Professor Sandra Allen, Voices and Choices Center Librarian, shares the following thoughts during the final week of the Italian American Exhibit in the Voices & Choices Gallery. Stop by soon to see some wonderful examples of Italian American heritage.
Any consideration of the immigrant experience of Italians in the U.S. requires attention to the several seasons and arenas of reception which span the life of the nation. A thread of ambiguity seems to stretch throughout all the episodes. Historically, the quality of the welcome received is marked by both praise and contempt. Easy examples include a U.S. populace that lauds the Italian masters of music, art and architecture, celebrating their traditional contributions to world culture, yet often condemns the Italian Old World ways of life in the U.S. Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo) is paid homage for Europe’s discovery of the Other/New World and the colonial benefits of its access. He is scorned by Spain for being trumped in its naming by the apparent fabrications of Amerigo Vespucci and by Native Americans for ushering in the exploitation and destruction of their homeland. Among early colonial settlers journeying to the New World for religious reasons are lesser known Northern Italian Protestants. Italian Catholics at the time regard them as heretics. Later, Catholics from Ireland and Poland viewed the religious attitude of Italian Catholics as uncommitted to the church due in part to the few entering the clergy and to their separating religion from their developing national identity. The lack of barriers to economic success in the U.S. becomes appealing to entrepreneurial crime in many culture groups in advance of Italian immigration. The speed and organizational success of some Italians in this regard creates a romanticized and a despised popularity.
Countless Italian-Americans are among honored U.S. scientists, bankers, politicians, educators, homemakers, doctors, soldiers, craftsmen, authors, farmers, wine-growers, lawyers, athletes, entertainers… The fullness of Italian-Americans’ participation in the prosperity of the country is recognized as essential to a wonderfully dynamic and diverse nation. Fortunately, more recent generations of Italian-Americans such as Dr. Angela M. Scanzello, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania Professor Emerita re-examine and embrace the experiences renounced by their U.S. ancestors. The compelling presence for more than five centuries of Italians in America is celebrated in Dr. Scanzello’s collectibles on display in the Voices & Choices Gallery and in a sampling of titles annotated here available in Rohrbach library.