In his new PBS documentary, The Italian Americans, Buffalo native, John Maggio, looks at the ways Italian immigrants influenced the American melting pot.
One of the most enduring impacts over the centuries has been the effect of family. Maggio explains how it’s often been a building block as well as a burden.
“When southern Italians migrated here, many of them were from small villages in the southern part of Italy that had different dialects. So when they came to this country, they couldn’t necessarily even speak to each other. So they were always sort of in a way kind of culturally walled off from other Italians living in America. So family was the core of the way they moved through American society,” said Maggio.
The film features interviews with prominent Italian Americans, including Nancy Pelosi, Antonin Scalia, and Tony Bennett. In learning about their backgrounds, and studying the immigration patterns of Italians, Maggio says he realized exactly where his own family fit into the history. But among all the individuals he spoke with, Maggio says the one who stands out to him the most is author Gay Talese.
“He has such an incredible take on immigration and the history. He had followed his family all the way back to Italy. But what he is so good at – and I think that you’ll see this in the film – is just finding the subtleties of what it means to become an assimilated American, which I think is really at the heart of this film,” Maggio said.
The subtleties Talese spoke of resonated in Maggio’s own past. He says making the film changed his perspective on his own upbringing in North Buffalo.
Tune in for the national premiere of The Italian Americans, Tuesday night at 9 p.m. on WNED TV.
It will be shown at a special PBS event at the Northpark Theatre on February 21, at 11:30, followed by a live question and answer session with John Maggio. For more information, visit www.northparktheare.org.