The Italian / American Experience: A Collection of Writings by Louis Gesauldi

By Davis-Sowers, Regina | International Social Science Review, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

The Italian / American Experience: A Collection of Writings by Louis Gesauldi


Davis-Sowers, Regina, International Social Science Review


Gesauldi, Louis J. The Italian/American Experience: A Collection of Writings. Lanham: University Press of America, 2012. xii + 93 pages. Paper, $25.00.

In The Italian/American Experience: A Collection of Writings, sociologist Louis J. Gesualdi presents a collection of writings to correct the inaccurate and negative popular beliefs regarding the Italian American experience. He particularly examines the stereotypes of Italian Americans from Southern Italy by offering counterarguments for research findings that historically have been used to explain differences of success between Italians and Italian Americans from Northern Italy and Southern Italy. In a book of less than 100 pages, Gesualdi argues very persuasively that past research has failed to understand the lives of southern Italians and Italian Americans, resulting in misconceptions regarding the achievements of Italian Americans in comparison with other white ethnic groups. He also seeks to "provide useful information on Italian American heritage" (p. xi).

It is apparent from the introduction that Gesualdi's objective is to offer a more positive portrait of Italian Americans. He argues that the southern region of Italy has been misunderstood, particularly the ideas regarding whether or not the southern region was dependent on the more economically advanced northern region of Italy. The first part of the book includes critiques of past research studies and books. Gesualdi questions the methodology and results of previous studies, offering research findings that present a more positive view of Southern Italy and Italian Americans. The book is powerful in that it confronts findings regarding the role of culture in explaining differences among ethnic groups, but, because the emphasis is on proving that any negative findings regarding Italian Americans are incorrect and any data with favorable portrayals of Italian Americans are correct, it loses some of its explanatory power.

Gesualdi begins with a short history of economic and social relations between Southern Italy and Northern Italy, arguing that the former was not dependent on the latter, but was instead instrumental in the northern region's success. He then presents critiques of the most notable scholars and theories of Italian American studies, most notably the cultural trait approach to explaining social behavior. He examines popularly held beliefs regarding Italian Americans and crime, and he praises the research of the historian Giovanni Schiavo, known as a founder of Italian American studies, whose work portrays positive findings regarding the Italian American experience.

The strength of this book, and one of the reasons I believe the book would be valuable to social scientists who study race and ethnicity, particularly scholars of Whiteness studies, is that Gesualdi's pride and passion for all things Italian disproves the beliefs that white ethnic groups do not think of themselves in terms of their ethnicity. Sociologist Mary Waters' notion of optional ethnicities or symbolic ethnicity argues that for whites, unlike for people of color, ethnicity does not have psychological or social costs, meaning that ethnicity does not impact the lives of whites or how white ethnics view themselves as Americans. …

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