Anti-Italianism in the United States

Topics: Italian American, Italy, Italian people Pages: 12 (4504 words) Published: December 5, 2010
Anti-Italianism in the United States
The reputation of Italian Americans has been marked by complex and ongoing negotiations of ethnic identity, ascent from the working class, and ongoing perceptions of support for criminal gangs. Movies from early on loaded their films with Italian gangsters. After 1915 heartbreaking melodramas of destitution and misfortune adopted instead a combination of muted 'othering' and universal characterizations.[1] Because of the common association, Italian Americans spokespeople see films and news accounts about the Mafia as harmful to their community. This became something of an issue for the HBO series The Sopranos when spokespeople complained about the stereotypical nature of the show. Other Italians feel that such shows are problematic only if they feature the Mafia as a common or accepted part of Italian American life. The news media as well as fictional films have stereotyped the Italian American community as tolerant of violent, sociopathic, knife-wielding gangsters and street ruffians.[2][3] Thus the stereotypes range from portraying Italians as working class thugs, to violent "guappo" immigrants, to Mafiosi. Other stereotypes portray Italians as overly-emotional, melodramatic, plebeian, superstitious, hot-blooded, aggressive, traditionalistic, obsessed with food, and prone to vengeance.[4] Men are sometimes stereotyped as "Italian Stallions". Italian women have had two main stereotypes: an overly matriarchal old woman or a flirtatious, exotic young woman who indulges in fashions such as Prada and Gucci. A lesser stereotype of Italian women has been that of a big-haired, gum-cracking airhead who is often shown as a girlfriend of a Mafia soldier. Italian Americans have often found themselves at the receiving end of ethnic jokes, parodies, and discrimination due to certain stereotypes.[5] In America and many other nations, Italians have also been stereotyped as swarthy perpetual foreigners in a lower class, restricted to blue collar jobs. They have been stereotyped working as construction workers, chefs, beggars, peddlers, plumbers, and in other working class jobs.[6] Another stereotype of Italian American is the "goombah" or "guido", a working class or lower class Italian male. In their own community, Italian Americans themselves will sometimes refer to such "buffoon-like" Italian males as “cafoni”. “Cafone” is an Italian word that originally meant peasant, but its meaning evolved to refer to rude, ignorant, uncouth people. Degrading and even dehumanizing images have been prevalent in the perpetuation of ignorance and historical myths.[7]

Harsh anti-Italian immigrant editorial cartoon, 1888
[edit] Violence against Italians

Rioters breaking in to parish prison. Anti-Italian lynching in New Orleans, 1891 In the United States, Italian immigrants were subject to extreme prejudice, racism, and, in many cases, violence. During the 19th century and early 20th century, Italian Americans were often seen as non-American and criminals. Some anti-Italianism had roots in the same cause of violence against Jews. Because Italians were seen as the descendants of the Romans, who had crucified Jesus, this served as justification for violence against Italians.[8] The largest mass lynching in American history involved the lynching of eleven Italians in the city of New Orleans in 1891.[9] The Italians, who were thought to have assassinated police chief David Hennessy, were arrested and placed in a jail cell before being brutally murdered by a lynch mob that stormed the jailhouse, with witnesses claiming that the cheers "were nearly deafening". Cries of "hang the dagos" were heard throughout the riot. Reporting on the incident, one newspaper reported [10] Afterwards, hundreds of Italian immigrants, most of whom were not criminals, were arrested by law enforcement. Decades after, an anti-Italian phrase, "Who kill-a the chief?" remained popular in the New Orleans area.[11][12] In the 1920s, two...
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