Italian American Literature and Film
Prof. Fabio Girelli-Carasi


Italian Americans as a Tribe.

Tribe:  this word triggers THOUGHTS and IMAGES. Describe what YOU SEE in your mind when you hear the word TRIBE.

Write down what you visualize in your mind.

Where do these people live, in what country, or in what kind of natural environment? What is the climate? What do they wear? Describe the people. What are they doing? Don't be overly cautious, don't hide your real response.

Here are some examples of what we normally associate with the word "tribe":

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To me personally, the word tribe suggests an image of African people living in the countryside, with little of no modern technology. Although this may sound borderline racist, this is what my mind conjures up. I was born, raised and schooled in Italy and the idea that penetrated into my brain is that a tribe is something "primitive," "uncivilized," "stone-age like".

Of course now I know that we use the word "primitive" to justify a sense of superiority based on the use of certain technologies; that "civilization" has nothing to do with written laws or organized religion; and that our technologies are a shortcut to cover our inability to cope with nature without destroying it.

If some of you were from the the South West, in particular the 4-Corners area,  the word TRIBE would bring up images of Native Americans.

If you were from Brazil, it would be people from the Amazons.

If you were from Central Asia (Eastern Pakistan, Afghanistan etc.) or the Middle East/ Northern Africa.....

TRIBE is now a term commonly used by sociologists, anthropologists, cultural historians, all throughout academia and beyond to describe AMERICAN groups that are identified by a common history, roots, culture, sometimes language, sometimes religion.

What does it mean that we all belong to a TRIBE?
How do we know when we belong to a tribe?

A tribe is a place where you can find shelter and that you must help defend.

---- Here are some possible tests:

We feel a DIFFERENT kind of solidarity when ONE OF US is a victim of injustice.
When someone is disparaged, offended, demeaned, because of what S/HE IS,  we feel hurt if this person is a member of our tribe.

Think about racism, intolerance, etc. toward: African Americans, Hispanics (especially "Mexicans"), Arabs and now by extension Muslims. Let's not forget that Anti-Semitism is still well and alive in many parts of the nation.

If you feel involved, personally hurt as if this person were a member of your distant family, then you know you belong to a tribe.

(You could also add LGBTQ to the list of "persecuted tribes," although normally in academia this classification is not used for gender-related identity.)


Another test, in reverse: We feel bad, ashamed and even guilty when someone we don't know commits an indefensible act of violence, if this person is a member of our tribe (-- and we go crazy explaining that "No, these are not our values, we are better than that!")


Another test: when you feel proud of someone's achievement because s/he is.... well, because s/he is a member of your tribe.

My two daughters are ethnic Chinese, adopted when they were less than one year old.
When they were young and we watched the Olympics together (figure skating for Winter, gymnastic for Summer O) they were rooting for Chinese athletes. Not for the Americans, despite the fact that they are culturally fully American.
Not Italian despite the fact they grew up bilingual and are culturally very comfortable in Italy and around Italians.
Nope. They wanted the Chinese to win.

I realize it's infantile but during the World Cup (soccer) I am in pain if Italy loses, ecstatic when it wins.

Don't we all feel the same sense of unreasonable pride when someone from our tribe wins the Nobel prize? Or an Oscar? Or Wimbledon?

TRIBE, depending on the context, can also refer to NATIONALITY, although normally the sense of TRIBAL IDENTITY clicks in when your tribe is one of the many.

So, by many criteria, Italian Americans are a tribe: common geographical origin, traditions, religious practices (I would avoid the term 'religion'), to an extent common language, food, Weltanschauung, cultural and historical IDOLS and ICONS, etc.


SO: what tribe do you belong to?

If you read THIS ARTICLE from the NYT, you will know that you are not alone if you think you belong to more than one tribe, or belong to no tribe at all.

Yet, if you think deeply about your SOLIDARITY, HURTS and PRIDE, plus other factors, probably you do belong to a tribe.  What test do you use to determine it?

Do you want another test? How do you feel about "wannabees," the people who claim to be members of your tribe: what TESTS do you apply to them? Language? Clothing? Music choices?  Favorite role model? Favorite food? What else?


-- LAST TEST:  if you "look" Asian, regardless of your personal identity, OTHER PEOPLE will place you in the Asian tribe. You could have been adopted by a Finnish family when you were 10 months old, lived in Estonia and Eritrea until you were 18, but if you enter a classroom at BC, people will say you are Asian. Period.

--- So, at times, the tribe is imposed on us, for better or worse. The WORST case, as far as my knowledge allows it, was the fate of Jewish people in Europe under Nazi rule. It was sufficient for a person to have 1/8 of "Jewish blood" to be declared Jewish, and therefore subjected to persecution. That means it was enough to have on great-grand parent who was Jewish.

In apartheid-era South Africa, a white person who married a mix-blood or black person, would be officially "reclassified" as being part of the spouses 'lower race'. (No, you could not "marry up," only "marry down.") His/her ID would report the person's "new race" and could no longer live in a white area etc. etc. etc.


  • What kind of stereotypes people attribute to your tribe?
  • What are the stereotypes that people normally attribute to Italian Americans?


Another way to think of education




  • reasons to be in college: self reflection

  • what is the dominant representation of Italian Americans? Why are they "undesirable?" What do people have to fear?

LECTURE  Introduction to SON OF ITALY



Witchcraft in SON OF ITALY



SON OF ITALY, read to page 98



Filename: your-last-name.june13

Email subject:  assignment june 13  (without this exact string, the message will not go into the correct in-folder)

Task 1:    Copy the following statement

I understand that assignments will be accepted ONLY IF:

1) they are on time

2) are sent to the correct email address;

3) have correct filename;

4) email subject is correct.

Task 2:    TAKE NOTES of


Two video lectures on SON OF ITALY

Task 3 :  from the lecture (top of the page) : TRIBE

WRITE   a well thought-out paragraph, at least:

Does the word "tribe" bother you if it is applied to you and your community? (READ the lecture before shooting from the hip.) 

In bullet form: list the stereotypes people attribute to your tribe.

In bullet form: what are the stereotypes people apply to the Italian American tribe?

Task 4:   VIDEO -- The 5 minute university

WRITE   He does have a point, doesn't he?

 Task 5  The Skyscrapers of New York


  • What is the dominant theme about Italian Americans that emerges from the cartoons and the two shorts (Black Hand, Skyscrapers)? Why are they undesirable?
  • Do you begin to see the connection between this kind of propaganda and the events of New Orleans 1891?