Feeling Italian: The Art of Ethnicity in America

By Jackson, Kathy Merlock | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), March 2007 | Go to article overview

Feeling Italian: The Art of Ethnicity in America


Jackson, Kathy Merlock, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Feeling Italian: The Art of Ethnicity in America Thomas J. Ferraro. New York: New York University Press, 2005

Singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen, who dubbed his mother "the Italian," once said, "Seriousness and joy, that's how I approach my work; that's what I learned from my mother" (viii). His mother was a huge Sinatra fan who introduced her son to Ol' Blue Eyes' music. Italian influences like these are not unusual, argues Duke University English professor Thomas J. Ferraro in Feeling Italian: The Art of Ethnicity in America. In this book, Ferraro coins the term "feeling Italian" for "the patterns of intelligent emotion and articulate gesture played out in Italian America ... and for the sensuous, provocative, demanding leap of identity across genealogical lines: that long romance in and of America for its Italians" (204). Since the peak of Italian immigration to the United States in 1907, Italians have become more American, and Americans have become more Italian. Through his analysis of the Italian spirit in real people, stereotypes, and cultural artifacts, Ferraro shows that Americans are, in essence, already Italian. Ferraro's book is elegantly organized into ten chapters focusing on key elements that characterize Italian-American identity: honor, city, job, mother, song, crime, romance, diva, skin, and table. In each, he offers insight into our postethnic world and the artifacts in it. What do the popular arts tell us about Italianness in America?

Each chapter is a gem. In one on New York painter Joseph Stella, Ferraro discusses several works, Battle of Lights, Coney Island, Mardis Gras, Brooklyn Bridge, The Quencher, New York Interpreted, and The Skyscrapers, showing how Stella embodied one of the Italians' first great gifts: "an appreciation of America's own urban revolution, its revolutionary form of technologically orchestrated urban-ness" (47).

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