This dissertation explores comparisons of Italy and Latin America in the post-unification emigration literature of Italy’s best-selling author and most-read travel writer, Edmondo De Amicis. Composed during the decade following his 1884 transatlantic journey to visit Italian emigration settlements in Latin America, De Amicis’ Italian-Latin American emigration narratives highlight the hardships faced by the author’s emigrant compatriots. Largely ignored by the academic establishment, these popularly successful writings are remarkable for their assimilation of Latin America to geopolitical Italy.
Although much Italian emigration following the Risorgimento, for instance by chain and seasonal migrants, was experienced harmoniously with life in the Italian homeland, late nineteenth and early-twentieth century Italian nationalist writers and political ideologues portrayed emigration as a transnational phenomenon incompatible with national Italian identity. Concerned that mass emigration threatened efforts to project a geographically cohesive Italian nation that would attest to Italian political and economic parity with leading European powers, they supported imperialist plans to redirect Italian emigrants to state-sponsored colonial settlements and accommodate all Italian citizens on what had traditionally been Italian soil. Consonant with the aims of Italy’s colonial empire, correlations of Italy and Latin America in writings by De Amicis naturalize Italian-Latin American emigrants as residents of the Italian homeland and establish an expansive territorial as well as cultural basis for Italian national unity.
Contributing to existing scholarship on Italian migration and national identity formation, my study demonstrates that the post-unification Italian-Latin American emigration literature of De Amicis is a key locus for understanding post-unification geographical constructions of national Italian culture. Read in their post-Risorgimento context, I explore the historical conditions and rhetorical moves by which the texts minimize Latin American alterity and reinscribe Italian-Latin American emigrants within the historical bounds of Italy. Tracing the evolution of the author’s characterizations of Latin America as well as its native and immigrant peoples in terms of geopolitical Italy and domestic Italian society, my work illustrates the special significance of De Amicis’ writing on Italian-Latin American emigration for defining and critiquing unified Italian culture.