You could call the lifelong work of author Salvatore LaGumina more a labor of love. His rich and storied depictions of the Italian-American experience on Long Island have been published in more than 20 books.
For LaGumina, it’s been about turning the stereotypical portrayal of Italian Americans into truthful documents of the real lives lived by the thousands of Italian Americans who have called Long Island home.
“There is a rich history of contributions of positive things that have been done by Italian Americans, that’s what I have devoted my career to,” he proudly proclaims.
The Westbury Memorial Public Library has invited LaGumina to speak about his latest book Long Island Italian Americans: History, Heritage and Tradition on Thursday Oct. 8, at 7 p.m.
Similar to many of his works from the past, his latest book deals with anti-Italian discrimination. The book details the many accomplishments and contributions of Italian American Long Islanders, from their early works in the Port Washington sand mines, and the expansion of the Long Island Railroad out to Suffolk County, to work in medicine, restaurants, nurseries, politics and more.
His interest on the subject started at an early age when, during World War II, his mother Maria, who raised LaGumina alone after his father died, was registered as an “Alien Enemy” simply because she was an Italian immigrant who hadn’t obtained her U.S. Citizenship.
“My mother and other ‘alien enemies’ were restricted on where they could work, they couldn’t have a shortwave radio or camera,” LaGumina explains.
Years later, while LaGumina was writing his dissertation for a Doctorate degree in History he tackled the subject of controversial Italian American politician Vito Marcantonio. That dissertation paper eventually became the subject of his first book. LaGumina married his love of both writing and history into that and the 19 other books that followed about the Italian-American experience on Long Island. As he explains there was plenty of material to be found.
“Italian-Americans are the largest single ethnic group in Nassau and Suffolk County” he says, of which he proudly is among one of the hundreds of thousands of Italian-Americans who call Long Island home. He still resides in Massapequa Park where he and his wife raised their family, and where he obtained his first history teaching job at Massapequa Junior High School. He then moved on to Nassau Community College where he is the director of the Center for Italian-American studies and is a professor emeritus.
At 85-years young, LaGumina shows no signs of slowing down. He is currently doing research on Italian-American involvement in the O.S.S., the Office of Strategic Services, an organization that preceded the CIA during World War II.
He says his choice of subject matter has been simple.
“I followed the mantra to write about what you know,” muses LaGumina.