Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

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Hyphenated Italian G.P. in the world, and his native Italian parents in America


Hyphenated Italians Page

Italians as Europeans

London's Italians

(G.P. wrote to me after reading the site page on Hyphenated Italians.  He graciously allowed me to put his words here for everyone to read.  I've added hyperlinked headings for your reading ease.  Candida)

In America

In Napoli

In Tuscany and a Possible Explanation

In Australia

G.P.'s Parents' Experiences in McCarthy's America

A Conclusion, of Sorts


In America

I have been thinking about your hyphenated concept.  It is one which I know and understand well.  My parents left Italia in the early 1930's to escape the Fascist movement which was rapidly overtaking the south.  My parents both were of the left, my mother being a communist and my father a socialist of less radical leanings than my mother.  

I was born shortly after they arrived, right on the cusp of World War II, so, as a hyphenated child, I not only received the taunts for being Italian but of being an enemy as well.  Not a nice situation for a kid, to say the least.

The family, including grandparents and uncles, who had followed, were awaiting the end of the war so they could return to Italia.  It's a familiar story, shared by many Italo-Americani of my generation.  The hostilities ended in 1946 and the reconstruction started but no real gains were made until the middle of the 1950s. By that time the family had been in the USA for 20 years.  By the time affluence reached the level of affording the luxury of tickets back "home", the family had been here for well over 30 years.  End of story.  

My father told me that the deepest, most profound shock of his life was when he realized that he had spent more time living in the USA than in Italia, and the probability of his ever returning as anything other than a tourist was a rude a devastating awareness.  My mother, being more sanguine philosophically, shrugged it off and accepted it as another burden on the shoulders of the workers.  

They returned, but as tourists, always coming back to the States.  

In Napoli

They returned as tourists to visit me.  I was the first of the family to leave the US and to take residency in Italia where I experienced both positive and negative reactions to my hyphenated status.  

I discovered that in the south (we are Napolitani) there was a more accepting attitude towards returnees or children of returnees.  To my paisani I was an Italian born in America.  To other Neapolitans I was un figlio di napoli.  

(I wrote to G.P.:  Your words about Napoli made me recall a song:  "Gigi l'amoroso".  It's about the return of a Neapolitan emigrant from America.  He feels a failure, but he's welcomed home as a returning hero.  It brings tears to the eyes of most Neapolitans who hear it, every time they hear it, because they all know someone who's suffered a similar experience.)

(G.P. wrote back...)  The other Neapolitan song which immediately brings people to tears is "napuli piangg'"  It, too, is a sad paean to the thousands of napulita' who had to leave and strike it out for the golden shores of America, north or south, I don't think it mattered.  They were far from home.

In Tuscany and a Possible Explanation

However, in Tuscany, where I lived and worked, I received a different treatment.  My accent, which is as strange mixture of American, southern Italian, and academic Italian most certainly identified me as a foreigner, though many thought I was from Brazil.  Why, I do not know unless Brazilians speaking Italian sound like un napolitano nato in america?  

Anyway, those who knew I was born in the USA called me Italo-American with the accent on American.  But those who didn't, accepted me as an Italian from elsewhere.  I was accepted as being Italian in the Friuli and in Milano.  

That made me think...  In the areas of deepest poverty where many, many people had to leave, the understanding of the 'whys' of leaving were deeper.  The Tuscans, with the exception of the Lucchesi lost few, the Florentines lost hardly a soul.  

In the psycho-historical development of nations, nations take on the characteristics of individuals.  Neurotic and psychotic developments can be understood by examining individual human behavior as a palimpsest, if you will, of national behavior.  

It's my feeling that the Italian national psyche is guilty about  loosing millions and millions of its sons and daughters because of the inability of the nation to care and provide for them.  The rejection of the hyphenated is, to my mind, a guilt manifestation.  I don't mean to simplify, for it's more complex than simple, but I do think that it's a way of looking at or approaching the problem.  

The inter-family bickerings then took over with the affluent centre claiming that only the poor and ignorant southerners left, and seemed to wash their hands of it.  However, statistics  show that there were thousands of impoverished Friuliani, Genovesi, Lucchesi, Abruzzesi, Piemontesi who left at the same time that their southern brethren did.  The complexities of Italian racism (for that's what it is) did not, and do not, help with the re-integration of the hyphenated.  

An example:  

Whilst in Firenze I was introduced to friends of a good friend of mine.  I went through the usual ritual of explaining my accent, and placing myself in the world, when one of them asked about my southern family.  

Before I could answer, he then described a typical, to his Florentine perspective, immigrant family.  He supposed that my grandparents and, indeed, my parents, were country people who spoke only dialect and left because of the poverty of their underclass.  

When I told him that my father had a degree in economics and my mother was a high school teacher, he was both incredulous and crestfallen.  However, after that, his attitude towards me changed.  He then always addressed me as Professore ( I was teaching at a North American university art school) and henceforth referred to me as un italiano nato in america.

In Australia

Fast forward.  I moved from Italia to Australia.  There I was met with two sets of problems.  The Italian one because of my name, and the "damned yank" one because of my accent when I spoke English.  It was comical, to say the least.  

I was there for 8 years during which time Australian academia was  undergoing somewhat of a radical nationalism.  Foreign academics were posing a threat, so it was said, to the native born ones.  Being a foreign born academic, I found myself being discriminated against on those two aforementioned levels (along with English, Dutch and Germans).

However, in the larger migrant community of Australia, all Italians were accepted as being Italian (strength in numbers).  And whatever feelings that may have been prevalent in Italia seemed to melt when they arrived in Australia.  

The difference, I know, is that the bulk of Australian migrants left their native countries after the war, were younger and better educated.  Many flew in taking a few hours relative to a ten day ocean voyage, and were still connected to their homeland via telephone calls.  A different scenario than the pre-war one. 

G.P.'s Parents' Experiences in McCarthy's America

My parents most went through hell here in paradiso storto during the McCarthy era.  

My father by that time was a union organizer for the United Electrical Workers union, which was on McCarthy's hit list.  My mother had officially resigned from the party, an act of judicious Neapolitan shrewdness, which most certainly saved her from the persecution which many of her friends and colleagues suffered.  She had been active in the Garment Workers union in Boston, where we lived.  

My father was summoned, but never called by the Committee (ed. the Un-American Activities Committee).  Previous to the summons, there had been a long and arduous strike of the major General Electric plant in Lynn, Massachusetts.  My father had been very active in organizing the strike and was serving on the "survival" committee, which doled out money and food to the workers.  

The strike lasted, if I remember correctly, well over a year.  During that time, he was seriously threatened, I was harassed and threatened at school, and my mother was fired from her work as a seamstress in a garment factory and wound up working part-time as a sales-woman in a local bakery run by left wing Romanian Jews.  

So, the paranoid 50s were just that--paranoid.  

Several of my father's colleagues were ruined by McCarthy.  It was the straw that broke my father's will.  After it was over, and McCarthy was finally squished like the worm he was, my father changed.  He lost is optimism and energy.   It was then that he confided in me that he knew he would never live in Italia again.  Everything about him changed.  He lost his "European-ness", if you will, and became an almost anonymous worker-person.  

I was saddened by the whole ordeal, and especially disconcerted by the change in my father.  Soon after that I left home.  I joined the military and that was it.  Off I went, returning home infrequently on leave.  Military led to university, which led to my peripatetic life.  

A Conclusion, of Sorts

(I wrote to G.P.:  Reading about your globe-trotting ways made me wonder if you'd have been so willing to roam if you hadn't grown up as something of an outsider in the States.  Positives can come from negatives.  Dual cultures can form a more open mentality, don't you think?)

(G.P. answered...)  You are absolutely correct, there is freedom.  I have no allegiances to any place.  I have a genetic allegiance, if you can call it that, to Italia; I most certainly look Italian, or at least European Mediterranean. but I claim no allegiance to any one particular place.  

Though, I would move back to Italia to live, in a heartbeat.  But even though I would do that, I would not claim her as my motherland.  Nor do I claim the USA either.  I was just born here.  No more; no less.  Born of people who were not from here, who never really wanted to be here, and who did not like the fact that they were here.  

Being hyphenated is, in fact, being free, once you can truly define yourself.  That is the hardest part, and unfortunately seems to come more with age than anything else.  So, yes, that freedom has enabled me to move with ease across the planet. 

G.P. is an artist and has a website where you can view many of his beautiful works.  And his work can be seen at The Last Judgment Project site. 

(My heartfelt thanks to G.P. for his moving story and wise insights.  Anyone who'd like to contribute to the Hyphenated Italian comments/stories is free to contact me via the Site GuestbookCandida)


Also see my pages:

Italian Immigrants in New York City

John - by D. H. Lawrence, an American Immigrant

R.B.'s Latin-American-Italians