Academic journal article Italica

Second Thoughts on the Diasporic Culture of Italians in America: Here, There, Wherever (1)

Academic journal article Italica

Second Thoughts on the Diasporic Culture of Italians in America: Here, There, Wherever (1)

Article excerpt

It remains, I would submit, difficult to ascertain the level of interest that exists both within the United States--though beyond the geo-cultural borders of what we know of as Italian America--and in Italy, at least in these recent years, with regard to cultural productions of--in the spirit of avoiding a contentious term at the outset--Americans of Italian descent. I use this term at this time especially because there are still those in the United States who call them "Italo-americans" and, similarly, those in Italy who call them "italoamericani," both terms somewhat problematic and--if only with regard to its denomination--still debated in some camps. Elsewhere, I have opted for the term "Italian American" as noun and "Italian/American" as adjective, (2) two terms that in Italian would be translated as "Italiano Americano" as noun--indeed debatable--and, something that many would surely consider a "mostriciattolo di appellativo," "Italiano/Americano" for the adjectival form. (3)

I have already discussed at length the "ragion d'essere" and, I would add, necessity--at least in English--of such a term and its coincidental issues regarding the hyphen. (4) We should not simply cast aside it, or any other neologistic form we might adopt, with statements such as "quante discussioni, forse un po' oziose, intorno a quel fatidico trattino! Da qui in poi, per semplicita, lo aboliremo," as one Italian journalist turned literary critic/historian has declared. (5) Such a dismissive attitude is demonstrative, I would contend, of an intellectual diffidence--indeed, theoretical lethargy--that cannot add, in any constructive manner, to a still much needed critical-theoretical discourse on Americans of Italian descent and the various modes in which they are represented. (6) Further, such diffidence also suggests a lack of intellectual curiosity if not, to be sure, commitment to the field of cultural studies, which, I would submit, with specific regard to Italian Americans, readily transforms itself into a type of socio-political lethargy that, for a second time--especially after our forbearers were forced to leave their native country--lashes out against Americans of Italian descent. It is, in fact, precisely their socio-historical specificity of subaltern that is cancelled out, something we might suspect already occurred in the nineteenth century when, for many of the dominant culture, they were considered colored. (7) They become, so to speak, invisible for a second time, because the critical discourse remains simple and superficial. This said, then, it should become apparent that today we can no longer enjoy the privilege of ignoring such theoretical problematics that lie at the base of much discourse dedicated to both historically non-mainstream as well as dominant culture aesthetic forms of representation of Americans of Italian descent.

Literary and film criticism dedicated to numerous other diasporic groups in the US has, to be sure, developed its own type of theoretical discourse, creating indeed a general mode of thought processes that, for the most part, form part of an overall intellectual articulation of the group under consideration. (8) Such a methodological-theoretical discourse and this inventory have yet to develop with regard to Americans of Italian descent, be it here in the United States or in Italy. (9) The Italian journal, Acoma, for example, published in its first eighteen issues, spanning seven years (1994-2000), two essays dedicated to Italians in America, both of which are translations of essays that had already been published in the United States; the first an abbreviated version of a three-year-old essay, the second a complete translation of a two-year-old essay. (10) The mention of such editorial practices does not intend to impugn any sort of negligence to this or other journals of American Studies in Italy that emulate such low frequencies and importations. However, one might expect, indeed hope, that such attention paid to Americans of Italian descent is not limited to a recycling and translation of what had already appeared earlier in the United States. …

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