Interview and Research Project
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Interview and Research Project
Since the foundation of the country, immigration has been the driving force behind the country. The United States is one of the countries that has received more immigrants in the entire world. These immigrants have assimilated the “American way of life”, but also they have changed their environment, and the American Society. That is the case of the Italian immigrants, one of the strongest immigrant groups in the country. The history of Italian immigration to the United States is a long one, dating from late 1800 to 1940-50. Sources estimate that during 1876 to 1976, nearly 26 million Italians migrated to the U.S. (Cavaioli 215). The number of Italians in the country was so big that they were able to keep their ways of life, and adapt them to the new country where they lived.
However, it is important to note that although necessary, Italian immigration was not always seen with right eyes. For instance, in the 19th century, many proponents of the “Social Darwinism” considered that the Anglo-Saxon race was the fittest. Others such as the Jews; Slavs; Greeks and Italians were inferior (Cavaioli 222). In the same way, their position as Roman Catholics, put Italian immigrants in a rough spot when trying to adapt to a Protestant country such as the United States. In the same way, many of the immigrants who came to the country after World War I were discriminated because the involvement of Italo-American gangs in the country during the prohibition.
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It is possible that Italian immigration to the United States started due to the poor economic conditions of the country. After World War II, the immigration flow was still high, and many immigrants came to the United States escaping from a war-torn country that did not offer them the opportunities they needed to reconstruct their lives. Typically, Italian immigration had come from the southern part of the country. However, the post-war Italy saw emigration from the North-East part of the country, as well as the northern industrial cities such as Milan (Bonifazi et al. 6). It was only in the 1970s when the country’s economic situation started to improve, and immigration to the U.S. dwindled (Cavaioli 220).
In this essay, we shall show the results of an interview conducted to Mario Esposito, a 77-year-old man, born in Verona, Italy. We shall ask our informant a series of questions, and afterward, we shall reflect our impressions using cultural categories.
Why are you here in the U.S? It was 1954; I was sixteen. One day my father started talking about the possibility of coming to America, we had cousins here, and they said we could come and work with them in the construction business. I didn’t know a word of English, but we took a boat, and here I am. Many years had passed from the war, but the country wasn’t good for us. It was better coming to America than to stay there.
What was it like for you to come here, Mario? I had no idea of what to expect, you know. Sometimes our cousins sent us letters and a couple of bucks. That made me feel that America was a place where I could become rich quickly. The reality was different, though. Things were tough, but here I had the chance to work hard and earn honest money. I might not be rich, but my family has everything they need.
How did your parents make a living back in Italy? My father was a shoemaker, and my mother was a housewife. Back in Italy, women used to stay home with the kids, rather than finding a job, or whatever. We had a small garden in our house with some vegetables, and she spent their days there, with the plants. Most houses had a patch where they cultivated some plants to eat (sic).
Do Americans you have met know about Italian culture? People believe that Italy is all about pasta; pizza, and mafia. There are many things about Italian culture that people don’t know. Besides, pizza is not even famous in Verona! Americans don’t know much about Italian culture, but they admire it. That is good.
How have you been treated in the country? After sixty-one years in the U.S. and being an American citizen, I feel more part of America than of Italy. However, at the beginning it was hard, I didn’t know English and didn’t know how to communicate with people. Luckily, I was surrounded by my family, we supported each other and were able to adapt to the country. For us Italians, the family is important and sometimes can make a big difference.
Do your sons and daughters speak Italian? Me and my wife keep speaking Italian sometimes, and we tried to teach the language to our son and daughter. I think that language is important as it keeps traditions and helps them remembering that they are Americans, but also Italians.
From the beginning, one of the things that impressed me the most is that Italian culture is not an individualistic culture like the American. They place a high value on concepts such as the family and closeness. To an outsider, Italians might seem over-familiar, but that is the norm for them. In the same way, Americans tend mistrust outsiders. On the other hand, Italians are open toward strangers and receive people with glee. Mario was open and helped me with this project. Also, Italians are more prone to take risks than many Americans. The American culture emphasizes comfort, and a large amount of Americans do not think of emigrating. Italians have been emigrating from their country for centuries. This has made them adaptable toward circumstances and change. In the same way, family plays a significant role with this as well, as it offers a safety net to them to rely on. Italians attitude toward age is also an important subject to note. Mario is a sort of patriarch in his family. He receives his family every two Sundays and have a big lunch with them. To his family, he is perceived as one of the fundamental pillars of the house. He is respected for what he has done, and for all the things he accomplished in life. On the other hand, American society places a high value on youth, as it is considered them a moment where you can achieve the most. As people grow older, they tend to be disregarded and even discarded by the society. Italian society places a high value on the elders as they are a source of experiences and wisdom. Also, the elders hold the traditions, and the language, which is an important part of the Italian culture.
Bonifazi, C., F. Heins, S. Strozza, and M. Vitiello. “Italy: The Italian Transition from an Emigration to Immigration Country.” IDEA Working Papers 6: Citizens and Governance in a Knowledge-Based Society.5 (2009). University of Warsaw. Web. <http://www.idea6fp.uw.edu.pl/pliki/WP5_Italy.pdf> 22 June 2015.
Cavaioli, F. “Patterns of Italian Immigration to the United States.” Catholic Social Science Review 13 (2008): 213-29. SUNY. Web. <http://catholicsocialscientists.org/cssr/Archival/2008/Cavaioli%20-%20article.pdf> 22 June 2015.
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