How America Became Italian

History professor and author of “American Passage: The History of Ellis Island,” Vincent J. Cannato tracks the journey and contributions of Italian Americans.

How America Became Italian

When baseball legend Yogi Berra passed away last month, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred called the late Yankees catcher “a beacon of Americana.” Sportswriter Frank Deford had employed the same theme a decade earlier, calling Berra “the ultimate in athletic Americana.”
That is quite a testament to a man born Lorenzo Pietro Berra to Italian immigrant parents and raised in the Italian enclave of St. Louis known as the Hill. There, he developed the outsize personality that would color the American experience with Italian wit.

Traditionally, when we think of Americana, we recall Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” or Betsy Ross sewing the Stars and Stripes. Now we can also invoke Berra and his famous quote, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Berra, an anchor of the dynastic New York Yankees of the mid-20th century, exemplifies the broad influence that Italian Americans have had on American culture since arriving as impoverished and denigrated immigrants isolated in urban ghettos.

From sports and food to movies and music, they haven’t just contributed to the culture, they have helped redefine it…

Read the full op-ed on The Washington Post.

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