“The Italian Americans” aired nationally on PBS on Tuesday, February 17, 2015, from 9-11 PM ET and Tuesday, February 24, 2015, from 9-11 PM ET. Since nearly 16 million Americans can trace their roots back to Italy, there is a natural curiosity among many about the “old country” and about the struggles our ancestors endured to make a better life for us in the USA. The series triggered emotions including a combination of nostalgia, pride and desire to learn more about our Italian heritage. “The Italian Americans” on PBS reminds us of our rich Italian cultural heritage and encourages us to look forward to a bright future as Americans with Italian roots.
THE ITALIAN AMERICANS: La Famiglia (1890-1910) — Click here to watch the full episode online.
A brief history of the Italian Risorgimento provides the context for the great flight from the mezzogiorno region. By the late 19th century, Italians begin to put down roots and “Little Italys” spring up in urban areas throughout the U.S. But the first generation, holding onto language and culture, is branded “outsiders” and mistrusted by non-Italians. In New Orleans, this mistrust explodes into violence and 11 Italian Americans are murdered by an armed mob. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a second-generation Italian American saves his community from disaster while creating one of the greatest financial institutions in America.
THE ITALIAN AMERICANS: Becoming Americans (1910-1930) — Click here to watch the full episode online.
At the turn of the 20th century, more than four million Italians immigrate to America. Leonard Covello is forced to give up his “old world” ways and adopt American mores, including changing his name; Arturo Giovannitti, a new immigrant, leads the largest labor strike of 1912, when Italian Americans push for better working conditions and wages. Italian Americans are forced to worship in the basement of churches controlled by the Irish archdiocese; anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti are executed, reinforcing stereotypes that plague Italian Americans today; Prohibition breeds a new kind of criminal who takes a shortcut to success.
THE ITALIAN AMERICANS: Loyal Americans (1930-1945) — Click here to watch the full episode online.
A second generation of Italian Americans begins to enter the labor movement, politics, sports and entertainment. Fiorello LaGuardia becomes mayor of New York City. Joe DiMaggio, the son of a San Francisco fisherman, becomes a baseball powerhouse who becomes an American hero. But with the outbreak of World War II, loyalty to America is questioned and Italians are forced to choose between two nations at war. While many Italian Americans fight on the frontlines with valor and bravery, other Italian Americans are labeled “Enemy Aliens,” including DiMaggio’s parents. The war proves to be a turning point for Italian Americans as they begin to break out of their enclaves.
THE ITALIAN AMERICANS: The American Dream (1945-present) — Click here to watch the full episode online.
In post-war America, Italian Americans enter the middle class. Italian-American crooners define American cool, but even as Frank Sinatra skyrockets to fame, he is haunted by accusations of Mafia ties. Can Italian Americans fit into 1950s America or will the specter of organized crime always plague them? Governor Mario Cuomo, son of Italian immigrants, struggles to straddle both worlds, while his sons’ success promises assimilation and acceptance. Antonin Scalia becomes the first Italian American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi is the first woman and Italian American elected to Speaker of the House. Have Italian Americans finally shed the old stereotypes and become fully accepted in America?
Thank you PBS for bring us “The Italian Americans,” another quality PBS series!
-Mary M. Tedesco, ORIGINS ITALY
Episode descriptions & series logo courtesy of PBS. Used with permission.