"The Italian Americans" reveals the distinctive qualities of one immigrant group’s experience and how they shaped America.

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10 February 2015
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Italian American
Photo: Courtesy of Photo Fest Archives (Frank Sinatra)
"The Italian Americans" Narrated by Stanley Tucci
Airs February 17 and 24 at 9:00 - 11:00 p.m. ET on PBS
 (Check your local listings)
 
           THE ITALIAN AMERICANS, a new two-part, four-hour documentary series about the Italian experience in America, will premiere on PBS on Tuesdays, February 17 and 24, 2015, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET (check local listings). The series written and produced by John Maggio and narrated by Academy Award-nominated actor Stanley Tucci — explores the evolution of Italian Americans from the late 19th century to today, from “outsiders” once viewed with suspicion and mistrust to some of the most prominent leaders of business, politics and the arts today.
 
           THE ITALIAN AMERICANS reveals the unique and distinctive qualities of one immigrant group’s experience, and how these qualities, over time, have shaped and challenged America. Unlike other immigrant groups, many Italians did not come to America to stay. At the turn of the 20th century, most came to work, earn money to support their families and eventually return home. Nearly half of the first generation of Italian immigrants did return to Italy. For those who made America home, their struggle to maintain a distinct Italian culture was guided by remarkably powerful ideals of family that had always been at the center of their lives. In the Italian family, the needs of the collective came before the individual — a value system often at odds with American ideals of freedom and personal choice. While the power of the Italian family became a source of strength, it also bred suspicion, popularized in popular media as a dark, criminal element. This clash of culture echoed through generations of Italian Americans and, as they entered positions of political, social and cultural influence, has left its mark on the American landscape.
 
          Through extensive archival materials and interviews with scholars and notable Italian Americans — such as U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi, Tony Bennett, Dion DiMucci, David Chase, Gay Talese and John Turturro, who speak from personal experience — THE ITALIAN AMERICANS tells the story of those who played vital roles in shaping the relationship between Italians and mainstream American society.
 
          “The first waves of Italian immigrants in this country weren’t embraced very warmly by mainstream society,” said Maggio. “There were basically held at arm’s length and looked upon with a certain amount of disdain and suspicion.  But eventually, the children of those first immigrants, and their children, began to gain a foothold in positions of power, and would become some of the most influential and important leaders of American life in the 20th century.”
 
          Sharon Percy Rockefeller, president and chief executive officer of WETA, said, “This series will share with public television audiences a universal aspect of the immigrant story — the struggle of a group to adapt to a new environment and become participants in American life — while also spotlighting the distinct experience and unique, engaging culture of Italian Americans.”
 
          “Our series strips away the stereotypes about Italian Americans to reveal a complicated and rich narrative, little understood by most Americans,” said Jeff Bieber, executive producer for WETA. “As we have shown in all our initiatives on immigration, American history is far more muddled and chaotic then what is typically taught in school. The more we understand our sometimes troubled past, the stronger we become as a people.”
 
          John M. Viola, president of NIAF, said, “When our NIAF leadership team first had the opportunity to view this film, we were so thrilled to find a project that told our community’s story in an objective and engaging manner.  John Maggio has created the film that I had wished to see for so many years and I believe that everyone in our community who tunes in will find something of themselves and their family in this wonderful project.”
 
Included are the stories of the following individuals:
 
  • Amadeo Giannini, who founded the Bank of Italy in 1904 in San Francisco to help Italians who could not secure loans or financial assistance elsewhere. He would later build it into the largest financial institution in the country and rename it Bank of America.
  • Arturo Giovannitti, the union activist and poet who led the Lawrence Textile Strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912.
  • Rudolph Valentino, who introduced a new image of the sex symbol to movie audiences of the 1920s, yet still endured the prejudices directed at Italians of southern extraction
  • Joe DiMaggio, who became one of the most celebrated baseball players of his generation, but whose parents were labeled “Enemy Aliens” during World War II.
  • U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi, New York Governor Mario Cuomo and Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, who each broke new ground for Italian Americans in public service.
 Italian Americans  Italian Americans
          The series also presents the expertise and insights of historians, scholars, journalists and authors including Donna Gabaccia, Thomas Guglielmo, Gerald Meyer, Robert Orsi, Mary Anne Trasciatti, Lawrence DiStasi, Bruce Watson, Stephen Fox and Selwyn Raab. A companion book of the same title by journalist Maria Laurino, published by W.W. Norton, tied to the project activities is available.
 
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