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Posted by on Nov 14, 2007

Italian Immigrants – Book Review: The Value of Worthless Lives

Italian Immigrants – Book Review: The Value of Worthless Lives


In keeping with the feast day of St. Francis Cabrini – November 13 – this history of Italian immigrants in their own words gives an insight into a group of people who contributed much more to the world than their physical labor.

The Value of Worthless Lives
Writing Italian-American Immigrant Autobiographies
Ilaria Serra

Fordham University Press
244 pages
February 2007

The H-Net Discussion List on International Catholic History [H-CATHOLIC@H-NET.MSU.EDU] published a review by Anthony Riccio of the Sterling Library, Yale University here a couple of paragraphs:
Here we find captivating personal histories of miners who used their good fortunes to help immigrant schoolchildren buy books, political figures who wrote for justice, unskilled laborers who wrote with flair and expressiveness beyond their grammar-school education, a poet/laborer who memorized Webster’s dictionary, and a bricklayer who taught himself how to write and worked with quarantined immigrants at Ellis Island. One excerpt from miner Pietro Riccobaldi’s memoir captures the ethos of the Italian immigrant, the deep sense of family honor and the importance of the family name that formed the basis of a behavioral code Italian immigrants brought from Italy: “I didn’t gather big fortunes, but I have behaved well. I kept faithful to my family’s teachings–I felt a sense of pride”

In chapter 4, “The Spiritual Immigrant,” Serra illuminates another fascinating aspect of the Italian immigrant experience that resulted from the religious freedom America afforded. Serra’s work examines the transformation from the constraints of Old World Catholicism practiced in the Italian village to personal inner journeys and flights to higher spiritual awareness experienced in the New World. Serra’s autobiographies profile the lives of men whose inward pilgrimage led them to become Protestant ministers, evangelicals who returned to their native Italian villages to preach the word of God, and missionaries who converted souls to Catholicism in the American wilderness.

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