Forming the Italian American Table

The Italian portrayal on television shows tight knit family units made up of a head patriarch, father figure and his wife and companion mother figure who provide for the extended family and close relations through support and food. Food in the portray Italian Americans shows the connection food has to the Italian way of life, both on screen and in the kitchen. Self-identity and pride was shown through the food; special recipes and passed down traditions from the ‘homeland’ helped to define the early Italian migrants. Reasons this work was because of the power of food to create and support community and family of migrants coming from a nation that did not have much in the way of food identity. Second, food trade in the Italian economy was important to bringing ‘authentic’ foodstuffs to those in America and a reasons for migrating in the first place. It also moved the economy along for the rural Italian farmers at home. Lastly, self-representation when they did not have one prior to moving to America. Italians, and many others, did not bring with them nationalist views of their home countries, instead they learned their ethnicity in America while the early arrivals helped to shape it for those coming after.

Historical writing on the mass migration of Italian migrants does not vary the experiences they may have had including power struggles and assimilation. It also shows the creating of a national identity or cuisine. The common thought of Italian foods were not actually eaten in Italy but created later in America. The written history shows who was making the food. Many of the actually cooks were women, mothers and grandmothers, who stayed in the kitchens preparing meals for the families and communities. Though it is the male chiefs who reviewed the titles and recognition for the meals. Race and class show a literal hunger for food representation. Community and family is reflected through class, those who could afford to create their family identity, through food, did so through large weekly meals that reflect middle class values. These values include a quest for American whiteness. In the beginning the Italians were the ‘other’ European migrants but the migrations of blacks and Puerto Ricans in New York, the Italians had to portray the white values so as not to be seen the same as them. This was done by economic extensions of trade and business building. The focus on food as an identifier is important because it is so particular to migrants and ones who came without strong nationalist ties to home countries. Food is a way to show class differences also because of who was able to buy the food and claim it as their own.

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