Frank Lentricchia follows DeLillo back to Little Italy Home – but not Domini to Southern Italy Homeland
The recent forty-fifth Conference of the Italian American Studies Association, like the previous forty-four, was largely devoid of southern Italy or Sicily presentations (note worthy exceptions: the film “La Mia Strada” and Victoria Sferlazza’s PowerPoint presentation: “The Linguistic Status of Sicilian”). Even though near seventeen million Americas are south of Rome progeny; a conference titled “What is Italian America?” does not find Patria Meridionale relevant to the definition of Italian America or what it means to be an Italian American. This Italian American history and culture begins at Ellis Island mentality is manifested in DeLillo’s great novel “Underworld” and the recent Frank Lentricchia crime novel “The Accidental Pallbearer”. However, John Domini’s “A Tomb on the Periphery” stands against this myopic view of southern-Italian American history and culture. Unlike typical Italian American literati fiction and non-fiction writers, Domini carries the reader back to Naples and back near three thousand years to the cultural origins of southern-Italian Americana. This is to say, there’s more to being a Neapolitan American than the San Gennaro Festival. In short, a society’s culture is the summation of the society’s history, and the history of southern-Italian Americana did not begin at Ellis Island. Ellis Island just opened a recent chapter in the history of southern Italians. Metaphorically: On paper we are American. But, what courses our veins is ancient southern Italian. We exchanged citizenship ‘papers’ at Ellis Island, we did not get blood transfusions.