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The Scattered Italians:

Reflections on a Heroic Journey

Thomas Gambino

What does it mean to be Italian? What is an Italian American? How did the Italian American culture evolve? In The Scattered Italians: Reflections on a Heroic Journey, Thomas Gambino blends portions of Italy’s history with personal experiences to present an informative look at the ties between the Italian past and Italian American present.

 

The history of Italy can be traced back to prehistoric times, when numerous tribes had settled throughout the peninsula. Thomas gives a brief overview of Italy’s early history, mentioning some of the more prominent tribes that fought against—and eventually became part of—the Roman Empire. He also mentions the Roman strategy of allowing the defeated to continue to tend to their affairs, as long as they pledged their allegiance to Rome. Thomas writes, “The overwhelming achievement of the Romans was their development of Western civilization.” The glory of the Roman Empire, the battle tactics of Caesar, and the impact of the Catholic Church are all part of Italian heritage.

 

“The fall of the Roman Empire in the West (476 AD) was a major catastrophe for mankind. For all practical purposes civilized society ceased to exist.” But from the rubble, Thomas asserts, the Romance languages evolved, and so did the many dialects of Italian. He proceeds to the “next period of Italian graciousness and charm”—the Renaissance; and provides a concise summary of the politics, philosophy, great men, and the rise of the Tuscan Italian language during that era.

 

In describing the unification of Italy, Thomas notes how the challenges of nineteenth century Italy help explain the problems facing the Italian American community in the twenty-first century. “The unification of Italy in 1861 was very much overdue, considering the peninsula’s over three thousand years of shared history. … She remained divided and fragmented, oftentimes fighting fruitless wars internally. The discipline, conformity, obedience, and controlled behavior necessary for union were lacking among the many independent duchies, principalities, and republics of Italy. … The population and those in authority did not think collectively, but rather, divisively. Spiritually, they were Italians, but not yet nationality.”

 

Knowing the answer, Thomas asks, “What earthly reasons could there be for people to leave their known surroundings for the unknown? … Why leave beautiful Italy?” His account of the formation of the Mafia in Sicily, the mass emigration of Southern Italians to America, and the prejudices the Italian immigrants endured in America provides more testimony to the reasons for the detached Italian American sociocultural climate of today.

 

From an area slightly smaller than the size of Florida, the Italian immigrants descended upon America; many staying on the East Coast, but many others traveled to points north, south, and west. Some immigrants brought their culture with them, and some left it behind. Thomas’ maternal grandfather—who was 14 when he arrived in America—retained his “Italian persona.”

 

“Italians are lively, restless, and notoriously undisciplined, while totally enjoyable at the same time. They do well unsupervised, with little direction, structure, or guidelines. They are master improvisers. Their chaos is strangely controlled. In their disorder, there seems to be an unexplainable order. Plan B is their mantra. From this matrix, the Italian American personality evolved.”

 

In taking this journey of discovery, Thomas realized the childhood influences of his grandfather. “As they [his cousins] were of second-generational parents, they were more tuned into the contemporary American scene. They were of the now people and knew very little of the Italian way, the traditional way. In contrast, my first-generational upbringing gave me a reactionary view of things, more old school … They lived by the Anglo-American rules, while I either ignored them or invented my own all’italiana.”

 

Towards the end of the book, Thomas offers more insight into the importance of ancestral roots and how knowing the language makes the cultural bond more accessible. He relates incidents that have enriched his life and given him a better understanding of his heritage, leading him to obtain dual citizenship. As others who study Italian American society know, he found that the Italian culture in America is in serious decline. He surmises, “To be sure, there is an ongoing dilemma and loss of identity for the Italian Americans. … The entire issue of who we are as a people has been discounted.”

 

The Scattered Italians: Reflections on a Heroic Journey is one part history and one part journal, and includes an annotated timeline, a glossary of Roman adages, and some sample words derived from Latin. It’s a story about an Italian American seeking to know more about himself, and discovering that looking into the past gave him a better foundation for his future.

 

The book is available though online bookstores and from the publisher through the link below.

 

The Scattered Italians: Reflections on a Heroic Journey is a quick read, yet, it will make readers slow down and think about their ancestral land, the journey of the Italian immigrants, and the influence of Italian culture, not only on their lives, but in society today.

 

“ … it is better to have been Italian at least in part of one’s life than never to have been Italian at all.”

 

 

The Scattered Italians: Reflections on a Heroic Journey

 

The History of Italy

 

The Roman Empire

 

 

 

2009 Janice Therese Mancuso

 

 
 
Copyright 2007-2014 Janice Therese Mancuso
 
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission except when published with this credit: Excerpt from Thirty-One Days of Italians, 2014 Janice Therese Mancuso.