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Making Italian AmericaConsumer Culture and the Production of Ethnic Identities$
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Simone Cinotto

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780823256235

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823256235.001.0001

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Italian Americans, the New Deal State, and the Making of Citizen Consumers

Italian Americans, the New Deal State, and the Making of Citizen Consumers

(p.137) 7 Italian Americans, the New Deal State, and the Making of Citizen Consumers
Making Italian America

Stefano Luconi

Fordham University Press

Italian immigrants are conspicuously absent from all major historical accounts of working-class consumer activism. The chapter argues that this impression is to a certain extent a consequence of the fact that although Italian Americans were a critical electoral component of the New Deal coalition, very little has been written about their participation in support of the Roosevelt administration’s programs of national welfare. The recognition of the “consumer interest” was a central feature of the New Deal’s political economy. Italian Americans vocally reclaimed an “American standard of living” for working-class consumers and especially participated in and benefited from the New Deal’s social policies on housing (a crossroads which, giving the virtual racial segregation that these policies would eventually entail, dramatically accelerated the Italian American endorsement of a “white” identity along with an “Italian” one.) This essay focuses on the response of Italian Americans to New Deal’s economic policies as well as on the impact of the consequent legislation on their lives and identity. In addition, it highlights how campaigns for social equity playing on the language of the citizen consumer became a means to claim a voice in politics on the part of such a theretofore marginalized minority as Italian Americans.

Keywords:   politics of consumption, New Deal, Italian Americans, Italian American electoral vote, ethnicity, whiteness, consumer culture, consumer activism, ethnic politics, public housing, welfare state, Roosevelt, Franklin Delano

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