“Enemy Aliens” in Our Midst
at Calandra Institute

Italian residents were deemed "enemy aliens" and were required to carry passbooks.
Clara Orsini, twelve years old, was in seventh grade when government agents came to her home one day and, without warning, took her mother and grandfather away. A powerful foreign enemy had shocked America, and at home a nation’s traditional civil liberties were cast aside in the name of domestic security. The year was 1941.

Now, more than 60 years later, the Italian American Museum, in collaboration with CUNY’s John D. Calandra Italian American Institute at Queens College, is presenting an exhibition, “Prisoners in Our Own Home: The Italian American Experience as America’s Enemy Aliens,” that explores the highly topical subject of the fate of Italians’ civil liberties during World War II.

The exhibit examines the profiling of more than 600,000 Italian residents as “enemy aliens” during the War. It will run through February 2003 at the Museum at 28 West 44th Street and then travel to schools across the city.

“As we today struggle to preserve civil liberties and ensure homeland security, we cannot forget the lessons of the past when our nation targeted populations, such as Italian immigrants, solely because of ethnic background or country of origin,” said Dr. Philip Cannistraro, Distinguished Professor of Italian American Studies at Queens College and the Graduate Center, at the opening ceremony. Cannistraro also serves as Executive Director of the Calandra Institute.

In New York City, home to the nation’s largest Italian American population and led by Italian American Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, Italian immigrants were photographed, fingerprinted, and registered with the Department of Justice and the FBI. The government told Italian resident aliens to stay off the streets after dark, and daytime travel was restricted. Italian resident aliens in the city carried bright pink enemy alien passbooks, with photo ID and fingerprint. Spoken Italian in public places was officially discouraged.

In Washington, D.C. the Attorney General decreed that an Italian’s “enemy alien” status alone was tantamount to probable cause, effectively suspending Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure. Mothers, laborers, opera stars, even the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio felt the sting of the “enemy alien” act: it applied to DiMaggio’s father, a fisherman, who was prohibited as an enemy alien from plying his trade or even visiting his son’s waterside restaurant in San Francisco.

The exhibit is open M-F between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Educators will also be able to access documents, download curriculum and view lesson plans by visiting the museum website (www.ItalianAmericanMuseum.org), where a virtual tour will be available. For further information contact the Italian American Museum at 212-642-2020.

 

 

Contents October 2002

$7.5M State Grant Launches Incubator Network

Students Reaping Benefits of Technology Fee

Georgian Elegance, 21st-Century Technology Joined in Reborn Brooklyn College Library

Launching LaGuardia Students Toward Animal Planet

From ’60s Activist Ranks to Executive Suite

Digging the City’s Past

Poet Laureate Collins Takes his Cue on Evil

A WWII Mobilization in The Tale of The Ticker

Subversive Feminist Julia De Burgos Celebrated at Hostos

Italian "Enemy Alien" Experience in WWWII

Museum at Queens College Spans Six Centuries of Art

Celebrating Scholarly “Pleasures of the Mind”

Valued Vets Toasted at the Central Office

CUNY Responds to Powell’s Call for More Minority Diplomats

LaGuardia and Lehman Honored for Freshman Year Programs

Former Brooklyn College Philosopher Turns Philanthropist