Latin American Hyphenated Italians
-how religious are the communities
The Italian Diaspora communities in Brazil and Argentina are about as religious as the society in which they now live. Since both Argentina and Brazil are Catholic countries people tend to be religious in a Latin way; that is they are very spiritual and they tend to have a faith-life that is filled with saints and rituals. Argentina is more profoundly orthodox in their Catholicism but Brazil too is religious.
-the prejudices faced from the greater society
Italians in Argentina and Brazil have never been discriminated against. In fact Italians make up one of the 'core' groups of these societies the way Germans and Irish are a "core group" in the USA;.
In Sao Paulo and southern Brazil Italian food, words and music are everywhere the best Italian restaurants outside of Italy are in Sao Paulo and their pizza is the best in the world including Naples. In Argentina the Spanish language has been changed and many Italian inflections and words are used as well.
Italians are some of the richest people in these societies. It has been said that when the Italians arrived in the USA they stopped being 'white' Italians and other White Ethnics were an outsider group; while in South America when they arrived they became part of the European class immediately and hence were perceived as superior to the indigenous and African origin populations. While life was hard for Italians in South America it was a totally different immigration. The Italians in South America invented the Tango, profoundly influenced art and writing for example Portinari one of Brazil's most important painters is of Italian descent. The influence of Italians in profound in Brazil and Argentina along with Uruguay, Bolivia, and Chile.
-the perceived contribution (good and bad) to the greater society
Italian and Italian things in Argentina are perceived as "class". In Argentina Italian and Spanish cultures are considered the apex of life along with English that fuse to create the Argentine character.
In Brazil Italians, along with German immigrants are viewed as the hardest working and most important sectors of society. In major business centers like Sao Paulo it is not uncommon for entire companies higher management to be of Italian origin. Italians and German-Brazilians tend to intermarry and have created a powerful upper class that is dominant in Brazil.
In the area of the Arts Italians have brought so much to Argentina and Brazil. I am a poet so I can tell you that in both nations it was the infusion of Italian culture into a predominately Iberian society that lead to many innovations in Art and Culture. Many of the finest painters and artists in Brazil and Argentina are of Italian descent and people with very disparate backgrounds came into art in these nations.
-how common is marriage outside of the Italian community
Intermarriage is very prevalent but in Argentina for example 50% of the population is of Italian origin hence the Italian culture never becomes diluted as it does in the USA. This is also true in the south of Brazil especially Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre a huge percentage of the population is of Italian origin and so the culture does not get diluted. It was estimated by a Brazilian government source that in the region between Sao Paulo, Brazil and Buenos Aires Argentina, an area approximately the size of Italy over 60% of the population of 90 million has at least one Italian grandparent.
-how Italy is perceived
Well, in Argentina Italy and Spain are viewed as the apex of culture. People are very aware of books and culture from these nations and food and fashion are very prevalent. In Brazil this is also true but the ethnic milieu is more varied with German, Portuguese and African cultural influences but Italy is still viewed very well. There is none of the "Anglo Saxon' prejudice of Italy as corrupt et cetera since these nations are also Latin nations and function much as Italy does. It is not widely known that both Argentina and Brazil based their government bureaucracy on the Italian Fascist model and it is very similar to Italy's bureaucratic system today. More than one Italian I know has said that Brazil is the place where he feels more at home outside Italy.
-where he felt most comfortable
I have a unique perspective on this. I speak Italian, Portuguese and Spanish and I 'look' and sound like someone from these countries so I have never been treated like an American in these nations. I found both Argentina and Brazil (and to a lesser degree Chile and Bolivia) more comfortable than the USA as a Latin person the assumptions and body language that are so strong among Italians and Italian Americans are NORMAL in Brazil and Argentina. These nations do not have the cold callousness of the USA and the culture which spawned it. The idea of Dolce Vita is very strong in these nations and this came from Italians I think. In the end if you want to see a culture that is both American and Italian go to Brazil or Argentina it will blow your mind how similar the cultures are to what you know.
The biggest difference with the USA is that Brazil and Argentina being Catholic and Latin possess all the "structures" that Italy possesses in terms of class people, there are still "from good families" in South America. People do not have the rebel innovator mentality that is strong among all Americans. The passiveness and live and let live attitude that you find in Italy also exists in South America.
-the use of the Italian language
Italian is still spoken by many people- in rural areas especially in Southern Brazil there are many whole towns speaking late 19th century dialects and Italian regions finance their schools especially Lombardia and Trento . RAI is available as basic cable in most places.