Italian-Americans as viewed by the New York Times – The Original 1983 Feature Article

New York Times Feature Story - Italian-Americans Coming into their Own.

A Lookback to the Original NYT Cover Story from May of 1983

My Maternal and Paternal Grandparents were the epitome of the hard-working, blue-collar immigrants that personified the hopes and dreams of the early 20th Century Italian-American diaspora. Frank and Mary Esposito, my mother’s parents, became the quintessential success story through natural talent, shrewd investment and boundless moxie. They started with absolutely nothing but determination, and through years of hard work and subsequent re-investment into their businesses, they retired as successful & wealthy restaurateurs.

Conversely, my Father’s parents, Fortunato & Theresa Lanni, met with extreme hardship. Theresa died very young, leaving Fortunato alone to raise their eight children on a railroad switchman’s salary. He labored through World War 1, the Great Depression and World War 2, the latter in which all four of his young sons and two nephews served overseas to defeat the Axis war machine. The hard work and financial effects of the great depression would have a profound impact on Fortunato. He owned his modest multifamily row house in Jersey City, New Jersey, in which he raised his children. He also had tenants, and refused to evict them during the depression when they couldn’t pay their rent. His selflessness negated any wealth building he hoped to create via the American dream of home-ownership. He died in 1954 with very little to his name.

New York Times Feature Story - Italian-Americans Coming into their Own.
New York Times Feature Story – Italian-Americans Coming into their Own.

My Grandparents’ stories echo those of countless Italian immigrants, and those stories are highlighted to a certain degree within the expose written by the New York Times and published on May 14, 1983. It served as the cover story that week, and was titled “Italian-Americans: Coming into Their Own”. (New York Times Magazine, May 14, 1983). Our copy of this issue remained in my parent’s house for 27 years. After both of my parents had passed, and we sold their home, the copy went into the archive.

I believe it made enough of an impression on my Father that he saved his original copy for posterity. It may have reinforced for him that his pursuit of a college degree after World War 2 through the GI Bill, and his subsequent successful career as an electrical engineer, meant that he too had come into his own.

The 1983 New York Times article, “Italian-Americans – Coming Into Their Own” is available in the NYT Online archives. This is how the successes of our people were perceived by mainstream media in the 1980s. The fact that an article like this was written only 37 years ago indicates how the top-levels of success for Italian Americans is actually a more recent post-war phenomenon.

If you are a young Italian-American today, learn as much as possible about your Italian ancestry. Seek the wisdom and first-hand stories from the older Italians. Read the huge volume of personal memoirs and articles about their lives. This is your chance to continue the long climb of your immediate ancestors.

You are standing on the shoulders of giants, so make it count. Mainstream media tries its best to portray our culture as either involved in organized crime or as low-brow supporting character in vapid reality shows. You can erase this view simply by living a great life and dedicating yourself to your family, career and community. Become something that makes the world a better place, and never forget to enjoy yourself. Being Italian is a celebration of life itself.

Please read the article. We’d love to hear your thoughts afterward.


Author: Robert Lanni

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