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“My bitter land is a short history of Italian emigration.”
Emigration is an important part of Italian history. Since the emergence of a single Italian state in 1870 until the late 1980s. from the country left about 27 million people – about the same as there were residents of the country at the time of its unification. The number of people entering Italy for the first time exceeded the number of people leaving only in 1986. And, as in recent years there has been a lot of talk about immigrants in southern Europe, we decided to recall what role the phenomenon of migration played in the life of Italians over the past 150 years, and how they sang of that “bitter land” that they were leaving.
Usually two main periods are distinguished in the history of Italian emigration. The first one lasted from the end of the 19th century. before the outbreak of World War II. The goal of the majority of those leaving was America, both northern and southern. The second period is the period of post-war (circa 1950-1980) migration from the south of the country to the north. This time is called the “economic miracle” in the history of Italy, because, with the active financial support of the United States, Italy managed to quickly recover from the state of post-war disruption. In the “industrial triangle” (il triangolo industriale: Milan – Turin – Genoa) in the north of the country, new factories opened, and southerners came here in search of work. Some moved further into neighboring European countries: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France and Belgium.
In this and the next two publications of this series, we will tell you a little more about the history of Italian emigration to America and how the “American theme” was reflected in the Italian mass culture: in songs and films.
“Great emigration” (la grande emigrazione) begins in the 1870s: immediately after the final unification of Italy (1870 – the accession of Rome to the Italian kingdom), the country begins an agrarian crisis. Accordingly, the Italians of this time travel to countries where there are large areas of untreated land: mainly in the US, Brazil and Argentina. So, one of the most famous songs about the emigration of the late XIX century. – Merica, Merica – written by immigrants from Veneto to Brazil (we talk about it in more detail in one of the following publications of this cycle).
It existed both seasonally (for several months, for the sake of the agricultural season in the southern hemisphere), and the final migration. Mostly young men left, especially at first: the rest would be especially difficult to endure a long (30-40 days) and a difficult journey on the ship. And on arrival it did not get any easier. Advertising agents and entrepreneurs who earned money on migrant transport painted iridescent pictures of a wonderful new world. However, especially in the USA, there was not enough work for everyone, and living conditions were difficult.
To better understand the hardships of moving and the peculiarities of the life of emigrants in the United States at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, we recommend watching Emanuele Kriileze’s 2006 film, Nuovomondo c (lit., “The New World,” the English word “The Golden Door” ) with Charlotte Gainsbourg in the title role. The action in the film begins in Sicily, and ends on Ellis Island, the largest reception center for immigrants in the Bay of New York, which operated from 1892 to 1954. In this film, it is told what kind of medical and psychological checks the newcomers were subjected to, what obstacles were repaired to unmarried girls, and whom and for what could be deported back. Movie Trailer:
Those Italians, who were fortunate to be accepted, settled compactly, forming ethnic neighborhoods, the so-called “Little Italy” (Little Italy). These neighborhoods had a bad reputation (malavita – so called the urban poor, criminals). As a rule, they were located in the poor parts of the city, not far from the Negro ghetto, and to the Italians themselves the attitude was as something between white and black, especially since the types of work for which they were hired were primarily carried out African Americans.
In the first half of the 20th century. many of the American Italians have already successfully integrated into the local economy, however, with the performance of Italy in the Second World War on the side of the fascists in different countries, a series of anti-Italian pogroms was held. From sin far away, many owners of shops and restaurants changed the names of their establishments to not so obvious ethnic, and someone changed their surname. The need to fight on the side of the Allies, and therefore against their homeland, also did not bring joy to the Italian emigrants.
In the postwar period, another peculiar wave of emigration was formed by Italian soldiers who were captured in different countries, and later never returned home (for example, on the Italians on the Russian front, see, for example, Vittorio De Sica’s film “Sunflowers” girasoli & # 8211; with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni). On the other hand, the American soldiers liberating Italy, took with them to their homeland a large number of brides, who were called – spose di guerra (“military brides”). Yes, and the children born in Italy from American soldiers, too, was a lot (this topic is dedicated to the Neapolitan song Tammuriata nera).
The influence of American mass culture on Italy in the post-war period was very strong. Actually the flow of emigrants who left there, in many respects has dried up and was replaced by movements inside Europe or even inside the country. However, the “American Dream” pursued not only those who eventually left the country: for example, the desire of provincial Italians to copy the American way of life derides Renato Carosone in the song Tu vuo `fa americano (see the text and the superscript below):
Therefore, it is not surprising that traveling to America is one of the first associations that arise even when Italy faces major waves of migration already as a host country. In concluding this story, we suggest that you look at a passage from the film about how the first ships with Albanian migrants arrived in the ports of Bari and Brindisi in the 1990s, immediately after the fall of the communist regime in Albania. This is the film of Italian director Gianni Amelio, filmed in 1994, and he called “Lamerica” (Lamerica). In this fragment, the protagonist talks to a half-crazy Italian old man, who has lived in Albania for many years and now travels to his homeland, but thinks at the same time that he emigrates to America: the congestion of the crowd on the ship causes him associations with the Italian emigration of his youth.
ma si nato in Italy!
Comme te po & # 8217; capi chi te vo bene.
si tu le parle & mmiezzo americano?
Quando se fa l & ammore sotto & a luna.
You want to look American!
But you were born in Italy!
nothing should be done,
You want to look American!
You want to look American!
How can you be understood by someone who loves you,
If you speak half Americanly?
When you are with your beloved under the moon,
How can you think of saying: “I love you & # 8221 ;?
The following materials of the cycle about the Italian emigration and its songs:
A proposito di Evgenia Litvin.
2 pensieri su & ldquo; My bitter land is a short history of Italian emigration & rdquo;
My posts on the theme of the songs of the Neapolitan emigration.
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The song of the emigrant: “My bitter land is mine”. (“Amara terra mia”) “La leggera”: the working week of the lazy train “Bitter Maremma”: malarial mosquitoes and labor migrants.


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