Elevate Difference

Old World Daughter, New World Mother

Taking us from her childhood to the present, Maria Laurino explores what it’s like to be an Italian American woman through the lens of identity, feminism, ethnicity, motherhood, pregnancy, and economics in Old World Daughter, New World Mother_. Laurino unveils the restrictions she faced as a feminist daughter, as well as all that a traditionally Italian upbringing entails. We learn of her severely over-protective mother who gets up at dawn to make the day’s meals, how this mamma’s_ actions and attitudes have rippled across the pond of Laurino’s life, and why this mamma did not serve as a role model for her daughter because she remained stuck within an ever “motherly” and self-effacingly sacrificial role.

This theme of sacrificial motherhood is ubiquitous in the book, and Laurino later ties it in to her deep analysis of feminism and motherhood in America today. In a way, Laurino’s story is epic because it is both personal and boundless. At least part of her story—her thoughts and feelings about life lived through the stark lens of feminism—will resonate with most readers. While Laurino is fond of details her humanity broadens their reach, which is precisely what makes this book so touching, graceful, and important.

Laurino shares the connections that she forms with herself and everyone around her, even when they’re not reciprocated. There is enough intimate divulgence to let us perceive our narrator’s sensitivity in the face of a callous world, and we see strength inhabit Laurino as she surpasses obstacles to evolve into the writer who lived to tell the tale. As I read, I truly marveled at the uninhibited candor and courage stemming from this person who is, in the end, so much like each of us.

This book deals largely with “reconstructive feminism” or “family humanism.” Laurino explores ways in which feminism can approach class and economic equality, mitigate the difficulties of working-class parents (women in particular), and deconstruct the myth of independence anchored in American culture that leads mothers to make false choices about their careers. When she interviews Nidia, a working-class mother who lacked the opportunity to get to know her children because she had to work (with no benefits, minimal vacation time, and no flexibility to even use an office phone to call home and check that her children had gotten home safely from school) an embarrassed Laurino if Nidia is a feminist or supports the movement: “’Let me see,’ [Nidia] replied with a sly smile, ‘is that when women fought for the right to employment?’”

Essentially, Laurino believes it imperative that the “two strands of the women’s movement—one that sought to protect women’s interests as wives and mothers, the other that fought for universal human rights—converge once again.” She affirms there need not be contradiction in a “feminist motherhood agenda,” which would serve us all—mothers and otherwise—supremely well. Laurino introduces ideas for legislation to guide us in moving forward that utilizes cultural perspectives inspired by her Italian upbringing. She also suggests actions we can take right now.

Appropriately, this book has reminded me that we are all linked together. We all matter because we are all riding the same wave of life, as Laurino likes to say, and injustice against one will duly impact everyone riding it—and so will compassion. This is a memoir that cruises through politics, ethnicity, motherhood, and identity politics while pulling the reader back into the palpability of these encompassing themes.

Old World Daughter, New World Mother is an important and potentially paradigm-shattering book with a lot to offer feminists, especially to those privileged enough to get their hands on it. As Laurino walks us through her deconstruction of myths, prejudices, and familial ingrained ideas, her concepts breathe a tender and brave vitality onto us, and stretches our minds to blur misconceptions about motherhood, ethnicity, class, the economy, and feminism itself.

This book is nourishment. Don’t miss it.

Written by: Natalia Real, July 18th 2009