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Italian Voices

Making Minnesota Our Home

Mary Ellen Mancina-Batinich

Publication Year: 2007

A boardinghouse keeper finds her kitchen in a mess after Saturday-night revelry and refuses to cook on Sunday. An iron miner pries frozen ore from a car in 40-below temperatures. A grocer makes sausage, brews wine, and forages for mushrooms and dandelion greens. In Italian Voices, Minnesota’s Italian Americans share rich stories of everyday life in communities in the Iron Range, Duluth, and the Twin Cities between 1900 and 1960. Mary Ellen Mancina-Batinich, a native of the Iron Range, had unequaled access to the state’s immigrant generation during the twenty years she spent documenting the lives of these Minnesotans, in their own words.

Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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p. iii


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xiv

A cornucopia of a book! Open its pages and you will be immersed in an untold richness of human experience. With candor and insight, these Italian immigrants and their children share their life stories with us. Modern American culture seems to label persons such as these—hard-working...

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pp. xv-xix

For years now, my Minnesota Italian roots have beckoned to me. Every time they called, I hung up on them, but I did so with a little less certainty each time, until finally I gave in. During his lifetime...

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Chapter 1. The Promised Land or the Island of Tears?

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pp. 3-11

Like other international migrants, Italians often left their homes because of economic difficulties, moving wherever they could find work. Minnesota’s Italians were not the first to emigrate to seek their fortune; before the late 1800s...

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Chapter 2. Bread and Work

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pp. 12-48

Italians in Minnesota, like migrants throughout history, spent the prime years of their lives engaged in the ongoing struggle for subsistence and identity in a strange new culture. As workers from rural backgrounds, often with little formal...

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Chapter 3. Women's Work

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pp. 49-76

As a rule, Italian immigrant women did not seek work outside the home in the early twentieth century. In her study of Italian women in Buffalo, New York, Virginia Yans-McLaughlin demonstrated that the reluctance of married women to work outside the home was particularly pronounced among...

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Chapter 4. The Boarders

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pp. 77-107

The custom of having boarders was generally unknown in Italy. In the rural areas, stranieri (strangers) were not admitted into the close-knit family circle. When my grandmothers, Vittoria and Maria, came to America, having boarders was something new to them, as it was to many other Italian women. Among...

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Chapter 5. Religion, Supernaturalism, and Folk Medicine

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pp. 108-145

Giovanna Gentilini described the tongue-lashing she gave an Irish priest in her town of Virginia, Minnesota in 1929, after the Depression had begun, over the burial of a friend’s daughter. The dead girl’s family was depending on...

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Chapter 6. Life Cycles and Calendar Events

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pp. 146-187

Rites of passage played a central role in the lives of the Italian immigrants. Celebrated with old Italian traditions, births, weddings, and funerals—as well as the religious milestones of baptism, first communion, and confirmation—marked transitions in the lives of individuals. Customs tied to...

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Chapter 7. Leisure and Recreation

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pp. 188-218

Sports and games are part of traditional folkways, with rules formed in the obscure past, handed down through the generations, and changing only gradually, if at all. Many children’s games follow this pattern especially closely; for example,...

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Chapter 8. Italy at Table

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pp. 219-261

As is true for many immigrant groups, food played an important role in maintaining the Italian Americans’ heritage. Food figures in every chapter of this book because of its cultural significance to Italians. Food was important not only...

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Chapter 9. The Performers

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pp. 262-289

For members of Minnesota’s Italian immigrant community, coming to an alien land to work was like leaving the table after one course. The immigrants needed something more, and they provided it themselves through dramatics, music, creative writing, storytelling, poetry, and proverbs. Whatever...

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p. 290

Mary Ellen Mancina-Batinich’s inspired notion to capture the recollections of Minnesota’s Italian immigrants and their descendants has left us with a valuable legacy indeed, a rich treasure trove of information on a population about whom...

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Appendix: List of Interviews

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pp. 291-296

This appendix lists information on the interviews quoted in this book. For a complete listing of Mary Ellen Mancina-Batinich’s interviews, see the finding aid for the Mary Ellen Mancina-Batinich Papers at the Immigration History Research Center (IHRC), University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The collection includes...


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pp. 297-306


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pp. 307-317

E-ISBN-13: 9780873516747
E-ISBN-10: 0873516745
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873515818
Print-ISBN-10: 0873515811

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2007

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 794700987
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Italian Voices

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Italian Americans -- Minnesota -- History -- 20th century.
  • Italy -- Emigration and immigration -- History -- 20th century.
  • Minnesota -- Ethnic relations -- History -- 20th century.
  • Italian Americans -- Minnesota -- Biography.
  • Minnesota -- Emigration and immigration -- History -- 20th century.
  • Immigrants -- Minnesota -- History -- 20th century.
  • Italian Americans -- Minnesota -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Minnesota -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Oral history ‡x Study and teaching.
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