Photo Credit – PBS.org
I watched parts 1 of the PBS special, The Italian Americans and I was impressed by the show. There were amazing photos and videos of the immigrants that reminded me of my family. The show traced the history of the migration of the southern Italians to America in the late 19th century. The poor treatment of the these Italians in a newly formed Italy forced millions to take the treacherous journey to America to find a new life. They wanted a better life for their families and future generations and were willing to face prejudice, hatred and even death for that goal. It was a fascinating look at the struggle to gain acceptance, respect and maintain their dignity in the face of such hardships. The achievement and perseverance of the Italians who came was inspiring. Much of their struggle is not well known. A surprising statistic in the show was the large number of Italians who gave up in their pursuits and returned to a country that did not treat them much better. Those who stayed, found lives for themselves, first in close knit communities, but eventually making their mark in our American history. It is unfortunate to note that the struggle had by the Italians, is similarly still going on today in other immigrant communities. Those who stayed were the strong of heart and spirit and have contributed much to the melting pot of America. I am glad my ancestors were among them.
Part II: Italian Americans – PBS
There were many historical facts that I was unaware of and it made the show most interesting to me. The focus was on the perception the rest of America had about Italians, that were insulting and limited to a very small number of people. The majority of Italian-Americans were/are hard working, decent and dignified people who valued their families above all. Most Italian-Americans did not venture far from their birthplace and stayed close to their family members. Sunday dinners were a requirement to spend time sharing with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. This truly touched me since that is the way I grew up and to this day, remains a cherished part of my personal history. The show went on to display the accomplishments in the public political world with Mario Cuomo, Supreme Court Justice Scalia, Fiorello La Guardia and others. But the prejudice about Italian Americans is still part of our society as are perceptions about other groups as well.
The part of the show that truly touched me was when they showed the black and white photos of families sitting around a table of food as they huddled together in love and strength to move ahead in America. But the cost was great. For a group that did not venture far into America`s other cities, and stayed close to those people they loved, that has changed drastically. Now, when I think of my family, many of whom are together in heaven, at God`s table looking down on the fractured world they lived in, I would suspect they feel the sense of loss that I often think about when I look at the photos of yesterday. When the old timers, the first immigrants who bravely came to this land, left this earth, the family scattered and with the new generations truly became Americans, losing much in the process.
You can watch The Italian Americans on the PBS website.
Above – my Italian American Family.