Italian Heritage Required Reading
As Italian Heritage Month draws to a close, I want to challenge everyone to continue to learn more about what makes us “Italian.”
There are many great resources available. However, I want to urge you to read books about our heritage and history. Read stories about those who came before us. The sacrifices they made. All they accomplished. We need to remember that we stand on their shoulders. That our successes are their successes.
Now I know what some of you might be thinking. Read? No podcast? No video on YouTube? No Facebook group?
Nope, books. Old school words on a page.
Now, if you want to get an e-book or an audio book, I won’t hold it against you. But these books are available for us to not just enjoy, but to learn.
So here are some books every American of Italian descent should read:
La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian American Experience: Authors Jerre Mangione and Ben Morreale provide a solid foundation of what the Italian immigrant experience was like starting with the time before the United States was a country and brings you up to current day. It goes into the why behind the Great Migration and offers a glimpse into the hard life the Mezzogiorno endured.
Christ Stopped at Eboli: I will admit, it took me a long time to truly absorb this book. Thoughts and descriptions shared by Carlo Levi were just so irreconcilable to me, it took a lot for me to come to terms with the abject poverty they faced, the harshness of life, and the overbearing government that was part of day-to-day life. It left me feeling, well… you just need to read it. To put it into words of my own is bordering on the impossible.
Una Storia Segreta: While tens of thousands of Italian immigrants volunteered to fight for their new home country in World War II, their families faced incredible discrimination… and detention. Author Lawrence DiStasi shares the stories rarely told about the Italians living in California that faced the same seizures of property, loss of dignity, and guilt by ethnicity Japanese immigrants faced. The difference here is the country knows the stories of the Japanese. Very few know the stories of the Italians.
Newark’s Little Italy: The Vanished First Ward: Of course as a Jersey Girl, there needs to be at least one book about the Italian communities of New Jersey. Michael Immerso offers an amazing glimpse of day-to-day life at the height of the Old First Ward in Newark. At its height, the First Ward was the fifth largest Italian community in the country. Sadly, it is all almost completely gone. The heart of that original community – St. Lucy’s Church – is almost all that remains.
The Feast of St. Gerard Maiella, C.Ss.R. : A Century of Devotion at St. Lucy’s, Newark: Continuing with the First Ward and St. Lucy’s Church, the National Shrine to St. Gerard is a key part of the devotion that brings families from the Old First Ward back generation after generation. Father Thomas Nicastro provides a deep history into the devotion by tens of thousands of Americans of Italian descent.
Terroni: All That Has Been Done to Ensure that the Italians of the South Became “Southerners:” This is what I am currently reading, and just like Christ Stopped at Eboli, it paints a grim picture of what our ancestors faced, both before and after the Unification of Italy. At moments, it is hard to read, but it is important to understand our heritage, as we are part of this history.
This is a VERY short list of the texts that are available. I encourage everyone to pick up a book – any book – and begin to read and learn about how heritage. We are far more than Sunday dinner and the stereotypes portrayed in the media. We are a strong, hard-working, loyal people. It is important we know where we came from, as it directly relates to where we are going.