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Abstract

The text of the lecture that Fernando J. Devoto presented at the Giovanni Agnelli Foundation on May 20th 2003 looks at the Italians in Argentina across the generations. Devoto approaches the topic with the awareness that it is a vast subject and hard to define. The outlines of an Italian identity tend luglio-dicembre 2003 1 to disappear within Argentine society and merge irretrievably into the national characteristics of that country. And yet it makes sense to wonder about the significance of national identity and about the immigrants’ contribution to the process of forming that identity. The different phases of the Italian immigration in Argentina are retraced here, without ever detaching it from the mainstream history of the South American nation and thus, according to the paradigm of comparative history, from world history. There are also a series of cross-references from historiography to literature, from economics to sociology. Devoto brings the epic tale of the Italian immigrants in Argentina back from the exalted realm of the specialist studies and of a certain literary mythicisation to the world and society of people made of flesh and blood.

Vittorio Cappelli’s essay examines, for the first time, the case of Italian immigration in the region of Caribbean Colombia. The triangulation of various kinds of sources (Italian and Colombian) – bibliographical, archive, literary, iconographic, oral – enables him to present a reasonably articulated and complete portrait of the life of the Italian community at Barranquilla and other urban centres along the Caribbean coast, as well as in the «banana producing » region in the Department of Magdalena, from the end of the nineteenth century to the Second World War. In the case of the Italian immigration in Colombia the urban and «entrepreneurial» features were especially marked, with immigrants – mainly from border areas (Calabria-Basilicata-Campania) – who were artisans or smallholders, and often politically oriented. Between the two world wars, the socialist ideals of many of the immigrants clashed with the fascist plan for organising the Italians overseas, while the social ascent of many immigrants – in skilled work, trade and business – often opened the way for their joining the masonry and made a significant contribution to the modernisation of the region which had welcomed them.

Luigi Guarnieri Calò Carducci’s essay outlines the history of the Italian presence in Bolivia from the first pioneers of the colonial period and the coming of Independence (1825) – mostly clergy and a few artists – to our days. Italian emigration was only marginally interested in Bolivia as the country of destination, mainly because of the hostile geophysical conditions of the land. A certain number of Italians reached the country from Chile, working on the construction of the railways; some settled in the area of La Paz and set up commercial ventures – in textiles and foodstuff – already in the nineteenth century. Despite the divisions of a different nature – from those based on regionalism and that between fascists and antifascists in the «ventennio», the Italians have left their mark in Bolivia «on the social and economic, and in some cases also the cultural, fabric». Using diplomatic and consular sources conserved in the historical archives of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the author investigates a subject hitherto unexplored by the hisluglio- dicembre 2003 2 toriographical research and reveals how even an immigration of «low numbers » can provide an opportunity for surveys which fit usefully into the overall panorama of emigration studies.

Mónica Bartolucci and Elisa Pastoriza’s essay focuses on the social behaviour and cultural practices of a sample group of twenty-six families who emigrated from Sant’Angelo in Vado in the Marches to Mar del Plata between 1886 and 1962. The alternating of the stories and accounts of their lives with statistical data and sociological analysis enables a classic case of chain migration to be used to investigate the identity of the migrants, the reasons behind their decision to leave their homeland, their professional and settlement strategies, and the community and private dimensions of their lives.

Bettina Alejandra Favero puts the local and regional dimension of the immigration in the foreground, focusing on the immigration and settlement from Sicily and the Veneto in the barrios of San José and the port of Mar del Plata, in Argentina. In the period examined by the research, 1945-1957, Sicily was the second region of origin of the Italians who arrived in Mar del Plata, while the Veneto was in sixth place, but the first of those from the north of Italy. The Sicilians who settled in the port area found employment primarily in the fishing industry, and made up a clearly defined community within the barrio, even as regards the rest of the Italians. The quarter of San José was called after the church of the same name, around which the community from the Veneto in Mar del Plata grew. Favero makes a comparative analysis of how the two regional groups have contributed in shaping the economic, social and urbanistic evolution of the neighbourhoods where they settled, giving them the features of barrio étnico.

 

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