The Italian American “Orphan Program”: Media Coverage and Personal Memories

Silvia Cassamagnaghi, Università degli Studi di Mlano

After the end of the Second World War – and up to the Seventies – about 3,700 Italian children emigrated to the United States to be adopted. This operation of “forced emigration” was carried out with a certain constancy and regularity and with considerable media coverage, both in Italy and in US. Newspapers and magazines reported the stories of children leaving Italy to begin a new life overseas: an unexpected tool in Cold War age, used in order to demonstrate the good relationship between the two countries. This press full coverage was sometimes able to influence public opinion and rock the political establishment. The events were so well known that even Vittorio De Sica, in 1961, while the flow of children who left Italy was at its peak, told of the less edifying aspects of these stories in “The Universal Judgment”: behind humanitarianism, a “commercial” side was often minimized or concealed. As the years passed, as these children grew up and integrated into the American culture and society, media progressively stopped talking about them and their stories. Nevertheless, those directly involved cannot forget and today they are still fighting to obtain the “right to their birth origins”. Interviewing these “children” and collecting their personal case stories make possible to understand both their similar background – the abandonment, the permanence in an institute, the journey to America and a new family – and the unique characteristics of each case, as they struggled to find their own identity, mediating among personal childhood memories, adoptive family’s habits and traditions, the American “host” culture and the strong desire to understand who they really are.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 143. Childhood in the Aftermath of Conflict: Migration and the (Re)Formation of Children