Feeling Italian: The Art of Ethnicity in America

Thomas J. Ferraro

Southern Italian emigration to the United States peaked a full century ago. Descendants are now fourth and fifth generation, dispersed from their old industrial neighborhoods, professionalized, and fully integrated into the “melting pot.” If the social historians are right and Italian Americans are fading into the twilight of their ethnicity, why is the American imagination so enthralled by The Sopranos, and other portraits of Italian-ness?

Italian American identity, now a mix of history and fantasy, flesh-and-bone people and all-too-familiar caricature, still has something to teach us, including why each of us, as citizens of the U.S. twentieth century and its persisting cultures, are to some extent already Italian. Contending that the media has become the primary vehicle of Italian sensibilities, Ferraro explores a series of books, movies, paintings, and records in ten dramatic vignettes. Featured cultural artifacts run the gamut, from the paintings of Joseph Stella and the music of Frank Sinatra to The Godfather’s enduring popularity and Madonna’s Italian background.