Influences on Italian-American Teenagers

Italian-Americans are the fifth largest ethnic group in the United States, comprising of over 26 million people. They are one of "the most unique groups" to have settled and assimilated into American culture. “Beyond the Melting Pot” by Nathan Glazer and Daniel Moynihan and “Guido: Fashioning an Italian-American Youth Style” by Donald Tricarico depict how American culture has influenced the lives of Italians living in New York.  Other ethnicities, along with Italians—in a scramble for identity and support—have formed enclaves in which culture is further defined and enhanced.  One such enclave is Howard Beach in Queens, a neighborhood prominent with Italians. Family members, friends, and the media, all to some extent, influence the lives of American youth in Howard Beach.
Family members bring old traditions and customs that shape how teens think and act in certain situations. One such example is the overt masculinity that was exhibited in early immigrants. The “strong emphasis on male exhibitionism, strength, and sexual potency” (Glazer, Moynihan, pg. 189) has carried over, but manifests itself in a new, nontraditional ethnicity. The new guido subculture, however, does not “embrace traditional Italian culture nor repudiates ethnicity in identifying with American culture. ” (Tricarico, pg. 42) Rather, it merges Italian ancestry with a new youthful fashion that guidos believe epitomizes pop culture. Italian ancestors have, in particular, influenced the view that male teenagers have on relationships. In order to prove their masculinity, they give their girlfriends jewelry as a way of “claiming” them. This territorial gesture is indicative of the principles that their ancestors valued and have inevitably passed on.
Friends, or rather society at large, influence how the youth portray themselves to the outside world. These are the people that guidos wish to impress or rise above. They use a distinct fashion and lifestyle that distinguishes them from others—it is a self-created identity. It focuses on grooming, expensive clothes, and exceptional cars. Through this identity they are able to break free from conventionality and make it known to others that they’re guidos and proud. “Guido: Fashioning an Italian-American Youth Style” gave out a survey, in which self-proclaimed guidos expressed why they chose that label. The common consensus was that it was cool and socially acceptable to be Italian, therefore being a guido would increase their popularity. Although that may not necessarily be true, it is plausible to see that mentality in action in an enclave such as Howard Beach.  A community that is connected through its homogeneity would, by default, take pride in their culture. Similarly, the Italian-American youth in Howard Beach would be inclined to find a connection to their ethnicity, and have done so, but through a more “pop culture and fashion” approach.
Media, another influence on the teens in Howard Beach, plays a strong role in the lives of most people. In regards to the Italian-American teenagers, MTV released a show called The Jersey Shore. The show inevitably received backlash from various places, including Italian-American organizations that found the show to be offensive. The show angered many Italians and caused many protests. However, it was not taken off the air and many felt that it simply relied on crude stereotypes that attempted to generalize Italians as a whole. The power vested in the media is what allowed The Jersey Shore to further the notion of what a guido should be and why some Italians felt they had to emulate the show in order to be socially accepted by their peers.
The Italian-American teens in Howard Beach are not much different from other teenagers. Through their family, friends, and the media, they have extrapolated thoughts and beliefs on what they believe an Italian—or Guido, in some cases—should be like. Their family plays a key role in determining what values and beliefs they should have.  Friends serve as their general public and the media serves as their source of knowledge in regards to the latest trends. In the end, though, it is the teenagers who choose what they will absorb and how they will portray it. It is difficult to truly gauge and quantify the exact influence that all three play in the lives of Howard Beach teens, but it can be assumed that all three do play a role in shaping their lives.

Works Cited:
Glazer, Nathan, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. “Beyond the Melting Pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Irish of New York City.” Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1970.
Tricario, Donald (Spring 1991). "Guido: Fashioning An Italian-American Youth Style."  Journal of Ethnic Studies (19, no.1): 44–66]