World War II was a defining moment for Italian Americans. The question of identity had been raised during the First World War, but in 1941 the answer was clear: the first generation-the immigrants themselves-were bound to keep their hearts in Italy and their loyalties in America, while the second generation-the children of immigrants-had no doubt that they were first and foremost American.
Despite the loyalty of the majority of Italian Americans, their status was in doubt in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. The federal government rounded up a handful of Italian Fascists in New York. Some 600,000 non-naturalized Italians bore the stigma of "enemy alien" for almost a year. But the Italian American commitment to the United States was never really in question.
Tens of thousands of New York's young Italian Americans enlisted in the armed forces and served in both the Pacific and the European theaters. At home Little Italies organized behind the war effort, staging countless rallies and Red Cross efforts.