From Paesani to White Ethnics

The Italian Experience in Philadelphia

By Stefano Luconi

Subjects: Italian American Studies
Series: SUNY series in Italian/American Culture
Paperback : 9780791448588, 274 pages, February 2001
Hardcover : 9780791448571, 274 pages, February 2001

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Table of contents



1. Introduction: Ethnicity as a Social Construction and the Case of Italian Americans

2. The Transposition of Subnational Identities

3. The Development of a National Identity

4, Italianness in the Depression Years

5. The Impact of World War II and Its Aftermath

6. From Italian Americans to White Ethnics

7. Conclusion




Examines the transformations of Italian American ethnic identity in twentieth-century Philadelphia.


From Paesani to White Ethnics analyzes the process by which people of Italian descent renegotiated their sense of community and ethnic self-perception in Philadelphia from the late nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth. At the turn of the century, Italian immigrants who arrived in Philadelphia originally formed allegiances and social clusters based on their localistic, provincial, or regional ties. By the late 1930s, however, the emergence of Italian nationalism together with the end of mass immigration from Italy and the appearance of an American-born second generation of individuals with loose ties to the land of their parents contributed to bring together Italian Americans from disparate local backgrounds and helped them to develop a common national identity that they had lacked upon arrival in the United States. Luconi explains how Italian Americans continued to distance themselves from other European minorities throughout the early postwar years until ethnic defensiveness against the alleged encroachments of African Americans as well as racial tensions over housing forced them to extend the boundaries of their ethnic identity in the 1960s and to redefine it within the broader context of the white ethnic movement. This process climaxed as Philadelphia polarized along racial lines on issues such as public education and crime in the late 1960s and a

Stefano Luconi is Adjunct Professor of History of North America at the University of Florence, Italy.


"This is the first major study of an Italian American community across the entire twentieth century and it challenges a number of perceptions held by the public and scholars. Luconi's thesis about the evolution of Italian American identity is focused and crisply presented, and his research is first-rate. " — Philip V. Cannistraro, Queens College, The City University of New York

"Stefano Luconi delivers a compelling study of twentieth-century identity and politics. Focusing on key historical moments, Luconi traces political and personal enactments of race relations. His incisive investigation of the mayoral tenure and many campaigns of Police Commissioner Frank L. Rizzo during the 1970s and '80s is especially astute. " — Publishers Weekly