Families and cultural diversity in Australia

Historical publication – December 1995

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7. The Italian-Australian family: Transformations and continuities

by Ellie Vasta

The Italian1 family in Australia is an 'immigrant' family and will remain so for the next few generations. This means that, even though a large number of Italian-Australians were born in Australia, they still have links with parents, grandparents and other family members who originally emigrated to Australia between the mid-1940s and the early 1970s, when the majority of Italians arrived. The Italian-Australian family is not a fixed entity. In the post-war years through to the 1980s it was simple enough to identify the nuclear and the extended Italian family because the majority of adults in those families had emigrated to Australia.

Nowadays, in line with the changes which have occurred within families nationally, the Italian-Australian family is diverse and conforms to a variety of family types such as nuclear, extended, single-parent and dual-career. There are socio-economic and urban/rural differences (Bertelli 1985; Castles et al. 1992) in relation to the Italian villages and cities which immigrants came from, and these differences also exist in Australia (Cresciani 1983; Kelly 1983; Andreoni 1983). Regional differences are fairly evident among Italians, though in Australia they are not as consequential as prior to emigration. Class differences within Italian communities are more evident among the second generation2 than the first, of whom the majority remain in the working class.

Families and social change

While differences between groups are an important analytical feature of family research, the central focus of this chapter rests on the process of social change. Although there are numerous sociological theories of change, for the purpose of this chapter it is necessary to consider change as a social-structural process. This means that we understand society in terms of structures of ideologies and practices, forces, long-term processes and projects, and action.

Within this framework, notions of the 'family' over the past 30 years have become less certain and more ambiguous. No longer is the family seen as the unified and unproblematic haven of yesteryear. The family today is controversial and full of contradictions and ambiguities. Childbearing, child rearing, the construction of gender, allocation of resources, mating and marriage, sexuality and ageing all fit into our idea of family (Gittins 1985, p. 70). Yet these practices and beliefs change over time and vary across cultures and between groups. Donzelot (1979) argues that families should be perceived as far more flexible than is often the case. He suggests that the family should be seen 'not as a point of departure, as a manifest reality, but as a moving resultant, an uncertain form whose intelligibility can only come from studying the system of relations it maintains with the socio-political level' (p. xxv). The family, then, is intrinsically involved in the process of change, as both perpetuator and creator of changing social and structural relations.

The dynamics of social change which have occurred within Italian-Australian families can be explained in terms of four substantial themes.

First, a major transformation occurred for the first generation of Italian immigrants with their shift from a peasant to an industrial society. This created dramatic changes in their work lives, as well as in their cultural milieu and family relations. In addition, the past 50 years have seen massive demographic and technological changes which have led some to insist that western societies have become post-industrial; that is, they have shifted away from manufacturing-based production towards knowledgebased production (Touraine 1981). Technological changes and changes in ideologies and institutions have had significant impacts on the Italian-Australian family.

A second theme relates to the changes in Australian government settlement policies. These policies have provided a basis for the state to maintain some control over families or, as Donzelot (1979) so aptly put it, the policies have operated through the government of families. The majority of Italian immigrants arrived in Australia while a policy of assimilation was firmly entrenched. The policy and ideology of assimilation created many conflicts and struggles between parents and children who felt they were caught between the ideological and political demands of two cultures. The change to multiculturalism has provided immigrants with a basis for ethno-specific service.s and a platform for action but, as will be noted below, it also functions as a process of normalisation or social control.

A third significant level of change relates to the position of women in the family and to their child-rearing practices. The women's movement, better educational facilities, upward social mobility and better knowledge of Australian institutions have contributed to women's improved situation in the family. These developments have also altered women's relationships with their elderly parents and have modified their child-rearing practices.

An associated and notable factor is the generational change which has taken place in the Italian-Australian family. Although there have been generational changes in Australian society generally and changes in family patterns, the particular form they have taken in the Italian-Australian family provides an analytic basis for this chapter. Given that the majority of Italian-Australians now belong to a longstanding immigrant community, for ease of analysis I shall make a distinction between first- and second-generation Italian-Australian families.

The first-generation family comprises adult immigrants and their children during the first three to four post-war decades of immigration. The category is very fluid and also includes families which were formed before the war as well as those in. which one partner is Australian-born. The second-generation family consists of those Italian-Australians who were born, or grew up, in Australia and whose children belong to the third generation. This category is more likely to contain a blend of first and second generation adults. The adult age cohort is between 20 and 50 years. Again, the boundaries are flexible and the distinction between the two types of families is not simply one of time of arrival and age. Indeed, one major characteristic relates to differences between the generations of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and those of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.3

For this chapter, interviews were conducted with Italian-Australians, mostly of the second generation, from two communities.4 Given the diversity of families within the Italian-Australian community today, the interviews cannot claim to be representative of the views and characteristics of all Italian-Australian families. Nevertheless, together with the research outlined in this chapter, they are . likely to indicate tendencies within Italian-Australian families and communities, and important issues for the future.

Work and the Italian-Australian family

An issue common to all Italian-Australians is the world of work. The first generation came to Australia to work and to provide their children with better life chances than they themselves had experienced. The majority of Italians who arrived in Australia in the post-war years came from rural areas or from small towns. During Australia's post-war reconstruction and modernisation the men began to work as unskilled construction and factory workers while the women worked in unskilled manufacturing jobs. Italianborn immigrants were often assigned to heavy, dirty and dangerous jobs, with a good deal of overtime. Segmentation meant that workers entered at the lowest point of the labour market and, since the jobs were defined as unskilled, upward mobility was very difficult (Panucci, Kelly and Castles 1992). Consequently, many Italian immigrants formed part of what became known as the 'Southern European occupational ghetto' (Lever-Tracy and Quinlan 1988, p. 82).

Earlier, in the 1940s, many Italians were employers, since pre-war settlers were often small farmers and shopkeepers. But by 1986, 67 per cent of Italian men were employees, only 10 per cent were employers and 17 per cent were self-employed. Of the women, 72 per cent were employees, 7 per cent employers and 13 per cent self-employed. Among Italians the rate of self-employment is higher than the Australian average (Collins 1989).

First-generation Italian women frequently worked long hours and would carry out their second shift at home where there was often a clear division of labour. Typically they experienced the discrimination of the heavily gender-segmented Australian labour market. Not only were they discriminated against by employers, often they experienced racism from their fellow workers. Some felt humiliated because they did not understand what was being said or because they were called derogatory names. Reports of sexual harassment at work are not uncommon. In order to care for their children at home, Italian women often interrupted their employment or took up outwork (Alcorso and Harrison 1993; Fincher, Webber and Campbell 1989; Pesman Cooper 1993).

In Australia the Italian-born have historically had one of the lowest rates of unemployment. In 1989, for instance, Italians had a 3 per cent unemployment rate compared with 6 per cent for all Australian-born people in the labour force (ABS Queensland 1990, p. 92). However, the rate varies; in areas with a high immigrant population, such as the Illawarra, immigrant unemployment is higher than the national average.

High levels of retrenchment and occupational injury have placed a strain on the first-generation Italian family. Retrenched Italian men aged between 40 and 50 years are often unable to find new jobs due to lack of sufficient English or training (Morrissey, Dibden and Mitchell 1992). This has meant that some Italian women have now become the chief carers of unemployed and depressed husbands and have lost previously gained independence. Other women have become the sole breadwinner in the family.

An analysis of 1991 census figures on level of qualifications and occupational status shows that many of the second generation have become upwardly mobile. For example, the proportion of second-generation Italians with skilled or basic vocational qualifications (16.5 per cent) was higher than for the total Australian- born population (13.9 per cent) and for people born in Italy (11.7 per cent). On the other hand, 37 per cent of the second generation had obtained some form of educational or occupational qualifications. This figure is slightly below that for the total Australian population (38.8 per cent) though considerably higher than for the Italian-born (25.5 per cent). The proportion of the second generation who have post-secondary educational qualifications is 11.8 per cent compared with 12.8 per cent for the total Australian population. The proportion of the Italian-born in this category was substantially lower (3.3 per cent) (BIPR 1994b, p. 44).

Thus, while the upward mobility of Italian-Australians is clear from these figures, the second generation lags slightly behind when compared with the total Australian population (Vasta 1992). It is worth noting that approximately 60 per cent of second-generation Italian-Australians and 60 per cent of the total Australian population are categorised as having 'no qualifications'. (The category includes persons still at school, aged 15 years and over, and instances where qualifications are not stated.)

The statistics also reveal gender differences. For example, the percentage of second-generation Italian females with no qualifications (including those still at school and in the 'unstated' category) is higher (67.1 per cent) than that of second-generation Italian males with no qualifications (58.9 per cent) (BIPR 1994b, p. 45). Of 241 563 second-generation Italian-Australians aged 15 years and over, 601 males (0.5 per cent) and 215 females (0.3 per cent) have higher degrees while 7.0 per cent of males and 5.8 per cent of females have bachelor's degrees. However, the proportion of second-generation females who have completed post-secondary qualifications (12.3 per cent) is higher than that of males (11.3 per cent) but lower than that of all Australian-born females (13.5 per cent) (BIPR 1994b, p. 44). On the other hand, 20.5 per cent of males and only 4.5 per cent of females are in the skilled vocational category (p. 45).

Changes in women's labour market participation and work experiences have also occurred from the first to the second generation. As Gittins (1985) explains:

Market relations and labour contracts are as much a part of family households as they are of the formal economy, and are implicit in the marriage contract and legislation affecting families. Work is just as much an integral part of families as it is of formal organisations, with the crucial difference that it is neither formally paid nor formally acknowledged as work. (p. 166)

Although both generations of women have worked the 'two shifts', changes in gender relations, as well as the changed economic circumstances of the past 15 years, reveal different experiences of labour market conditions. Through to the mid- 1970s many Italian women worked in unskilled manufacturing jobs. Due to lack of appropriate child care they slipped in and out of the paid labour market according to their child-rearing needs. Many took on outwork because other female family members were also in paid work. Nowadays it appears that many second-generation women do paid work while their children are still in their pre-school years and, due to the high unemployment rate, they tend to hang on to their jobs. While their children are still young, many have also taken on training and retraining by. doing TAFE and other courses, typically unavailable to their mothers. Unlike their mothers before them, they can choose to have their mothers or other family members look after their children rather than place them in child care centers.

The family is also changing through an ideological shift from the family as a collective to the centrality of individuals within the family unit. For example, whereas in the first-generation family financial arrangements were more tightly controlled by the parents for the benefit of the whole unit, the second-generation family now allows children more freedom to deal with their own money. Although there are still families which will attempt to buy each child a block of land, many now take the position that children have to take their own responsibility in this regard. As one man interviewed stated:

They have to pay for their own things. I might help. In my day, Dad used to give me everything. They used to do everything for the kids. Now, a lot of parents have changed to make sure their kids learn how to be responsible. Today, kids don't appreciate money like we used to. So they have to learn to pay their own way.

Apart from teaching children responsibility, second-generation Italian families live more middle-class, consumer-oriented and expensive lifestyles than did their parents. Their general standard of living has risen. Whereas the first generation rarely took holidays, the younger generation do, sometimes travelling extensively overseas. They are also more likely to buy expensive clothes and pay more for entertainment.

It should be noted, however, that there are numerous cases of children's unemployment being absorbed by parents. In dire circumstances the family will pull together and parents and extended family will employ out-of-work family members. Some parents have been known to buy a small business for their unemployed children who may have trained in an area that yields few employment prospects. Also, many Italian parents will insist that their children take any work available, even if they cannot find a job in the area in which they trained.

Immigration policies and the Italian family

Typically, immigration entrance and settlement policies have had contradictory effects on immigrants and their families. The relationship between the state and families is important and is particularly significant for women (de Lepervanche 1991). Families and women have an ambivalent relationship with the state. On the one hand, the welfare state is premised on the assumption that women are dependent on the state and on men (Hartmann 1979). On the other hand, women have relied on and expected state action on such issues as free contraception and child care facilities. Further, the state relies on women's unpaid work to carry out necessary welfare services.

During the 1950s, although many Italians arrived in family units, a large number of married men came without their families in the hope of finding work and paving the way before sending for family members. Many single men arrived on two-year contracts, under the auspices of the Commonwealth Government. This led to an imbalance of the sexes within the community. The problem was exacerbated by the insularity of the Anglo-Australian community and the antipathy of Anglo-Australian young women towards Southern European men. The chaperone system for Italian girls and the fact that Italians also preferred to 'marry their own kind' led to various socio-cultural outcomes. One practice was that men returned to their villages, married and then came back to Australia with their new families. In other cases, they would remain in Australia and arrange a proxy wedding, often because they feared they would lose their work here if they returned to Italy, or because they simply could not afford to return.

The Australian state supported the ideology of patriarchal family relations. The proxy marriage played a significant part in the way women were positioned within the Italian family. During the 1950s and 1960s, the patriarchal ideology that women were the possession of their men meant that, in marriage, responsibility for women was passed on from father to husband. A woman's virginity was of paramount importance in the transaction since the husband had to be assured that his new wife had not been' used' by another man. Although it is not the place here to analyse the historical and complex patriarchal and economic bases of these customs, it can be said that women were constructed as madonnas or whores who were expected by the Australian Government to come out and contain the unruly Italian male who had fallen into a disruptive 'espresso-bar' lifestyle (Vasta 1993). Basically, assimilationist ideology held that families should be encouraged because it was thought that immigrants would assimilate most successfully through families, and particularly through the women.

For the Italians, the situation was rather more complex and contradictory. While the women had to be patriarchally 'pure' in order to be accepted by their husbands in Australia, a woman's 'purity' was also seen as an important foundation for her authority in her new family and in her new community. There was also a pragmatic reason for proxy brides to marry before they came to Australia. By legitimising the union before they came to an unknown country, and often unknown husbands, the women at least gave themselves some assured status by arriving as wives rather than as fiancees who could be more easily dumped on arrival, as some were.

Italian families have also been affected by policies concerning family reunion. In the early post-war years especially, the 'family reunion' immigration category was often controlled to allay fears of too high an immigrant intake. An extended family for immigrants, particularly in the early years of immigration, is a basic social need and immigrants have had to struggle to extend the family reunion category to include siblings.

From the 1950s through to the 1970s, the maintenance of culture and the formation of community played a major role in helping people deal with the consequences of assimilationist attitudes and policies. It was the Italian family which provided the basis for continuity in cultural and community activities. Official immigration discourse during the assimilationist years claimed that immigrants would be assimilated if they learned to speak English, but very little was done to help them achieve this. Language classes were too few and often ran at unsuitable times, especially for women. Despite the belief that immigrant women should assimilate, surprisingly little was done to help them do so. The English-language attainment of Italian women was always lower than that of their menfolk (Vasta 1991).

Assimilation policy had other notable effects on the Italian Australian family. By its very nature, the policy was racist in that it devalued other cultures by officially stating that immigrants were to become like Anglo-Australians and should discard their language and traditions in favour of the Anglo-Australian way of life (see CIAC (Dovey Report) 1960). One of the consequences of assimilationist ideology was that the problem was seen to lie in the deficiency of minority individuals, their families and their cultures, rather than in the racism arising out of the interests, attitudes and practices of the dominant culture.

Assimilationist strategies often had destructive effects in Italian- Australian families. Whereas parents resisted dominant Anglo child-rearing practices by demanding that their children speak their mother tongue at home, and by continuing many of their native cultural traditions, their children often interpreted their actions as authoritarian behaviour. Indeed, this was a common interpretation by researchers as well (Cronin 1970). In fact, what was often perceived to be the authoritarian Italian family structure can be regarded rather differently-as a set of family strategies used to deal with an alien cultural environment and with the racism of assimilationist policy. Ultimately this policy helped strengthen Italian family unity.

In some of the earlier research, which used a 'culture conflict' model to explain the problems experienced by the second generation, it was clear that the teenagers were using a similar model to explain their own problems with their parents. The second generation were made to feel ashamed of their home culture as the following statement suggests (Vasta 1978):

I don't talk to my parents much because they don't understand how I feel. I don't befriend Australians because I feel ashamed to tell them that I've been nowhere during the weekend. They used to ask me if I'd been let out of prison. That really hurt me [1S-year-old girl]. (p. 19S)

The statement implies that the parent's ethnic minority culture is deficient and something to be ashamed of whereas, in reality, racist attitudes in Australia contributed significantly to that shame (see Vasta 1994 for a discussion of the 'culture conflict' model). The second generation of the 1960s and 1970s thus often blamed their parents for many of their child-socialisation practices because they were seen as a deficient aspect of a disrespected culture. For second- and third-generation teenage girls of the 1980s and 1990s, multiculturalism has contributed to a different relationship with parents (see below), who are more confident and better informed about the culture in which their children are growing up, and who thus have relationships with their children which are more understanding and open to negotiation.

To be effective, however, multicultural policies and practices need to take account of the changing needs of different cohorts of immigrant children. Some parents complain that their children are put into English as a Second Language (ESL) classes when they do not really need them because the parents are second generation, they speak English at home and English is the children's first language. Some second-generation Italian parents interviewed for this project claim that teachers do not distinguish between their children and recent arrivals; they simply distinguish the children by their surnames. Multicultural education has an important impact on immigrant children and their families. Kalantzis and Cope (1987) suggest that:

...multicultural education needs to be strengthened to include a more powerful equity component ... Equitable multiculturalism would require both the mainstreaming of multiculturalism through all traditional curriculum areas and differential· educational strategies to singular social ends; participation and access for all students ... Thus multiculturalism should: 1) aim at social equity through multicultural curriculum strategies and 2) tackle the pressing problem of racism directly. (pp. 19-20)

Multiculturalism has also changed the way in which social services are delivered-with contradictory effects for Italian families. The ethnic group model of the 1970s gave an important role to ethno-specific services, often delivered through community organisations such as COASIT (Italian Association of Assistance) and FILEF (Federation of Italian Immigrant Workers Families), and supported by grants-in-aid from the government. Access to services in this period depended partly on the presence of community organisations in a specific area, which in turn reflected the size and coherence of the community. The idea of ethno-specific services often meant welfare on the cheap and de facto marginalisation from normal government service provision (Jakubowicz, Morrissey and Palser 1984).

The trend towards 'mainstreaming' since the mid-1980s has implied that all government services (both Commonwealth and State) should become sensitive to the diverse needs of all ethnic groups. 'Access and equity' and 'social justice' policies are meant to ensure this. Ethno-specific workers find their role reduced to one referring people to mainstream services. While the theory sounds fine, in practice it has often meant a lack of accessible and appropriate services for certain groups. Italians in particular have been told that as a well-established community they no longer need grant-in-aid workers. For instance, in the Illawarra in 1994, at the time when this chapter was being written, funding for the Italian grant-in-aid risked being withdrawn on the grounds that Italians could easily access mainstream services. This would have serious effects for aged people who for linguistic and cultural reasons feel very isolated in normal day care or nursing homes.

Location is also an issue: distribution' of funds seems to depend on the political clout of a local community. Community workers in Fairfield, Sydney, with its large component of Italian aged, argue that the area is severely underfunded compared with more. affluent parts of the city (Rasoni 1993b). All this will impact seriously on the aged themselves, on the second-generation family and the women in particular, since they do most of the caring ,in contemporary society (Finch and Groves 1983). Language, ageing and industrial and health issues are long-term concerns which have been persistent barriers to equal and full participation for women. However, funding for ethno-specific services or for measures to improve accessibility is invariably ad hoc, short-term and precarious.

Despite the limitations outlined, multiculturalism, as a societal philosophy which promotes acceptance of cultural diversity, has had a positive effect on the Italian-Australian family. Many will claim not only that the Italian community has challenged AngloAustralian insularity but also that there is more diversity within the Italian community today than existed during the early post-war years; this they suggest is due to multiculturalism. One notable effect is that young Italian-Australians have friends of different ethnic backgrounds, and they intermarry with people from other cultures. Many of the second generation feel they are truly bicultural, which they see as preferable to being monocultural. Nevertheless, there have been numerous changes within the Italian family and the Italian community which has meant that the relationship between the two has also changed significantly over the years.

Individual, family and community

For Italians there is still a strong belief in the sanctity of the family. To some extent this is reinforced by religious beliefs, although the Catholic Church today has a diminishing presence for and influence over the second generation. In the early post-war years, the first generation of Italian immigrants fostered an extended family network for economic and social reasons. Siblings and parents often pooled their resources in order to buy their own housing and businesses. They did so because many came from rural areas where the extended family unit operated as a source of economic and political organisation against the exploitation of the landowner. In Australia this practice was continued because it was seen as a speedy way of gaining economic security and was a necessary response to the barriers which the immigrants faced.

Immigrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds were often discriminated against by banks and the legal system when they applied for loans, and were frequently ignorant of their rights and lacked the information required to deal with these institutions. Consequently, they started businesses with very little information and few resources. Many succeeded despite their lack of knowledge of Australian culture and the English language. Often Italian parents relied on their young children to act as their interpreters and translators. Much as the children resented this practice, it promoted a sense of family unity for the children and helped maintain a distinction between the public and the private face of the family.

First-generation parents would often say to their children that the family's problems had to remain within and be resolved within the family. This was often explained in terms of la bella figura (to the public one should always present an image of well-being and success despite the likelihood of a different reality in the private sphere; that is, within the family unit). In rural Italy this behaviour served peasant communities well as a means of survival against exploitative landlords and other families with whom they competed. La bella figura was a sure way of saving face against extreme poverty.

In the early years of settlement family unity was important for economic and social survival within an alien environment. Today in Australia this notion of the Italian family unit has changed. With the second generation reaching adulthood and setting up their own families, the needs of the individual have taken prominence. A major reason for the shift is that the needs and location of various members of the family have changed significantly (Hartmann '1981). The altered position of women in the division of labour and· in society generally has brought about significant transformations within the family unit. Second-generation Italian families no longer have as important an economic function as families had for the first generation even though, as Hampel (1984) shows in his study of second-generation Italians, they successfully incorporate family-oriented culture with the individualism of Australian capitalist society. The following statement from a parent interviewed in preparing this chapter encapsulates the change: 'Before, family unity was important. Now the individual is-kids are doing good for themselves'. This does not mean that the family has lost its importance to Italian-Australians. The relationship between the family and the individual fits comfortably with current ideologies concerning the parent-child relationship and with the upward mobility of the second generation. Nowadays, as members of a longstanding community, Italian-Australians (excluding the elderly) have bicuItural and muIticultural skills which help them deal diffen;ntly with socio-cultural and political problems (Rando 1992).

Changes within the Italian family have meant significant shifts within the Italian community. In the course of the interviews conducted for this book one recurring question was: 'Can we speak of an Italian community? Does an Italian community still exist or is it simply an imagined community?'. Everyone replied, 'Yes, there is an Italian community', but all were quick to add that it has changed. In the past the Italian community was more cohesive. Because of a lack of English proficiency people supported each other more. For example, in the early days (the 1950s to 1970s) there were fewer community organisations and events, and people socialised in their homes with extended family and friends. Parents 'kept a tighter rein' on their children and families often socialised together. Nowadays, children go out and organise their own entertainment, socialising far less with their parents than did the youth of the earlier immigration period.

In the early post-war years the Catholic Church was a strong and cohesive force in the community (Pittarello 1980; Gucciardo and Bertelli 1987). Today, some believe that too many people have strayed away from the Church. Although many of the second generation still attend Sunday mass, the Church does not have the same function of bringing people together in a social sense as it did for the first generation. The second-generation family has a different socialising pattern and it does not require the Church to undertake a social coordination role. Nevertheless, feast days and religious icons remain important to Italian-Australians (Pittarello 1990). There are mixed ideas about the importance of a Catholic education for children. In the interviews some mentioned the importance of a moral education for their children, others felt this could still be achieved in the family. All stressed that there is a new approach to child rearing (discussed below) which emphasises different issues from those that were seen to be important during their own childhood.

The advent of television has brought about changes within the Italian community, as it has for all other communities. Many claim that when they did not have television they visited family and friends more. The widespread use of the telephone has also brought about similar changes; now people will often phone each other rather than pay a visit. Many insist that the community still exists because it continues to organise and celebrate important functions. However, entertainment now occurs outside the family-at clubs and {esti (celebrations). Thus the 'community' has become more impersonal. This does not necessarily mean that ties have weakened, as will be seen below in regard to community issues concerning the needs of the elderly.

There are a number of explanations for the changes within the Italian family and community. One has to do with modernisation. The majority of Italians who emigrated to Australia came from rural areas and they continued many of their timeworn cultural traditions when they moved to an urban setting in Australia. For example, while the structure of their lives changed in Australia, reliance on the extended family, which they knew they would need . in order to survive in an industrial society, was maintained. In contrast, the standard of living and way of life of the second generation is different from that of their parents. Those of the second generation rely more on television for entertainment; unlike their parents, they use the telephone for socialising purposes; their child-rearing practices are different; and they have gained the necessary knowledge and skills to deal with Anglo-Australian institutions.

In addition, the second generation have become the cultural brokers for their communities. There is strong evidence of this in several Italian communities where the second generation work with the first to maintain welfare service provision for older Italians. In Fairfield, Sydney, a committee consisting of first- and second-generation Italians was established to help the community become better serviced. This working class community had for years resourced itself through the help and under the auspices of organisations such as the Marconi Club. Local community workers argued that the area was not receiving an appropriate share of government funding channelled through established non-government organisations such as COASIT (Rasoni 1993a). In the Illawarra the second generation are joining the first in the political arena to continue the work of the Italian Social Welfare Organisation, previously managed by first-generation Italians alone.

Women and the Italian-Australian family

The position of women and child-rearing practices have changed from the first to the second generation of Italian-Australian families. Unequal power relations continue in the second-generation family, but they appear to be better negotiated between family members than they were in the first-generation family where women and children were compelled to find workable strategies to deal with authoritarian husbands and fathers. Many of the second-generation women interviewed believe that paid employment has made them more independent than their mothers, who did not work outside the home. Similarly, many first-generation women who were employed outside the home gained more independence than did their friends who worked only at home. The second-generation women interviewed claimed that their mothers were the focal point of the family, and that both parents took part in important family decisions. However, younger women appear to make more decisions than did older women; their relationships are far more equal than those of their parents. Women consider themselves to be more independent because, as one women put it: 'Women are more knowledgeable. Women now know more'.

The implication is that women are now more aware of their rights. They are less likely to accept domestic violence passively, as they know which avenues to pursue if necessary. Although it is difficult to determine the incidence of domestic violence in Italian-Australian families, it is fair to assume that it would be similar to the national average. Second-generation women will be better able to deal with the problem than their mothers were. The effects of the women's movement have reached younger Englishspeaking women, and second-generation women, having grown up in Australia, are better equipped than those of their mother's age group to deal with Australian institutions.

Although divorce rates rose in the 1960s and 1970s in Australia, they have remained consistent around a figure of 40 per cent since the early 1980s (McDonald 1993). Italians have had one of the lowest rates of divorce, and this may be largely explained by the Catholic Church's resistance to divorce (Bertelli 1985). The divorce rate may be higher for second-generation marriages than for those of the first generation, though this is difficult to ascertain from current statistics.5 Nevertheless, Hardey (1994, p. 4) concludes: 'Divorce rates, the proportion of de facto relationships, sole parent rates, and birth rates outside of marriage are lower for the non-English-speaking-background population than the general population, and for the overseas-born compared with the general population'.

Although many second-generation women insist that there is now more of an equal division of labour at home, this is usually talked about in terms of 'men now do more around the house' and 'men do help a lot now', indicating that women continue to take chief responsibility for home management, housework and child rearing. The situation is similar to that in the average Australian home (Bittman 1992). Gittins (1985) maintains that although 'patriarchal values arise in, and are inculcated in, families ... they are not specific to families. They permeate and influence society at all levels: political, economic, ideological and familial' (p. 58). Thus, under patriarchal capitalism, the second-generation Italian-Australian family is likely to be as patriarchal as the average Australian family. Most of the women interviewed believe they have acceptable levels of contact with their families because parents and aunts care for their'children during the day. However, contact which is focused on children and child care is viewed as different from 'socialising time', and often leaves less time for general social interaction with their families. Because they work outside the home and have less free time to socialise, second-generation women feel they are losing many traditions, including the Sunday family lunch.

The first generation of Italian immigrant women have been the 'cultural custodians' of Italian culture and tradition in Australia. The older generation had more contact with the extended family and there was more community involvement than there is nowadays. As a result of the changing role of women in the labour market and in the home 'there is a sense of tradition being lost. This loss is bemoaned by some.

The loss of tradition, however, needs to be analysed more closely. What is being lost is the Italian traditions of the 1950s and 1960s, many of which no longer exist in Italy today. Culture is a living process. The second generation have combined traditional Italian culture with current-day Australian and Italian cultures and those of other ethnic groups they have experienced in multi cultural Australia. Many are more attuned with presentday Italy because they have travelled, and because communication channels between Italy and Australia are more extensive. Because of their Australian experience the second generation are more likely to have a multicultural cuisine than were their mothers, who adhered mostly to Italian-style cooking and recipes.

The impact of modernity on families creates concern among many people who feel that economic, cultural and global changes affect all traditional practices and lead to strong feelings of uncertainty (Cheal 1991). Among second-generation Italian-Australians one senses a note of ambivalence of the kind expressed by Berman (1982): 'To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation _of ourselves and the world-and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are' (p. 82).

The Italian aged

The changes which are occurring m families in longstanding 'immigrant' communities are nowhere more evident than in the issue of how to care for the elderly. One of the biggest problems for aged Italians is the prospect of being placed in an old people's home when they are no longer able to care for themselves. For many second-generation families with both partners working, this is often the only option. The elderly are resisting, often through moral pressure, because as many children admit, Italian parents give an inordinate amount of help to their children. Many families feel they do not have the choice. Nevertheless, as one woman interviewed for this project said:

I can't imagine putting my parents and parents-in-law into an old people's home. Our parents have done so much for us. They are looking after my children so that I can go to work. One day I will look after them just as they have looked after my children.

This implies that if daughters and daughters-in-law are able to stay home to look after their children then the elderly will have their wishes to be cared for fulfilled. If daughters have to do paid work, the problem is not easily resolved. A number of Italian communities are providing 'Italian' care for the elderly. For example, in 1988 the Marco Polo Association in the Illawarra, after years of fundraising, built the Unanderra Nursing Home in conjunction with the Uniting Church. The nursing home provides bilingual staff for the aged. Other Italian communities are beginning to look to culturally appropriate ways to extend current provisions generally provided by the Catholic Church.

There is a contradiction in the issue of how best to care for the Italian aged. Many parents have taught their children to seek wealth and be independent of them. In time, as standards of living have arisen, the importance has shifted from the extended family to the nuclear family. As a result, caring for the aged has become a major source of conflict within the Italian-Australian family. Such conflict arises in a society which structures its time (work and leisure) around the needs of capital, not around the needs of non-workers such as the young and the elderly.

The extended family network which reaches out to family and relatives in the native villages and towns of Italy is important for older Italian-Australians. Families have maintained close links with relatives in Italy and many have inherited houses and tracts of land. In recent years there has emerged the phenomenon of 'commuting grandparents'. Elderly Italian-Australians often have children living in Italy and in Australia and so divide their time between them. Others travel to Italy because they prefer the village life they left behind and an environment where they can speak their mother tongue, but commute because they find it very difficult to be separated from their children and grandchildren in Australia. The ability to commute is made possible by Commonwealth Government arrangements by which pensions may be sent to recipients in Italy.

Parenting and the second generation

Second-generation Italian-Australian parents perceive themselves to be far less strict with their children than were first-generation parents. Because the community is not as close-knit, younger parents do not feel the same moral pressure from the community as did the older parents. 'The old adage 'What will the neighbours say?' and the importance of la beUa figura are well remembered by the second generation as a source of conflict during their childhood. Second-generation parents see that many other parents like them are easier on their children. For the second generation there is not the insecurity and the pressure to survive economically as there was for the first generation. Some parents interviewed mentioned that parenting is made easier now because there are many cultures in Australia with a variety of child-rearing practices, and there is not the pressure for everyone to conform to the same practices.

Although the Italian-Australian family generally has been childcentred (Cronin 1970), the second-generation family is more concerned with individual rights. As one parent interviewed stated:

The main reason is that our children are more aware of their rights. They are more aware and better informed. They know if parents abuse their rights. If, for example, you say to your kids, 'Have you seen your grandparents?', they don't like it. We can't force them like our parents did. They have a lot of pressure to deal with two cultures.

Many interviewees agreed that, compared with their own upbringing, parents now explain more to their children, they have better communication with them and there is a desire to treat children as individuals. Others agreed that they did not know their rights as they were growing up because of the influence of an authoritarian Church and authoritarian parents. Many concluded that their parents had come to a new culture which they did not understand or trust and so clung to their old and trusted ways. At that time the Church, the community and the family combined to put moral pressure on children to stay within the family. The second generation have grown up in Australia; they feel more comfortable operating in a multicultural society and so are able to accommodate more than one culture in their lives.

One of the most significant changes within the Italian-Australian family is the freedom gained by girls. Parents are as concerned about the education and future job prospects of their daughters as they are about their sons' and, unlike the period in which the second generation grew up, many daughters are allowed out unchaperoned. Younger daughters are usually allowed out only in groups and others are not allowed out until they are 18 years old. Many parents worry when their daughters are out with boyfriends. They claim it is very difficult to let go of daughters even though many agreed that young women can often look after themselves better than young men can. In any case, all groups of parents interviewed claimed they simply had to let go of their children at a certain age, even if only to allow them to make their own mistakes. Second-generation parents of southern Italian background are still probably stricter with their children than those from the north. However, gone are the days of the proxy brides and chaperoned girls. In addition, thanks to the effects of the women's movement and changes brought about by multiculturalism, Italian-Australian girls have a slightly better chance of receiving a higher education than their mothers had.

Marriage and sexual relationships

Although they would still prefer their children to marry partners of Italian background, second-generation parents claim that they do not mind if their children marry people from other ethnic groups. In this regard they perceive themselves to be far more tolerant than their parents were. It should be remembered, though, that their parents were dealing with people from unknown cultural backgrounds. Now, whereas the older members of the second generation married more across regions, the younger second generation and the third generation are marrying more across ethnic groups. With multiculturalism, the second and third generation believe they have a far better understanding of people from other cultures and so fear less the idea of intermarriage.

Many of the second generation believe, however, that marrying someone from another religion is more problematic, though one way around the wedding impasse is to have two religious ceremonies. This does not solve the problem of which religion the children should be raised in.

Greater tolerance for difference does not seem to extend to children who may be lesbian or gay. Many of the interviewees claim they would still accept their homosexual children but would prefer they were heterosexual. Homosexuality is not a widely discussed topic in the second-generation family. The situation has been examined by Pallotta-Chiarolli, who claims that Italian lesbian women do not 'come out' on account of the racism they experience in the wider society, and do not 'come out' at home for fear of double rejection (Pallotta-Chiarolli 1992).

Premarital cohabitation does exist among Italian-Australians but continues to be frowned on by the community. This is due to particular aspects of the parent-child relationship as well as the position of children in the Italian family. Gucciardo and Romanin (1988) remark: 'This ideology is based on the understanding that children are an integral part of the family unit until they marry ... "Leaving home" before marriage is also condemned because it implies some intrafamilial conflict; it throws doubt on the parents' ability to guide and educate their children' (p. 29). Leaving home and premarital cohabitation are proportionately lower for Italians and other Southern Europeans than for the general population (McDonald 1991a).

A tradition which has changed is that of mothers providing their daughters with a 'glory box', often collected over the daughter's lifetime. Many second-generation daughters today have linen stacked away which they vow they will never use because they do not like it. Second-generation mothers, in particular those from southern Italy, will buy their daughters only a small amount of linen at the time of the wedding so that the daughter can enjoy using something she likes. Italian weddings have also changed. They are now smaller and more stylish rather than big and ostentatious. The second generation do not have to display their success as did the first generation. As a result, the whole community is no longer invited to such events as they were in earlier days.

Finally, some parents are concerned about the racism experienced by their children. They believe that the Italian language is dying with the third generation because children are made to feel different. Many believe that racism is more damaging to children than it is to adults. Those interviewed also commented on racism in the labour market (how it relates to who gets jobs and how people are treated on the job) and racism (that is, name-calling) between northern and southern Italians. Such name-calling often occurs in a lighthearted way and it was believed that it would not stop the younger generation from intermarrying.

Conclusion: family, community and identity

Currently, the second-generation Italian-Australian family is the torchbearer of a transformed Italian culture in Australia. Although it is true that, during adolescence, many of the second generation rejected their parents' language and culture, this rejection, though often seen in personal terms, had several complex causes. These included the vulnerability of adolescents, embarrassment caused by racism, and recognition that the adoption of middle-class Anglo norms would lead to educational and occupational success. However, it would appear that, as adults, many of the second generation are highly involved with their Italian heritage and operate comfortably with a bicultural ethnic identity. Unlike the situation in the United States, where the second generation rejected their parents' culture and the third generation returned to it, in Australia there is often a return to Italian culture and identity within the one generation. The second generation have reconstructed the Italian-Australian family, thus changing the Italian community and providing links between the Italian, the AngloAustralian and the other ethnic communities.

Immigrant cultures and identities are historically and politically constructed. Ethnicity is continually negotiated and is a constant source of transformation for people of immigrant background. If Italian-Australians continue to associate, both through family and cultural practices and (politically) through cooperation to secure welfare provisions, then Italian-Australian identity will continue. However, as the experience of each generation changes in relation to immigration, class position and the politics of the dominant group, identity and welfare needs will also change.

With third- and fourth-generation Italian-Australians6 reaching adulthood and starting their own families, there are likely to be more changes_ Italian identity will mean less to these generations than to previous ones. It is here that the question of ethnic and national identity becomes highly relevant. As we move towards the millennium, Australians are questioning their national identity through the debate on becoming a republic. Australia is still a country dominated by Anglo-Australian institutions and culture, which discriminate against both Australia's indigenous people and immigrants of non-English-speaking backgrounds. Multiculturalism has provided a new model for accepting diversity, but it is still at an embryonic stage. There is a continuing need for reflection, and for an understanding of the relationship between ethnic and multicultural identities and how they work within and across family and national boundaries.


1 Throughout this chapter the terms Italian and Italian-Australian are used interchangeably, since they are used interchangeably in the vernacular. If the term Italian is used to refer to Italians in Italy or elsewhere this is clearly apparent from the context.

2 There are two broad definitions which form the basis of what is commonly understood as 'the second generation'. The first is a statistical definition, which refers to the Australian-born children of overseas-born parents. The second is a socio-political definition, which includes people born in Australia of overseas-born parents and people who arrived in Australia during infancy or early childhood. For a more detailed definition, see my chapter on the second generation in Castles et al. (eds) 1992.

3 These socio-political periods are arbitrary in a sense because they could be explained according to any number of changing socio-cultural and political characteristics rather than to any specific time frame. In this chapter I am more concerned with the effects of socio-political changes on the first- and second-generation Italian-Australian family over the past 50 years.

4 About 30 women and men were interviewed. I would like to thank those people from the two communities of Wollongong and Fairfield, Sydney, and Franca Cortese in particular, who gave generously of their time for interviews with me about the Italian-Australian family. Apart from the research cited in this chapter, much of my analysis is based on these interviews and on my own observations and informal interviews within these two communities since 1988.

5 It is still difficult to obtain a broad range of statistical data about the second generation, i.e. those of non-English-speaking background born in Australia, as opposed to those born overseas. Often the second generation are included in an 'Australian-born' category, thus removing the ability to differentiate ethnic background data.

6 There is still very little specific research on third-generation Italians. There are fears that this generation is 'losing' the Italian language (see Clyne 1991a), but little is really known about their educationaVemployment achievements and the ethnic identity issues that may concern them.