Stop Treating Hispanic Americans as Outliers

Would it be useful to talk about how Americans of Italian heritage planned to vote this fall? I mean useful in the sense that it could tell us much about either the midterm elections or the condition of Italian Americans today.

The answer is pretty obviously “no.” Indeed, there are no polls that even consider the question because no one would bother asking it. It’s interesting to know how women or men view the election, or how richer or poorer voters see the state of politics. The same  goes for lots of other characteristics: educational attainment, religious participation, rural vs. urban, etc. But Italians? That wouldn’t tell us anything. Kevin McCarthy (his mother was born Roberta Palladino, daughter of an Italian immigrant) is an establishment Republican, Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi basically is the Democratic establishment unto herself, Joe Manchin is a moderate Democrat, and Rudy Guiliani is a MAGA Republican. So what? Their Italian heritage isn’t politically salient. 

But that wasn’t always the case, even relatively recently.  

Italian Americans, especially those of southern Italian and Sicilian heritage, came to the United States in huge numbers, tended to be set apart from other immigrants of the same era by their tight family bonds and distinct culture, and were one of those groups that Michael Novak in 1972 deemed “unmeltable ethnics.”  These were Americans of mostly Southern or Eastern European descent or origin of whom Novak said: “Concerning work, guilt, reason, sex, family, violence, the irrational, tragedy, the future, hope, piety, sacrifice, pain, ethnics do not all think or feel as WASPs think or feel.” It’s funny to read today, because if there’s anything that people care less about than the political proclivities of Italian Americans as a subgroup, it would have to be how “WASPs think or feel.” 

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