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To Hyphenate or Not?

Category: Sociology 11th October 2019

Free essayThe use of the word Italian America by various scholars of Italian America Literature has been subject of controversy for a long period of time. Scholars of Italian American literature have different perspective towards the use of the term. The most common forms that are used by the scholars in reference to the interrelationship that exist between the two ethic cultures are Italian-American, Italian/American and Italian American. It is therefore appropriate for the scholars to come up with appropriate terminology that is acceptable and neutral. In my opinion, the most proper form of the use of the term is Italian American due to its neutrality. Though there are two other forms that include Italian-American and Italian/American, this form is more appropriate due to various reasons.

Originally editors of Italian American literature thought it was possible to use all these three forms, but it later emerged that each of them had its peculiarities which was subject of debate and controversies among scholars (Belmonte). The form Italian American is the most neutral and correct in political and cultural sense. The other two terms namely the Italian-American and Italian/American can be considered to be biased and have different meaning and interpretations that can cause anxiety and conflicts between the two ethnic groups described by the terminology. At the same time, the other two forms can cause polemic and critical evaluations. Due to their biasness, the forms Italian-American and Italian/American can lead to contentious arguments among the scholars in an effort to try to find the real meaning of the terms.

Hyphenating or not hyphenating the term can be perceived as someone’s wish to underline ethnic or self-identification in the society. It can be interpreted as a sign by which difference or sameness is announced among different ethnic groups that exist in the society. This can contribute to misunderstanding between ethnic groups in the society due to the perceptions and meaning attached to the variations in the terms. For example, a certain ethnic community might feel that they are regarded as inferior or superior to others as in the case of Italian-American. Again the other form Italian/America does not help to provide the difference in cultures and beliefs between Italians and Americans. It shows that the cultural heritage of the two cultural groups is indifferent hence they can be substituted with each other. This in real sense is not true since the two ethic groups have different traditions, beliefs and cultures hence equating them to be the same is not only incorrect but is a source of cultural conflicts. In my view the form ‘Italia- American’ is the most problematic of the three forms since it is unable to show the Italian self-determination. It gives the impression that Italian are dependent on American hence are not independent. This term is rather frequently perceived as a sign of colonization hence considered as controversial (D’Acierno).

Although the term Italian-American is the most correct in grammatical sense, it is also a source of controversies among literature scholars. The form Italian-American is often used by New York Times in its articles and journals. The American considered the use of the terminology in this form as inappropriate and a sign of disrespect to their dignity. The American attaches more meaning to the hyphen placed between the words Italian and America than the Italians. The hyphen can be interpreted to mean the status of Italians as the ones released from Americans. On the other hand if hyphen is negatively interpreted, it would take place of a graphic marker of incomplete identity. In this form it will imply literally as the hyphenated Americans which is not morally correct descriptions of an ethnic group. It is therefore prudent to use the term without hyphen to avoid such controversies. The absence of the hyphen in the term Italian American will neutraliz?e this negative effect and will manifest more respect to the Italian and American nationality.

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Italian/American is also another form of the terminology that describes the interrelationship between Americans and Italians and was introduced by Anthony Tamburri. It was the latest form used to describe the terminology after the use of the forms Italian American and Italian-American. In my opinion, this form is the most incorrect one among the three not only from the grammatical senses but also from political and cultural point of view. In grammatical sense the term is incorrect since it indicates that American and Italians are similar hence downplay the difference in cultural backgrounds between these two ethnic groups. Likening of Italians and American culture can contribute to political and cultural conflicts since the two ethic groups have different cultures, languages and tradition. It is also important to note that the gap between the two words in the term Italian American means the absence of any doubts concerning the recognition of Italian race as equal in all meanings to the American race. This makes it to be the most appropriate terminology for the word.

There is no formal history and certain facts concerning the solution of disputes on the correct use of the terminology, however various essays on this topic have been written suggesting various solutions to the controversies surrounding the use of the term. Certain distinctions should be considered about a number of aspects concerning the history and use of the terminology. Non Italians, usually from positions of ethnography, sociology, cultural anthropology, and urbanism started with writings of reflections. Those reflections were usually written by the Italian Americans as a means of self-interpretation. It was also observed that journalists who accepted the ideological or even racist version of the use of hyphen at first designated the immigrant as the other. The origin of the first works can be traced to the documentary work of a journalist and social reformer known as Jacob Riis through polemic literature which crystallized round the Sacco-Vanzetti case and the organized crime in the twentieth century. It can also be traced in the works of Edward Banfields entitled ‘The Moral Basis of a Backward Society’ (1958) in which at first the thesis of “an immoral familism” was developed. Nature of discussions from outside of italophobs is embodied in such names as, “by What Shall We Do with the ‘Dago’? ” and “The Importation of Italian Flees — An Infernal Plot.” (D’Acierno). This show that the first attempt to analyze and solve this problem as well as the first sign of its presence was in the documentary sources of the works of Jacob Riis in his polemical literature (D’Acierno). In the 60s of the XX century, Italian Americans were part of the ethnic groups in American society. During this time they were treated as white ethnic group which was regarded as a sign of assimilation as well as legitimization ethnicity in the society.

To understand the meaning that a hyphen may bring in the terminology and give judgment of whether these two notions can be used together, one should refer to a history of both Italy and the United States of America. It can be said that they have a lot of things in common, for example, the periods of the World War II gave them a closer interaction. These times were very hard for Italians and the USA made Italy one of its allies. Hyphen in this occasions join together these countries and reminds Italians of the support given by the USA and bonds that exists between. In this respect the hyphen signifies potential source of power, knowledge, and strengths between Italy and America. More information from the history of these countries can be used to help understand better the specificity, differences, and uniqueness of each folk. The history of Italians dates back to the Greek colonization of Sicily that occurred almost 1000 years B.C. The American civilization is not that old, thus, any discourses about the significance of these two cultures are irrelevant as they have their own separate histories. (Belmonte). This again discredits the use of the words with a hyphen imposed between the words. According to Allan Bloom America was the latest formed culture in the world despite the fact that it is considered as the country with the longest political tradition. On the contrary, the historical situation of Italy reminds us of ancient countries like India and China more than any European societies. In Italy history is regarded as something special and is registered and expressed not only in libraries and museums but also in dialects, slangs, folk music, original architecture, monuments, ceremonies, food and etiquette. It can also be noted that America is a special country in another perspective. Americans civilization embodies courage, experiments, and unstable traditions except for their own. It is possible to track the American egocentrism and concentration on themselves brightly; however, all American society seems like this to the world. This is because Americans have their own ideology about the construction and creation of culture and this comes from their historical tradition, beliefs, and laws that are constitutionally created to provide basis for universal human happiness. On the contrary, European feudalism is opposite to American ideas. Feudalism’s emphasizes corporate and collective identities, such notions as lord, monk, and slave. Blind loyalty and beliefs are various basic elements of feudalism ideology in Europe. The southern Italy at the beginning of the XX century was the most feudal society in Europe. Since its foundation, America has denied these concepts of feudalism and attach respect on human more that any society. As the result of this denial, many immigrants faced a lot of problems. Part of Italians had problems not only with industrial society that American was but also with a much deeper level the Italians were compelled to struggle with themselves. (Belmonte).

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In conclusion it can be argued that nations cannot be equalized as well as perceived as sharply different from each other since some of their histories are common. Nations should however be treated as different entities with their own specific identities. The use of the form Italian American without hyphen would emphasize this fact. In essence it is true that Italy and America are separate nations given their historical backgrounds, however these two countries are united in various aspects such as religion and family. This also makes the use of the terminology Italian Americans appropriate as it shows the unity between the countries. Again the word Italian/American is not appropriate due to the difference in the countries traditions and practices. For example, Italy is a nation of beauty and world artists, romantic singers and poets but the American is a nation of leadership and development. Italian Americans is some new kind of people that cannot belong to a certain part of American or Italian society as opposed to the case with Italian/American (Belmonte). To sum it up, the relations between Italians and Americans can be best be expressed by the use of term Italian Americans as opposed to Italian- American or Italian/American which are considered to be biased as well as culturally and political incorrect.

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