Autobiography: The Literary Genre of Immigration

Ilaria Serra

in The Value of Worthless Lives

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print April 2007 | ISBN: 9780823226788
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823235032 | DOI:
Autobiography: The Literary Genre of               Immigration

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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

Chapter.  13527 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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