The Italian Americans

The Italian Americans

The culture the Italian immigrants brought with them was generally not the high Italian culture of Dante and Michelangelo, but the culture of the region or village from which they came. These individual but related cultures established the basis of contemporary Italian American culture.

A University of Chicago study of fifteen ethnic groups showed that Italian Americans were among those groups having the lowest percentages of divorce, unemployment, people on welfare and those incarcerated. On the other hand, they were among those groups with the highest percentages of two-parent families, elderly family members still living at home, and families who eat together on a regular basis.

Italian American culture, and transplanted Italian culture, have influenced American culture in a variety of ways, such as: restaurants, foods, coffees and desserts; wine production (in California and elsewhere in the U.S.); popular music, starting in the 1940s and 1950s, and continuing into the present; operatic, classical and instrumental music; jazz; fashion and design; “Capra-esque” movies (in the style of Frank Capra); Italianate architecture, in homes, churches, and public buildings; Montessori schools; Christmas crèches; fireworks displays; bocce; Columbus Day parades; and the commemoration of Columbus, as reflected in numerous monuments, city names, names of institutions and the poetic name, “Columbia”, for the United States itself.

The effective stereotyping of Italian Americans as being associated with organized crime was shown by a comprehensive study of Italian American culture on film, conducted from 1996 to 2001 by the Italic Institute of America. The findings showed that over two-thirds of the more than 2,000 films studied portray Italian Americans in a negative light. Further, close to 300 movies featuring Italian Americans as criminals have been produced since The Godfather, an average of nine per year. According to the Italic Institute of America:

The mass media has consistently ignored five centuries of Italian American history, and has elevated what was never more than a minute subculture to the dominant Italian American culture.

In actuality, according to recent FBI statistics, Italian American organized crime members and associates number approximately 3,000; and, given an Italian American population estimated to be approximately 18 million, the study concludes that only one in 6,000 has any involvement with organized crime.

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