I’m going to be very honest, but I would lie if I said I was surprised with what these interview subjects don’t know and I say we have ourselves a “situation”. As Italians immigrated and assimilated into America, so did their culture and native traditions. Over time, the Italian culture has turned into a staple of American life and can be seen woven into communities across our country. A culture, for a period of time, originally the subject mockery, ridicule and discrimination, the Italian culture endured decades, and generations of change to become praised and appreciated. Although aspects of all cultures’ traditions change over time, the core of the Italian-American tradition has stayed intact for practically a century.
As educators, both within the household and in a classroom, it’s vital to teach our students and children the importance of culture. After speaking with a handful of Italian-Americans from different generations on Main Street Manayunk, two friends strongly rooted within their culture, agree with the importance of passing on the traditions originating from their immigrant ancestors.
“Hi I am Lexi and both my parents are Italian, my grand parents came from Italy over 50 years ago. They’re from central-northern Italy. I am also a second-generation Italian-American and Christmas Eve is big holiday for us. My grandmother always tells me siblings and myself too, just keep this going…even when we have kids someday.”
For a hundred year time frame, the United States became a melting pot of culture from people pouring in from Europe. One of the countries that gave America most of it’s immigrants and future citizens was Italy. It’s evident that the Italian culture in America has been an ever-changing one, especially with the “Americanization” process that millions of second and third generation Italian-Americans went through as a result of being the children of Italian immigrants. With this idea of “Americanization”, I wanted to make this theory the purpose of this story. Is Americanization real? If it is how could it be proven. Studying this change is important to understand why many second and third generation Italian-Americans lost this rich heritage that was brought over on the many boats that came from Italy.
Studying this change is important to understand why many Italian-Americans lost some of their heritage, but to also chronicle why immigrants and their American children opted to change the culture of their ancestors. This choice wasn’t an easy one that took place over night because they would slowly see the heritage slip through their fingers. I gathered a collection of photos of recognizable and symbolic images based on Italian traditions mixed with images that are more recognizable to Italian-Americans of third and fourth generations. Images include religious images of Padre Pio, book characters such as Strega Nonna, actresses such as Sofia Loren, the God Father, Christmas Eve’s the 7 Fishes, a regional map of Italy for identification, a couple common greetings in Italian that were open for either translation or pronunciation and Snooki and Jwow from the reality show, Jersey Shore. The reason why I wanted to include religious figures such as saints and Padre Pio is mainly because religion is incredibly important to keep in mind when considering the culture that many Italians came from in Italy, and brought to America. After speaking with four to five random people, it was clear that the cast from the Jersey Shore and the image of the God Father were the easiest to identify. Images that traditional folks from the old country wouldn’t care to know or comprehend being, “Italian”.
It is said time and time again that it doesn’t matter what generation you fall under, if you carry Italian in your blood you are one to heavily rely on the religious beliefs and in the process of becoming more American. Religion was constantly at the forefront as something that was either continued or forgotten for Italian-Americans.
Many immigrants ideally came to America with the singular focus and goal to become immersed in the new culture and in doing so, that would mean to cast away their traditions, customs and languages. Many Italian families felt the key to success in the land where the streets were known to be “paved with gold”, immensely relied on whether or not they had it in them to emotionally become America with the idea of avoiding discrimination. Although many Italian immigrants looked to reconstruct an American foundation and identity to better fit the lifestyle of the daily America, many Italian-Americans also worked to create their own separate their own separate identity. This view point is appreciated and important because it offers the middle ground of what many Italian-Americans were doing in America. On one hand, there was the group that wanted nothing to do with the American culture and only wanted to be associated with Italians from the same area of Italy. On the other side of the spectrum, there were the groups of Italians that just as easily threw away their heritage and language in order to become a better American. Some families even go to the extent of changing their last names.
So why was this so important to them? Possibly, one of the biggest reasons many Italian immigrants looked to become more Americanized many decades ago was because of the growing threats of communism and government control. Many Italians wanted to shake the appearance of supporting a fascist government and join in on the free market opportunities. While trying to shake off the old world, the community created an Americanized version of their heritage and all if its aspects have taken on extreme altercations. With food, language and last names changing to better fit the American mod, Italian-Americans have created their own culture within after witnessing the demands they saw to assimilate into the American lifestyle and way. Hot was I able to comprehend this cultural gap? It was done simply through a picture identification activity and talking to random strangers of first, second, third and even fourth generation Italian-Americans.