ExperiencePlus! Blog

Book Review: Italianità – The Essence of Being Italian and Italian-American

ExperiencePlus! founder Rick Price reviews a book written by one of our travelers! Take a look at Rick’s review of William Giovinazzo’s book, Italianità – The Essence of Being Italian and Italian-American.

OK, I don’t really qualify as Italian-American even though I’ve been married to an Italian for 49+ years, I speak Italian, and I have two daughters who speak fluent Italian.  And yes, though I am of German and Welsh origin, I have dual citizenship in both the USA and Italy.  So perhaps I should be tagged American-Italian instead of Italian-American.

I’ve developed my American-Italian culture the hard way over the years, through assimilation and osmosis, not at my mother’s knee.  Two examples (food related, of course) set the scene.  I was probably thirty before I realized that the garlic bread my mother and, later, my sister, prepared for Sunday dinner by slicing a French loaf, slathering it with butter and garlic salt and heating it in the oven was, at best, a German style substitute for real Italian “bruschetta.”  Bruschetta, of course is stale bread toasted and rubbed with a clove of garlic and sprinkled with salt and olive oil.

The second revelation for me was the day thirty years ago that I realized the iconic all-American Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, canned ravioli and Beef Aroni were really the work of Ettore Boiardi the Italian-American immigrant entrepreneur chef who came to the US in 1914 at the age of 16.  His canned pasta products eventually became the leading canned food product in the US.  But I grew up in the 1950’s watching advertisements for this iconic product as Chef Boy-Ar-Dee!

So it was with a certain fascination that I picked up William Giovinazzo’s book on what it meant to be Italian-American.  Giovinazzo grew up an American of Italian origin in upstate New York.  So he was surrounded by real Italian-Americans his entire life.  His book is his deep dive into trying to understand what it means to be Italian, American, and finally Italian-American.

Giovinazzo’s book reads like a literature review and guide to understanding Italian history, culture, and language along with the cross cultural element and cultural conflict inherent in “feeling” Italian but not belonging in Italy.  He describes how Italians in Italy look askance at Italian-Americans born in the US.  This is an eye opener.

From Shakespeare to Sinatra and Dante to Dondi, the Italian war orphan featured in comic strips for three decades beginning in 1955, Giovinazzo goes to great lengths to understand the Italian-American experience and to analyze his own Italian-ness in what he describes as Italianità.  On his journey he takes you through the stereotypes of Italian immigrants in the US – from the Organ Grinder with his Monkey to the Marx Brothers imitating Italian accents in their comedy routines to “Pizzaman” and Chef Boy-Ar-Dee.

I read Luigi Barzini’s The Italians fifty years ago.  And I loved his stereotypes of Italian culture and society.  Giovinazzo doesn’t stereotype Italian-Americans but he describes how they were stereotyped over the decades in their attempt to integrate with American society and how the different layers of culture were peeled back over time.  From food to language, religion and family, to the Mafia, amulets and the evil eye, this book provides a wild ride through Italian history, culture and society.

I learned a lot.