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Intimacy and Italian Migration: Gender and Domestic Lives in a Mobile World


Three shrines in Illinois honor heroes of the working class: one for the legendary Mother Jones; one for the Virden martyrs, who died for coal mining unionism, and whose memory is kept alive by labor organizers around the world; and one for Catherine (Katie) Bianco DeRorre. Katie's monument, unlike the others, draws few visitors today. But when it was dedicated in 1961, men and women — on the floor of the U.S. Congress, in the neighborhood where Katie grew up, at American universities, in union halls, on the streets of New York City, and in Milan — took notice and honored the woman who had become the "conscience" of "industrial wars."

Who was Katie DeRorre? And how did she slip from the celebrated to the forgotten? My interpretation of these questions is consciously microhistorical. As Martha Hodes has shown, relations of power "can best be illustrated by exploring the experiences of particular historical actors in particular geographical settings." Where historical actors and settings begin and end, however, can be complex — especially when we consider the realities of the majority of immigrants who move transnationally and leave scant records about their lives.

My answers to questions about Katie also challenge an array of historiographical assumptions about gender, the second generation of immigrants, memory, and the divergence of immigration, labor, and women's history. In his work on the African-American diaspora, Earl Lewis argues for understanding multipositionality as something more than identity shifting or privileging (e.g., race over class, gender over religion).

"It is the interactive construction of identity — as child, lover, spouse, and so on — that requires full explication," Lewis contends. A transnational immigrant's identity can move through large and small geographic spaces as well as take up the minds and hearts of men and women who make (or witness) global crossings.

While the word "transnationalism" has been used to signify an array of meanings, my principal concern in this essay is to explore the term in a way that brings together Lewis's notion of the interactivity of public and private with what Donna Gabaccia and Loretta Baldassar conceptualize in this volume as the "diasporic private sphere."

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Fordham University Press

Place of Publication

Bronx, NY

Peer Reviewed