The Italian American Family


Italian immigrants had a difficult time assimilating into American society due to their hesitance and unwillingness to abandon their culture and values. Italian immigrants and Italian-Americans today, hold on to values and beliefs that are contradictory to the values and beliefs dominant in American society. The United States is a capitalist society and therefore greatly values individual advancement. Autonomy and self-dependency are highly esteemed. For Italian-Americans, individual accomplishments are held second to family advancement. Italian-Americans expect their children to do well in both economic standards and career standards, but this is not how they measure success. A successful or “ideal” Italian-American child is one who makes his or her place in the world while staying consistent in their values and remaining close in both communication and residence with their family members. In order to be successful, your ideology has to include owing nothing to strangers and owing everything to your family. “Forget about it” when it comes to outsiders, but when it comes to famiglia, these unwritten rules prevail.

Interviewer: So do you place a high importance on family?

Girl: Yeah, of course.

Interviewer: So do you think you're going to stay with your family after you finish schooling?

Girl: No, I plan on moving out.

While most of the youth value family as the people closest to them, the majority of the youth would agree that they desire to move out. This, in turn demonstrates how 
Italian American values are changing, but the core of their beliefs have remained constant.


Italian-American emphasis on family is evident when examining the group’s residential patterns. Italian-Americans have a history of condensing in enclaves such as the predominantly Italian-American communities in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and Howard Beach, Queens. Italian-Americans have been living in homogenous communities since they first arrived in the United States and have retained these patterns today. This is understandable considering the difficulty immigrants face upon arriving to America. Surrounding yourself with those of your kind allows an easier transition into American culture.

Interviewer: What can you tell us about the park?

Girl: Well, no matter how old you are, you still come to this park to reunite with everyone from Howard Beach.

Interviewer: So, you guys all stay connected, even when you grow up?

Girl: Yes.


Today, the Italian-Americans citizens of Howard Beach remain close to their families but with new opportunities for education and upward mobility, do not necessarily depend on their families for every aspect of their advancement. Children of immigrants have assimilated into American culture and have developed a balance between doing what they need to do for their own success and making sure their families remain in their lives. Of all the individuals we interviewed, the importance of family was confirmed. Many of the residents did not speak Italian and usually had parents or grandparents that did. Although they had not visited Italy and/or did not speak the language, the values and the culture that come with being Italian are have a firm grip on their beings. They plan of leaving the neighborhood but all felt as if their ties would remain. 

Although the individual we interviewed only works in Howard Beach, he still helped us to understand the importance of family to Italian-Americans. He let us know that the neighborhood is predominantly Italian-American, but the family dynamic is not the same dynamic the media continues to portray. Family for Italian-Americans today, does not necessarily include mafia affiliation and stereotypical Godfather and Gotti behavior (although John Gotti was a former resident). Italian-American families are characterized by strong bonds and lack the stereotypical stigmas the media has attached to them.


What did Howard Beach have to say?
One of our favorite quotes was from a man in his mid to late twenties. We asked him if he planned on moving away from Howard Beach and he said it was a possibility. We then inquired as to whether he would stay in contact with his family and he responded by saying:“Of course I would, you would have to be stupid not to remain close to your family.”
Female high school senior:
Interviewer: What can you tell us about the park?
Interviewee: Well, no matter how old you are, you still come to this park to reunite with everyone from Howard Beach.
Interviewer: So, you guys all stay connected, even when you grow up?
Interviewee: Yes.
Interviewer: Do you feel like you’re always going to stay connected with your family?
Interviewee: I’m always going to stay connected with my family.
Interviewer: Do you guys have the Italian home life?
Interviewee: Yeah, just dinners on Sunday.