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Spring 2015


The Harbor of the World
- O. Arieti
Those Italian Boys
- I. Backalenick
Friendless Featherheads
- G. Beck
- K. Cain
- J. Campbell
King Street Comanche
- B. Foster
- L. Giulianetti
Poets Out of Service
- M. Johnson
Irish Farmer
- L. Kumar
Communion Portrait
- J. Lagier
- M. Lisella
Connemara 2004
- C. Lloyd
Carrying Grandpa
- M. Lyon
The Saying of Mass
- C. Moore
Taking You home
- J. Mulligan
- P. Murray
- P. Nicholas
Resurrecting Easter Sunday
- L. Pierro
Dublin Spirts
- F. Polizzi
Nun Ponnu/They Cannot
- N. Provenzano
- K. Retzlaff
- C. Steinhoff
Strawberry Pickers, Cyprus
- J. Tarwood
Melina's Tarverna
- B. Thomas
No News
- R. Tremmel
- R. Volz
Broadway Bagel
- C. Wald
Taking My 8-Year-Old Daughter to Hear Seamus Heaney
- L. Wiley
My Mother Had a Relationship with Good Bread
- C. Young
Sicilian Traces
- A. Znaidi

Spring 2015


- J. Amato
Moving Day, 1897
- D. Corrigan
My Madeleine
- F. Dunne
A Review Of Italoamericana: The Literature Of The Great Migration, 1880–1943
- G. Fagiani
The Immigrant's Grandson
- J. Giordano
Review of The Glass Ships
- R. Crupi Holz
A Sunday Afternoon
- R. Iulo
Dark Idyll
- T. Sanfilip
The Choir Book
- G. Sullivan
Review of My Two Italies
- T. Zeppetella

Featured Artist
Richard Holz



Gil Fagiani

A review of Italoamericana: The Literature of the Great Migration, 1880–1943, edited by Francesco Durante; general editor of the American edition, Robert Viscusi; translation editor, Anthony Julian Tamburri; bibliographic editor, James J. Periconi (Fordham University Press, 2014).

Italian Americans’ knowledge of our heritage is often reduced to stereotypes and romantic myths. Case in point; I grew up with the impression that the vast majority of Italian immigrants were illiterate and hostile to education. In fairness, according to the preeminent Italian American educator of the 20th century, Leonard Covello, there is some truth to this image: poor Italian immigrants often encouraged their children to forgo school and get a job to help support their families.

Reinforcing this notion, Gay Talese’s 1993 essay “Where Are the Italian- American Writers?” appeared on the front page of The New York Times Book Review. He claimed that, compared to other ethnic groups, Italian Americans had produced few authors and were devoid of a literary tradition. Outraged, Fred Gardaphe, a Distinguished Professor of Italian American Studies at Queens College, contested Talese: “Since he had not read Italian American writers, he could only ask the question.” Gardaphe contended that an Italian literary tradition has existed since the 19th century.

Now the groundbreaking anthology Italoamericana: The Literature of the Great Migration, 1880-1943 proves Gardaphe’s point by providing us with a sweeping historical survey of Italian American literature, publishing, and eyewitness accounts of the Italian immigrant experience.

For academics in the fields of Italian American and ethnic studies, the anthology will serve as the Holy Grail, challenging assumptions about ignorant and book-hating Italian immigrants, and will confirm the existence of a vibrant literary scene within the various colonie, as Italian American immigrant communities were called. Since the writers who comprised this literary tradition wrote, for the most part, in standard Italian, until now, their work was inaccessible to English-speaking readers.

For the general reader, the book is of great social and historic value because the writers express their first-hand observations and opinions, directly and honestly, providing later generations with an intimate view of quotidian life in the U.S. during the formative period of Italian immigration.

Francesco Durante, an Italian-based journalist and literary scholar, edited an Italian version, two-volume work, which was initially published in Italy during 2005. The first volume, covering the period 1776–1880, is not yet available in English.

Professor Anthony Tamburri, Dean of the John D. Calandra Institute of Italian American Studies, and Robert Viscusi, a Brooklyn College professor, both recognized that, in the field of Italian translation, Italian Americans have historically been underrepresented. Therefore, they chose a team of 20 translators, who, with one exception, were Italian American; most of them members of the Italian American Writers Association (iawa.net) or the Italian American Studies Association (ItalianAmericanStudies.net), formerly the American Italian Historical Association.

Italoamericana embodies a literary canon for Italian American culture: poetry, drama, journalism, political advocacy, history, memoir, biography and stories. Viscusi and Durante have written thoughtful and cogent introductions. There is also a brief but informative biography of each author in the anthology that provides insights into this instructive and entertaining collection. Additionally, James Periconi expanded on and strengthened Durante’s original bibliography.

Each of the five sections of Italoamericana: “Chronicle of the Great Exodus,” “Colonial Chronicles,” “On Stage (and Off),” “Anarchists, Socialists, Fascists, and Antifascists,” and “Integrated Apocalyptics” is proceeded by a comprehensive introduction.

As one of the translators, I would like to focus on the political dimensions of the four pieces I translated. First, a few words about the actual translation process. I encountered many difficulties in translating the Italian text to modern English. The most arduous task was punctuating the old rhetorical style of Italian writing. Many of the sentences were longer than an average paragraph in English. For the sake of clarity and narrative flow, at times I divided these long sentences into shorter sentences, careful not to eliminate the voice of the writer and the flavor of the times. My goal was to combine clarity with a sense of the Italian style of expression that prevailed during an earlier historical period.

The first piece I translated was a speech entitled “For Humanity” by Luigi Roversi (Bologna, 1859 – New York City, 1927). A reporter and editor for various Italian American newspapers, as well as a lecturer for the New York City Board of Education, Roversi delivered this speech at a mass protest against the lynching of 11 Sicilians in New Orleans in 1891 after they had been acquitted of assassinating the corrupt police chief, David Hennessy. In his speech, Roversi railed against not only the New Orleans authorities, for handing over the innocent Sicilians to an enraged mob, but the American press, for justifying the lynching. The New York Times, in an editorial, declared that “Lynch law was the only course open to the people of New Orleans to stay the issue of a new license to the Mafia to continue its bloody practices.”

Roversi captures the zeitgeist of a time when Italian immigrants were not considered “white” and were victims of a vicious anti-immigrant hysteria, which included discrimination in housing and employment, as well as spasms of murderous violence.

If third and fourth-generation Italian Americans knew the true immigrant history of their ancestors, they might be inspired to adopt a more compassionate and tolerant attitude towards today’s immigrants.

The second piece I translated was “Once Again Tresca” by Ezio Taddei (Livorno, 1895 –Rome, 1956). A political activist, editor, and prolific prose and fiction writer, Taddei focuses on the assassination of Carlo Tresca (1879–1943), who was an influential anarchist, labor organizer, leader of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and editor of the militant antifascist newspaper, Il Martello.

Taddei disputes the notion, widely held at the time, that Carlo Tresca was assassinated by Communists, a position held by Luigi Antonini, President of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. Instead, he blamed the Fascists. Modern scholars attribute Tresca’s assassination to a Mafia hit man, although the intellectual author of his death remains in dispute.

Taddei reminds us of a time when Italian Americans were part of a diverse political landscape that included anarchists, communists, socialists and fascists. Today, there is a tendency among some Italian American commentators to claim that, politically, Italian Americans have always been universally conservative. With its rich array of political ideas and voices, Italoamericana documents the existence of a diverse political legacy.

The third piece I translated was “Fascism in America” by Agostino De Biasi (Avellino, 1875 – New York City, 1964). A journalist and editor, he promoted the first Italian Fascist organization abroad, which was located in New York City. In 1915, he founded the monthly journal Il Carroccio, which scholars consider the best cultural review ever produced by Italians in America. De Biasi’s article, which reads like a speech, provides important historical insights.

I have long reflected on why the Italian American colonie were so smitten with Mussolini and Fascism. Why did decent people like my maternal grandfather, one of the kindest and most gentle men I’ve ever known, become enthusiastic Mussolini supporters, and why did my grandmother send her wedding ring to Fascist Italy to help bankroll the colonization of Ethiopia?

At the time, virtually the entire American political establishment lauded and supported Mussolini. FDR’s adviser, Rexford Guy Tugwell, said of Italian Fascism: “It's the cleanest, neatest, most efficiently operating piece of social machinery I've ever seen. It makes me envious.”

In the case of non-Italians, their support of Mussolini was often tinged with the racist belief that Italians were too backward and querulous a race to succeed at building democratic institutions, and that Italy needed a strongman to lead it into the 20th century, a belief many Italians and Italian Americans shared. But De Biasi’s moving article reveals the powerful psychological sway that Fascism had on the psyche of Italian American immigrant families, who were experiencing daily indignities and humiliations in the New World.

From the perspective of a rigorous assimilationist policy — the so-called theory of the melting pot — the culture of the Italians in the U.S. was deemed inferior. Italians were relegated to the bottom of the social heap, doing the lowest-status, most back-breaking, manual jobs. School administrators declared Italian dietary customs unhealthy. The Irish-dominated, American Catholic Church deemed their religious customs pagan. On the stage of international politics, Italy was derided as a weak country, consumed by internal divisions, a hopeless non-player.

De Biasi’s article illustrates how Fascism was promoted as the dazzling star of the future. It would unite the Italian people, put them to work, and, on the world stage, demand respect from its enemies. Fascism would resurrect the glories of the Roman Empire; its watchword was expansion, and, like other European powers, it was destined to have its own overseas colonies.

Men like De Biasi invited Italian Americans to be part of the Fascist Movement, they were asked to be actors in the nation’s destiny, their italianità held up as something to show off and be proud of. “Fascism in America . . . promises solidarity to the rulers of the Fatherland’s destiny. It asks corresponding solidarity. Fascism means justice and fidelity, union and harmony,” he wrote. De Biasi demonstrates that when people feel degraded because of their ethnic backgound, they are vulnerable to the appeal of demagogic, nationalist movements.

The fourth piece I translated was “The Diary of an Immigrant” by Camillo Cianfarra (Abruzzo, 1879 – Rome, 1925), who was a correspondent, socialist activist and novelist. The excerpt from his novel was another potent eye-opener. Cianfarra shines a penetrating light on the reality of life in the poor Italian quarter of New York City. Walking along Mulberry Street, one of his characters says, “ . . . after the black neighborhood, the most turbulent is the Italian.” The reader follows the author on a harrowing tour that documents the suffering, debasement, corruption and exploitation of poor Italian immigrants.

Italian immigrants were ashamed of their country of origin, lived in unspeakable filth, worked in dangerous conditions and were involved in unsavory activities, like cutting imported olive oil with cotton oil. We meet young Italian criminals flaunting gold jewelry, homeless drunks and women coerced into prostitution.

Most heart-rending is how other Italians swindled new Italian immigrants. Among the Italian laborers, for instance, there were those who worked long hours doing pick-and-shovel work in order to return to Italy and help their families. Thinking they had met someone who could exchange their dollars for lire, they ended up giving away, to a supposed paesan, a year’s salary for a pile of counterfeit bills.

Cianfarra’s work echoes — even while it pre-dates — the autobiographical works written in the 1960s, such as the autobiographical novel, Manchild in the Promised Land, by Claude Brown and the memoir, Down These Mean Streets, by Piri Thomas, which respectively chronicled the experiences of African Americans growing up in Central Harlem and Latinos in East Harlem, both neighborhoods referred to as ghettos. These books became bestsellers during the Civil Rights Movement and gave readers — particularly white readers — an intimate look at the effects of institutional poverty and racism.

In addition, “The Diary of an Immigrant” blows the top off the myth that the Italians were the “good” immigrants of the past versus the “bad” immigrants of the present. According to this myth, the old immigrants came from Europe and were clean, hard-working, decent, law-abiding, pull-themselves-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of people. They refused relief and learned English in order to become American citizens as rapidly as possible. The bad immigrants come from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. They are dirty, dangerous job-stealers, looking for government hand-outs. Proud and possessive of their culture and language, they couldn’t care less about becoming Americans.

The truth is, most immigrants are forced to leave their homes because of poverty or persecution. They often land here with nothing and face many obstacles — especially if they are not white. Until they slowly adjust to their host country’s culture, they hang on to their old culture as a way to protect their families and maintain their sanity and dignity, much like our own ancestors did.

Italoamericana: The Literature of the Great Migration, 1880-1943 spotlights, through a broad variety of literary work, the distinct culture and history of Italian Americans, while showing the universality of the immigrant story. It should find a place in every Italian American household, as a touchstone to a reality few of us know anything about. As the renowned painter and political activist, Ralph Fasanella, once said, while addressing a group of young students in the Bronx, many of them recent immigrants, “Remember who you are. Remember where you came from. Don’t forget the past. Change the world.” Italoamericana is a perfect antidote to historical and cultural amnesia.