On Looking (at Old Photos)

Joseph Luzzi

I spent a lot of time the past few years looking at old family photos – a family I never knew (it would be more accurate to call them by the antiseptic term “ancestors”). While writing my memoir My Two Italies, I researched my family’s history through the material evidence of their lives in southern Italy, before they immigrated to the U.S. in the 1950s. All of it was deeply affecting – my grandfather Carmine Crocce’s naturalization papers, my father’s war citation, my siblings’ Italian birth certificates, and my mom’s Italian identity card, which listed her profession as casalinga,” “housewife.” But nothing moved me like the photographs. The negatives have long since been lost, and I had to rely on multigenerational prints, some deeply faded. Yet the chance to look into the eyes of the people I was writing about brought them to life.

Before the book, my grandparents were only…

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