Intimacy and Italian Migration: Gender and Domestic Lives in a Mobile World

Intimacy and Italian Migration: Gender and Domestic Lives in a Mobile World

Intimacy and Italian Migration: Gender and Domestic Lives in a Mobile World

Intimacy and Italian Migration: Gender and Domestic Lives in a Mobile World

Synopsis

This provocative collection of essays adds a new dimension to our understanding of nation-building through its examination of the role of intimate cultural processes. First, by exploring the private lives of migrants from Italy through biography, oral history, and ethnography, these essays suggest why and howaacross culturesa Italianness has come to be associated with a particular kind of femininity and supposedly distinctive elements of domestic life symbolized by long-held stereotypes of the Italian mother. On a larger scale, while the editors and contributors share with previous works on the Italian diaspora a keen interest in the imagining of nations across national borders, here they refocus our attention to the significance of the domestic, particularly the lives of individual men and women, their families, and the communities they lovedaand left behind.

Excerpt

Loretta Baldassar and Donna R. Gabaccia

That nations are not natural phenomena but rather products of human imagination and (to varying degrees) choice has become a truism of modern intellectual life. Recent historical scholarship on international migration has made it equally obvious that the imagining of Italianness and of Italy occurred as much across as within the political boundaries that nation-states worked so hard to draw; impose; and, once formed, enforce. Nations cannot create such boundaries independent of an international system of nations that recognize them as significant. The movement of people, ideas, and goods across borders has often played a part in the emergence of nations and national identities. Nevertheless, nation-states have, more often than not, struggled to regulate these border-crossing movements, often viewing them as unnatural and as threatening to their sovereignty.

Much of the scholarly literature on Italy’s modern migrants and on the consolidation of Italy through border-crossing movement has focused on wage earning, politics, proletarian mobilizations, and residential districts as key sites of Italian nation building. Inevitably, perhaps, such studies have highlighted the nationalization of men and the activities of men in creating the nation. Men have, of course, figured centrally in nation building and in the imagining of nations, as well as in Italy’s migrations. Still, it is quite striking that, across cultures, Italianness is often associated with or symbolized by femininity, passionate emotions, or elements of domestic life—the Italian mother, a peculiarly “Italian” intensity of family solidarities, the ardor of romantic love, or the pleasures of eating and of the table. Precisely because affective ties, and life outside the workplace, remained somewhat shadowy in such works as Italian Workers of the World, and Women, Gender, and Transnational Lives, we felt that a third international collaboration—and one that was different from the collaborations that produced these two volumes—should specifically pick up these themes.

Thus, while we share with earlier works on Italians around the world a keen interest in the imagining of nations across national borders, our focus here is the intimate and domestic lives of individual men and women, their families, and the communities they loved, and within which they married, procreated, raised children, and dreamed of . . .

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