Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

Main Page This family-friendly site celebrates Italian culture for the enjoyment of children and adults. Site-Overview




Hyphenated Italians, the Italian Diaspora





RB and GP

JM and RT





Some pages with Hyphenated stories:

RB  and  GP  and  Jacqueline Miconi  and  Robert Tinnell


Comments and Ruminations

New Contributions

Different Formative Experiences

Some Words of Advice



Click on the image of actor-director Vince Spano to visit a nice fan site dedicated to the man and his work.

Fieri Providence is the Providence, Rhode Island, chapter of Fieri International, an Italian culture association for young professionals.  There are chapters throughout the U.S., Canada and Italy.  Membership is open to all young professionals interested in Italian culture.  Trivia:  Rhode Island is the U.S. state with the highest population percentage of Italian-Americans, 19%.  (And grazie mille to Fieri Providence founder Sam Brusco for his kind words about my website.)


Anglo-Italian Family History Society, a wonderful resource for tracing your family tree.


Click here to read an account by D. H. Lawrence of an Italian immigrant to America from 1916.  He describes the complex nature of the immigrant's motivations and the results of his uprooting from a traditional society.


This Italian-Australian site is dedicated to women of Italian origin in Australia, and includes a wonderful archive of articles.  The site visitor who recommended the site, also calls attention to a fascinating article from July 2000 by Elida Meadows on the Italian North-South divide.


Click on this rather dry academic article to read, in Italian, about Italian immigration to the Americas.  The list of sources at the end of the article is more interesting, and many of the sources are in English.


Click on the Italian-Argentinian blogger to read, in Spanish, the views of hyphenated Italians in Argentina. 


And check out Italian-Argentinian journalist Bob Frassinetti's blog.  To read his entertaining take on the TV show 'The Sopranos', just click on his topic in his left column 'Italian Community'.


Click on the Italians in the World logo to visit a site funded by the Gianni Agnelli Foundation that discusses migration movements and people of Italian origin around the world.


Click on the CyberItalian logo to read their article, in Italian and English, about Italian Immigrants to New York, and the Italian-American experience.


Click on the logo to visit the first and largest site dedicated to Italian-Argentinians.  Nearly half of all immigrants to Argentina came from Italy.


There's a new site for Latin American Italians set up by an Italian governmental agency:



Click on the Virtual Italia logo to visit their forums where Italian-Americans and other hyphenated Italians discuss issues that concern them.


Click on the title to read an interview with the author Helen Barolini.  In the words of the interviewer:  'Her novel Umbertina, a saga of four generations of Italian-American women, carefully explores some of the tensions of women caught between two cultures and between traditionalism and feminism.'


Click on the title to read an article about Italian-American women who visit Italy, and how some react.


This is the Italian Ministry for Italian citizens who live abroad, not for hyphenated Italians.  The link keeps becoming obsolete, so it's just best to Google it.


The Corriere della Sera newspaper has a forum, in Italian, that is fun to follow for Italian opinions on all kinds of subjects, suggested by a site visitor.


Click on the logo for the website of the National Congress of Italian Canadians - Toronto District which aims to be a virtual portal into the Italian-Canadian community from Canadian coast to coast.


Click on the News Italia Press logo to visit their Italian language news site.  Note that they differentiate between Italian citizens abroad (Italiani nel mondo) and hyphenated Italians (Italici nel mondo), and group hyphenated Italians together with all those who appreciate Italian culture, almost as I do on my site, but I include native Italians, too!




Click on the logo of the Order Sons of Italy in America to visit their website.  This is the largest Italian-American association in the States, and despite the name, not just for sons, also for daughters.


Click on the logo of the Order Sons of Italy in Canada to visit their website. 


An Italian-American writing portal:  Italian-American



I’ve seen numbers like 58 million Italians in Italy, and an estimated 50 million abroad of Italian descent.  But if, as is estimated, 27 million people emigrated from Italy from 1870 to 1970, then the numbers of those of Italian descent abroad are quite likely higher.  Italians moved to places like Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Canada, Australia, the USA, Britain, Belgium, Switzerland, and more.  In the USA and Brazil alone, there are an estimated 25 million people of Italian descent in each country.  

The Italian diaspora, like most diaspora, is active abroad but largely ignored by the Italian government.  The Ministry for Italians Abroad looks after the interests of only Italian citizens abroad.  People of Italian origin are not considered Italian, and in the legal sense, the Ministry is correct.  But for people who have all their lives been labeled “Italian”, that can come as a surprise, if not a shock.

This article looks at the relationship between hyphenated Italians and native Italians.


Comments and Ruminations

And now for some comments from hyphenated Italians and native Italians, and some ruminations of my own…

P.S. from Sicily comments that hyphenated Italians can be intimidating for some Italians because of their physical beauty.  As he explained it, the good diets, organized exercise, good medical care from a young age, anti-acne medicines, and wealth all contribute to this impression.  He and his friends often felt like the ugly relations when their relatives from abroad came to visit. 

C.G., an Italian-Australian, touches on beauty too but from a different perspective, and on several other topics.  In her words:  "Regarding my foreign experiences in Italy, I can’t say I could pinpoint an actual incident.  It’s more of a realisation I feel whilst I’m there.  The instant I step off the plane I feel a foreigner.   I’m easily identifiable as a foreigner, although my Italian is fluent, they can still tell and instantly I feel in a  “me/them” situation.  Of course there all those customs and the way things are done in Italy that truly frustrate me and this adds to my “foreignness”.  For example their totally chaotic ways, that once I am removed from them, I find so endearing."  

"Furthermore,  I feel so antagonised by the women, especially those in the services and retail industries. I find them insufferable yet so aesthetically perfect, that I find myself trying to dress like them within days of my arrival.  I warm to the men, I have a lot of time for them.  I find them pleasant, much easier to deal with.  However I am not naive to their ways, let’s face it they are masters of their craft."

"I guess what I’m trying to say is that I cannot identify with the Italians when I’m in Italy.  My Italian friends (those living in Italy) accept me as one of their own, they see me as one of them.  Yet I feel estranged, perhaps it is due to my long absences.  Although I can express myself well, I still lack those every day spontaneous expressions that make all the difference.  My communication lacks that spontaneity."  

"The humour, unique, this I can identify with, theirs is more a satire...which doesn’t lend itself easily to translation.  It’s brilliant, I also speak a dialect and there are certain satirical expressions that can only be said in dialect.  To translate these, even into Italian, robs them of their essence."

C.G. brings up language, in which she is fluent and she also speaks a dialect.  But language can be a divide between hyphenated Italians and native Italians.  When the Italian-American actor-director, Vince Spano, was filming in Sicily, he was invited to participate in Pippo Baudo’s popular variety show, “Fantastico”.  But when Mr. Spano answered Pippo’s questions, Pippo, a native of Sicily, had to translate from the old Sicilian dialect that Mr. Spano spoke rather fluently, to modern Italian.  

Pippo had no problem understanding him, as he explained, because it was the dialect he had spoken with his own parents and grandparents, but for modern Italians brought up on modern Italian dominated television, and with dialects being banned in schools, Mr. Spano was nearly incomprehensible.  At the time his grandparents emigrated to America, modern Italian was not the lingua franca it is today in Italy. 

About language, P.S. said when he and his friends tired of trying to understand the old dialects their visiting hyphenated relations spoke, they often ditched them with grandparents who still spoke those dialects and enjoyed hearing them spoken again.

P.S. from Sicily also recalls his parents suffering from the nouveau-riches or nuovi-ricchi attitudes of the emigrants.  His parents would regularly receive letters accompanied by photographs of all the possessions their relatives had recently purchased.  Some even sent photos of the insides of overly full, man-high, double-door refrigerators.  And when they came to visit, they were constantly comparing and critiquing his parent’s lives with their own in their new country.

The emigrants were probably trying to prove to those back home, and to themselves, that they had made the right decision to leave Italy, and to overcome the guilt they felt at having left family and country behind, and perhaps, to encourage more to follow their example.  But the effect was to build much resentment and envy, that was often passed on to the next generation and directed at the descendants of the immigrants. 

G. from Florence mentions her envy of the financial freedom of her relatives when they are visiting Italy.  Because of their relative wealth, and reliance on credit cards, when they see something they like in a store window, they just go in and charge it, something she can’t afford to do.  When they come to visit, she gets depressed because it makes her focus on how much poorer she is.  She understands they are not flaunting their wealth, that the behavior is normal in their country, but it also upsets her and makes her feel worse off, even inferior.

Italians have only now started using credit cards instead of debit cards, and they still are far from carrying the same weight of debt as many citizens of other industrialized countries.  Socially, it is less acceptable, and in a country that can suffer sudden turns in economic well-being, it is unwise. 

The growing economic ties within the European Union, namely with the Monetary Union that some members, including Italy, have joined, have made economic shifts less dramatic.  This is leading to greater debt levels, but Italians savings levels are still some of the highest in the world.  Economic prudence is the norm.

L., a Italian-Swedish (mother Swedish, father Italian), never set foot in Italy until she was twenty years old.  Up to that time, she had dreamed of Italy as the place she would finally fit in.  The petite, dark haired girl always felt out-of-place in tall, blond Sweden.  To Swedes, she was not Swedish, but some kind of anomalous bastard; anomalous because she spoke Swedish fluently with no accent, a bastard because she was obviously not “pure-bred”.  

The shock was great then, when she arrived in Italy to study Italian and learn more about her father’s culture, only to be treated as, yes, an anomalous bastard. She looked Italian but spoke the language with a Swedish accent, and had very liberal social views.  

She became deeply depressed when she realized she would never find a place where she felt she belonged.  She eventually returned to Sweden because she could not live with the Italian views of women and their more limited roles and rights in Italian society. 

L.’s views are natural for someone from liberal and sexually egalitarian Sweden.  The views of hyphenated Italians visiting Italy differ greatly based upon where they grew up.  The views are in the eye of the beholder.

  • Those from socially liberal and economically strong countries often find Italy parochial, illiberal, poor, disorganized, inefficient and corrupt. 

  • Those from socially conservative and economically precarious countries often find Italy liberating, open-minded, wealthy, well-ordered, amazingly efficient, and less corrupt than back home.

V., an Italian-Canadian, actually followed her native Italian boyfriend’s advice and pretended, for their Italian friends, to be distant cousins, by way of explaining their close relationship.  He was afraid (this was in the early 80’s) that his friends and strangers would think her a “free whore” if they knew they had met and fallen in love over a four week period during her vacation, before starting Italian language studies, in preparation for attending Italian university.  They maintained the fiction with all their Italian friends, but revealed the truth to all their Canadian and American friends, who found the whirlwind love story beautifully romantic.

Another source of conflict may come from views about other cultures and mixed cultures.  Italy is not an immigrant country, even with the new influx of economic immigrants from North Africa, Eastern Europe and Equatorial Africa.  The numbers are relatively low, and their welcome into Italian society is practically non-existent. 

Sadly, in Europe, excluding immigrant England (except for that neo-fascist fringe that seems to inhabit all immigrant countries), immigrants are largely treated as outsiders who pollute and dilute the native culture.  So it is no wonder that some see descendants of Italian emigrants as something less than Italian because of their polluted and diluted Italian culture.

J. is an Australian woman, who grew up in immigrant Australia, and is married to an Italian.  She has lived all her married life in Italy.  She was horrified when she encountered the anti-mixed culture attitude of Italians.  It was all the more horrifying when it came from her daughter’s school teacher who explained:  “You can’t expect your daughter to do as well in school as Italians, because as everyone knows, children of mixed cultures are usually retarded.”


New Contributions

To read the interesting and at times tragic experiences of globe-trotting Italian-American G.P. and his native Italian parents, click here

To read about Latin-American-Italians from the perspective of someone who's lived there, and in the States as an Italian-American, click here.


Different Formative Experiences

The views of hyphenated Italians and native Italians will always differ because of their different formative experiences.  Here are some of the more striking, and how they can affect relations between native Italians and hyphenated Italians. 

Continues Below




Native Italians did not grow up in a mixed culture society, while most hyphenated Italians did.  That exposure to various cultures and the respect and familiarity that immigrant countries try to foster between the cultures is not the norm in Italian society.  In the 80’s it was big news when the first Chinese restaurant opened in Italy, for example, and the only customers in the beginning were Chinese expatriates and tourists from immigrant countries who had tired of Italian food.  The place was vandalized and suspected of everything from drug processing to white slavery.  This is just a small example of some the hostility other cultures can suffer when they try to preserve their heritage in mono-culture Italy.

Native Italians did not grow up as a minority, except within the confines of  regional migration and the native Italian Jewish community.  Minority status can produce many psychologically defining characteristics:  feelings of inferiority, hyper-sensitivity to offense, a sense of not belonging, a search for identity, strong ties to an ethnic community, activism to promote one’s ethnic group in the larger multi-cultural society.  Native Italians never experienced minority status on this scale, so they don’t share these characteristics and needs on the same scale as most hyphenated Italians.

Native Italians grow up in a social democracy with a mixed economy that has strong roots in communist-socialist theory.  Many Italians proudly proclaim their left-leaning politics, even if many are laughingly called “armchair-socialists”.  The ideas of economic egalitarianism and the equality of opportunity are ingrained in Italians.  The flaunting of extreme wealth, and the ridicule and blaming of the poor for their poverty is almost always condemned.  This can be in stark contrast to the experiences of many hyphenated Italians who come from more purely capitalistic societies, where conspicuous consumption is either encouraged or laughed off, and blaming poverty on character flaws in the poor is common-place. 

Native Italians grow up in a highly politicized society where everything from work unions to art sponsorship to government television stations are separated along the political divide.  This is the case in some of the countries that received large numbers of Italian immigrants, such as those in Latin America, but it is not (yet?) the case in the purer immigrant countries like Canada, Australia/NZ, the USA and England.  The idea that one’s political affiliation could determine one’s career advancement in the civil service is actually illegal in these countries, something most Italians would find incomprehensible. 

Native Italians grow up understanding Italian regional social and economic differences, and the historical bigotries that accompany these differences, which exist in all countries.  Hyphenated Italians have generally experienced a coming together of all descendants of immigrant Italians for reasons of solidarity in a faraway land.  The social and economic divisions, and bigotries, within Italy often come as a nasty shock.  For the native Italians, the ignorance hyphenated Italians have of these differences and the subtleties they affect in behavior, only accentuate, in their eyes, the foreignness of the hyphenated Italians.


Some Words of Advice

A few words of advice to hyper-critical, hyphenated Italians from socially liberal, economically strong countries…These are three common Italian “embarrassments” that they might want to look at from different perspectives:

For those who cringe at the idea of the maffia  in Italy, abroad, and in popular entertainment… remember that criminal gangs exist in every country, and Italian law enforcement fights them continually and very effectively.  Great strides were made in the in the 80’s and 90’s when extraordinary laws were enacted that allowed for immunity from prosecution and relocation for those who testified against the mob, and the confiscation of assets from convicted mobsters.  The strides were so great that when the controversial laws (criminals were let off and “rewarded” with state subsidies, and the state took possession of assets on which innocent family members relied) expired, lawmakers decided not to renew them.  The result has been as expected, a rise in criminal gang activity and membership, but it has been noted by lawmakers and new laws are in the works to help law enforcement tackle the problem.  And when the Mafia ceases to exist, there will be less representations of it in popular entertainment.  As for having exported Italian organized crime around the world, that is a charge not unique to Italians.  A recent Russian immigrant to New York complained:  “We thought we were escaping the Russian gangsters when we left Russia, but we were wrong:  we brought our garbage with us.”  And just to point out, the word lost an “f” and gained a capital “M” in English - Mafia, suggesting it no longer refers to Italy's organized crime organizations but now refers to all organized crime organizations, regardless of ethnicity.  

For those who are embarrassed by what they see as illiberal social mores…it’s important to recognize that Italy (together with France) is the most socially liberal of all predominantly Catholic countries on the planet.  Catholic religious traditions limit how fast and how far people are willing and able to loosen society’s control over personal moral and social behavior.  For some Catholics, including the Pope, Italy is decadent and has rejected her Catholic traditions so she can have self-indulgent, life-denying life-styles.

For those who are shamed by lower economic well-being than they are used to…know that Italy has few natural resources and yet counts among the top ten industrialized nations in the world.  Those from more purely capitalistic societies should be aware that Italy’s mixed economy and social-democratic values mean that while the middle class is less well off than some other middle classes, there is lower per capita poverty than in those same countries. 



The experiences of hyphenated Italians differ from country to country, but there are some similarities:  a minority's solidarity in the face of the majority society, past discrimination and social exclusion, current prejudices and misconceptions within society, financial, emotional, and familial links to Italy, the embracing of the Italian cultural heritage, a desire to integrate into the larger society and create role-models for other hyphenated Italians. 

But the experiences of hyphenated Italians differ most in relation to native Italians in Italy.  Some see Italy as backward, yet others see her as advanced.  Some see Italians as inefficient and corrupt, while others judge them to be more efficient and less corrupt than what they are used to.  Some see Italian society focused on what matters in life (family and comfort), but others see Italian society as decadent and anti-life (abortion and birth-control). 

Native Italians, and most often relatives of hyphenated Italians, share some experiences, too, when dealing with hyphenated Italians.  Note, however, that this relationship is most often in relation to hyphenated Italians who are wealthy enough to travel to Italy.  Native Italians are subjected to much criticism and critique.  Their lives are often considered condescendingly "quaint".  They can feel inferior in the face of greater wealth and well-being.  They suffer impatience when put upon to validate the others' insecurities of ethnic identity.  They can, however, feel a kinship with hyphenated Italians, and often take pride in their accomplishments in their birth countries. 

The successes of hyphenated Italians are celebrated by native Italians.  Indeed, these are the moments when native Italians feel real affection for, and take real pride in, their DNA-linked relations.  Ironically, lately, some hyphenated Italians have begun to reject this recognition when they feel it does not fit their desired image in their birth countries.  Not only is this ironic, it is clearly a lost opportunity for rare solidarity between the Italian diaspora and native Italians.


Here are some books about the Italian immigrant experience.

Visit my Italian Immigrants in New York City page

Read about Joe Petrosino, a pioneering hero of anti-organized crime policing

John, an Italian immigrant to the U.S. by D.H. Lawrence