superlative example of a writer who found that writing about the satisfactions that follow from tending your own affairs proves to be more attractive than writing about struggle.

Pellegrini's family left the life of impoverished Tuscan peasants, and immigrated to the lumber camps of Washington State, when Pellegrini was 14 years old. He excelled in the educational system that he entered. He became a noted professor of Shakespeare at the University of Washington. In his youth he, like Ciardi, subscribed to the idea of becoming involved in communal political efforts to correct what he thought to be injustices. In the late twenties, when he was finishing his graduate work, he joined the Communist Party. As expected when he was holding a position as a professor, during the anti-communist witch hunts, he was in a very dangerous position. Right about that time Pellegrini wrote his first commercially successful book (Pellegrini, 1948) -- a beautiful book in which he talks about the ways in which following the culture of immigrant Italian-American's could lead to the good life. Fortunately, he escaped the witch hunts with little damage, and the book -- The Unprejudiced Palate -- became a near best seller.

No one has expressed the ideology of Bada alle cose tue as beautifully as Pellegrini has expressed that ideology in the following passage:

Of course, I am not naive enough as to suggest that one may find in [the pages of this book] the complete formula for a contented life. Before the conditions to human welfare become equally accessible to all, there are persistent problems in politics, economics and social relationships which must be solved by intelligent collective action. These are matters with which the American must preoccupy himself as a citizen. But regardless of the age or the environment in which he lives, the individual cannot escape a residuum of indivisible responsibility for the attainment of his own happiness. Where the conditions to his well being are contingent, he must act as a citizen; but where they are purely a matter of his own will and initiative, he must bestir himself as an individual.

. . . . [In this book} I have emphasized activities and attitudes that seem to me most frequently neglected sources of felicity. Implicit in the various anecdotes relating to the experience of the immigrant, and in all the trivia about bread and wine, is the simple lesson that the home is the appropriate place where man may realize some part of his dignity. . . . . Resourcefulness and self-reliance in providing for the family's immediate needs are ancestral virtues which one should strive to rediscover. The pursuit of these ends will yield a measure of contentment of which no man should deprive himself. (Pellegrini, 1984/1948, pp. 230-231)

Pellegrini continued to celebrate his Italian-American heritage and enjoyed the benefits of tending to his own garden right up until his death, at age 88, in 1992.

The rise in the number and quality of books which set forth balanced views of the avventura. Anyone who makes an effort to read the flow of literature which appears in the form of popular books that offer accounts of Italian-American life would find it impossible to keep up with the material that is being published.

Among the many books that can be recommended to anyone interested in reading balanced accounts of the avventura, one must give particular recognition to Allon Schoener's The Italian-Americans (New York: Macmillan, 1987) and Jere Mangione and Ben Morreale's La Storia (New York: Harper-Collins, 1992). Schoener's book is a beautifully balanced book, loaded with excellent photos. The book's content captures the trials as well as the triumphs of the avventura. The Mangione and Morreale book requires a bit of patience to get by the first 50 pages. In those pages the authors, following the practices of the earlier Italian-American writers, offer a rather tedious account of the trials and tribulations of the immigrants. Having plowed through those first pages, a reader will find a superb account of the Italy-to-The USA avventura.

In her book, Growing up Italian, Linda Brandi Cautera published the results of interviews with 24 prominent offspring of Italian immigrants -- Gov. Cuomo, Cardinal Bernardin, Rudolph Giuliani, Michael Andretti, Tony Bennett, and so on. After having read all of these accounts, one comes away with a deep understanding of the nature of the Italian-American experience, and the ways in which the interviewees evaluate the effects of the values and traditions that influenced those who lived through that experience.

Robert Mondavi (1998) forthrightly tells of his parents' strict demands for an adherence to the a very well-defined code of values - "honesty, integrity, hard work, self-reliance, and one more that was set in stone: a man's word should be a sacred bond" (p. 38). He also tells of the bitter feud that developed in his family when he began to propose to the family, over their objections, that they should change the orientation of the Krug winery, which they had developed to a high-level success. At the same time, he makes it clear that he understood that his parents' stiff demands for family loyalty and cohesiveness had derived from their experiences as contadini who left the Marche region of Italy, migrated to the mining districts of Minnesota, became involved in trading in grapes, moved to California, and eventually established a highly successful winery. Mondavi also clearly expresses his appreciation for the ambiance of joy in living and the demands for constant striving to excellence which his parents provided. He the makes it clear that his family experiences formed the basis of the tremendous success that he then achieved when he established his own winery as a means of pursuing the goals that he had decided to pursue.

In another book that recounts the story of a notably successful child all of the avventura, P. Smith (1987) tells of the life experiences of Albert Rosellini. In 1939, Albert Rosellini, aged 29, son of an Italian immigrant from the Tuscany region, entered the Senate of the State of Washington. Rosellini had graduated from University of Washington law school and had passed his bar examinations in 1933. As a social activist, Albert Rosellini chose his causes with great care. During his leadership in the senate of the state, Rosellini led the way in establishing the University of Washington medical/dental schools, brought intense focus on the ways in which the state institutions cared for prisoners and other persons who found it difficult to function in society, and constantly led in bringing about effectiveness in the organization of state government. He was a consummate politician, who very effectively promoted the achievement of his goals.

Rosellini was elected governor of the state in 1956, and served two terms in that office. While governor, Rosellini brought about very important changes in the educational systems of the state, he initiated a trade organization that was responsible for much of the tremendous development of trade and industry in the state, he promoted the initiative to bring the  world's fair to Seattle, he modernized the management of the state institutions, and he totally reorganized the state's budgeting procedures.

Though the Seattle Times had constantly taken a negative position toward Rosellini and his administration, one of its principal writers, who had covered decades of Washington politics said that Rosellini was the best governor that the state had had during his tenure as a reporter. "He was not a man of empty rhetoric. He got things done."

Rosellini successes did not come easily. In his youth he clearly was the favored son of a very closely knit family, but that did not excuse him from taking responsibility for working toward his advanced degrees. He needed to engage in hard physical work as well as hard study in order to achieve his academic success. As the son of an Italian immigrant tavern owner who had once been jailed for illegal traffic in alcohol, Rosellini was the target of mistrust and suspicion. Nevertheless, he weathered life in grand fashion. The work ethic which guided him all his life was still apparent when he was 86 years old. He rarely took vacations, and was in his office at least five days a week! At age 90 he continued to take an active part in political activity.

Gerald Meyer (1989) has written a book about an Italian-American whose political career contrasts to that of Rosellini's. In 1901, Vito Marcantonio's grandfather took his son, Sanario, back to the elder Marcantonio's home town, Picerno, in the Province of Basilicata. There Sanario took as a bride Angelina de Bobitis. The couple returned to New York City, and Vito was born in 1902. Vito's family and his paternal grandparents lived in the same house. Vito, unlike most of the other boys in the Italian Harlem section of Manhattan, attended high school. At DeWitt Clinton High School he was influenced by two powerful mentors, Abraham Lefkowitz - an ardent socialist who ran for Congress in 1922; and Leonard Covello - a noted early 20th Century Italian-American educator.

Under instruction from Lefkowitz, Marcantonio became acquainted with socialist ideologies. Under Covello, Marcantonio developed a fierce pride in and allegiance to his Italian-American heritage. Covello convinced Marcantonio that his Italian heritage gave him access to the great achievements of Italian culture as well as to the ideologies of the contadini who had immigrated to the slums of New York City. When he became a Representative in The Congress of The USA he demonstrated that he would adhere assiduously to the teachings of his mentors. The causes that he supported during his tenure as representative were not popular. In a radio address in 1942 he accused those who questioned the loyalty of Italian-Americans of playing into Hitler's hands. He opposed the expense and effort being expended on Cold War activity, and voted against the Marshall plan because he perceived it as a part of Cold War strategy. He castigated those policies of the USA that he regarded as detrimental to the well being of the people of Puerto Rico, and encouraged the free transit of Puerto Ricans between that island and mainland USA. He was among the first members of USA congress to forcefully demand legislation to protect civil rights. He spearheaded a congressional investigation into the large number of deaths from silicosis among workers who were drilling a tunnel in West Virginia. He stridently castigated anyone, including the notoriously racist Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo, for any anti-Italian slur that came to his attention.

During the Cold War era few historians would attempt to produce a popular, balanced account of Marcantonio's life. He was easily labeled as a "communist sympathizer." The New York City press regularly ran headlines such as "Marcantonio's Underworld Empire: The Inside Story" (See Meyer, 1989, p. 129). "Extensive investigations into the criminal acts implied in these newspapers stories uncovered no evidence to sustain them" (p. 129). He adhered to strict personal standards, and lived a life-style which belied the popular notion that politicians enrich themselves. He never owned an auto. He never traveled for personal pleasure. He did not smoke tobacco. He did not maintain a permanent residence in Washington, but lived in a modest hotel, and walked to the Capitol.

With the diminishing of Cold War rhetoric, the balanced accounts of Marcantonio's career will prompt a reevaluation of that career that will, at least, relocate Marcantonio among the most influential figures who have occupied seats in the USA House of Representatives. Historians will inevitably, as did Meyer, associate Marcantonio's political activity with the values and ideologies he acquired in his Italian-American family.

A recently published biography of Anthony Conigliaro (Cataneo, 1997) offers another balanced view of how relationships within an Italian-American family influenced the life of a Baseball Hall of Fame superstar. "Tony C" was born into the family of the son of Italians who had immigrated to Boston. Cataneo's biography makes no effort to gloss over the ways in which Conigliario's father interfered in and guided Tony's life and career. Reading this biography, one can conclude that the effects of Salvatore Conigliaro's interference produced profound negative as well as positive results. Tony became a legendary home run hitter during his short career with the Boston Red Sox. At the same time, he regularly demonstrated the kind of irresponsibility that one can easily attribute to over indulgence by his parents. Tony was not only a baseball hero in his hometown, he was also extraordinarily handsome and very charming. These attributes gave him easy access to the sometimes self destructive experiences that Tony considered to be "pleasurable." One can conclude that he was not prepared to deal effectively with the life he was forced to lead after, at age 22, his future brilliant career was cut short by the fast-pitched ball that crashed into his skull next to his left eye. For fifteen years he made one after another fruitless attempt to establish a meaningful alternative to his fabled youthful life. Then, at age 37, the tragedy of Tony's life was compounded when he suffered a massive heart attack that left him brain-damaged and totally helpless.

After a year of desperate attempts to rehabilitate Tony in medical centers, the family moved Tony into his parents' home. Despite the immense demands imposed on them by Tony's need for care and attention, for the next six years his brother and his parents maintained hopeless faith in the possibility that their efforts would revive some spark of the dashing, fun-loving son and brother that had flashed through the baseball world of Boston. In February, 1990, all hope passed as his brother Billie sat at Tony's bedside counting the diminishing pulse that he could feel as he held Tony's hand.

Two  accounts of life in a family originating in the avventura superbly exemplify the balance which one might expect as the descendants of the avventura produce sound literary works. These two works show that the authors have explored deeply the sources of the orientations of the characters described in their narratives. Having done so, their writing neither glorifies nor denigrates the values and self-definitions that guided the conduct of the central figures around which the stories revolve. While having these similarities, the two exemplary books are distinctly different.  Edward Villella (1992) spins out a largely autobiographical narrative that describes his own striving for a personal identity that led to enormous success in the world of ballet. The main setting for his story is the urban New York City artistic world. Joe Fiorito’s (1999) narrative centers around the extended family of his grandfather, Matteo Fiorito, who had immigrated to a Canadian homestead near the northern shores of Lake Superior. Fiorito’s novelistic account demonstrates, borrowing a quotation from the book’s dust jacket, “that while only the powerful are remembered in the history books, the lives of the powerless can also be the stuff of enduring myth.”

Without question, Edward Villella (1992) has produced a most exemplary balanced popular account of a life affected by and guided by the orientations developed in an Italian-American family. Villella tells, in fine detail, of the course of his illustrious life - from his beginnings as the son of musically oriented truck driver through his achievement of world acclaim as a dancer, teacher, and artistic director of the Miami City Ballet.

Villella's paternal grandfather had emigrated from Calabria to The USA (Queens, NY), where he worked as a master tailor. His mother, also the child of Italy-to-The-USA immigrants, had been reared in an orphanage, after her mother had died. Villella describes his early family life, in Queens. For the first five years of his life, his parental family lived in a small house at the rear of the house occupied by his father's father. In a well balanced account, Villella recounts the social life of the family - a patriarchal regime, dominated by his "indomitable," "charming when he wanted to be" grandfather.

The family cast of characters starred his mother. "Ma was a tyrant (p. 15). She was determined to have her children move into a more prestigious existence. When Edward accompanied his mother and sister to the girl's dance classes, he was invited to join the students. He exulted in the physical aspects of the ballet. Soon, he excelled all the other members of the class.  When his sister joined the School of American Ballet in Manhattan, a school administrator, hearing of a young male who had already begun to dance ballet, urged Edward's mother to enroll her son. At the SAB, Villella reports, he began his passionate love affair with ballet - a love affair that would be reciprocated ten times over by the international ballet world.

But - the specter of the "stifling" Italian-American parents eventually appeared on the scene. By the time that he was sixteen years old, he had become a stellar scholarship student at the SAB. To the devastation of his mother, his sister announced that she would no longer dance. In the upheaval that followed this announcement, Villella's parents demanded that he, too, would stop dancing. Success in a career in ballet was too ephemeral - too risky! The family erupted in a volcano of rage. Villella's father insisted that Edward would stop dancing and go to college. He enrolled in the New York State Maritime College. "It was a college, but it felt more like a prison" (p. 29).

While maintaining a respectable academic record, Villella turned his athleticism to boxing and baseball. He became the welterweight boxing champion of the college and won a letter on the varsity baseball team. But, he needed to dance. To satisfy his need, he showed the true spirit of Bada alle cose tue. He secretly joined ballet classes at Carnegie Hall Ballet Arts Studio. When he was at sea on a training cruise, he took along a record player, and worked out dance exercises for two hours each day. When his ship stopped in ports during summer cruises to Europe Villella made his way to dance studios and ballet companies. In the first semester of his final year at the Maritime College he continued his ballet regimen. "I was doing what my parents wanted, but I was also taking control of my destiny" (p. 34).

A devastating mishap forced Villella to miss the first months of his last semester at the Maritime College. Putting off the completion of his degree (which he did later complete), he took the plunge. He returned to the SAB, met the famed George Ballanchine, and was invited to join the New York City Ballet. He joined the company in 1957. Nothing that could be said here can fully reflect the luster of the meteor that shot into the ballet world. Anyone who has the least interest in ballet knows of the dynamic athleticism that became the standard of male ballet dancing after Villella had demonstrated his almost incredible mastery of that style of dancing.

Meanwhile, Villella's parents fully enacted the role of betrayed parents. They gave Edward the legendary Italian "silent treatment." They refused to attend his performances. They had no idea of the acclaim that critics and audiences were according to Villella. Years passed before he bought two balcony seats and convinced them to come to a performance. That evening's performance was described by Arlene Croce (dance critic for The New Yorker): "I saw a dark-eyed devil in an orange sweater fly backward through space about seven feet off the ground" (quoted in Villella, 1992, p. 59). Villella's account of the scene that followed the performance would strike up memories for anyone who has witnessed the peace-making scenes that follow a feud in an Italian-American family. "We fell into each others arms and laughed and cried and hugged, and kissed. From that time on my father carried my picture in his jacket and flashed my reviews all over the garment center" (p. 60).

At the end of his book, Villella describes his having personally offered physical and financial aid to his dying father. After his father's death, at age eighty-nine, Villella wrote:

While I was writing this book, I often thought about my father, about our relationship and about my love for him. I remembered all our old times together, happy and sad, and remembered in particular the day in 1953 when he drove me to the Maritime College. The drive was agony for me.  Entering the school was, up to that point, the most unhappy moment of my life, and I was suffering, but for my father, it was without doubt the proudest moment of his existence. His son was going to be the first member of the family to earn a college degree, and it gave him tremendous satisfaction.

At the time I couldn't empathize with him or understand what he was feeling. I was a kid, and the thing I wanted most was being taken away from me. But now, so many years later, I can understand what he was feeling that day. For, there is no doubt that one of the proudest moments in my life occurred last June when my son, Roddy, graduated from Union College..... (p. 303-305).

Joe Fiorito centers his account of his immigrant family around the death of his father, Lawrernce, who was always known as Dusty. Fiorito tells that he has returned home in order to attend to his father as Dusty faced the inevitably of his death.  Joe was able to spend nineteen nights with Dusty, whose body slowly succumbed to the ravages of rampant cancer. As he shared those nineteen nights with his father, Joe – often with the help of his father – was able to reconstruct the family myths.  By this device Fiorito was able to recount his family history in terms of the perspectives of those persons who were described in and passed on the family myths.  Additionally, by having researched the “authenticity” of many of those myths and being able to cast those myths into his own knowledge of the Italy-to-Canada avventura, Fiorito was able to propose a cogent description of the basis for the values, preferences, practices, and conduct of his family.
 Through the family myths,  Fiorito tells the story of a Canadian-American family whose history would parallel that of thousands of Italian-American families. Fiorito tells of the way in which his grandfather had been induced to leave the little town of Ripabottoni, located in Province of Campbasso, Italy.  Fiorito’s grandfather, Matteo, accompanied his brother-in-law, Joseph Silvaggio, and Matteo’s sister, Filomena, on their flight to Canada. The flight was motivated as a consequence of Sivlaggio having shot and killed a man who had contested his right-of-way on the road by whipping Silvaggio across the neck. The threesome made their way to Fort William, Ontario. Matteo married a woman from Ripabottoni whom he had met in Fort William.  The two families each acquired homesteads of 160 acres, and each set about following the ancient biblical proscription – a proscription a fortified by  life in the peasant villages of Capmpbasso.– to be fruitful and multiply.  Matteo and his wife, Angela, produced five surviving daughters and seven surviving sons.  Joseph and Filomena did their best to duplicate the fecundity of the Fiorito couple.
 With this cast of characters, Fiorito was able to provide the structure for many fascinating tales about the ways in which these families accommodated the world view that they had acquired in Campobasso to a world dominated by in Northern European immigrants to Canada. Obviously, the course of life did not always run smoothly, and, depending on one’s perspective, there would be little consensus about whether all of the results of the efforts would deserve approval.
 Fiorito gives most attention to the character of his father, Dusty. Dusty was the last born of Matteo and Angela’s reproductive efforts. Fiorito describes him as a charming and talented musician who worked as a postal delivery person. Dusty constantly revealed a lack of confidence about the quality of his musical performance and regularly failed to satisfy his family that he could act as a responsible husband and father.  Dusty found it difficult to reject the opportunity to share conversation and high-proof beverages.  He relished any opportunity to tell a story, and others regularly encouraged him to demonstrate his skill at doing so. Fiorito insightfully describes his own constant effort to locate himself comfortably at a point between utter disgust for his father’s periods of unacceptable conduct and his father’s charming demonstrations of warmth and love.
 In recounting his relationships with his father, Fiorito demonstrates the same exceptional insights that he demonstrates in his recounting of even the most minute details of the incidents in the life of his extended family.  He offers totally credible analyses of the food habits of his family, just as he did in his very satisfying book, Comfort me with apples (1994). He neatly frames the conflicts between Italian immigrants and the religious ideologies of the Roman Catholic clergy who dominated the church attended by the Italian immigrants. His descriptions of the resourcefulness of the members of his extended family can be appreciated by any descendant of the millions of similar families who showed similar resourcefulness. I found myself thoroughly amused by Fiorito’s discussion of the ways in which he needed to deal with people who find it impossible to believe that a family name may contain more vowels than consonants. Having had the superior pleasure of having traced out my family’s origins in small southern Italian towns, I relived those pleasures as Fiorito described how he and his wife explored Ripabottoni for traces of the family in which his grandparents had originated.  Above all, Fiorito’s outstanding skill in using and his understanding of the pervasive story-telling that occurs in many Italian-American families gives his writing a lustre that suggests that he had been soaked in an ambiance in which that skill was a part of the everyday context of life.
 A reader of Fiorito’s book can assume that much of the book’s contents may be taken as autobiographical. On that assumption, one outstanding feature of Fiorito’s book deserves special comment. Though Fiorito aptly describes the ways in which the members of a less powerful group need to confront constantly the demand that they adapt to the demands of members of a more powerful group, one cannot find in the contents of Fiorito’s book any evidence that he wishes to be accorded “victim status.” Like many persons who somehow received from their Italian-American families the capacity to develop a solid self identity while retaining an appreciation of their heritage, Fiorito has no reason to plead for “victim status.”  An exploration of his achievements will reveal that Fiorito has enjoyed an extremely successful career as a journalist and commentator. One must conclude that Fiorito had learned well the ideology of bada alle cose tue, and he has done just that with excellent results.

Reading the works of Helen Barolini, one must be prompted toward optimism about the possibility that other current writers are similarly producing comprehensive, well balanced accounts of the Italy-to-The-USA avventura. Barolini has established her credentials as a skilled writer who has concentrated her attention specifically on assuring that there is an ample record of the place of women in the avventura . She compiled, edited, and provided very extensive annotation for an anthology of writing by Italian-American women -- The Dream Book (1985). Another of Barolini's books, entitled Chiaroscuro: Essays of Identity (1999), contains a series of essays that lay out her thoughts on such matters as the efforts of second and third generation Italian-Americans as they worked to establish a place in the broader society of The USA. Every home in the USA should include Barolini's book Festa (1988) among its reference books. The book should not be mistaken for another among the ubiquitous Italian food recipe books! The book is organized around the festive celebrations of each month of the year, and provides detailed information about the ways in which Italians and Italian-Americans celebrate those traditional feste.

The novel, Umbertina, stands as Helen Barolini's masterwork. First published in 1979, the novel has been republished by Feminist Press. Barolini, drawing on her own experiences and on extensive research, portrays three generations of women whose experiences were shaped by the avventura. The central figure in the novel is Umbertina. Umbertina, with her husband and their young children, left Calabria and eventually settled in Cato (Utica??), New York. Barolini narrates a stirring saga of how the family evolved from being occupants of the crude structures of a Calabrian village to being the occupants of a mansion in Cato. Barolini also provides a description of significant life events experienced by Umbertina's granddaughter and great-granddaughter. That description chronicles the personal struggles of women growing up in the close-knit, highly regulating ambiance created by the families who have descended from the Italy-to-The-USA immigration. Any reader of this book will gain considerable insight in the struggles entailed as a person attempts to operate in and outside of a landscape in which he/she had developed his/her basic self identity through association with a reference group that is strongly grounded in its traditional values.

When one notes that Barolini spent her crucial developmental years in Syracuse, New York, he/she might observe that a string of noted Italian-American writers had developed in the Central New York Region. Frank Lentricchia, who has firmly established a world-wide reputation in literary criticism, emerged from the Italian-American community in Utica, New York. He has turned his attention to producing popular literary works aimed at an audience outside academic circles. Lentricchia has produced three books (1999, 1996, 1994) into which he has woven his very personal accounts of happenings in the Italian-American community in Utica. Lentricchia's productions demonstrate his skill in using a wide range of the kinds of literary devices that he assessed and mastered through his literary criticism activity. His descriptions are colorful and intriguing. He shows special skill in turning his characters into mysterious mythic figures, many of which neatly encapsulate the traditions and values of characters that seem to appear in every Italian-American community in The USA.

Lentricchia's latest publication, The Music of the Inferno contains a special bonus. The jacket reproduces paintings by Robert Cimbalo. Cimbalo has turned his painting and drawing talents toward the task of leaving a pictorial and graphic record of life in the Italian-American community in Utica. His drawings and paintings have appeared in many Italian-American publications. Cimbalo also collaborated with Eugene Nasser (1999) by providing paintings and drawings to illustrate Nassar's latest book, A Walk around the Block. In that book Nassar provided a fine introduction to literary criticism, and then applied the tenets of that criticism to an analysis of the myths about home and place that he had heard as he grew up in a Lebanese-American family that lived in the Italian-American community of Utica, New York.

Joseph Persico, Richard Russo and Camille Paglia also emerged from Central New York - Paglia, like Barolini, from Syracuse, and Persico from Gloversville. and Russo from Gloversville and Amsterdam. Of these three, Paglia (See Ferraro, 1999) very overtly makes claims that her Italian-American background has influenced her thinking and activity. She has received particular attention by taking the role of an Italian-American woman who has offered a balancing antidote (Paglia, 1992) to the ItalianAmerican women writers who have made much of the stifling effects of "the narrow domination of one psyche (the male) and its one 'way of seeing.'"

Self publication as a means of disseminating accounts of the avventura. Current, technologically supported trends in book publishing promise to provide a significant channel to disseminating a balanced view of the avventura and its effects on life in The USA. Anyone who becomes reasonably comfortable using a computer can turn out a rather attractive document in which he/she reports his/her experience as a participant in the avventura. Frank Laiacona's (1998) book, Tory Hill and Other Short Stories is nicely representative of that kind of effort. Frank put together a collection of about 60 vignettes that describe incidents that took place in his Italian American neighborhood in Troy, New York.

As Frank had done, one can quite readily develop the skills to produce a book of this kind. Using the sophisticated formatting that is available in a good computer word-processing system, the writer can take the master copy of his/her production to a local printer and can run off as many copies as he/she wishes. In this way someone who wishes to present his account of Italian-American life will not be constrained by publisher's concerns about cost-effectiveness, etc.  Edward Maruggi (1997) has brought out a small, inexpensive book similar to that published by Frank Laiacona. We can be sure that we can look forward to many similar publications, each of which will add the varied perspectives that may be taken to the understanding of the experiences of participants in the avventura.

Dorothy Bryant has established one of the most notable self-publishing ventures. She and her husband have established Ata Press; a firm that they operate out of their own home. This arrangement allows the Bryants to by-pass the constraints imposed on her writing by considerations of evaluations by publishers and their advisors. In the end, this arrangement leaves the judgment of the popular appeal of her to potential readers. The consulting editors hired by "big name" publishers, who are given reign to pursue their own agendas, are taken out of the loop. With the capability of advertising on the internet, and becoming listed in the computers of book purveyors who advertise aggressively, a writer can expect that he/she will, in many instances, come to the attention of a wider audience than that which will be reached by publisher advertising. Further, internet purveyors allow individual reader reviews, which ultimately might be more influential than reviews published in organs that are controlled by special interest coteries. Atop all these advantages of self-publishing, a writer can easily establish his/her world wide web site, which will inevitably come to the attention of people who have an interest in the topic about which the author writes. organizations adn

Organizations and their publications. The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) might be judged to the most active organization that attempts to facilitate efforts to disseminate popular versions of the story of the avventura. Aside from its very active scheduling of events aimed at promoting an understanding and appreciation of Italian-American life, the NIAF issues two high-quality publications that promote the dissemination of information about Italian-American life. The NIAF News, a quarterly publication, provides information about every type of Italian-American activity, from that involving Italian-Americans in high places who relate to political and commercial interests in Italy to information about youngsters who are awarded scholarships and who do honor to their Italian-American heritage. They also report on blatant negative, stereotypic representations of Italian-Americana. Unlike many other newsletters, NIAF News does not leave the impression that its major purpose is to publicize and celebrate those who are in leadership with NIAF. The listing of recently published books related to Italian-American topics is a regular feature of The NIAF News. A sign of the extent of the publication activity in this area is reflected in the fact that each quarterly issue of The News lists four or five new publications.

The NIAF's magazine The Ambassador features lively, informative articles in a very high-quality publication. The reading of any article leaves one with new insights into many varied topics related to Italian-American life.

In addition, The NIAF has sponsored the publication of a number of important books and directories, including a second edition of Who's Who Among Italian-Americans.

The American-Italian Historical Association, of course, has had a long record of bringing together those scholars who work professionally in the field of Italian-American History. The group organizes a yearly conference at different cities throughout the country, and they support the publication of scholarly studies and monographs In each of the past thirty years the AIHA has published selected papers presented at it annual convention. Writers of popular works on Italian-American life can access AIHA's publications to help to assure the authenticity of the material they include in their work

The Italian American Cultural Foundation in Cleveland provides a model of local organizations that contribute to promoting the production of balanced accounts of the avventura. This organization, for example, organized the 1997 meetings of the American Italian Historical Association. The members of the Cleveland IACF not only provided financial support for this meeting, but also administered many of the details to which one must attend in order to guarantee the success of such a conference.

The Cleveland IACF also takes on a wide variety of projects, following the principal that it will attempt to sponsor any effort which prompts people to become involved in leaving behind a record of Italian-American heritage. The organization provides material to school libraries, prompts and guides students who are writing on topics related to Italian-American life, etc. The Cleveland IACF also has joined the growing list of organizations who have undertaken to sponsor an endowed chair in Italian-American studies at local universities. The IACF raised money to establish such a chair at Cleveland's John Carroll University. In Southern California several Italian-American organizations raised over $500,000 to fund Italian studies at California State University, Long Beach. As a result of these efforts, UC Long Beach is the first of the state universities in Southern California to offer a major in Italian studies.

Local and area Italian-American organizations can make an unusually valuable contribution to assuring that a popular record of the avventura will exist. Such local organizations can sponsor and execute the publication of the stories of local families that have descended from those who left Italy to come to The USA. The Canastota-Onieida Area Italian American Committee has published an excellent example (Canastota-Onieida Area Italian American Committee, 1998) that other local organizations might follow . The group, under the leadership of Roccine Russitano and Ann Stagnitti, solicited from surviving descendants of the Italy-to-The-USA immigrants family photos and histories of the family. The first section of the book contains brief general histories of the Italian immigration into the Canastota-Oneida region of the Mohawk Valley in central New York. The immigrants were attracted to the region not only by the industrial activity that could provide them with employment, but also by the opportunities for farming that were available in what was known as the "mucklands." The mucklands were areas of the region that were retrieved by the draining the low-lying, swampy areas. The drained areas were exceptionally well adaptable to truck farming, the labor to which the Italian immigrants could easily transfer the agricultural skills which they had already developed in Italy. Onion production became the specialty of the region.

Following the book's general introduction, the editors of the book allotted one or two pages to an account of the history of Italian American families in the region. Each page also included photographs of significant events in the history of each family. Each page contains passages such as the following: "To supplement the family income the couple (Gerardo and Vincenza Maula) , with the help of their children, worked seven acres of the muckland for over 40 years. Though the work was difficult, it served as a means for family bonding and provided in education for the children" (p. 135) This particular history, the history of the Maula family, also records the family's major tragedy. After having agonized over the decision, the family agreed that their son, Anthony, could enlist in the U. S. Air Force and train as a pilot. "The day that Tony won his pilot's wings was the proudest and happiest day of his life, but the day that his plane encountered mechanical failure during strafing maneuvers in Sarasota, Florida was the saddest day in the lives of his family! His plane crashed ten days before Christmas, in 1944. He was only twenty-one years old" (p. 135). In an old photo on the page (a copy of which surely was sent back to relatives in Maschito, Province of Potenza), readers can see the very handsome immigrant couple and their two children - showing Vincenza with her arm around a young, pudgy-cheeked Anthony.

Every family like the Maula family deserves to leave its record on at least one page in one book! The Canastota-Oneida Committee has provided a superb model of how that goal can be achieved.

Using the Internet to a leave a record of the avventura. The Internet provides a very effective means of circumventing commercial considerations in order to leave behind an accessible record of the Italian-American immigration and its effects on life in The USA. Anyone with the computer skills to do so can set up a World Wide Web site dedicated to whatever topic he/she wishes to cover. The necessary computer skills are not particularly complex. The setting up of one's Web site spares a person the aggravations of submitting work to a publisher who then attempts to evaluate not only the quality of the work, but also must decide whether publishing the work will be a financial success. The expense of purchasing space on an Internet provider's computer is minimal, and readers will become the ultimate judges of the quality of the work.

From the point of view of ease and convenience of transmitting information, the WWW, even in its relatively young life, has proved to be without peer. A well-created page not only may contain valuable and original material, but the creator can "point to" supporting information that the reader may choose to access - or to ignore. By including in a production links to computers located all over the world, the creator of a page may send a reader to the web site of a local Italian restaurant for a recipe, to an encyclopedia that offers a more elaborate account of an object or event under discussion, or to a computer in Italy on which another writer has placed an account - in Italian and in English - of the history of a small town from which the reader's grandparents had emigrated.

These conditions create not only positive possibilities, but also negative possibilities. At best, someone who manages a Web site can provide exceptionally fine material; which then becomes available to anyone, anywhere in the world. At worst, Web sites also can contain pure junk.

In short, the Internet has unlimited potential as a medium for leaving behind an adequate record of the Italian-American immigration and Italian-American culture. Many sites are springing up, and though one can recognize the risks of such free-wheeling publication, he/she also has reason to be optimistic about the benefits.


I hope that I have made these main points: Twenty years ago there was good reason to be pessimistic about whether or not there would be produced an adequate record of The-Italy-to-The-USA avventura. Two main factors appear to have discouraged the production of that record. First, Italian-Americans, for many reasons, were not receptive to having their story cast in terms of concerted, communal struggle. The ideology of Bada alle cose tue was highly cherished and highly personalized. Second, the effort to convince the offspring of the Italian immigrants to reject any connections with their heritage did constrain many persons who might have contributed to establishing an adequate record. Many potential contributors avoided the possibility that they would be identified as being sympathetic to a culture that was regularly denigrated. When it became apparent that the record of the migration could be told in terms of persons who tended to their own affairs and yet became very successful in our society, more and more writers and artists have turned their efforts to producing the popular record that should be left behind.

The proliferation of publications of high quality must encourage optimism about the status of efforts to leave behind a balanced and adequate record of the Italian-American immigration.


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This essay was devewloped as a part of the effort of The Albany (NY) Area Lodge of The Sons of Italy to make available material that will develop an appreciation and understanding of The Italy-to-USA Avventura. Nevertheless, the writers of this essay and other text found on this world wide web site claim sole responsibility for the content of their productions.


       Anyone interested in obtaining a printed copy of this essay may change the print size by going to the view menu, and then instructing the program to print the text. It would be advisable to set the printer to print in black ink.  

. The author, Jim Mancuso died on June 10th, 2005. We maintain this site in memory of all the things that he did for us.

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