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The Italian Americans

February 17, 2015February 24, 2015

Trace the evolution of Italian Americans from the late 19th century to today, with Tony Bennett, David Chase, John Turturro, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Gay Talese and more with The Italian Americans, a new two-part, four-hour documentary series about the Italian experience in America.

The Italian Americans reveals the unique and distinctive qualities of one immigrant group’s experience, and how these qualities, over time, have shaped and challenged America. Unlike other immigrant groups, many Italians did not come to America to stay. At the turn of the 20th century, most came to work, earn money to support their families, and eventually return home. Nearly half of the first generation Italian immigrants did return to Italy. For those that made America home, their struggle to maintain a distinct Italian culture was guided by remarkably powerful ideals of family that had always been at the center of their lives. In the Italian family, the needs of the collective came before the individual — a value system often at odds with American ideals of freedom and personal choice. While the power of the Italian family became a source of strength, it also bred suspicion, popularized in popular media as a dark, criminal element. This clash of culture echoed through generations of Italian Americans and, as they entered positions of political, social and cultural influence, it has left its mark on the American landscape.

Once “outsiders” viewed with suspicion and mistrust, Italian Americans are today some of the most prominent leaders of U.S. business, politics and the arts. The series peels away myths and stereotypes to reveal a world uniquely Italian and uniquely American. Stanley Tucci narrates.

Produced by WETA with major support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) The Italian Americans premieres on PBS Tuesday nights from February 17-24 at 9 p.m. EST.

Episode Guide:

The Italian Americans: La Famiglia (1890-1910)
Tuesday, February 17, 2015, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET

A brief history of the Italian Risorgimento provides the context for the great flight from the mezzogiorno region. By the late 19th century, Italians begin to put down roots and “Little Italys” spring up in urban areas throughout the U.S. But the first generation, holding onto language and culture, is branded “outsiders” and mistrusted by non-Italians. In New Orleans, this mistrust explodes into violence and 11 Italian Americans are murdered by an armed mob. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a second-generation Italian American saves his community from disaster while creating one of the greatest financial institutions in America.

The Italian Americans: Becoming Americans (1910-1930)
Tuesday, February 17, 2015, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET

At the turn of the 20th century, more than four million Italians immigrate to America. Leonard Covello is forced to give up his “old world” ways and adopt American mores, including changing his name; Arturo Giovannitti, a new immigrant, leads the largest labor strike of 1912, when Italian Americans push for better working conditions and wages. Italian Americans are forced to worship in the basement of churches controlled by the Irish archdiocese; anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti are executed, reinforcing stereotypes that plague Italian Americans today; Prohibition breeds a new kind of criminal who takes a shortcut to success.

The Italian Americans: Loyal Americans (1930-1945)
Tuesday, February 24, 2015, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET

A second generation of Italian Americans begins to enter the labor movement, politics, sports and entertainment. Fiorello LaGuardia becomes mayor of New York City. Joe DiMaggio, the son of a San Francisco fisherman, becomes a baseball powerhouse who becomes an American hero. But with the outbreak of World War II, loyalty to America is questioned and Italians are forced to choose between two nations at war. While many Italian Americans fight on the frontlines with valor and bravery, other Italian Americans are labeled “Enemy Aliens,” including DiMaggio’s parents. The war proves to be a turning point for Italian Americans as they begin to break out of their enclaves.

The Italian Americans: The American Dream (1945-present)
Tuesday, February 24, 2015, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET

In post-war America, Italian Americans enter the middle class. Italian-American crooners define American cool, but even as Frank Sinatra skyrockets to fame, he is haunted by accusations of Mafia ties. Can Italian Americans fit into 1950s America or will the specter of organized crime always plague them? Governor Mario Cuomo, son of Italian immigrants, struggles to straddle both worlds, while his sons’ success promises assimilation and acceptance. Antonin Scalia becomes the first Italian American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi is the first woman and Italian American elected to Speaker of the House. Have Italian Americans finally shed the old stereotypes and become fully accepted in America?

Watch a trailer for The Italian Americans online

For more information regarding this event:

Time: 9:00 pm to 11:00 pm

Station: The Italian Americans premieres on PBS February 17-24, 2015, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET. Check local listings