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Spring 2011


- R. Baldasty
Beloved Albatross
- D. Bastianutti
From Trã Bãn
- K. Cain
The Current (La Corrente)
- L. Calio
Down with the King
- M. Cirelli
May Mass – 1957
- L. Dolan
- G. Fagiani
Persephone’s Devotion to Her Mother
- M. Fazio
- V. Fazio
- D. Festa
L’Amour, L’Amour on Summer Afternoons (L’Amour, L’Amour D’estati Filuvespiri)
- M. Frasca
- S. Jackson
- W.F. Lantry
Little Swift
- R. León
Since You Asked
- M. Lisella
Dublin 2010
- V. Maher
39 Fifth Avenue
- C. Matos
Sunrise in Sicily
- A. O’Donnell
Watching Monzú at Work
- F. Polizzi
L’incontru (Rendezvous)
- N. Provenzano
Propriu Quannu Sta Scurannu (When the Day Is Almost Over)
- N. Provenzano
Bones (Le Ossa)
- D. Pucciani
- E. Swados
Mount Etna
- G. Syverson
Poet Jack Foley Says, “We’re Not Writing for Eternity
- J. Wells
Lord of Winter
- A. Zanelli

Rosemarie Crupi Holz

Review of Carol Bonomo Albright & Christine Palamidessi Moore’s anthology, AMERICAN WOMAN, ITALIAN STYLE

Carol Bonomo Albright and Christine Palamidessi Moore gathered the best writings about Italian American women from their publication, Italian Americana, a historical and cultural journal over thirty-five years old devoted to the Italian American experience. The outcome American Woman, Italian Style is a tribute to the lives and lifestyles of those trailblazing women, the known and unknown, who have become part of the fabric of American society.

This anthology educates not only scholars interested in Italian Americans but also those interested in history, sociology, immigration, gender and cross-cultural studies. Interviews, narratives, essays, sociological research, demographic studies, even cookbooks were used in an attempt to trace the history of Italian American women in America from the time of the first immigrants to the present. Contributions to literature, art, music and film were also presented. Written by individuals with a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and ideas, the selections appeal to more recent immigrants and the average individual, as well.

In “Narratives of Nine Italian-American Women,” Elizabeth G. Messina brings together the stories of simple, ordinary first and second generation Italian American women who had lived all of their childhood and adulthood in Little Italy. Unused to expressing feelings, their memories of what life was like growing up on Mott Street spill forth vividly in their own words and testify to their inner strength and endurance:

In those days you had your babies at home. You know we believed her when she told us: the midwife brings the babies. My mother would say: “Now go upstairs to your Aunt Fran’s. Rosa Maria (the midwife) is coming and she’s going to bring us another baby.” I’d see Rosa Maria comin’ up the stairs with a suitcase and remember thinking to myself, “But how can a baby fit in such a small bag?”

When I came home from school and saw the work that needed to be done I wanted to cry, but I got over it. I used to go shopping and take care of the younger kids for my mother. My mother had twelve kids, only nine survived. Some died young. . . We had no tub and no hot water. We had to boil the water to wash the clothes. I used to hate doin’ that. We lived, we were happy, we had food.

You’d think once in a while he’d compliment me on a good meal, no! You sit down at the table and he never says, “Maria what a good meal!” No, you know what he says when I tell him that once in a while he could tell me he likes something? He says, “You see the dish is empty that’s the compliment!”

Today I would divorce. Before marriage, there is love and affection. After marriage, maledizione (damn it all)! If a woman isn’t perfect, the man makes her miserable. No, today I would divorce. Should I suffer and be miserable or suffer and be free? What do you think?

In Maria Parrino’s “Education in the Autobiographies of Four Italian Women Immigrants,” the expansion of the American public school system and its effects on Italian immigrants is explored. According to her article, documentation shows that many Italian immigrants did not take advantage of this growth. Their formal schooling presence in America was limited and at times absence. She cites scholars who reflect on the culture and conflicting attitudes towards education in rural southern Italy, where most Italian immigrants originally came from. National education laws to create a highly centralized system made slow progress in the south. In addition, many Italian immigrants returned to their homeland. These reasons contribute to our understanding as to why Italians were far less likely than others to receive an extended education.

Four million Italians came to the United States between 1880 and 1924 and 1/3 were women. With this background in mind, Parrino records personal narratives of Italian women who lived the immigrant experience and left written records in English. Though limited to only four, these personal narratives present individuals who go beyond the stereotype of Italian immigrants portrayed as ignorant, backward and incompetent.

Clara Corica Grillo taught herself to read and write in Italian and, as the only member in her family who could do so, was asked to help the numerous boarders in her home write letters to their families in Italy. She charged ten cents per letter and from the time she was 11, her “business” became profitable for both her family and herself. Despite these benefits, Grillo’s father had no respect for women’s education. She went to school in spite of him and his threats. Refusing to conform to her family’s tradition to remain at home until she married, at the age of 16 Clara left and worked her way through school using the money she had set aside. Ultimately, she went on to college, one of the few daughters of first generation Italian immigrants to do so.

Other narratives showcase first generation Italian American families that demonstrated a positive attitude toward their children’s education and realized that schooling meant one of the possible routes to upward mobility. Whether they educated themselves, were educated by nuns in convents in Italy, teachers in schools, social workers in settlement houses in big cities, or were given help and support from the American community, these personal narratives of ordinary first and second generation Italian-American women displayed a common passion for broadening their cultural background in their development as individuals.

Diane Vecchio’s research of women’s businesses in Milwaukee’s Italian third Ward during the late 19th century showed that forty of the 130 Italian owned grocery stores were run by Italian women born in Italy, the majority from Sicily. Case studies of these women show that though limited by education and language, they recognized the needs of their immigrant community and viewed business ownership as a means of achieving economic goals linking their hard work with the concerns and welfare of their families. One third of the women were widows and took over the grocery business following their husbands’ deaths. The rest were married to men who were gainfully employed. All of the women operated grocery stores at home. They used the front rooms of their homes and stocked them with olive oil, imported pasta, and tomatoes and ran these businesses while taking care of their homes and raising their children.

In “Writing Life, Writing History, Italian-American Women and the Memoir,” Edvige Giunta states that “Italian-American women in the 1970s have become more actively present on the literary scene but have faced difficulties posed by publishers and readers often indifferent, or even hostile, to those Italian American authors who write outside the bounds of accepted stereotypical narratives.” Louise DeSalvo, among others, recounts the life stories of working class Italian American families without presenting them in a nostalgic or mythological light. Her memoirs tackle class and ethnic identity, Catholicism, mental illness, and physical and sexual abuse. Many Italian American women see her writing as a voice for key contradictions and struggles faced in their lives. In one autobiographical essay entitled “Portrait of the Puttana as a Middle-Aged Woolf Scholar,” DeSalvo confronts the seemingly antithetical concepts of being Italian- American and intellectual, working class and academic.

DeSalvo’s essay was reprinted in Helen Barolini’s collection The Dream Book, another example of a book which reopens discussions about the representation of women’s voices in Italian Americana, voices that violate Italian-American demands for silence and loyalty. Like DeSalvo, Barolini has also struggled in the publishing world. Until the late 1990s virtually every one of her books was out of print or unpublished. Her writings show evidence of an Italian American female tradition in a wide variety of literary genres and suggest a more complex portrait of the female Italian American. These women are connected to their past but nevertheless dream of moving beyond ethnicity.

Concetta Scaravaglione epitomizes this woman, an Italian-American whose life was full of contradictions, struggles and ultimately success. Born in 1900, she was the youngest of nine children of Italian immigrants who left Calabria for New York City. After her father died, her mother was left to raise her large family and to manage a small grocery store. Rosa’s artistic abilities were recognized by her public school teachers who recommended she receive formal training. Her older brothers and mother wanted her to learn stenography but surprisingly as the youngest, her unusual ambition to become an artist was indulged. She worked by day and studied in the evenings at the Art Students League in New York. An unmarried Italian daughter never neglects her family responsibilities in favor of a career and for Rosa that included helping out with her brothers’ families as well. With passion, strength and resolution, she set out on her own to study art, living the life of a 1920s bohemian artist and becoming the complete antithesis of the young woman from the closely-knit East Harlem Italian-American neighborhood and family. Ultimately, she won the Prix de Rome, which funded her education at the American Academy in Italy and she is recognized today as a critically acclaimed American sculptor whose career spanned over five decades. She credits the success of her most untraditional career and lifestyle to her parents: “My family brought to America what so many Italian families have brought from out-of-the- way-villages to crowded sidewalks: courage, knowledge of hard labor, and capacity to work.”

A fascinating anthology on many levels, American Woman, Italian Style contains many more essays on the experiences of Italian American women. This review only begins to tell their stories and to hint at the richness of what it has to offer.