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Were You Always an Italian?: Ancestors and Other Icons of Italian America Hardcover – July 1, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc; First Edition edition (July 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393049302
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393049305
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,326,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Recalling guidos, gavones and gedrools, Laurino presents a concise but stimulating look at Italian-American culture as a model for the immigrant experience as a whole. The author, a third-generation Italian-American, grew up in 1950s New Jersey as a minority whose ethnicity was long stifled. Not until then-Governor Mario Cuomo asked her, "Were you always an Italian?" did she consider the implications of her roots and identity. This entertaining memoir chronicles Laurino's experiences from childhood to marriage, eventually getting to the heart of what it means to be Italian in America. She creatively approaches various cultural facets, from clothing to politics to religion, with candor and personality, using specific examples to illustrate general cultural themes. Her take on Italian fashion is amusing; she claims that the contrasting styles of Versace and Armani are symbols of the dichotomy faced by many immigrants and their families: cutting-edge boldness vs. European class. The historically tumultuous situation in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, serves as an example of the friction between Italians and other cultural groups in this country, and Laurino suggests that the Italian-American experience, rife with stereotypes and struggles, is not unlike that of African-, Korean- and Ecuadorian-Americans. She covers the hallmarks of Italian culture, including dialect, family and faith. In examining each component, Laurino openly expresses the mixed feelings of pride and embarrassment she felt as a child, which eventually developed into understanding and veneration. This book will serve as a welcome reminder that there is more to Italian culture than The Sopranos. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Laurino, a New York writer who grew up in suburban New Jersey and was once a speechwriter for NYC mayor David Dinkins, explores the disconnect that many Italian Americans, rooted in the rocky soil of Southern Italy, feel between images from Bensonhurst and Mafia movies, on one hand, and Northern Italian style and verve on the other. Her essays ask questions that follow like beads on a rosary: Do we smell bad? Is our food weird? Why is it so hard to accept leisure in our lives? Her deconstruction of Italian dialect--captured snatches of parents' and grandparents' unwritten past in words like gavone and stunodis mesmerizing, both as a journalist's examination of words and their uses and as a woman's study of what makes her herself. And her witty analysis of the difference between Versace and Armani from an Italian American standpoint is itself worth the price of admission. Essential for Italian Americans, enlightening for anyone else. GraceAnne A. DeCandido
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

Maria Laurino was born and raised in northern New Jersey. She is a graduate of Georgetown University, where she received a B.A. in English and government, and of New York University, where she received an M.A. in English and American literature. She began her career as a journalist for the Village Voice and later became the chief speechwriter to former New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins. Laurino examined ethnic identity in her first book, Were You Always an Italian?, which was published in 2000 and became a national bestseller. Her second book, Old World Daughter, New World Mother (2009), a meditation on contemporary feminism, describes the pull and tug of growing up in an Old World family that prized dependence even as she later embraced a New World feminism that championed personal autonomy. Laurino's journalism has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Salon.com, and The Nation, and her essays have been widely anthologized, including in The Norton Reader. She teaches creative nonfiction at New York University.

Customer Reviews

Well written, interesting and informative.
Maddalena
The book was very difficult to get into and once there, was very boring.
"spomoni"
What a ride down the bumpy road of memory lane!
Iris_Eye

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
What a great book! Were You Always an Italian? made me laugh and think. Laurino uses stories from her life and the lives of others to tell some important truths about what it means to be a third generation American of any ethnicity, especially Italian. She takes on tough issues of class, religion, and even race relations with intelligence and humor. Most of all, she brings a rare combination of warmth and skepticism to topics many of us feel but may find hard to articulate: our families, our religion, our clothes, our appearance. Laurino's book uses the best of memoir, reporting, and essay to tell her story, often with some beautiful writing. This is a clever, yet intensely personal book that people will enjoy whether or not their name ends with a vowel.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Diana F. Von Behren TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 16, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As my son is a fourth generational Italian American who has assimilated into the American mainstream with a much greater and unconscious ease than the generations that came before him, he has the luxury of taking a look at the past without getting beleagured by it. I purchased this book to help him understand how what he calls his difference from other Americans of European descent will help him understand himself and better define his dreams and desires. I grew up on Long Island where many of my peers were also Italian American--certainly the melting pot of Irish, Italian, and Polish middle to upper middle class groupings has little to do with the more mainstream America in which my son matured. My first foray into the canyons of Wall Street quickly altered my sheltered definition of American society. Suddenly, ethnicity was not something you declared as easily as your name in an introduction. On the contrary, your surname, ending with that telltale vowel, relegated you to a second ranking of sorts--nothing that was actually said in so many words, but indeed felt. Not my idea of the American Dream.

The title of Maria Laurino's book of essays addresses just this issue. Were you always an Italian? I'd have to say 'yes', but I didn't go out of my way to share my culture with anyone that was not of the fold. I don't think Laurino did either; she speaks knowledgeably of her 'difference', at first speaking of personal differences of food and clothing choices and then citing Harvard sociological studies on the Southern Italian mentality on issues like family, community versus the individual and distrust of outsiders.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Maddalena on July 29, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed Maria's book. She grew up in the same era
as myself, but she grew up isolated in the 'burbs, while I grew
up in a largely italian area. The difference of her experience
as well as her reactions to it were fascinating. Well written, interesting and informative. A good read, and explains a lot about the "mobster mentality" that is erroneously associated
with Italian americans
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mel on March 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
I read this book and it spoke to me because I too am a child of immigrants that grew up very close to where the author grew up in NJ. It was like she was living my life. Yes, there are many problems that children of immigrants face while trying to navigate between their birth culture and the American way of life. After I was finished, I put the book on the shelf and forgot about it.

Then I went to the town where my mother grew up in Italy. On the drive there, I noticed that this town is the neighbor to the town of the author's family. Having spent time in both towns, I must say that what the author has written about the area is truly insulting. Her characterizations of the area as desolate and sad do a disservice not only to her ancestors, but to mine. The people were kind and warm. Yes, it is not the richest of areas, but why do you think the people left this area to make a better life to begin with? They didn't have a lot of opportunities, but they worked hard to make better lives for themselves. Jsut becasue they needed to leave doesn't mean they didn't love the area to begin with. That is why so many return year after year. I'm not sure what she was expecting, but I'm sorry she was so disappointed. These towns were filled with good people living their everyday lives. I suppose the author feels they should spend their time discussing Italian literature and art in the town square by candlelight.

I am embarassed to think that I once read her words with reverence. I understand that this is a "personal journey," but come on, would it hurt her to be the least bit truthful with the reader?
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Geremia on July 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I read this book in 4 days, which is unheard of b/c I consider myself a slow reader. In her book, Maria Laurino captures the Italian-esque that I grew up with in my family. Her use of the Italian language, especially the italian dialect words that she had heard from her parents is a great source for the intimate relationship between her family and the " outsiders ". This is a book that I would recommend for anyone who is of Italian descent and would like an insight to a different viewpoint on their heritage. The book reads with a perfect flow and when on the last page, I was disappointed that it was finished. This book gets a spot on the bookshelf!
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