Italian Americans: Bridges to Italy, Bonds to America By Luciano J. Iorizzo and Ernest E. Rossi


In this volume attesting to the Italian American influence on the United States, nine professors of Italian American studies and a curator of an ethnic museum provide original essays on the Italian American experience, using the theme bridges to Italy and bonds to America. Drawing from a wide variety of primary sources, such as census tracts, local directories, diaries, voting records, newspaper accounts, personal interviews and scholarly and polemical books and articles, the authors show how Italian Americans adapted, through work, prejudice, strife, and advancement, to the social and political life in America while still retaining an element of Italianita.

A bibliography of the colonial period reveals how Italians and Italian Americans impacted the creation, exploration, and settlement of America. While many studies are concentrated in the eastern United States, Italian Americans settled early in the west, including Arizona. Their history in Arizona parallels the labor strife, religion, music, and entrepreneurship that engaged their countrymen in the East. Italian Americans responded in a massive way to help their families that were devastated by the earthquake that leveled Messina, Sicily and Reggio, Calabria. A study of a sculptor who settled in Pittsburgh, shows how he produced works depicting, American and Italian themes often on a grand scale suitable for outdoor placement, and mingled with native-born community leaders and clubs and fraternal organizations. Tracing the life of a controversial Brooklyn politician, Francis B. Spinola, the authors show how he was elected to local and state political office and fought in the U. S. Civil War.

Italian Americans were key components in the early years of jazz history in the 1920s and 1930s. This study adds some balance to the development of jazz by tracing the bonds that Italian Americans formed with Black musicians and their pioneering use of the guitar and violin. An obvious example of the theme of this book is a study of Italian prisoners of World War II, who were transported to the United States and settled in a camp in Texas. The author shows how they helped farmers by their work and how artists among them helped decorate a local church with paintings and murals. A comparison of the Italian and Mexican immigration to the United States shows the similarity and differences of these two groups over time. An examination of the proposition that Mexicans are like Italians is examined in detail. A bibliographical study of the “southern question” in Italian history shows the explosive forces that erupted during and after Italian unification. Italians and Italian Americans are still debating whether this incorporation of the Italian south into the kingdom of Italy was detrimental to the people who lived there and contributed to the massive emigration that followed.

This study is an outgrowth of a desire by scholars to honor the passing of Professor Salvatore Mondello, coauthor of the national bestseller The Italian Americans. One of a few historians of Italian American immigration who appeared on the scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s he approached the subject with enthusiasm, passion, and a relentless search for relevant material marked by digging into primary sources, rooting out individuals who had lived through the immigrant experience and pouring over the contemporary accounts found in newspapers and magazines. Sal was one of the first to see the important link between railroads and Italian American settlements. He saw that the rail lines accelerated the Italians’ movement beyond the large cities in the coastal areas. They used the railroads as the means to establish new lives in many urban and rural communities across the country.

In many ways the articles presented in this book reflect the Mondello approach. The authors continue as pioneers by dealing with important topics that have been overlooked, ignored, and/or newly arisen. They add a dimension to Italian immigration which focuses on the interaction of American and immigrant cultures and shows them as much American as Italian, if not more so. Having the advantage of living and teaching in smaller towns, the authors write with conviction and verve.

Whether treating subjects old or new, the authors’ writing is clean, fresh, often imaginative and well documented producing a fine example of good scholarship, solid research, clear expository writing, and expert analysis. They move Italian American history beyond the corpus of work which usually includes radicalism, labor strife, crime, religion and the current blossoming of literature and poetry framing Italian American themes. This book will serve to inspire the group of scholars appearing on the scene today to carry on in opening new paths in the Italian American experience.

This book will be of interest to scholars and lay people alike. Scholars will find particularly useful the information in the bibliographical articles and the book’s usefulness as a reader in an immigration history or sociology course. The younger scholar is sure to be challenged and possibly richly rewarded. The book’s human interest will appeal to a diverse audience, young and old. Exposed to nine subjects, the general reader is sure to be drawn to one or more of them.