“If the Sidewalks of these Streets Could Talk.” Reinventing Italian-American Ethnicity

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The book examines the construction of Italian-American identity in writings of first-generation immigrants of the 1890s to 1960s. A focus on three distinct genres—crime fiction, immigrant letters, and autobiographies—reveals different aspects of the strategies of ethnic identity formation both across and within different genres. Because of its particular confluence of writer, audience, social function, and genre conventions, each genre describes different forms of identity formation. Ethnicity emerges as an ‘invention’, a mobile form that is partly a product of social environment, but also partly a set of tactical responses to particular cultural and political situations. Thus, each genre becomes a particular space of resistance to an identity imposed from the outside as well as a space for elaborating a new self, neither fully American nor merely Italian, and for defining the processes of identity formation themselves. This book includes an extensive bibliography of works written in both English and Italian, covering theories of ethnicity and identity formation, the history of immigration to the US, and the history of Italy and Italian immigrants.

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