Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Italian Niche-Immigration (4)

Assimilation: The Early Italian Immigrant's Dilemma (continue from Page: 3)
The years of the Great Depression took a heavy toll on the Italian Americans especially the men that worked in the construction industry. Regular employment was difficult to come by to support and feed their large families. The wives then had to take in homework just to keep her family afloat. It was easier for women to find work. Even the children needed to help out. If the wife was lucky enough to find work outside of the home, she still had to continue performing her household jobs of cooking, dishwashing, washing clothes and caring for the children. At the end of the day the exhausted wife sometimes would fall asleep at the table until she went to work the next day. One thing for sure, as a rule the unemployed men would never take over the household chores. The role of wife, mother and working woman was not an easy task during the early immigrant and depression years. As the Italian woman became more Americanized, "she took up mainstream values and fought for education and equality." By the 1920s and 1930s, italian Americans were beginning to be assimilated into the American Life. In the 1940s there were still a large amount of unemployed Italians but then the economy started to improve by the 1950s enabling them to move to better housing and sanitary conditions.World War II was a major turning point for the Italian Americans to be accepted into the American society. Improvement in the American economy, expansion of higher education, suburbanization and government assistance to veterans were conditions in the post-World War II years. These conditions provided opportunities for the second generation of Italian-Americans to make a rapid upward progress in achieving the success of home ownership, which gave them respectability and independence. Out of all the immigrant groups in America they were known to have the highest percentages of home ownership. Owning a home was also a step toward assimilation.

Since the 1890s, the term of "Mafia," crime and violence has been unfairly associated with the Italian-American. This negative image has prevailed as public prejudice. The percentage of Italian-Americans that have been involved in organized crime is small in comparison to the vast majority who are hard working, law-abiding, patriotic and civic-minded American citizens.

After the great era of Italian immigration which began during the late 1800s into early 1900s, the Italian immigrants have moved steadily into the mainstream of American society seeing their children grow up as Americans. Many have moved from impoverished households and working class labor into higher educational levels resulting in extensive accomplishments and achieving economic success. The Italian-Americans have become respected members of their communities, contributing their talents and knowledge to America as a whole in the fields of arts, entertainment, politics and much more.

The early Italian immigrant ingrained with the customs and traditions which were held sacred in the old world culture, in their attempt to transfer these same family values and traditions to America, created divisions and conflicts between both generations. The second generation found themselves in a dilemma of straddling two cultures while developing their own identity. They became Americanized too fast, undergoing a substantial degree of change. They did not retain the language, the traditions or customs, the ways of doing things, or accept the way of thinking of their immigrant parents. As the second generation became completely absorbed into the American mainstream, their lifestyle practices, their manner of dressing, their choices of recreation and entertainment, created a schism between the two generations which always culminated in much irritation and friction as well as unhappiness. Their interest in the old world culture became minimal or nonexistent. However, the flip side to this is that there has always been Americans of Italian descent who would experience the best of both worlds while proudly retaining aspects of their culture , celebrating the heritage that their ancestors once brought to their newly adopted home.

To be continued: Assimilation: The Early Italian Immigrant's Dilemma (5)

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