Social History of Italian Americans
The USA has always been known to represent a multinational country. The ethnic compounds of the United States have been formed under the strict conditions of the constant changes in social and political areas. The historical processes, which took place in the country, made a significant contribution to the development of the so-called ‘multinational and multicultural society’. The Italian Americans had represented one of the constituents of the American society. This paper aims to discuss the social history of Italian Americans, the role of such an outstanding historical figure as Fiorello La Guardia, and the way the Italian Americans (to be more precisely, Italian American women) have been depicted in the movies. The main assumption of the paper lies in the fact that the struggle for freedom and human rights, which has been performed by the representatives of the Italian Americans, determined the position of this population’s strata and resulted in a wide range of the social and historical processes taken place within the American society.
It is a well-known fact that migrants have a tendency to obtain a new location and, literally speaking, move there a part of their homeland. This assumption is determined by the fact that everyone is filled with their own culture, the environment where he or she had grown up and lived. Hence, together with the Italians, the Italian culture ‘has arrived’ to the United States. The various aspects of culture can survive only under the conditions of the mass migration, which has a tendency to provide the ‘compact living’ of the culture carriers. Otherwise, this culture is merely ‘dissolved’ within the society.
This mass migration of Italians to the United States has created a subculture of secrecy. Italian immigrants have sought a better life by moving away from the dangers and hardships of their motherland. It used to happen in connection with the majority of Italian immigrants arrived in the US in the late 19th and early 20th century (Croom, 2015). The 1900s are known to be the peak of displacement, after which the number of Italians in America approached the number of three million people (Radovac, 2011).
The historians tend to single out several waves of Italian migration. It is an interesting fact that about a quarter of the first wave of immigrants over time returned to Italy for various reasons: someone forcibly extradited and not able to live in a foreign land. After the peak of immigration in the early 20th century, a wave began to decline. However, active resettlement of immigrants in the United States had continued by the mid 20th century (Croom, 2015). It is also necessary to mention that until now Italian Americans were considered as the problematic group of the American population. The flow of new immigrants of another ethnic origin (Cubans, Mexicans, and Haitians) expanded in the second half of the 20th century. At that time, the problem of Italian Americans went by the wayside, and the vast American culture became overwritten at all. Currently, in the US, there are more than 20 million people (8 % of the US population) of the ethnic Italians (Radovac, 2011).
The mayor of New York City, the Italian descendant Fiorello La Guardia, played an important role in the life of Italian Americans. He came from a family of Italian immigrants and even was a US Senator and one of the most beloved mayors of New York. As head of ‘unofficial’ capital of the United States, La Guardia had been working for ten years (1934-1945) (Radovac, 2011). The New Yorkers remember him as a true master of the city who had done much for its residents.
La Guardia had to go through some stages that comprised of being pro-Italian, pro-labor, and being able to unite these qualities to bring benefits to the City of New York and its citizens. These stages consisted of many political outlooks that had been frequently regarded as inappropriate. Such cases as marijuana legalization and marijuana taxes constituted one of the most important stages of his career. All these factors determined the way La Guardia worked and acted. The pro-labor outlooks he possessed had been built within the economic circumstances of the United States and the current policies for that time. The pro-Italian trends in his work had been determined by La Guardia’s origin and his native culture.
The culture of the American society had changed under the conditions of the newly appeared ethnic groups. The Italian Americans provoked some prejudices and biases that obtained many manifestations within the major American culture (Roess & Sansone, 2013). Thus, the Italian Americans have always been depicted in the movies. A special attention had always been paid to the women.
The investigators of the cinematography believe that all movies, which depict the Italian American women, are focused on showing the shortcomings of the behavior samples of the ethnic group representatives (“The Italian Americans”, 2015). There are several movies produced, which depict the position of Italian American women that are sharply mocked. For instance, one of the films, Beyond Wiseguys: Italian Americans & the Movies (2008), shows the traditions that have been transmitted from Italian to American culture and obtained new forms. The extra emotional state of Italian people is also manifested throughout the movie. Another way how American Italian women had been depicted in the movies consisted in the fact that they served a role of the ‘elite’ women who are always next to the gangsters’ leaders (for example, The American Night (1973) and The Godfather (1972)).
This vision of the Italian American women had been determined by the biases the American society had about the representatives of the very this ethnic group. In addition to this, such a depiction of the ethnic group of the Italian Americans gave an emphasis that they are purely gangsters and cannot be treated by the pure Americans as serious and just people (Croom, 2015).
However, in reality, the Mafia and the role of Italian-American women differ from those on the screen. As the viewers, more often we see the so-called ‘golden years’ of the American Mafia, which cover the period namely of the 30-60s of the last century. The Mafia was one of the most powerful criminal organizations. It had built a clear hierarchical structure, which mainly presupposed the perfect obedience and discipline. The organization has existed in accordance with almost the military law, any failure of which the offender threatened with death.
Initially, the Mafia’s goal and the role played by women there was simply to survive and feed themselves and their families. The important role had been played by the population of the country (in this case, both Italy and America) where the hypertrophied sense of honor and justice existed, and the people have explosive character. Hypertrophied in comparison to modern European society, in fact, the concept of honor and justice, as well as debt and equity principle, can not be overstated. The role of women in the movies presupposed these factors to be depicted.
This position of Italian American women had always been proper to the American films. The American Night (1973), The Godfather (1972), and the more modern movie Beyond Wiseguys: Italian Americans & the Movies (2008) are the vivid examples of the assumption that women, who belonged to the Italian American ethnic group, were an important part of the Mafia regardless of the fact they did not possess a prominent role as the men did.
In addition to this, the Italian American women had always been depicted as passionate lovers who caused temptation in men. Therefore, it pushed the male representatives of the Italian American ethnic group to perform the actions that could be frequently regarded as the most unpredictable indiscretions.
To conclude, the American society has never been tolerant enough to the ethnic groups that inhabited the country. They, certainly, expressed their dislikes (not to say disgust) to the representatives of the ethnic groups in the form of movies, for instance. In addition to this, the Americans have always understood that the ethnic groups members play an important for the American economy role. Therefore, it determined the reason why the term of tolerance has once been raised. This assumption finds its clear manifestation in the wide range of movies of the American production, which have the aim to depict the Italian Americans. An important role in the dialog of Americans and Italian Americans has been played by the New York mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, who contributed to the development of more freedom for the ethnic group he belonged himself. Along with this, he was able to maneuver between the purely American outlooks and defense of the Italian American ethnic group staying one of the most outstanding figures in the history of the New York City and America in general.