The Italian Americans

For Educators

Italian Americans and WWIIHeroes & Aliens

Grade Level

7 – 13+

Lesson Overview

World War II represents a time of change for Italian Americans. In a nation that has seen them too often as resident foreigners, Italian heritage communities eagerly take steps to prove their American identities on the battlefield and on the home front. While the sons of Italian enclaves ship off to both the Pacific and Europe, New Jersey’s Rosie Bonavita becomes the iconic “Rosie the Riveter.” But, the war also reveals fissures in the national ideals so readily defended by these new Americans: even as sports icon Joe DiMaggio enlists, his parents are labeled as Enemy Aliens in a process that would restrict and sometimes intern a small percentage of the nation’s Italian American community. In this discussion-based lesson, students examine multiple perspectives in wartime and explore the tension between national security and individual rights.

Learning Objectives

  • Examine World War II through the multiple perspectives of Italian Americans
  • Analyze the contradictions of wartime policies with regard to the classification and internment of Enemy Aliens, make connections between diverse groups
  • Use primary documents including newsreels, war posters, oral histories and official notices to document contrasting portrayals and attitudes of and toward Italian Americans

Lesson PDFs

Multimedia Resources

Why We Fight (video)


Joe DiMaggio (video)