Room Four: The Approach of World War II

The interwar years between 1919 and 1941 were not the best for Italian-Americans in general. The Sacco and Vanzetti trials brought unwanted suspicion of anarchism to those of Italian descent, and the notoriety of mobsters such as Al Capone was embellished in the fledgling film industry. The efforts of Mussolini to court the loyalty of Italian immigrants brought about the establishment of many pro-Fascist organizations, and when the war started many others were suspected of harboring pro-Axis loyalties. Most distressing to Italian immigrants was the internment of non-citizens in the early part of World War II. While not as extreme or as long as the Japanese-American internment, this came as a shock to the Italian-American population of California, which had established itself in the state economically and politically, and had experienced a relatively small amount of prejudice in the past. It was perhaps, an irony that it was the U.S. government that unified Ligurian and Sicilian rivals in their designation as "enemy aliens," causing them to see themselves as Italian-Americans.

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