Laurino (Were You Always an Italian?, 2000) examines the internal struggle between her immigrant roots and her yearning for the freedoms of contemporary feminist goals.
The author uses the cultural imprint of her second-generation immigrant family—focusing on the traditional obligations of wife and mother—to set up the personal conflicts she has encountered and continues to process. Envisioning a broader role for herself than that of her mother—the personification of Southern Italian familial devotion, sacrifice and subordination—Laurino spends most of her memoir attempting to define what that role should be. The impetus toward feminist thinking came at Georgetown University, where a distinctly liberal-minded professor introduced her to the nonfiction works of Virginia Woolf. But when professor Jean Kirkpatrick later became the first female ambassador to the United Nations under the highly conservative Reagan administration, Laurino felt a tinge of betrayal. In a man’s world, she wondered, must women surrender their true beliefs to realize their ambitions? A career in journalism followed, in which she encountered internecine gender conflicts and outright sexist discrimination at the supposedly progressive Village Voice. The author married and became pregnant, which she had initially delayed because of career priorities. Opposed to hospital delivery, Laurino chose the fashionable Manhattan feminist option, the midwife. But hers failed to diagnose a complication that nearly killed the author. Her hereditary nurturing instincts then surfaced to the point where the pressure to make the “right” choices—where to work, how much, where to live, etc.—became even more daunting. However, if contemporary feminism, in search of economic equality, has “devalu[ed] the act of care [by] asking women to perform in the workplace just like men,” she writes, “it will be feminism that lifts us out of these muddy waters.”
Scattershot but heartfelt.