The Complex Issue Of Identity

Oscar Handlin very appropriately described the first emigrants as “rootless”. In most cases, though they coped with the different environment around them, they refused to learn more than the bare minimum of the host country’s language and maintained the customs and traditions of their native country.

The second generation, often born in the new country, struggled to choose between “before” and “after”, between a past which could at least offer a solid basis for their lives and a future which might be attractive but was still uncertain and at the mercy of events (when World War II broke out, many were suddenly seen as “enemies” after years of peaceful and settled life in their adoptive countries).

Third and fourth generation emigrants seem to be well settled in their families’ chosen homes and  usually emerge in the most varied fields: from research to business, from politics to arts, from finance to cinema. As generations progressively integrate, they start to feel the need to rediscover their roots, because there is no identity without memory, and identity must be like a driving force that draws not only on religion, festivities and regional dishes but also on work, family and friends in the person’s adopted homeland.  

It is not a simple process. There are twists and turns along the way as “old” and “new” combine.

USA, Illinois, Chicago, 1930. Anita Frediani, daughter of Ugo and Eugenia, who emigrated in 1900, with two girlfriends. She definitely looks American!
USA, Illinois, Chicago, 1930. Anita Frediani, daughter of Ugo and Eugenia, who emigrated in 1900, with two girlfriends. She definitely looks American!
Argentina, Mar del Plata, 1935.  On the famous beach, grandparents are austerely dressed in dark colours and with appropriate headwear, while the youngsters are wearing sports clothes
Argentina, Mar del Plata, 1935. On the famous beach, grandparents are austerely dressed in dark colours and with appropriate headwear, while the youngsters are wearing sports clothes
USA, 1910s. A different choice. Twin brothers, born in 1899, fight separately - one as a bersagliere in Italy, the other as an infantryman for the United States - during World War I
USA, 1910s. A different choice. Twin brothers, born in 1899, fight separately - one as a bersagliere in Italy, the other as an infantryman for the United States - during World War I
Brazil, São Paulo, 1933. The Lucchesis on the beach
Brazil, São Paulo, 1933. The Lucchesis on the beach