Mt. Carmel St. Cristina Society

Italian Identity

Italy has been known for being many things - the Roman Empire, the mother of the arts, home to a landscape as interesting as any on earth, and one of the most accomplished civilizations in history – but politically it has been a disaster. Italy is a country without a unifying identity.

Even today it is a country that has had at least 57 different governments since the end of World War II. Italy is not a country divided within itself and it is a country filled with ironies. For example, the great immigration to the United States began in 1870 when Italy finally became a unified nation but unification came too late. Italians, especially Southern Italians had seen too much misery to be optimistic in their own land. An entire Italian culture left Italy because it was "morte di fame" - dying of hunger but even so the people left with mixed feelings. They came to America not because they wanted to but because they had to unlike the Northern Italians who immigrated to the United States because they wanted to, bringing with them their education and skills, and attracted by the promise of a finer life. The Southerners came looking for a place where they could just survive.

Those early immigrants had no idea of being Italian. They saw themselves first as Christians, then people from a particular village or town. A person from Bari was a Baresi; from Polermo, a Polermitano; from Naples, a Napolitano. It was in America when mixed with immigrants from other countries that they became identified as Italians. But make no mistake, Italians knew who was from Naples and who was from Sicily and for a long time Neapolitans married other Neapolitans and Sicilians married Sicilians!!