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The Value of Worthless LivesWriting Italian American Immigrant Autobiographies$
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Ilaria Serra

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780823226788

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: March 2011

DOI: 10.5422/fso/9780823226788.001.0001

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Autobiography: The Literary Genre of Immigration

Autobiography: The Literary Genre of Immigration

(p.11) 1 Autobiography: The Literary Genre of Immigration
The Value of Worthless Lives

Ilaria Serra

Fordham University Press

Autobiographies provide the most real and sincere account of the process and effects of immigration that one could have. This chapter examines autobiographies as documents of an internal view of history to show how immigration has been experienced by its protagonists and how their experiences capture the scent of an era and a way of seeing the world. These stories reveal the immigrant's philosophy of hard work, a melancholic optimism, homesickness, and will. The discovery of autobiographies in the homes of unschooled workers tells us that immigrants were so concerned with their self-image that it propelled them to portray themselves, rather than passively accepting representations and cliches by others. It demonstrates that first-generation Italian Americans did not only work constantly, they also found the time and motivation for literary pursuits, as humble as they might be. Finally, it offers proof of the deep humanity of first-generation immigrants, who have often been seen as mere working beasts, through insulting nicknames and deviant stereotypes.

Keywords:   Italian Americans, autobiography, immigration, self-image, immigrants, hard work, homesickness, will, optimism

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