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Italian American

Italian American: The Racializing of an Ethnic Identity

Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Italian American
    Book Description:

    When southern Italians began emigrating to the U.S. in large numbers in the 1870s-part of the "new immigration" from southern and eastern rather than northern Europe-they were seen as racially inferior, what David A. J. Richards terms "nonvisibly" black.

    The first study of its kind,Italian Americanexplores the acculturation process of Italian immigrants in terms of then-current patterns of European and American racism. Delving into the political and legal context of flawed liberal nationalism both in Italy (the Risorgimento) and the United States (Reconstruction Amendments), Richards examines why Italian Americans were so reluctant to influence depictions of themselves and their own collective identity. He argues that American racism could not have had the durability or political power it has had either in the popular understanding or in the corruption of constitutional ideals unless many new immigrants, themselves often regarded as racially inferior, had been drawn into accepting and supporting many of the terms of American racism.

    With its unprecedented focus on Italian American identity and an interdisciplinary approach to comparative culture and law, this timely study sheds important light on the history and contemporary importance of identity and multicultural politics in American political and constitutional debate.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-4904-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    THE NATURE AND the role of the politics of identity have become increasingly important issues in both American political and constitutional argument, involving assertions of rights by, among others, Jews, African Americans, women, gays and lesbians, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos.¹ I myself have examined many of these issues in recent works, combining interpretive history, political philosophy, and constitutional argument in order to make sense of the role of a politics of identity in expanding the inclusive legitimacy of American revolutionary constitutionalism. ² I have not, however, discussed nor does the rich contemporary literature of the past decade discuss...

  5. 2 Revolutionary Constitutionalism
    (pp. 14-75)

    IN THIS CHAPTER I consider various influential interpretations of revolutionary constitutionalism as the background to subsequent discussions of the impact of these interpretations on the formation of Italian American identity; by revolutionary constitutionalism in all its forms I mean the aspiration, by legitimate revolutionary force if necessary, to replace one set of constitutional forms with others in order better to realize a liberal nationalism (one in which the nation is based on respect for liberal principles, including equal respect for basic human rights).¹ My discussion focuses on a comparison of American and French revolutionary constitutionalism and the German political reaction...

  6. 3 The Promise and Betrayal of Italian Revolutionary Constitutionalism: The Southern Italian Emigration
    (pp. 76-115)

    IN THIS CHAPTER I present relevant interpretive background for the emigration of millions of Southern Italians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a period during which a politically reunited Italy had ostensibly achieved the goals of the revolutionary constitutionalism of the Risorgimento. I proceed in three stages: first, the promise of the Risorgimento as a form of revolutionary constitutionalism; second, the compromises of principle that led to the reunification of Italy under a constitutional monarchy; and third, the sense of betrayal of the promises of reunification from the perspective of the experience of Southern Italians.

    The nineteenth-century Italian...

  7. 4 American Liberal Nationalism and the Italian Emigration
    (pp. 116-212)

    WE HAVE NOW investigated what the Southern Italians left and must now more closely examine the nation to which they came, in particular, how its political culture during this period importantly framed their sense of themselves as Italian Americans.

    Americans during the nineteenth century took an understandable interest in the developing forms of liberal nationalism in Europe from the perspective of the legitimate aims of revolutionary constitutionalism that had justified their own revolution and the resulting constitutional developments. The Hungarian liberal nationalist Louis Kossuth received a hero’s welcome during his 1851–2 visit to the United States,¹ and the United...

  8. 5 Multicultural Identity and Human Rights
    (pp. 213-238)

    QUESTIONS OF MULTICULTURAL identity have been discussed in the recent philosophical literature largely in terms of Will Kymlicka’s defense of what he calls multicultural citizenship.¹ Kymlicka raises only to set aside what he calls the question of “polyethnicity and the American ethnic revival”² in order to discuss what is of interest to him: the place in a liberal polity such as Canada of claims by national minorities such as the Amerindians and Québécois to legal guarantees that enable them to sustain their distinctive cultures. Kymlicka regards ethnic claims made by American-style immigrant populations as grounded quite differently. Immigrants, as distinct...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 239-258)
  10. Index
    (pp. 259-272)
  11. About the Author
    (pp. 273-276)