‘How are the differences between Australian and Italo-Australian culture displayed by Marchetta and what effects do they have on the protagonist Josie?”
Melina Marchetta’s cult text ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ looks at many issues of growing up in Australia torn between two cultures. The main protagonist Josie Alibrandi was born in Australia into a family with strong Italian cultural links and her battle to ‘find’ herself and her ethnicity is one that I will explore further.
Before exploring Josie’s ethnicity it is important to outline its meaning. Ethnicity-”A complex amalgam of language, religion, customs, symbols, literature, music, food and, as its core, an internal and external perception of difference. […] one’s sense of both belonging to a group and being ‘exclu[ded] from the national definition of a country’” (Kee, 1986:7 as cited in Gunew.1994 p 49).
Throughout the text there are many instances of Josie dealing with conflict between her Italian heritage, her Australian heritage and the mix of these two resulting in the Italo-Australian culture. Josie has two main role models in her life throughout the text that stand for different things. Her mother, Christina Alibrandi who was bought up in a strict Italian way and has many of the traits of a ‘good Italian’ girl is used by Marchetta to form a moderate or ‘mildly Italian’ character. Christina Alibrandi fulfils the requirements of her Italian Culture but also is involved in several behaviours that suggest she has moved away from the strict guidelines outlined by her mother Katia. Christina has been constructed by Marchetta in a way that shows her movement from strong Italian culture to a more moderate Italo-Australian culture. This is highlighted when Katia (Nonna) becomes aware of the identity of Josie’s real father, Michael Andretti. ‘People will talk. They will talk for sure’. ‘You know what I think? Mama shouted. ‘I think you’re jealous because you didn’t go out and make anything of your life when Papa died. Because you didn’t mix and you wanted to so much but you were scared that people would talk. Well im not going to run my life by their rules. Things have changed!’(pg96). It is this sort of attitude and ideal of change that gives us more insight into the way Josie deals with her Italo-Australian culture.
Josie’s grandmother or ‘Nonna’ is Katia Alibrandi. Marchetta has constructed Katia as the strong Italian influence in the Alibrandi family. As a first generation immigrant to Australia Katia had to deal with exclusion, racism, segregation and surviving in a new country. Katia brings with her a strict set of cultural rules and regulations that are expressed in the book with the dominant ideologies being the importance of marriage, the expectation to marry within your culture and that illegitimacy is not acceptable. Katia often mentions that Christina bought ‘disgrace’ onto the Alibrandi family name after she had Josie out of wedlock. The ideology of marriage is highlighted by Marchetta through several quotes by Katia. The ideology of marriage in Italian culture is shown when Katia explains to Josie about a marriage- ‘Eleanora Castano who married Bob Jones and now they’re divorced. Why? Because he’s Australian and she’s Italian, of course.” (p 37). The second ideology of marrying into your own culture is one that Josie uses when she feels the need, she is quoted as saying “Wogs marry the wogs”(pg 144). This was said in a sarcastic way that was more of a criticism of her Italian background than anything else. Josie later states ‘They stifle me with ridiculous rules and regulations they have bought with them from Europe, but they haven't changed with the times like the Europeans have’. (pg 40). This highlights her fight between cultures and the forming of the Italio-Australian culture. Marchetta again uses great character constructions to present this battle and it is through the varying ‘severity’ of the ethnicity...