Social life

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. The emblematic question for any emigrant might be “dove my casa ?”(1), the title of a collection of poems by Gregory Corso, an important Beat Generation poet who defined himself as calabrese (Calabrian).