On this Columbus Day weekend and Italian American Heritage Month, it is worth highlighting the contributions that Italian Americans have made to this country. Perhaps no book captures the stories , great and small, of Italians in America better than Dominic Pulera’s, Green, White & Red: The Italian American Success Story. Pulera, whose father is Italian American, criss-crossed the country to conduct research for his book, meeting with Italian Americans on both coasts and in-between. At an event sponsored by the Lido
Civic Club of Washington D.C. earlier this year, Pulera said that “when the Lido Club was founded in 1929, the Italian immigrants and their descendants were beginning to assume their rightful place in the American mainstream culture.”
By the 1960s and 1970s, Pulera said, most Italian Americans were achieving success as they defined it, by “working hard, playing by the rules, having strong families, contributing to their communities, embracing this country (the English language and our unifying national culture) while maintaining pride in their heritage, starting businesses, and, especially in the younger generations, going to college.”
Over the years, Italian Americans assumed positions of increasing importance. For a time in late 2005 and early 2006, as Pulera pointed out, the top three positions in the Joint Chiefs of Staff were held by Italian Americans.
A key sticking point in the trajectory of success on the part of Italian Americans, Pulera pointed out, is stereotyping, especially in the area of organized crime. However, Pulera argued that stereotyping is fading for a number of reasons, including aggressive prosecution of criminals and the fact that “the pockets of poverty that served as recruiting areas for Italian mobsters have disappeared in Italian America.”
More good news about Italian Americans today, Pulera continued, is that “the Italian-American influence in the U.S. is so pervasive, so all-encompassing, that the typical American does not even think of many Italian Americans as being ‘Italian’ at all. They are seen, appropriately so, as wholly, completely, and unequivocally American.”
The question naturally arises, what then is the future of the Italian-American identity? Is it fading into history? With the passage of time and with widespread intermarriage, Pulera asked, will there be an Italian-American culture in 20 years?
The answer is hard to predict, of course, but the numbers suggest a response. “More and more Americans have some Italian ancestry while fewer and fewer Americans are fully Italian, having the strongest ties to Italian-American culture,” said Pulera.
What Italian Americans must now do, he said, is “to capture the stories of our ancestors,” those who have in some way witnessed the transformation of Italian Americans from immigrants who were the target of discrimination into respected and wholly integrated members of American society.
The Italian-American story, Pulera concluded, is a “quintessentially American narrative of faith, family, and work. It is a beautiful story. It is an inspiring story. It is an Italian story. It is an American story. And fundamentally, it is our story, one that belongs to each and every one of us.” READ MORE