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In a time when Italians find themselves having to deal with the "problem" of immigrants, it is important to remember other times, when Italy was a "proletarian nation,"from which other, more prosperous countries extracted the most indispensable element for the development of their economies: human labor at low cost. The massive exodus of Italian citizens- over 14 millions between 1876 and 1915- (Baily 27) represented a challenge for the newly unified nation, with which the ruling classes tried to deal in different and often contradictory fashions. Liberal economists and politicians at the turn of the century perceived emigration as a precious outlet ("una valvola di sfogo") which helped to keep a healthy balance in the body politic of the nation: emigration was often compared to blood letting, a medical procedure commonly used to discharge the excess of blood which may otherwise upset normal bodily functions. Moreover, Italians abroad contributed considerably to national economy with the money they sent home to their families. Nevertheless, policymakers became increasingly concerned about the absence of a strong sense of "italianità" among emigrants and their children, who did not seem to preserve, while living abroad, a close connection with the motherland. Therefore, one of the challenges for the Italian government was how to maintain- or in many cases how to create- a sense of Italian national identity in the diasporic communities scattered around the world.


© 2004 by The Johns Hopkins University Press

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