The Italian Immigrant Experience
One of the reasons that people want to explore their heritage is to witness the Italian immigrant experience through the eyes of their ancestors. It is compelling to want to understand what they felt as they packed up their meager possessions and set off for countries that they had only heard about through other people’s stories.
It is easy to romanticize their journey, but once you appreciate just how scary it was for them, your respect for their courage will grow immensely.
When traveling to Italy for your heritage tour, there is a good chance that you will pass through Rome. If so, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Museo Dell’Emigrazione, located on the ground floor of the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele (affectionately known as “The Typewriter” or “The Wedding Cake”) in the center of Rome.
The establishment of an Italian Emigration Museum in Rome was created to celebrate the past, present, and future of what it means to be Italian. Italian identity a sentiment well-known even by third generation populations descended from the original emigrants in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. One hundred years removed from their Italian-born ancestors, many—if not most—of these descendants still identify themselves as “Italian,” even if they don’t speak a word of the language or have never stepped foot inside “The Old Country.”
It is quite ironic as the original immigrant arrivals were keen to distance themselves as quickly as possible from their former identities. They insisted that their children learn only English, and integrate as swiftly as possible into the local culture. In their minds, the Italian communities established abroad, such as Little Italy in New York, were never intended to be the final destination of their journey. These were only waypoints on the road to realizing bigger and better dreams for their children and grandchildren. And in that, they certainly succeeded
How the Italian Immigrant Experience Helped to Shape a National Identity
For much of its history, Italy was a country where its citizens had much stronger ties to provincial identity than to a sense of nationalism. Even after the unification in 1861, Massimo D’Azeglio, famously said,“L’Italia è fatta. Restano da fare gli Italiani.” (Italy has been made. Now it remains to make Italians). To some measurable degree, this sentiment endures today.
In an odd historical twist, immigration has been one of the strongest forces in unifying Italy. Once away from the small, isolated village where they grew up, immigrants found some comfort inside Italian communities established in foreign countries. Of course, these communities were a mix of people from different regions in Italy, and speaking (almost) the same language provided a sense of security and belonging in the strange New World. For the first time in their lives, these immigrants felt “Italian” rather than Sicilian, Neapolitan, or Calabrian.
The Italian immigrant experience combines the painful memories of a modest existence left behind with the hope of a better life to be created elsewhere. They were able to unite the different regions of their homeland in a shared identity as “Italians abroad,” and have connected two countries—of origin and destination—in a mutually beneficial exchange of culture.Historically, #Italians had much stronger ties to their provincial identity. Click To Tweet
Full of hope and, at times, of illusions, these brave souls set off in search of a more promising future for themselves and their families beyond the borders of the Italian peninsula. And in doing so, they turned D’Azeglio’s phrase on its head: the Italians “made” many of the destination countries where they landed and simultaneously helped to further the idea of what it means to be Italian.
If you have already visited this museum, leave a comment below. Also, tell us about your Italian immigrant experience.
If you want to visit the Museo Dell’Emigrazione when in Rome, here is the information:
Complesso Monumentale del Vittoriano
Address: Piazza dell’Ara Coeli,1, Rome, Italy
Phone Number: 06 6780664
Hours: Monday – Thursday from 9:30 – 6:30; Friday – Sunday from 9:30 – 7:30
Last entry 45 minutes before closing.
FREE OF CHARGE