The Italian Americans

For Educators

Becoming Italian AmericanA Journey of Culture, Place and Time

Grade Level

7 - 12

Lesson Overview

What are the real stories of Italian Americans? While popular culture is filled with larger than life exaggerations, the actual history of this crucial American community – and its role in the development of the U.S. – is obscured from popular culture. In this multi-part lesson, students examine Italian American experiences from the earliest immigration, including stories of back-breaking migrant labor, racism and poverty, the centrality of family and the bittersweet process of assimilation, the punishing weight of stereotypes and the accomplishments of successive generations. 

Examining three broad eras and working in groups, students use film as a primary source to construct a timeline of the Italian American experience. As each group identifies and shares critical moments, characters, places and events, the broader narrative begins to emerge. 

Learning Objectives

  • Research specific historical events and characters, and then synthesize detailed information to create a larger narrative.
  • Observe and describe Italian American experiences from the late 19th century to today
  • Reinforce geographical knowledge of the U.S. and migration routes between Italy and the United States
  • Distinguish historical realities from popular stereotypes
  • Cite primary and secondary sources to support an analysis
  • Problematize U.S. history by examining changing perceptions and opportunities for a group that has moved from being “outsiders” toward the mainstream of American culture
  • Compare and contrast the Italian American experience of “becoming American” with other U.S. populations
  • Contextualize personal stories with broader historical events and ideas, including the modernization and urbanization of the U.S.; the rise of the labor movement; the domestic impact of World War II; racism, discrimination and the changing definition of “whiteness”; assimilation; the inconsistency of law with regard to emerging immigrant groups; and the power of media and film in popular culture.

*Depending on which videos a group researches, different lesson objectives will be most salient.

Lesson PDFs

Multimedia Resources

Era I: Early Arrivals

Birds of Passage (video)


Who Killa Da Chief (video)


Fruits of Thy Labor (video)


Up From the Ashes (Video)


Era II: From Italian to American

Why We Fight (video)


Children of Two Worlds (video)


American Idols, Italian Roots (video)


Joe DiMaggio (video)


The Godfather (video)


Era III:  What Is Gained, What Is Lost

The Last Enclaves (video)

Mario Cuomo & Antonin Scalia (video)

Italian American Stereotypes (video)


Return to Italy (video)


Italian American Pride (video)