Articles by: Anthony julian Tamburri

  • Really? This is Section A news for the United States?

    In order to underscore my point, I would ask that you pause after you read my first question and before moving on to my answer: Who is Prospero Gallinari?

    (New York Times website)

    Now, unless you are around fifty years old, or indeed older, and lived in Italy during the 1970s and 1980s, and/or unless you are an intimate student of contemporary Italian history, you probably have no idea who he is. Indeed, I would submit to you that the majority of Italians would not recognize the name at first blush.

    The question begged here, then, is, why did the New York Times have an obit on him in their obituary pages (p. 25) in the print edition of January 17, 2013, space they seem to reserve for people of a certain stature? Furthermore, the article, now on line, is accompanied with a photo not only of Gallinari but also of the macabre scene of Aldo Moro’s murdered body, as you can see above.

    There is a second occurrence that raises questions. On page 19 of the same Friday edition, the New York Times published an article, a short piece indeed with large print of five lines and a large photo, on nicknames of Italian members of organized crime, beginning with that of someone who had been arrested the day before, and known as "Papa Smurf." 

    (New York Times website)

    Here, too, one wonders. Why would such a prestigious newspaper feel the need to publish such a piece, first of all? Then, why in Section A of the paper? Third, why stretch it all out, so that the piece with its large print and coincidental large photo occupy two thirds of the page, above the fold? Of course, the ultimate question is, why do it at all?

    I’ll stop here, as I suspect I may get the urge to return to this subject of what appears where at another time and in another venue.

  • Op-Eds

    Opera at Its Best!

    On September 6, the world of opera commemorated the 5th anniversary since Maestro Luciano Pavarotti’s passing. He was indeed considered one of the greatest tenors of the 2oth Century. Tenor Luciano Lamonarca, on October 24th 2012, commemorated yet another famous Italian tenor, Mario Del Monaco.

    Luciano, why did you decide to commemorate Mario Del Monaco?

    Mario Del Monaco was and it is considered one of the best tenors ever, and especially the Greatest Tenor of the 20th Century. October, as many of us know, is the Italian Cultural Month in the US, and I do believe in the need to honor and remember those great Italian personalities who brought outstanding contributions to the field of science, medicine, and the arts. Similarly and especially, we should not forget about opera and il bel canto, for which the whole world looks up to us.

    Your event was one of many. How many other events around the world were organized to commemorate Mario Del Monaco?

    There were many concerts around the world, but the most important, in my opinion, was the one performed last August 2, 2012, at the Stiffelio's Theather, in Macerata, Marche, where a stellar cast reunited to celebrate Maestro Del Monaco. The sopranos Daniela Dessi and Fiorenza Cedolins, tenor Fabio Armiliato and the Basso Roberto Scandiuzzi were all there to celebrate Del Monaco. The event was produced by the worldwide famous stage director, Maestro Giancarlo Del Monaco, son of tenor Mario Del Monaco.

    Tell us a little bit about Mario Del Monaco? Why should we remember who he was?

    As mentioned, Mario Del Monaco was and will certainly remain the greatest dramatic tenor for generations. He performed Otello 427 times on stage. An incomparable record! Thousands of pages would be needed to describe who Mario Del Monaco was, but I would like to describe him by recalling those words used by Maestro Giancarlo Del Monaco, who is, as I said, Mario Del Monaco’s son, and, in his own right, a famous stage director of international acclaim: "Mario Del Monaco was not only a tenor. Mario Del Monaco was the complete artist who besides a metallic and powerful voice, was gifted with an interpretative instinct which enabled him to identify himself with any character he performed, thanks also to his great charisma, acting skills and diction that made him unique and incomparable!" Beside Otello, his leading roles were: Canio in Pagliacci (Leoncavallo), Radames in Aida (Verdi), Don Jose in Carmen (Bizet), Chenier in Andrea Chénier (Giordano), Manrico in Il Trovatore (Verdi), Samson in Samson and Delilah (Saint-Saëns), and Don Alvaro in La forza del destino (Verdi).

    You are a tenor as well. How have you been affected by the voice and the personality of Del Monaco in your professional carrier?

    My carrier and my love for the opera was born thanks to Mario Del Monaco. When I was a teenager I was in love with classical music, and in fact I did study clarinet at the "U. Giordano" Conservatory, in Foggia (Italy), for many years. It happened all by chance. I never was very impressed by the current opera stars, but one day I faced the "event" that changed my life. Mario Del Monaco was a very popular tenor, so it happened that even when he retired as a professional opera singer, he was asked to perform and record a few LPs, with Neapolitan and new songs. One of these songs was the famous "Un Amore Così Grande", composed by Guido Maria Ferrilli and arranged by Detto Mariano specifically for the voice of Mario Del Monaco. Well, on the 25th anniversary of my parents’ wedding, that was on January 23, 1996, the DJ selected this song, performed by Mario Del Monaco, for dessert. That was it! I remember the exact moment - it was 05:58pm. I was mesmerized by that powerful and amazing voice. It overwhelmed me like a delicious storm and changed me forever. It was what I call "Love at first listen"! After that experience, I completely felt in love with opera, and I became a great fan of Mario Del Monaco. He made me discover my own vocal abilities, start my studies, and it happened that I also possess a dramatic voice. Often, when I have to perform a certain aria or song, I listen to his recording and find inspiration.

    So, you decided to honor his memory as well, launching an online project, last October 24, 2012, entitled “Remembering Mario Del Monaco”. Tell us a more about your online music project.

    Because of my love and respect for Mario Del Monaco, I thought that I should pay my tribute to this great artist. I put together in an on-line project of information about him for those who are not familiar with his great career. On this web page you will find access to a series of information about the life of Maestro Del Monaco, the opera “Pagliacci” and its most famous aria “Recitar… Vesti La Giubba!" Interestingly, the opera “Pagliacci” had its world premiere in 1892, 120 years ago. You can also read a letter from Del Monaco’s son, Giancarlo Del Monaco, explaining the importance of commemorating the tenor Del Monaco. Finally, you will find my version of the famous aria “Vesti La Giubba!” in mp3 format (thanks to the contribution of Musical Concept who arranged and offered the orchestra version) and which could be downloaded free of charge.

  • Op-Eds

    The Columbus Circle Art Project. Really?

    Introduction: The questions raised by Mr. Guagliardo’s text below, both directly and indirectly, are: “Who speaks for the Italian-American Community?”; “Why can/should there not be an array of voices in/for the Italian-American Community?”; “What is the motivation behind the various and sundry protests for what seems to be everything someone not Italian American does concerning Italian-American issues?”; “How can one be so bold as to criticize/complain about activities and other issues when they do not attend the many activities/watch the various films/read the various books that represent things Italian and/or Italian-American that seem to cause them such a violent case of ‘agida’?”

         These are some of the many questions the Italian-American Community needs to address, that community that consists of altruistic, dedicated members who do not rush to the front of the line to speak to the reporter and/or get their face time on the news, if the event is in fact ever reported.

         In the meantime, I leave you to Mr. Guagliardo’s cogent email below.

    Buona lettura! AJT




    Dear Friend.

    As you may know I have been at the helm of the National Council of Columbia Associations for 12 years. It has been an interesting journey rebuilding this wonderful organization. It is quite rewarding.

    I got to meet many of you…. I have learned so much. But now I need a lesson on understanding what drives some people in our community. I understand we have a need for media attention. But to do it on the heels of something good and sound is just plain confusing to me.

    A few Italian American leaders have come out attacking anyone of Columbus circle. When I asked why I was told “No Italian Involvement,” “the Timing is Wrong,” and “It is a mockery” and “Disrespect to the Italian Community.”

    As I said, I have been the President of the Council for 12 years. 30 years before me a wreath laying ceremony started at Columbus Circle. But in my 12 years, I did the ceremony with 12 people and a singer present. I did it in front of 400 people; I did it with celebrities and Civil Servants. In the Rain, Cold and Heat. On Columbus Day and the Day before. 

    I stood every year with Arthur Pirozzi and Pietro Segalini.  In 2008, Columbus Citizens Foundation and I partnered, spectacular event, with their honorees in attendance and Chair and President. Along with Alfred Catalanotto. 

    Why am I saying this?  I never saw one person in the National Council Ceremony now criticizing the Columbus Circle Project. I'm reading it as if some of you have actually had an interest in an Italian American Organization having an Italian American Project at and Italian Statue named after an Italian. NO sense of ownership at all! Yet some of you condemned it sight unseen. 

    I announced today in public on media with no Italian Organizations other then the National Council and the Media present, to the Mayor my gratitude for the project, I thanked the Art Foundation and the Artist for making it real and feasible. 

    I recall having a wreath laying ceremony under scaffolds the last time the statue was cleaned up, I remember having the celebration when it was the in the center of construction and we feared it was being used as a storage area for the construction company. I remember the Council going early at wreath laying clearing the area, washing the red paint off the statue and the graffiti. And I remember being the only hands getting dirty and the only voice asking for help. And the very people condemning this project really had no interest. 

    I ask only why? In thirty seconds, shorter then it took to write this email, I told the world, anyone who has condemned this project from the ITALIAN American community HAS NEVER supported the Council or a project that was IN FACT performed and sponsored by Italian American projects. When asked I further explained that there was no single voice from the Italian American Community, in fact my quote to Italics was: “The voice of the Italian American Community is just as diverse as the City of New York.”

    It is sad that The National Council has done so much, as have others, only to be stepped on by “leaders” in the Italian American community so they may merely get their names in the paper.

    Is it Ego? Is it because controversy makes you money? Is it something else?  I mean no disrespect; as a blue collar in a blue blood community, I know my place. I only ask to understand, what is the desired outcome to step on an organization that is a hard working symbol of the American way?

    I thank you for your time, and for the incredible amount of support I and the Council have already received once we went public with our side of the issue. But I'd still like to know why from other States and Counties you know what is best for Columbus Circle and the Italians who care for it? 

    AGAIN, I’d like to invite you out on OCT 7, 2012 to our wreath laying ceremony. At Columbus Circle, rain or shine, to hear some wonderful singing by our own singer YONA, and to celebrate the day and person whom we call our own. Bring your children as I bring mine. So they learn the importance of what we do to preserve our past so we have a better future. 


    Joe Gag

    Joseph A. Guagliardo, CSE, CCD, CFE, CCEP, Ed.M

  • Art & Culture

    Italian/American Culture: Journals and Conferences

    The first is VIA (Voices in Italian Americana),

    which is now in its 23rd year.  The editor is Dr. Chiara Mazzucchelli of the University of Central Florida ([email protected]). In an attempt to become more international, with specific regard to Italy and the United States, the editorial board of Voices in Italian Americana has decided to begin publishing articles also in Italian. For more information on Voices in Italian Americana, specifically, and Bordighera Press, in general, please see the Press's website.

    The second journal is the Italian American Review  
    (IAR), a blind, peer-reviewed journal that accepts submissions addressing the history and culture of Italian Americans, as well as other aspects of the Italian diaspora. The editor is Dr. Joseph Sciorra of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute ([email protected]). The journal embraces a wide range of professional concerns and theoretical orientations in the social sciences and in cultural studies. The journal entertains articles about such topics as migration, politics, labor, race and ethnicity, urban studies, gender studies, as well as various forms of cultural production (religious feasts, cinema, music, etc.), especially those addressing societal aspects. The Italian American Review does not publish literary criticism or creative work such as poetry or fiction. The language of the journal is English. Information about the Italian American Review can be found at its website.


    Finally, let me remind you about the Calandra Institute's 6th annual conference (April 25-27, 2013). The theme of our 2013 conference is “Lingue Migranti: The Global Languages of Italy and the Diaspora.” For more information, please click on the following for our Call for Papers.


    Grazie per la vostra attenzione!

  • Op-Eds

    Words Simply Fail Us Sometimes... One school girl killed, one in critical condition, by a bomb in Italy.

    SATURDAY, MAY 19. An explosion occurred today outside a school in Brindisi — in the southern Italian region of Apulia — killing one 16-year-old girl and injuring several others. It was early in the morning and students were just arriving at the school, which offers vocational training and is attended mainly by girls.

         The police found three gas cylinders at the site that were detonated with a remote control. The device was concealed behind a trash can near a wall 50 meters from the entrance of the school. Both the perpetrators and the motive of the attack remain unclear.
         One opinion points to the Mafia, as the school is named after Francesca Morvillo Falcone, the wife of prominent anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone who was assassinated with his wife in Palermo, Sicily, almost exactly 20 years ago to the day, May 1992.
         Other observers point to the fact that the city’s office of the national tax collection agency Equitalia, is close to the school. Equitalia has recently been targeted by bombs and Molotov cocktails in Rome and other cities — and these attacks were clearly aimed at the heavy taxation policies announced by the new Italian government.
         The Apulia Region governor Nichi Vendola said: “It could be either a mafia or a political terrorism attack. It's too early to say. It’s an unprecedented event.”
         Meanwhile Italy’s Prime Minister, Mario Monti, is meeting the G8 leaders in Washington, DC. Mr Monti called both the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, and the President of Apulia, Niki Vendola, to offer solidarity and recommend unity against “subversive violence.”

    The commission of murder per se is an act of infamy at the lowest level. That such a barbaric act takes place in a country that, historically, has given so much to civilization makes it absolutely shameful, and also calls into question the humanity of those who have allowed such things to continue to exist. As Rosaria Costa stated twenty years ago, following her husband’s death at the hands of those who also killed Falcone and his wife:

    And while we are not in Palermo, but rather in Brindisi, nothing has changed, and there obviously can be no “perdono”: for something of this kind, a violence aimed at teenagers, mostly young women, going to a vocational school on Saturday in order to better themselves and, hopefully, have a better future, is simply inscrutable and, we should add, unforgivable.

    How obscenely paradoxical, for the irony is just simply overwhelming, that this is a school where students train in social services, tourism, and fashion, three fields that, each in their own way, underscores a type of inter-connectedness among people: social assistance and welcoming visitors especially.

    This is not an act of rebellion against an oppressive State, a multi-national that exploits the poor and ignorant, nor a dictator who keeps his nation in absolute squalor while murdering those who rise up against such inhumane tyranny, all of which is also questionable. This is an act of terror, whatever it origins, against those young, innocent women for the most part, who have just crossed the threshold of the age of reason and wanted to educate themselves professionally, precisely because, we can assume, they had great hope for their future, and thus for the future of their country as well. Sixteen-year-old Melissa Bassi lost her future this morning at 7:50 am; her six companions were seriously wounded, one barely hanging on to life as I write.

    Italy is a far greater country than what has transpired this morning. Italians are a far greater people that those who set this bomb, and, underscoring their act of inhumane coward-ness further still, detonated it from afar. Let us hope that Veronica Capodieci pulls through, and that she and her sister students continue to have faith in their society nonetheless, and that they will eventually contribute to a better future for and of their Italy.

    In the meantime, we need to express our own indignation as Italian Americans, in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Italy. We need to figure out how we can assist in some fashion. And we need to insist that, while the cancers of other countries are reported and their possible remedies discussed in US newspapers and on TV, so, too, should Italy be the topic of such discussions. We need to examine all aspects of our Italian communities and be sure they are discussed as well on the major networks and in print media. We need to be sure that tragedies of this type receive the rightful condemnation from afar as they receive within the boundaries of Italy. As we sing the praises of Italy, so must we examine its problems: all of its problems and especially those that create such a cancer, as was manifested today, within its society. We simply cannot live in an Italian community within the US where Italy is reduced to statues, clothes, food, Ruby-Gate, and the like.

    During her trip to the US last week, Italy’s Italian Minister of Justice stated: “The Italian war against [M]afia is something we must be proud of, and that we must be credited for.” Well, as we wait to see who exactly is the culprit behind such a vile act, perhaps we should examine our own conscience and try to figure out how we might once again, as i-Italy stated, be productive “testimonies of this and of the values that characterize Italy as a nation.” 

    Ottorino Cappelli contributed to this blog.

  • Op-Eds

    We Didn’t Come Over on the Mayflower!

         In a NY Times article of January 20, 2012, we read the following about different loan practices that were selected that depended on the applicant’s race/ethnicity: 

    From 2000 to 2008, Angelo Mozilo, the chief executive of Countrywide, received total compensation estimated at $521.5 million; in 2010, without admitting or denying any wrongdoing, he paid $67.5 million to settle civil fraud charges brought by the S.E.C.  The Justice Department, for its part, decided not to pursue a possible criminal case against Mr. Mozilo (my emphasis).

    This is in reference to a company that practiced “steering black and Hispanic borrowers to subprime loans while similarly qualified white borrowers got better terms.” This from a company whose CEO is descended from Italians who suffered indignities at the turn of the twentieth century analogous to those that Blacks and Hispanics have and continue to suffer. Between this, Capt. Schettino of the Costa Concordia, the East Haven (CT) Mayor’s reference to his seeming predilection toward “tacos,” and some of our antisemitic paesani, it has not been a good week for Italians/Italian Americans. Po’eri noi!

     While I find all of the above despicable, I am further disturbed by the anonymous letter I received this morning, on the eve of the “Giorno della Memoria” (Day of Remembrance), from someone, given its postmark, from my home town, someone, we might also presume from its closing, is, at the very least, of Italian descent.

       The West Side of Stamford, Connecticut was the working-class Italian section of town where I lived through 1973, when I left a high-school teaching position in order to pursue a Ph.D. in Italian. Stamford was where many Italian immigrants settled, be they the ones “right off the boat,” be they the others who moved to Connecticut in order to escape having to pay the “pizzo” in New York City because, as in one instance, they had a dress shop and were visited regularly by the local racketeers. That there were epithets thrown about over the years, especially in Italian, this, one cannot deny. But what I can state from my own experience is that there were never any fundamentally inhuman articulations of hate, as this cowardly anonymous letter expresses.


         Such hate is born out of fear and ignorance of the “other,” as most of us know. That anyone from our Italian/American community (for I can only assume this person is Italian) to engage in such hateful bigotry and prejudice only underscores how absolutely ignorant this person is of his/her history. Italians themselves at the turn of the twentieth century were treated in a most dehumanized manner, as the Judge magazine cartoon here attached illustrates. In US cinema, one of the first images, if not the first, of the Italian was a small-town crook by the name of “Dago Pete” flashed in big letters on the silver screen. Further still during this period, Italians inhabited the lowest rung on the social latter, being paid the lowest salary among immigrants and members of other ethnic groups. All this to say that a greater knowledge—indeed any knowledge at all—might very well make us more understanding of the plight of the more recent as well as current groups of people who are now undergoing their own trials and tribulations with bigotry and racism, be it here (e.g., in the form of residue bigotry vis-à-vis the Jews) or in Italy, where current immigration issues continue to challenge the Italians in this regard.

         We surely should pause and take a good look in the mirror before we engage in that age-old critical act of denigration and dismissal. I have indeed underscored in various venues the need for a more profound discussion of the issues at hand; one that allows for dialogue and debate. Instead, it seems ever more present the tendency toward an outright facile discharge of other people’s arguments when, on the other hand, we might all better benefit from a more in-depth analysis of the issues at hand. Instead, it seems we often fall into that ready-made, all too fallibly human defense of the “us-against-them” when, once more on the other hand, it should be the “us-and-them,” seeking out the commonalities, historical and/or current, that bind us. Only in this manner, by ridding ourselves of those obscuring, and at times obdurate, “pre-judices,” as labeled within the philosophical realm, will we create greater and more productive synergy.

         In a similar fashion, we should not back down from re-considering past praise we may have lavished on someone to then find out that s/he indeed was not the individual we thought s/he was. The same is equally valid for those whom we, or others, might have misjudged and thus placed them in category of infamy. In either case, we should have the ethical rectitude to admit our initial misreading and offer up a re-constituted interpretation.
         Until I received the above-mentioned letter this morning, there were two issues that had been gnawing at me during these past few weeks. One has to do with the above-mentioned revelations that Countrywide Financial, while under the direction of an Italian American, had engaged in activities that, put generously, might be labeled bigoted. They were, instead, I would contend, more racist than bigoted, by the very fact that they targeted minorities with loans that were more costly, as the NY Times had already stated back in December: “A department investigation concluded that Countrywide loan officers and brokers charged higher fees and rates to more than 200,000 minority borrowers across the country than to white borrowers who posed the same credit risk. Countrywide also steered more than 10,000 minority borrowers into costly subprime mortgages when white borrowers with similar credit profiles received regular loans, it found.” This behavior was allowed, according to the same NY Times article, because it originated “from a Countrywide policy that gave loan officers and brokers the discretion to alter the terms for which a particular applicant qualified without setting up any system to comply with fair-lending rules, the department said. Lending data showed that Countrywide ended up charging Hispanics and African-Americans more, on average, than white applicants with similar credit histories.” Again, all this was done while an Italian American was “the former chief executive of Countrywide.”

         Now, what is wrong with this situation, in addition to the blatant bigotry/racism involved? This was done under the leadership of an Italian American who, we might readily assume, worked his way up the ladder, pulled himself by his bootstraps. Yet, as the CEO of Countrywide, an obvious deduction may be that it was okay for him for such a policy to exist. Is it possible that he did not know of the policy? Who knows? I would remain somewhat incredulous at hearing such a statement articulated in such a categorical manner. Surprising, to boot, is the clamorous silence from the Italian/American community; for if we complain about what we consider to be nefarious acts that others do to us, we surely need to complain about those opprobrious acts our own may perpetrate on others.

         The second of the initial two issues I found problematic is related to the despicable letter I received this morning. There is an Italian/American organization that believes that the Italian/American community should not have to “put on the hair shirt [of the Shoah], as the Italian government has done so in “exceed[ing] other governments” in Europe, as one of its officers stated in an editorial. The questioning of such a commemoration boggles the mind; after all, we are dealing with one people’s experience of 2,000-plus years of forced diaspora and a mid-twentieth-century killing spree that exceeded 6,000,000 Jewish children and adults. As one might say in Italian, how does such a thought even approach—let alone enter—the ante-chambers of one’s mind? Further still, this editorial continues to ponder if this may not be all part of “Italian politicians … looking for more influence in the U.S. Congress via the Jewish lobby.” The editorial continues with a harsh criticism of the Primo Levi Center, only to be followed by a closing exhortation to Italy: “I say this to the Italian leaders and its people: Cut your ties to the Primo Levi Center. Separate yourselves from self-serving academics. Stop darkening your past while others whitewash theirs. There are plenty of hair shirts to go around. We are still a good people—una brava gente.”

         Well, the “we” of this editorial may be “una brava gente”; we just can’t tell in what way they are so “brava” of a “gente”—unless, of course, we are looking at how one can succeed in the re-writing of history and its coincidental devaluation of a people, each of which—I can only assume according to the articulated thought process of said organization—this officer and his ilk wish to propagate.

         Now, at the outset I said there were three horridly problematic issues of bigotry and racism. Well, there is an inevitable, consequential fourth. Given the tragic history of the Italian experience in the United States, especially from approximately the 1870s to the 1940s, how can any Italian American engage in any of the behavioral patterns described above, if ever so briefly? How can an Italian American, whose grandparents and great-grandparents were regularly characterized as non-white, indiscriminately allow his company to exploit financially other minorities? How can an officer of an organization that rationalizes its existence as a platform in order to promote Italian language, culture, and history desecrate so viscerally, I would submit, the tragic history—even in spite of the many individuals who did indeed save Jews in Italy—of the Jewish experience under Fascism? How does an Italian American send such a despicably racially charged letter without even identifying who he is?
         My only answer to all of the above is that their blinded “pre-judices” are born out of the fact that they simply do not know their history, regardless of the plethora of facts they may spew forth about the Roman Empire and afterward. I am, therefore, reminded of something that Richard Gambino recently stated during an interview in this regard: “… Italian Americans have an urgent and necessary need to understand the story—in scholarly accounts (my emphasis)—of their 500-year history on this continent because the dominant culture’s view has it that the Rinascimento culture is not Italian Americans’ defining culture….” Indeed, as the Italian Renaissance philosopher Pico della Mirandola stated in his Oration on the Dignity of Man:
    We, emulating the Cherubic life on Earth, curbing the drive of the emotions through moral science, dispersing the darkness of reason through dialectic, as if washing away the squalor of ignorance and vices, therefore purge our souls lest our emotions run amok or our reason imprudently run off course at any time.
         If only through the pathways of “moral science, dialectic, and reason,” then, perhaps, actions and notions that emulate something similar to Cherubic life would wash “away the squalor of ignorance and vices” and keep people’s “reason [on] course at [all] time.”

  • Op-Eds

    Roberto Saviano and the Problems of Italian America

    As I move forward here, it should become apparent that Saviano’s talk, as well informed and keen as it was with regard to Italy’s organized crime and its cancerous metathesis, also speaks to the issues of Italian America. The answers for many of the issues raised by Saviano and by our three keen colleagues here lie in neither of the two camps—the Italian or the Italian/American—rather, they lie somewhere in between the two cognitive fields of—whatever fancy term we might decide to use—semiotics and/or hermeneutic horizons. Each cognitive community refuses to engage the other in its analytical thinking, reasons for which both fields demonstrate, not too irregularly, a cognitive (tautology desired) dissonance. And so, dear reader, allow me to use Roberto Saviano (con tanto di cappello nei suoi riguardi) as a trampoline for speaking to an underside of the issue that the multitude, I would submit, is either in denial of realizing or incapable of comprehending in an integral manner.

    I agree with Jerry Krase, that Saviano does not possess that intimate knowledge of Italian America that would be required for a truly in-depth experience into the Italian/American mindset. While Saviano is impressively well versed in his knowledge of the Italian scene, his remarks about the States exhibit a certain knowledge gap. This, for me, raises the general issue of how Italy sees us—if and when it decides to look our way. I have dealt with this question of benign neglect in my Italian book, Una semiotica dell’etnicità, where I demonstrated how the Italian intellectuals of American Studies do not consider our literary productions as anything tantamount to warranting the least of their attention.

    In a similar vein, a certain component of the Italian/American community knows little of its Italian and Italian/American history, and, as a consequence, has latched on to the Duchamp-esque ready-made sign that is the /Mafia/. De Stefano is ever so correct in telling us that there has “never been a grassroots, activist anti-Mafia movement here in the United States,” where “[i]nstead, we’ve had anti-defamation protests, led largely by successful Italian Americans who see the persistent Mafia image as an affront to their socioeconomic standing.” I am reminded often of what Richard Alba apparently stated (if memory does not fail me) at the first conference of Distinguished Professor of Italian Americana, held at the Calandra Institute in September 2010, that Italian Americans, so it seemed, felt they needed to forget their history in order for them to move forward in the board rooms of non-Italian America. Thus, by moving forward in such a manner, the coincidental parallel can only be a history gap and, consequently, the falsely presumed un-necessity to know, if not actually analyze, said history.

    This, of course, is where Gardaphé’s statement acquires its greatest value within this context. The lack of intimacy with our history has led those fiercely proud Italian Americans “to combat fictional representations the way Don Quixote went after windmills.” For, as Krase also poignantly states, Italian Americans “should ignore the lucrative excesses of the likes of David Chase, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese [and] instead learn and share the reality rather than the reality shows of Italian and Italian American history” (my emphasis). Precisely because, to return to Gardaphé, “[o]nly though knowledge of self and of Italian American cultural history can Italian Americans successfully develop a culture that both defeats and transcends the mafia stigma that has stained their public image.” All of this underscores, as De Stefano rightly pointed out, “a call for more diverse portrayals, based in the realities of contemporary Italian American life,” which reminds us that the “the anti-defamationists do have a point—up to a point,” as De Stefano correctly distinguishes.

    Thus, we are left with two issues to sum up. First, a call for more diverse portrayals must be preceded by a thorough examination of what we have witnessed thus far on both the large and small screen. Namely, if we are to become exorcised over imagery in the proverbial trio of films such as The Godfather (1972), Mean Streets (1973), and GoodFellas (1989), then we must also take issue with some of the more seemingly positive portrayals, which, in the end, might end up proving just as damaging. One seemingly ignored Italian American on television is the George Costanza character from Seinfeld; a more cumbersome figure would be difficult to create. He is socially awkward, self-loathing, stingy, neurotic, and dominated by his parents, characteristics we may readily associate with the Italian mammone (mamma’s boy). Such buffoonery, simplicity of thought, and, to some extent, goofiness also prove to be part and parcel of the “Italian” family of Everybody Loves Raymond. We need to reach the inevitable conclusion that it is not just the /Mafia/ that is damaging to the image of Italian Americans; there are these other types of images as well, as we have just seen—not to mention others still that spring from other corners of our Italian/American community.

     Indeed, the notion of benign neglect is just as damaging, as Saviano pointed out in his talk, even though he does not articulate the phrase per sè. Benign neglect, to be sure, comes in many forms: the lack of attention to the community that is exercised by mainstream media; the lack of attention to the cultural and artistic performances of Italian Americans from non-Italian Americans; the insensitivity that is exercised by non-Italian Americans when they make those seemingly funny and silly jokes, such as an email this past fall that was sent by a mid-level functionary at a CUNY senior college [see attachment below], and, very much not so dulcis in fundo, the lack of attention to any and all of the above from members within our Italian/American community. This, of course, brings me to my second point. We, as a community, must deal with the issues at hand, not expecting someone else to fix it. But a simple letter of apology, or a sponsor withdrawn, is no great victory. We must go further, and in order to do so, it requires that we engage in that age-old Italian Renaissance notion of “agere et intelligere”; briefly, to do (agere) and to understand (intelligere). But these terms have nuances to them that better underscore the necessities of our challenges; for agere has that extended meaning of doing in the sense of setting something in motion—to make happen, we might say. This, we can do in two ways, to be sure: (a) contribute to the expenses (i.e., philanthropy), and (b) attend the events. Both activities set something in motion and make things happen. Intelligere, in turn, carries the general meaning of “to understand,” which then extends to the notion of deploying knowledge. But intelligere has yet another meaning if we look to its etymology: the “intus” signals inwardness and the “legere” signals reading. We must, that is, to echo all three of our esteemed colleagues mentioned above, look inward, and in so doing acquire Gardaphé’s “knowledge of self and of Italian American cultural history” so that we are able consequently to deploy knowledge about our Italian/American community to the public at large. This is what Saviano has done with regard to organized crime in Italy; he has engaged in the act of intelligere only to be able to agere so that the Italian public at large can have a better handle on the situation of organized crime within their geo-political community.

    We must, in the end, interrogate ourselves before we can impugn others. We must engage in a conversation, come together (cum + versari), and identify those common causes that impact on us as a community at large. We must engage in that activity of dialogue and debate, another age-old Renaissance practice, more so now than ever before, and eschew most vigorously denigration and dismissal, which seems to be, at times, the more prevalent practice, precisely because we have not learned to engage in any form of critical dialogue.

    Unfortunately, we have yet to develop the art of dialogue and debate, through which we might readily discount the disagreements and, more important, recognize the areas of agreement. Blind ideologies, misinformed histories, in some cases total lack of knowledge of such histories—as well as the proverbial, facile egocentric-based, behavioral pattern that has been manifested by many—have lead to various and, dare I say unnecessary, impasses and roadblocks that, otherwise, might have surely allowed the individuals and their various and sundry groups to engage in a collaborative politics of culture that could only move forward a more general agenda of Italian Americana. As Saviano urges us to do, in a welcomed rebuke of this form, as well, of benign neglect, “Parliamone!”

    PS: Un caloroso augurio a tutti quanti per un 2012 alquanto più collaborativo da tutti gli angoli della comunità italiano/americana. E a quelli che non riescono a digerire in qualunque forma sia questo che altri messaggi simili offerti recentemente da altri, gli offro un aforisma pasoliniano da ponderare: “Sei così ipocrita, che come l’ipocrisia ti avrà ucciso, sarai all’inferno, e ti crederai in paradiso.”

  • Op-Eds

    Is it possible that we just can't help ourselves?

    This past week (September 16), Andre DiMino, past president of UNICO and current president of the New Jersey group, “Once Voice Coalition,” was a guest on Neil Cavuto's show. But I am not here to discuss the content of the conversation, even though it is, to be sure, one that could very much interest many of us. In the world of those who speak out vociferously against stereotyping, Andre DiMino is surely the most articulate: he is well spoken; he speaks in a linear and comprehensive manner; indeed impressive is his vocabulary (“optics” was one of the words he laid on Cavuto); and he does not necessarily shoot from the hip. In many ways, all of this makes him a very fine spokesperson. But the content of his five-minute conversation with Neil Cavuto is not the subject of my thoughts in this venue.

    Instead, I wish to speak, ever so briefly at this juncture, to Neil Cavuto's closing of the segment. His flippant, apparently joking comment was, I assume, intended to be funny. But within the context of the segment, it could only result as dismissive of the previous five minutes and, consequently, offensive to both Andre DiMino qua DiMino and to all Italian Americans who believe as DiMino does—that Italians in the United States constitute the lone ethnic group that can still be publically ridiculed with no consequences. Cavuto ended the segment by turning to the camera and, while signing off, stated: “You don't want to mess with him, he’s all Sicilian.”

    Sometimes a joke is not “just a joke”! More significant, sometimes even amongst ourselves we need to be more serious as we discuss certain issues. Are we too sensitive? The answer to the question is on an analogous scale with “beauty”: it is in the eyes of the beholder.

    I would have almost preferred that another of Fox TV's announcers made such a supercilious comment, one who is not Italian American, which would make more sense to us all. Instead, Cavuto, an Italian American, as one can only deduce from his closing comment, just could not take seriously Andre DiMino and his claim that New Jersey’s $420K credit to “Jersey Shore” for production costs was offensive to Italians and, as a consequence, willy-nilly (my terminology) contributes to the promulgation of a negative stereotype. With this final statement, Cavuto, for all practical purposes, as I mentioned above, dismissed both the specific claim and the basic concept that Italian Americans can be victims of a discrimination that has it roots either in individuals or in any system of various sorts; and for this last possible scenario, one need only note that, for reasons too numerous to mention here, Italian Americans are an “Affirmative Action” group within The City University of New York.

    While we may not all be on the same page vis-à-vis discrimination against Italian Americans, I believe that most of us would admit moments of uneasiness with how Italians are sometimes portrayed in the various media. One need only look to some of our local papers and news broadcasts.

    Cavuto’s behavior, in turn, reminds some of us that of our many Italian/American sisters and brothers in prominent positions of authority in its many facets (financial, cultural, and the like), a good number seems not to boast of their Italian-ness in non-Italian venues. It reminds me of a recent segment on “The Chris Matthews Show,” of Fox’s mirror opposite, MSNBC. At one point, Matthews, in speaking with two guests about something not ethnically based, suddenly blurted out a statement similar to the following: “We’re three Irish-American Catholics here. What do we think of…?” And he went on to underscore how they might ponder the issue at hand, during that segment, as Irish Americans. With all the Italian Americans in the various media, I have yet to hear/read an analogous statement regarding an Italian/American slant to their opinion on something not necessarily Italian/American, and not some ethnically bleached out pronouncement that seems formulaic to the umpteenth degree.

    This, I would submit to you is a major part of our problem. The Italian Americans in positions of any form of “power” need to be more vocal about who they are ethnically and, when appropriate as it was with Chris Matthews during his show, put it up front on the table.

  • Italian America and September 11, 2001

    One of the saddest tragedies in U.S. history, September 11, 2001 is also linked to a certain degree to the history of Italians in America. First, among the policemen, firefighters, and others who thrust themselves into harm’s way in order to save others, Italian America lost more than three hundred of its American citizens of Italian descent. If we then consider Italians who worked in the States at that time, we might readily add ten (some say thirteen) more names, and this would lead to a number even more astonishing for our community. Secondly, many Americans of Italian descent played a major role in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center, some well known, others not.

    There are various names that come to mind when we think of that infamous date and the subsequent series of events that, even today, continue to have their impact. There will always be etched in our minds, for example, a harrowing chain of consequences: the literal and metaphorical void, which still, ten years later, continues to engulf the many families of both the victims and survivors of this tragic disaster, including a large number of Italian Americans; nightmares that so many survivors, together with all those who rushed to help, still suffer regularly from night to night; and, worse still, the many people who, even if they survived those fatal collapses of buildings through the rubble, continue to suffer, in these subsequent years, from the many respiratory diseases, as well as other maladies of an even greater destruction, of both a physiological and psychological nature.

    All this will never be erased from our memory, because, together with our many recollections of loved ones lost in this cowardly attack, every time we watch a movie that was filmed in New York before this inauspicious date, we will forever see those two magnificent towers.

    Those Twin Towers, even in their absence today, continue to constitute a symbol of the determination of America, as well as a sign of the concept of human potential that here, even today, the United States represents. It is indeed that America to which our Italian grandparents and great-grandparents aspired and which many young Italians still seek out today, their number ever rising from year to year within this new Italian immigration to the United States, the so-called “fuga dei talenti” (the “flight of talent”).

    Who among our Italians in America comes to mind? Obviously, Rudy Giuliani, who was finishing his second and last term as mayor. Not necessarily the happiest of administrations according to various pundits, Giuliani nevertheless had proven more than capable of taking control of the situation and responded as effectively as possible, given the extraordinary conditions never seen before.

    This was clearly visible in the days immediately after the attack; he was a mayor who coordinated the response of the various municipal departments and who simultaneously organized the support of state and federal authorities for the World Trade Center, for the restoration of the damaged infrastructure and for future anti-terrorism measures. Giuliani also communicated frequently through radio and television during those days, pointing out the various precautionary measures and specifying, for example, that there was no reason to believe that, connected to the attack, there was also a plan for the dispersal of chemical or biological weapons.

    Eventually, the outgoing mayor, sometimes the target of strong criticism on his administration, emerged from this tragedy with a reputation as a public figure more positive than before, and more positive, which may seem an unfair comparison to some, than that of President Bush in those very same days.

    The other person who comes to mind, less known especially outside the scope of the five New York City boroughs, is Peter J. Ganci, at that time Chief of New York’s Fire Department. Having immediately rushed to the WTC from his command post in Brooklyn with his friend, Dan Nigro, then Deputy Chief, Ganci gave start to the relief efforts. He was in the basement of the first tower when it collapsed, lucky to have survived. Meanwhile, convinced that the second tower would soon collapse, Ganci ordered the mayor and other commissioners to get to safety, remaining behind with the Rev. Mychal Judge, chaplain of the Fire Department, and William Feehan, first deputy commissioner. Then, according to reports by survivors, Ganci refused to leave his men, and when, moments later, his prediction came true, and the other tower then imploded, the three who had stayed behind to help others instantly perished.

    More than three hundred forty-three firefighters died on 11 September 2001, and at least sixty-nine were of Italian origin; among the twenty-three policemen who died in the WTC, four had Italian surnames. If we were to add those of mixed ethnicity, one would easily surpass one hundred, perhaps one hundred twenty-five. Others in the Italian/American community of New York offered aid and assistance in the aftermath, such as a group of outreach counselors from the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute (Queens College, CUNY), whose Associate Director of Counseling and two additional counselors offered emotional and psychological therapy to more than one thousand survivors of the disastrous attack on the WTC.

    At this juncture, the anniversary of September 11, 2001 will forever remind us that the notion of brotherhood, a feeling of reciprocity for our neighbor, both in the literal and figurative sense of the term, is the most efficient way to build an honest and fair world based on coexistence and respect towards the other. This reminds us today of what Dan Nigro, former Chief of Fire Department, recently stated, as quoted above: “While ignorance and hatred may have been the cause of the tragedy of 9/11, concern for one another and the spirit of shared values ultimately triumphed.”

    We Italian Americans—immigrants, children, and grandchildren that we may be—have learned this lesson of solidarity through the immigrant experience. And as we remember our ancestors who had endured for our benefit, so let us remember our brothers and sisters of September 11, 2001, Italians and non-Italians alike, who suffered the ultimate sacrifice so that others could be spared such an overwhelmingly violent and irrational end.

  • Op-Eds

    Why Liberal Arts Should Be About All Languages.

             In his The New Republic blog of December 13 (, John McWhorter tells us that he does not feel as bad about “this new trend [i.e., “the disappearance of French, German, and Italian departments”] as [he is] supposed to,” despite the fact that he is a “former French major and great fan of foreign language learning.” It is, in fact, his use of the word “trend” that I find both problematic and, I would underscore, emblematic of a certain dominant cultural trait in the United States vis-à-vis languages other than English. The not too implicit message, we can assume, is “If you don’t speak English, too bad!” [Or, as some of our parents and grandparents were told in 1942, “Don’t speak the enemy’s language,” referring to German, Italian, and Japanese.] McWhorter then follows with a series of questions—rhetorical to be sure—that only obfuscate the issue at hand.


             The issue is, of course, one of access to the study of languages at major universities. Now, I am most willingly to concede the notion that all colleges and universities, regardless of student population and resources, should—indeed, can afford to—offer all subject matter, and this would include for me some languages, some sciences, and other fields students might want to study; and, here, McWhorter and I agree. SUNY Albany, however, is a major university, a research one university that, contrary to the small, struggling private college, should indeed offer, if not all subjects, indeed the majority. It is one of four major universities in a system of sixty-four universities/colleges. That said, languages such as French, German, Italian, and Latin should be available at such universities, given their importance to Western Civilization, since, as McWhorter himself tells us, “Europe has been the main cradle of Western thought.”

             McWhorter, however, continues with the following statement: “{B]ut let’s face it, you can be richly immersed in [“Western thought”] via solid English translations; Nietzsche need not be read in the original. There’s an awful lot of world beyond Europe; people speak some languages there too, and in our times, a liberal arts education should focus on them.”

             This is nothing short of western colonialist behavior, a hegemonic thought process that follows what can only be a steadfast notion of survival of the linguistically fittest, and monetarily based, I would add. That Nietzsche—or other major thinkers such as Dante, Machiavelli, Rousseau, Voltaire—can be read in translation is absolutely true; one can surely acquire the general meanings of their texts. However, if we are, in any manner at all, to adapt and/or bounce off of their thoughts and ideas in any profound manner, we simply cannot rely on the English translation. The very use of the term “Superman” in English, for instance, is not the same as the original “Übermensch”; the difference being that über may connote a greater quantity of something, a sense of superiority, or excessiveness; and mensch, in turn, refers to a member of the human race, a person, or, in the singular, humankind, not “man.” There is a similar problem, I would submit, with Niccolò Machiavelli’s concept of virtù and Baldassare Castiglione’s notion of sprezzatura, two terms that have sparked dialogue and debate over the past five centuries, consuming thousands and thousands of reams of paper. In the first case, the term actually transcends “moral virtue” and refers instead to one’s abilities to acquire and maintain political power, among other things; in the second case, we are dealing with a term that is supposed to describe the art of making the difficult seem effortless, among other things, once more.

             That there is “an awful lot of world beyond Europe; people speak some languages there too,” as McWhorter states, is absolutely true. However, that “in our times, a liberal arts education should focus on them,” as McWhorter continues, is debatable for sure. The “should” is, in fact, the problem. It underscores the “trend” that McWhorter mentions at the opening of his article and thus unmasks his own susceptibility to the latest fashion, as opposed to the more encompassing notion similar to one that might be articulated as follows: “a liberal arts education should [allow students the opportunity] to focus on [a number of languages that would peek their interest and offer them a broader understanding of the world around us].” This is what we should expect of any major college and/or university in this country, nothing less. To belabor his point further by posing questions with language such as that which McWhorter does toward the end of his piece—“[S]hould it be expected that any university worth its salt have majors in those languages?”—only contributes to a further obfuscation of the issue.

             This is nothing more than “cultural relativism” that causes the knee to jerk in reaction to the latest trend on the horizon. In his keen response, Russell A. Berman (First Vice President, Modern Language Association) speaks to the dangers of the US risking ignorance of the mindset of “key European allies” ( In a similar fashion, Italy’s Ambassador to the United States, Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata rightfully underscored the “cultural vitality of the euro-Atlantic identity” and its relevance to the “future of the ‘Atlantic Community’,” in a recent lecture entitled “World Affairs Council Italy, United States and the Transatlantic Relations” (unpublished paper). A significant message in Terzi di Sant’Agata’s cogent lecture was about our need to know, comprehend, and continue to negotiate and develop our understanding of this long-standing “Atlantic Community,” as he called it, that “Euro-Atlantic dimension [which] initiated—and gave momentum—to institutions, laws and ideals that today are a true ‘heritage’ for all of us,” as McWhorter himself would agree, as we saw above. Gaining profound access to such knowledge, be it historical or current, clearly entails access to/through the primary portal to that repository, its language. Thus, we simply cannot give way to those “fashionable trends” or “short-term interests,” to which “[a]t times even experts” give in, as Terzi di Sant’Agata correctly states. It is paramount to a denial of nourishment, in this case a socio-cultural one, which would only allow us to move forward as Dante did, with our “piè fermo sempre … ’l più basso” (“firm foot … always the lower” [one of manyinadequate translations], or, limping along, as others might say).
             In closing, I surely agree with McWhorter to some degree. Yes, the “world is [clearly] smaller by the hour. Our sense of which foreign languages are key to a serious education cannot be,” however, and this is where we part ways, “founded on” what some of us consider to be a type of cultural pluralism that seems to be based on a relativism that is shortsightedly cultural, political, and, let us not ignore, mercantile. Our future generations deserve much better.