Monday, January 16, 2012

Immigration Then and Now

Having visited Rome before and already seen most of its main ancient and religious sites, I feel no personal pressure to re-visit everything in Rome right away, and so I have been treating sight-seeing as a modest morning activity focused (till today) almost exclusively on churches. Riding the bus home from class last week, however, I noticed the sign for the Museo Nazionale della Emigrazione Italiana (National Museum of Italian Emigration), located in the Vittoriano (the massive 1911 monument to King Vittorio Emmanuel II). As the grandson of Italian emigrants, my interest was naturally aroused and I decided I really wanted to visit this particular museum. The exhibit being in Italian, of course, that was a lot of words to try to read. However, as my more museumphile friends would undoubtedly attest I generally have a limited attention-span in museums, and so I don't typically read everything in American museums either! In any case, I was able to read and comprehend enough to appreciate the exhibit.

There's a famous saying that Vittorio Emmanuel II, et al., created Italy, but it still remained to create Italians. One focus of this museum is how in a sense the experience of Italian emigration - especially in the period after the Unification (and then continuing into the early 20th century) - did in an important create a national Italian identity among those who had left Italy as Sicilians, Neapolitans, etc. For those who remained at home, it is sometimes suggested that the common experience of fighting for Italy in World War I helped to create a common national identity. Some suggest that it has never ally happened, and the continued tension between north and south might seem to confirm that. In any event, given contemporary Italy's poor birthrate, the future of italianness may be anyone's guess. So perhaps it is that much more salient to consider the great italian diaspora so widely scattered around the world as in some meaningful sense perpetuating some sort of Italianness still!

As it happens, yesterday was also the 98th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. According to Pope Benedict XVI, “Christian communities are to pay special attention to migrant workers and their families by accompanying them with prayer, solidarity, and Christian charity, as well as by fostering new political, economic, and social planning that promotes respect for the dignity of every human person, safeguarding of the family, access to dignified housing, to work and to welfare.”

Visiting the Italian Emigration Museum this morning and recalling the challenges, difficulties, and struggles of previous generations of italian immigrants to the U.S. certainly ought to highlight the obligation incumbent upon us who are the beneficiaries of their struggles to resist forcefully the anti-immigrant nonsense so much in vogue right now - and particularly the demagogic ranting of certain presidential candidates and other politicians.

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