An Italian immigrant says, "I came to America because I heard the streets were paved with gold. When I got here, I found out three things: first, the streets weren't paved with gold; second, they weren't paved at all; and third, I was expected to pave them."
Against all oddsa new language, new customs, and the ethnic slurs and catcalls of prejudiceItalian Americans paved the streets, rolled the cigars, sewed the clothes, cooked the meals, and did all manner of back-breaking work to build a new life in Lamerica, the land of success. The Italian American Family Album brings us into the heart of those immigrants' experiences. Through diaries, letters, interviews, and articles from magazines and newspapers we share the ordeals and the triumphs of the Italian American first setting foot on his new homeland.
These personal accounts and family photographs of scores of Italian American families tell inspiring and courageous stories of hardship and suffering. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the journey across the Atlantic was remembered by many as the via dolorosa, the "sorrowful way." And even after arriving in the new homeland and successfully getting through immigration, finding a job and a place to live, and learning new ways of doing almost everything was a challenge. But there was joy in the new country, as well. The new arrivals were embraced by a community of fellow Italians with a grand sense of humor, an intense appreciation of music, and an even greater appreciation of good food. Life for the newcomer was full of old traditions and pleasure, and we hear first-hand how the old ways endured even as new philosophies and customs were embraced daily. Through the stories of the children of those early immigrantswriters Gay Talese and John Ciardi, entertainers like Tony Bennett, baseball great Yogi Berra, and others not famous, but still proud to call themselves Italian Americanswe see how family pride and strong ties to the old country survive even today.
As Governor Mario Cuomo says in his introduction: "I have always been intensely proud that I am the son of Italian immigrants and that my Italian heritage helped make me the man I am." That pride and the unique experiences of the early Italian Americans are an integral part of our country's history. Through the memories and photographs from the albums of generations of Italian families we meet real people, cut of the same cloth as we area many-colored and multi-textured cloth of ethnic customs, languages, traditions, and memories. We are a nation of immigrants, and The Italian American Family Album belongs to each of us.
The titles in the American Family Albums series tell the multicolored and often heroic stories of American immigrant groups, largely through their own words and pictures. Like any family album or scrapbook, the pages contain many period photographs and other memorabilia. These join with original documentsincluding selections from diaries, letters, memoirs, and newspapersto bring the immigrant experience vividly to life.