Articles by: Anthony julian Tamburri

  • Facts & Stories

    Some Night Thoughts on the Termination of Italian Language Programs

    At the end of last month a number of us were informed about the cancellation of numerous programs at the University at Albany, SUNY. One of these programs is its Italian Studies program.


    In my sending out the email below this past October 4, one of the numerous people who received it was a reporter from the NY Times who, rightfully so, mused if universities can do it all. The musing is indeed valid; not all universities can have programs, especially majors, in all areas. However, when the university in question is one of four major research universities of a system, one might indeed expect those four universities to be able to do it all, or at least most of whatever all is. This would include the likes of Italian, one of the programs under the proverbial knife at the University at Albany, SUNY.


    Unfortunately, the situation with Italian at the University at Albany, SUNY is not unique. In the past few months we have heard of other places where Italian is under attack. The University of Tennessee has informed their faculty that the major in Italian will be eliminated, and Italian will be reduced to language teaching; a curriculum of advanced courses for those who wish to major in Italian will not longer be available. The same has taken place at the University of Nevada, Reno. There, where one lone professor over the years has succeeded in building a program (the Minor in Italian), this year the University announced that the Minor in Italian will be eliminated, and, similar to what is planned at the University of Tennessee, Italian will be limited to first- and second-year courses.


    The history of Italian studies programs in the United States is long and convoluted, and I shall spare you that history. There is, I would nonetheless submit in the meantime, an analogy to the specific problem at hand; and it is in the issue of anti-Italian defamation through mediatic representation that many of our co-ethnics have indicated and lambasted over the years. In discussing the many roots and continuation of the anti-Italian defamation issue, one aspect that arises is the lack of support from the community at large for those fighting this anti-defamation plight.


    Having begun teaching Italian in 1972 at a high school in Stamford, Connecticut, and then later passing on to the college/university level, I can confidently, and sadly, state that support from the Italian/American community at large has been minimal, at best. Now, one might argue that there is a bit of a town-gown gap at both the high-school and college/university levels. Perhaps; but this is for another blog, I would submit here. Nonetheless, this support, to be sure, has not increased in any significant numbers over the years, though studies of this sort have not been conducted. What we do know from a most recent survey conducted by NIAF/Calandra is that of the 5,261 K-12 students who have responded, 3,540 (67.2%) indicated that their parents suggested they study a different foreign language; and of those 3,540 students, the top two languages were Spanish (65.5%) and French (25.8%).


    What does this tell us? For one thing, as a community at large we need to become (1) more versed with why Italian should be studied, and (2) more involved with the teaching of Italian from a community perspective. It basically underscores the need for a greater responsibility on the Italian/American community at large to come forward, defend in an informed manner the teaching of Italian, and, when necessary, to protest these changes.



    Dr. George Philip, President
    University at Albany
    State University of New York
    1400 Washington Ave.
    Albany, NY 12222

    Dear President Philip:

    In a world of increasingly blurred, and still blurring, boundaries, many of us in the Italian teaching community, and beyond, are incredulous that a college/university, especially one within the SUNY system, would find it logical to eliminate numerous language programs with one proverbial stroke of the brush (, as announced in the news release as “substantial reduction scenarios.”

    Are French, Italian, and Russian so inconsequential that entire programs—undergraduate and graduate, as we have been made to understand—can be so readily annihilated, with no attempt to work through the financial crisis that faces most of us?

    President Obama has recently launched a national campaign that makes the case for better educational systems within the United States. Yet, SUNY Albany seems to be moving in another direction. If we within the university systems do not underscore the importance of teaching and learning languages other than English, then we shall only fall further back in our standing within the international world of education.

    Knowledge of a language is, without a doubt, the best way to access a country’s culture. We simply cannot presume to engage our international friends (and foes) with a seemingly colonialist attitude that underscores English as the world’s lingua franca and everyone else who wishes to deal with us must simply know English. This defies the migratory history of our country and, dare I say, our state.

    Indeed, that this takes place in a state such as New York, with an immigration history second to none, is, simply stated, shocking. French Creole, Italian, and Russian are three of the six languages included in NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg’s 2008 Executive Order 120, which calls for citywide language access to the approximate 1.8 million people just in NYC with limited English skills.

    All this to say that not only are we dealing with a loss of cultural knowledge of other societies by the elimination of the above-mentioned programs, but the practical issue of the three languages above is also rendered unavailable for those who might need such knowledge. We in the state of New York should be taking the lead in furthering knowledge of other languages and cultures. Instead, SUNY Albany seems to be moving in another direction, to the day of our Federalist Papers.

    As Professor of Italian and Comparative Literature and the Immediate Past President of the American Association of Teachers of Italian, it is mine as well as the hope of others that our state legislators, together with others, will take up the issue immediately and convince you to revoke for the good of our institutions of higher education such a draconian, and potentially damaging, decision.

    A.J. Tamburri

    Cav. Anthony Julian Tamburri, Ph.D.
    Professor & Dean
    John D. Calandra Italian American Institute
    Queens College/CUNY
    25 West 43rd Street, 17th Fl
    New York, NY 10036
    Tel: 212.642.2094
    Fax: 212.642.2008

    "Where is there dignity unless there is honesty?"  Cicero


    ------ Forwarded Message
    From: <XXXXX>
    Date: Mon, 4 Oct 2010 22:15:51 EDT
    To: <[email protected]>
    Subject: Termination of the Italian, French, Russian Classics Programs and Theatre Dept.

    Dear Professor Tamburri,

    I am writing you following the suggestion of XXXXX, my  friend and former Professor at XXXXX. My name is XXXXX. I am an Associate Professor of XXXXX Language and Literature at the State University of New York at Albany.

    On Friday, October 1, around 2:00 p.m., without any previous warning (except for a short e-mail sent us on Wednesday, September 29, in which the Dean and the Provost invited us to discuss  the future of SUNY) we were called in a meeting by the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and by the Associate Vice-President of Academic Affairs.

    In a few minutes we were told that our Italian Program had been suspended since that very day, and that it will be terminated within 2012. In less than 2 hours our Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures was eliminated; in fact the French Program, the Russian Program,  and the Classics Program were suspended as well.

    The only survivor is right now the Spanish Program which was always bound with us (on the official documents we have always been defined as the "Hispanic and Italian Program," for more than 30 years); and the rumor is that it will be amalgamated with the Department of Latin -American and Carribean Studies. The Department of Theatre has also been suspended.

    In my Department more than 15 tenured Faculty (Full and Associate Professors) and a great number of Adjunct Faculty have been practically thrown on the road after decades of outstanding work (always recognized as such by the administrators); and that has happened in spite of  their programs filled with enthusiastic students, especially at the Undergraduate level.

    The only explanation we were given was that there is no money; and the suggestion that  we were given was to find a job elsewhere.

    This event has been devastating. My colleagues and I are shocked. The older ones have the possibility of an early retirement, but faculty who is 50 -53 years old  (as in my case) are really in a tough situation.

    My case is worse than others, since I am more at risk: I am alone in this country. (XXXXX). I am a single mother of an autistic boy of twelve, of whom I have the sole custody. I just bought a house a year ago and I have to pay for the mortgage for many years. My son Stanley loves his house, his school, his friends; he had just reached a certain stability and now  the very thought of moving from here and giving up the house is devastating to  him.

    The two women who work as Adjunct Faculty in the Italian Program are excellent teachers who handle in an outstanding way the many tasks in the Program and are indispensable to it. They need to work because there is  no one supporting them. Even for them, losing their job would be more than devastating.

    The only consoling thing is the outpouring support of our colleagues all over the country, who are uttering  their solidarity to us and their protest to the administrators; and also we are impressed by the overwhelming   support of our students (who love Italian, because the majority of them are Italian-American of second or third generation, and come from the Albany area, but also from NYC, Long Island, Rochester, Syracuse).

    Our Italian Program is important as the main point of reference for the Italian - American community of Albany, since there are no other programs of Italian in the Albany area. Its termination would be a sore loss for the Italian -Americans of  this region.

    I am confident in your help and I hope in an  outreach of support, so we can find a fast and effective way to  save the Italian Program and the other eliminated Programs at Suny at Albany. Nothing is written in stone yet, and the next two weeks are  crucial.

    I am adding below the list of the administrators to whom a letter of protest should be sent, along with a request to revoke their decision.

    Thank you so much, also on behalf of my colleagues.

    Sincerely, with a lot of hope and gratitude,


    George Philip, President: [email protected]
    Catherine Herman, Vice-President: [email protected]
    Susan Phillips, Provost:  [email protected]
    Eldegard Wulfert, Dean of Arts and Sciences: [email protected]

    Sen. Diane Savino, President, Conference of New York State Italian American Legislators
    Members, Conference of New York State Italian American Legislators

    Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations

    American Association of Italian Studies
    American Association of Teachers of Italian
    Italian Language Inter-Cultural Alliance
    National Italian American Foundation
    National Organization of Italian American Women
    Order Sons of Italy in America

  • Duty calls!

     I sent our a brief informative notice as a message “From the Dean’s Desk” of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, which is by nature, and shall remain, a politically independent and bipartisan entity. As I wrote then, when ethnic slurs are thrown about, and especially within a gubernatorial campaign, it is the duty of all of us to bring such derogatory language to the attention of members and friends of the Italian-American community. It does not matter how indirect they may seem, they are detrimental to the overall image of Italian Americans. Indeed, I would submit that such journalistic and non-fictional references are in fact more damaging than any fictional representation may be, though these too have their deleterious effect. I had, in fact, blogged about this a few years back with regard to a journalist.


    That said, I thought it most propitious that in Sunday’s (26 September 2010) New York Times, in its special section celebrating its Op. Ed.’s fortieth anniversary, two inclusions from years past are so a propos to the issue at hand. In discussing “gossip and speculation” about stars, Frank Sinatra stated in 1972: “…it is complicated in my case because my name ends in a vowel. There is a form of bigotry abroad in this land that allows otherwise decent people, including many liberals, to believe the most scurrilous tales if they are connected to an Italian-American name.” In fact, with regard to the difference between fiction and reality, Sinatra closed with most acute remarks: “But it is one thing to watch a fantasy on a movie screen. It is quite another when the fantasies are projected on real, live human beings, because it doesn’t say ‘the end’ when they are finished. Those human beings have to go on living with their friends, family and business associates in the real world,”


    Such references to certain aspects of our Italian culture and/or behavioral patterns in an unflattering manner will certainly continue, as it comes in all forms. It can be the “joke” that some ignorantly insensitive non-Italian will make by asking if you “are connected” or if you know “anyone in the Mafia.” It can also be that not-so-funny question, “How did the day go?” It can, yet still, appear in unexpected places, such as in the very mouths of some of our own public officials, as we have witnessed in the past—the one who bragged about being John Gotti’s assemblyman,” for instance; or the other who used imagery that aped The Godfather in order to advertise one of his campaign dinners.


    More recently, in “City Hall,” an on-line municipal publication that also shares some of its articles with “State Senate Watch,” a statewide publication, we found the following paragraph:


    “They [the Carl Paladino campaign] will keep slinging mud. They will keep bringing up the Democratic nominee’s father. They will keep pushing and needling him for not running an active enough campaign, complete with sly Italian references and whatever else they can cook up under the belief that they are getting under Cuomo’s skin, convinced that they can make the candidate his own worst enemy” (my emphasis).


    It is precisely the expression “sly Italian references” that is troubling; the very use of the adjective “Italian” in this phrase conjures up images of unsavory behavior attributed to, obviously, Italians and Italian Americans. Some questions that come to mind include: Why would one insert an adjective that refers to a candidate’s ethnic and cultural heritage, if not to make the reader think of his heritage in unsavory terms? Have we not had too much of this already with regard to Italians in the United States?


    Does it matter that in this case the candidates are of Italian origin? Indeed, it is this very fact that should make them and others more sensitive to the issue of stereotyping. Here, be it the Paladino campaign or the author of the article (Edward-Isaac Dovere) as the phrase’s point of origin, Italians are not well served. (By the way, “dovere” is the infinitive in Italian for the modal verb “to have to do something” or for the noun “duty.” Ironic? Indeed!) We expect better, and we should demand better. Let us hope that all of the candidates in this race run a clean and, equally important, stereotype-free campaign, especially when it comes to one’s ethnic and cultural heritage.


    The second op. ed. included in the Times’s anniversary Op. Ed. section was penned by then Mayor Ed Koch in 1987, following the Howard Beach tragedy. In that piece Koch first wrote: “…we must restate certain truths about the evil of racism, the need for racial tolerance and the importance of the fight against discrimination. But we will not advance racial understanding unless we also attempt to come to grips with the fear of crime in general and white fear of black crime in particular. // How do we acknowledge understandable fear of crime while condemning inexcusable and intolerable racial stereotyping?” The expressions “racial understanding” and “come to grips” underscore the necessity for us as a community of human beings to become better informed, more greatly aware of the intricacies and complexities of the social condition and, more specifically, the ethno-racial social contract we all need to respect.


    The more informed we are of both our own history as well as that of other ethnic/racial groups, the better off society is, as Mayor Koch then continued to write: “Stereotypes lose their power when the world is found to be more complex than the stereotype would suggest.” In the end, we must work to disenfranchise the stereotypes, as they rear their ugly heads. In so doing, however, we need to be sure that we do not commit the same offense in stereotyping others. Indeed, we have seen some of this from our own co-ethnics in their complaints about other ethnic groups. This notwithstanding, at times, such disenfranchisement of the stereotype will ask us to buck horns with our co-ethnics, as the above-mentioned Howard Beach and its analogous episode in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, two years later required. Or, more recently, as we witnessed across the estuary here in greater New York City.


    Party affiliation in this sense is irrelevant. Regardless of which party the candidate may be, neither of the two campaigns should be launching anti-Italian rhetoric. Anzi, they should be acting to the contrary! Given what we have seen thus far in this electoral season, the upcoming New York gubernatorial campaign might very well test our patience and, in the end, call us to duty.


    Postscript: In addition to an illogical, incoherent, and grammatically incorrect ranting that came from lower Manhattan, penned by a member of a small group that seems to have waged what can only be considered an anti-Calandra campaign for some time now and to varying degrees, the Institute received the following comments Monday:


    [email protected]

    From: Email withheld

    Date: 09/26/2010 06:07PM

    Subject: Re: From the Dean's desk of The John D Calandra Italian Amer Institute

    anthony, i cant tell what you object to. am i missing something?

    all best,

    [email protected]
    From: Email withheld
    Date: 09/26/2010 06:25PM

    Subject: Re: From the Dean's desk of The John D Calandra Italian Amer Institute


    Very good alert, Anthony.

    To: [email protected]

    From: Email withheld

    Date: 09/26/2010 06:46PM

    Subject: Re: From the Dean's desk of The John D Calandra Italian Amer Institute


    Thanks Anthony good info and will look out for more of these type of slurs. Signed

    [email protected]
    From: Email withheld

    Date: 09/26/2010 11:19PM

    Subject: Re: September 2010 Comments


    Dear Dean Tamburri,


    Thank you for your E-mail and bringing this issue to my attention.  

    I was totally unaware of this negative "Italian-baiting", not from lack of interest in issues political, but rather from not having sufficient time to read everything I'd like to regarding things Italian in general and Italian-American in particular.


    This is especially troubling when both gubernatorial candidates are of Italian heritage.  This perhaps points to an endemic weakness of too many Italian-Americans who harbor a deep lack of respect, knowledge, and appreciation of their rich culture and heritage.


    In addition, I believe Italian-Americans as a group are much too polite and genteel (i.e. passive) with respect to the continuing stereotyping/ethnic-baiting that is still much too prevalent in the mainstream media.  That, however, is the subject for another discussion.   


    Thanks again.




    To: [email protected]

    From: Email withheld

    Date: 09/26/2010 09:07PM

    Subject: Re: From the Dean's desk of The John D Calandra Italian Amer Institute


    Is there still an anti-defamation league?  Is there any recourse to this kind of slur? 

    To: [email protected]

    From: Email withheld

    Date: 09/26/2010 06:30PM

    Cc: Emails withheld

    Subject: Re: From the Dean's desk of The John D Calandra Italian Amer Institute


    Well said Dean Tamburri!!!


    However I do think that "labeling" is becoming part of the American way of life. We are experiencing a cultural decadence "world wide" and America (unfortunately!) is following the pattern.


    Ignorance is dictating human relations by measuring success upon the amount


    When we are too busy to listen to those (like you!) who do the thinking for us, we may make more money as I am not sure if we become richer......


    With my warmest personal regards,



    To: [email protected]

    From: Email withheld

    Date: 09/26/2010 06:13PM

    Subject: Re: From the Dean's desk of The John D Calandra Italian Amer Institute


    I would think that it would be helpful to call this to the attention of those responsible for the brochure.  With all the Italian organizations that exist, from how many do you think there will be an outcry?  What really can individuals do when the Italian American organizations that purport to encourage Italian culture say and do nothing when things like this occur in the media? They have all let the Italian community down, in my opinion.

    From: Email withheld
    Date: Mon, 27 Sep 2010 11:33:06 -0400 (GMT-04:00)
    To: Anthony Julian Tamburri <
    [email protected]>
    Subject: To the Dean's desk/Paladino

    Dear Prof. Tamburri:


    In addition to your statement concerning Paladino's "ethnic slurs", he was denounced this morning on "The View" for sexism and racism.


    Also, Joy Behart claimed "He could win the election if all of his illegitimate children voted for him."




    ------ Forwarded Message

    From: Email withheld

    Date: Mon, 27 Sep 2010 17:10:52 -0400

    To: Anthony Julian Tamburri <[email protected]>

    Subject: Grazie. Well said! Good message.  From the Dean's desk of The John D Calandra Italian Amer Institute


    Good, Anthony,


    Well said! re. “sly Italian messages.”

    Glad you sent this out. I couldn't agree more.



    Email withheld

    Date: Sep 27, 2010 2:44 PM

    Subject: Re: From the Dean's desk of The John D Calandra Italian Amer

    Institute "sly I...

    To: [email protected]



    Dear Anthony:


    I am truly grateful to you for taking this stand and speaking out.  I

    totally agree with you.


    I can only imagine also, the cartoons and jokes running around the Internet

    about New York having three Italian Americans as gubernatorial candidates.


    Saluti,  Signed

  • Op-Eds

    Italian Studies and Its Various and Sundry Challenges...

    Over the past forty years, from high-school teaching to the university, and into the community, working within Italian Studies has had it challenges, to be sure. In spite of the grandeurs of Italian culture over the past 800-plus years, it seems that we often find ourselves in an up-hill battle. This may constitute the school or college wanting to hire always in that which is considered a more utilitarian language, or that which it considered—erroneously, I would add—the language of culture. Let us be honest with ourselves, the origins of Western European culture's influence on today's Western culture surely has it roots in that geo-cultural zone that was not yet geo-politically Italy.

    The Italian language has always been a cultural vehicle, much more and much longer than it has been perceived as an ethnic language by mainstream thinking and organizations here in the United States. The significant cultural valence of Italian has never been more obvious than over the past thirty-plus years, with the advent of Italian cinema and fashion, first and foremost, and a rebirth in the translation of contemporary Italian writers and essayists such as Italo Calvino, Oriana Fallaci, Umberto Eco, and Dacia Maraini, among others.

    The individual who possesses such social, professional, and, I would add, cultural acumen and insight does not seem to occupy a place on the state Board of Regents. This is, to be sure, part and parcel of the challenge that lies ahead. Such a lack of cultural, ethnic, and racial discernment and mindfulness lies at the base of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s; similar comprehension and acknowledgement eventually led to the classification of Italian Americans as a “protected class” within the CUNY system for comparable reasons, a situation very much still in progress.

    Thus, it should not seem a stretch to consider the absence of such ethnic and cultural sensitivity as yet a further stepping stone in this struggle to save the New York State Regents exam in Italian. A language and culture that have given to Civilization the roots of modern western poetry (its origins in Dante and Petrarca, and onto Shakespeare), the template for what we call Modernity (the philosophy and art of the Italian Renaissance), and the matrix for our own modern-day legal philosophy (Cesare Beccaria), should simply not be cast aside because of a budget that has yet to be explained in great detail and/or any other reasons unbeknownst to the public discourse thus far articulated. 

    We remain hopeful that—with the help of people such as Senator Diane Savino (Staten Island) and Assembly member Robert J. Castelli (Golden Bridge, Westchester County), together with other members of the assembly and senate who have also intervened—this latest challenge to save the Regents exam in Italian will have a successful outcome. As others have already urged other to do and have done themselves, do write to your elected officials in both the state assembly and senate. Individual voices simply must be heard.

    Alla riscossa!



  • Op-Eds

    Two "paesani" to duke it out...

     So, Cari Amici, I guess the general question would be, "How does one's Italian Americanness come into play with regard to one's choice in an election?" This is a question that is often posed, and the response seems to be, initially, "Very little to none!" Okay, so if that is the answer, then if we do not vote into office Italian Americans, do we have the right to complain that "mainstream" (the hegemonic structure of the ruling class, as someone like Gramsci might say) ignores us?

    This year, fortunately, the ethnic question is moot (unless, of course, a third-party "'medigan" throws his/her hat into the ring). Both candidates from the traditional parties are "paesani" who have surely demonstrated their hard-core Italian-ness. All of this, so it seems, allows us to truly vote our ideological conscious. All of this, we might also say, shows us that there is indeed an Italian/American body politic, we just need to examine it further. This is especially true for the New York State Assembly and Senate, as the Calandra Institute's Oral History Project is beginning to demonstrate (the project is about 50% complete).

    So, precisely because the question is moot, let us hear from you as to whether one's ethnicity, in our case 
    Italian Americanness, should come into play with regard to one's choice in an election, be that election local, regional, state-wide, or national.

  • Op-Eds

    Arizona Ethnic Studies Bill And Then Some...

    Last week I sent out an email on the Calandra Institute list-serve criticizing the recent Arizona law that prohibits classes dealing with ethnicity according to the perceptions of those in power, we can only assume. In that email, I made a “smart-aleck” (some might categorize) reference to a previous law passed “three weeks” prior in Arizona (Arizona Senate Bill 1070), which provides for any “lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency of a country, city, town, or other political subdivision of this state where reasonable suspicion exists (emphasis added) that the person as an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States” (Arizona Senate Bill 1070, Sec. 2, Article 8, B). What I did not address in my original email below is the issue of illegal/undocumented immigration/border-crossing, which is, in fact, what most responses addressed in reaction to my email.


    As was apparent in the plethora of comments articulated by many about this law nation-wide, the phrase “reasonable suspicion exists” is simply too vague. “Reasonable suspicion,” as many have stated, may very well include skin hue and accent. That said, “reasonable suspicion,” in the minds of some, may include, to be sure, an Hispanic (and/or foreign) sounding name or surname. Further still, this may also extend to dress, be it style, cut, or colors. Hence, one has at his/her disposal a series of “reasonabl[y] suspicio[us]” criteria either to abuse or for which to yell foul.


    This is the part of that bill to which I parenthetically referred.  Indeed, I continue to contend, this bill can readily lead to that which—contrary to the feelings that some articulated in response to my email (see below)—is no different from what Italian immigrants experienced at the beginning of the twentieth century here in the United States, as the following two “cartoons” demonstrate.



    My original email is as follows, with the various comments (I have withheld identity when signed) of those who reacted. I shall address the education bill at another time. I thought it timely, instead, to address that which I did not discuss but came up nevertheless in the reactions/responses of those who did write. I have also refrained from commenting on their remarks. We may very well address them in another forum that would be open to all. They raise some significant issues that we in the Italian/American community need to address.


    On Thu, May 13, 2010 at 12:22 PM, I wrote:


    While one might “rationalize” (NOT condone) certain consequences of the Smith Act of 1940, which, in 1941, ultimately designated citizens of Germany, Italy, and Japan “enemy aliens” in this country (my grandmother being one of them), the more recent bill passed and signed into law yesterday in Arizona is ever so complexing, especially in this global world, in 2010. Indeed, given that this comes on the heels of another Arizona bill of three weeks ago, one might sarcastically muse, what’s in the water out there…

    As stated in the LA Times, the bill basically “bans schools from teaching classes designed for students of a particular ethnic group.” Arizona’s State Supt. of Public Instruction, Tom Horne, sees the bill as targeting Chicano and/or Mexican-American studies programs in the Tucson school district.

    Why should we care, beyond, of course, the general issues of human decency? Many of us in Italian-American studies, at various levels and to varied degrees, have and continue to campaign for Italian and Italian-American courses to be part of the curricula in the public school districts in which we live, as well as at the college/university level. Such a bill, as the one Arizona Gov. Brewer has signed, would disallow such campaigns. Such a bill, in retrospect, would have disallowed the momentous Italian-American curriculum that was spearheaded in the 1980s by then First Lady Matilda Cuomo (Italian Americans-Looking Back-Moving Forward, published by the New York State Education Department in 1992), as well as the equally impressive New Jersey Italian and Italian American Heritage Commission’s curriculum (K-12) that is currently being used in numerous school districts across the Hudson.

    We will have more to say about this in the coming days. Stay tuned to this list-serve, Italics2.0, and


    Alla riscossa,

    Anthony Julian Tamburri, Ph.D.

    Professor and Dean


    The comments sent, to date, are:


    Sunday, May 16


    Yes but we came here legally and past brethren stood on a line in Ellis Island to be accepted into the USA and were registered and inoculated. Also we must remember we didn't create such a threat to the USA as terrorists do today as they illegally enter south of the border. Please don't compare the Italian-American experience to all other nationalities.




    Friday, May 14


    Dear Dr. Tamburri,

    The law in arizona just mirrors the federal law and is an enforcement law.  We must be the only country in the world that does not control its borders.  Did you know going into Mexico illegally is punishable by 2 years in prison?  If you are a repeat offender, then you are sentenced to 10 years.  Did you know that Cubans refugees attempting to reach our shores but end up in Mexico are beaten and sent back to Cuba?

    With the crimes occuring in AZ (and across the country), I don't blame them for doing something about it.  Did your grandmother sneak into this country illegally?  My parents came in the 60s and had to jump through hoops to get here.  The point is they came here legally and were documented. Why should that change in this "global" world?  Shouldn't we know who is coming and going across our borders?  Perhaps, it would stem some of the drug flow across our borders and reduce the kidnappings, etc.  With all due respect, you should open your eyes to what is going on around you.

    I understand your point on the ethnic studies and agree with you 100% but you should not lump these bills together since they are completely different.

    Thank you for your time.





    Friday, May 14


    Prof. Riscossa,

    What ever happened to the cause for AP Italian language in the US? threatened with discontinuation, wasn't it?

    I lobbied and continue to lobby for the ITALIAN RESOURCES IN ITALY, to pay or supplement those precious few throughout the USA interested in mastering Italian (anch'io lungo tanti anni), alla French Aliance system. But haven't heard a word.

    Any updates very important to me.




    Thursday, May 13


    I stand with you on this. I think the bill signed by Gov. Brewer is xenophobia at its worst in modern times.




    Thursday, May 13


    Arizona bans ethnic studies courses. We were wondering when you would come out on something like this, on whose side you would be on and how you would try to substantiate any position.

    Well, now we all know.

    You came out anti-USA and you have NO CLUE of what you are saying, PLUS you cite the L.A. Times???  Have you lost your mind?

    If you try to spin anti-USA yarns and propaganda, we assure you that more than 70% of "US" (Italian-Americans, with my parents from Italy, near Firenze) will be against you (and, ironically, our families in Italy will be on our side...or do you not know what is happening there?). 

    Arizona basically should a page from the REAL Italians.

    So should you.




    Thursday, May 13


    Dear Administrator,.

             What Country Do we live in???  Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Mexico, etc etc etc.

    I was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. of Italian Parents, that is  First Generation

    American Italians.  Only those that are Italian Nationals can be called Italian Americans.

    I am not, nor will ever be, ashamed of my Families Cultural Background.  I am AMERICAN of ITALIAN DESCENT.  When you go to live in another country you would have to learn the language of that country.

    The USA never stopped anyone from learning another language.

    I was born in 1950, but even I know there was alot to be fearful of in 1940.  If all the countries the immigrants came from was so great, why did they leave them?!?!

    All the early immigrants that did not speak English, were more than willing to learn.  So learning another language in the USA should go back to being up to the Individual.

    As far as ARIZONA is concerned I AM PROUD that one of the STATES in the USA is trying to do something the FEDERAL Government has been failing to do.  

    UNITED WE STAND divided WE FALL.   This is something the Generation that lived in 1940

    UNDERSTOOD.  So as a former New Yorker and a resentful resident of California, I totally disagree with any State in the USA boycotting another one.  For all the Flaws of the USA, I would rather be in this country than any other.  HOW ABOUT YOU & YOUR FACULTY?

    We don't need a bunch of modern day Poncho Villa's coming across the Border with AK47's.

    Yours Truly,

    A concerned citizen  of the USA




    Thursday, May 13


    Having grown up in the 40s, one of the most stupid things was that German and Italian were no longer taught in public schools (Italian rarely was anyway).  Not to mention that these are languages of culture and needed for any serious research; when we are at war wouldn't it behoove us to know the language of the other combatants?!

    Now any non-Anglo person and his/her culture is deemed undesirable/illegal and no-one is to learn anything about them in Arizona.  Same absolute stupidity!  Who dreams this stuff up and where will it end? Boycott Arizona and any businesses that support such nonsense until they come to their senses!

    Thank you for taking a public stand against it.




    Thursday, May 13


    Dear Dean and Professor,

    We are not in agreement with the attached e mail you sent us. Many are aware of the serious problems in our western States.

    Your passion is great but it would be nice to hear some solutions instead of bad historical comparisons, inaccurate statements and attacks.




    Thursday, May 13


    Salve a tutti,

    il conto alla rovescia appena iniziato! Un conto alla rovescia che porterà all'impoverimento della specie umana se altri stati (per quanto riguarda gli U.S.) o altre nazioni prenderanno provvedimenti. La societa che regredisce porta sempre a conflitti insanabili, che trovano soluzioni nei macro tempi, ma che sono sempre deleteri per chi le subisce senza avere dei mezzi opponenti.

    Auguriamoci che prevalga la cultura, la fermezza della parola e della ragione, del dialogo.

    Auguri a tutti noi!

    Greetings from Bologna (Italy).




    Thursday, May 13


    Not to mention that current US Secty of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano was the 21st Gov. of Arizona [2003-2009] and the third female gov. and was the first woman to win re-election...among her big planks is Immigrant Rights...



  • Art & Culture

    Piero Bassetti's "Lezioni italiche". Send Us Your Questions!

    from the "Preface"

    In his previous publication, Italici (
    2008), Bassetti lays out his philosophy of italicità (Italianicity). In that book, we come to understand that “the Italic is a member of the vast network, or global aggregation, based on morals shared by a civilization,” that the “’Italico is a Post-Italian, a citizen of the world with a new identity. An identity that, based on regional origins more than national, flows between culture and a renewed interest in regional and ethnic characters.”

    It is this recognition of a process, one that resonates ever so nicely with what we have seen

     articulated before, here in the United States: that “ethnic identities constitute only a family of resemblances, that ethnicity cannot be reduced to identical sociological functions, that ethnicity is a process of inter-reference between two or more cultural traditions (my emphasis)” and, I would add, between two or more generations of the same ethnic/racial group (Fischer [1986] 195). This new way of looking at things in Italy, something already implied, I would submit, in the mountainous work of the intellectual work produced by the Giovanni Agnelli Foundation/ Centro Altreitalie, is now examined and underscored by this later intellectual generation that is represented by Piero Bassetti and his colleagues at Globus et Locus.

    What Bassetti is, in fact, underscoring speaks directly to the concept that Italian and/or Italic identity is not based on some monolithic notion of what it means to be Italic, to use his term, which is surely the most adequate at this juncture in time. That while some may believe that this ethnic marker of the Italian/Italic may have its particularities with regard to a certain geo-cultural zone, the notion of Italicity cannot be “constructed as an internally coherent object of theoretical know ledge” and hence identity; that such a limited attempt at some sort of Italic categorization “cannot be resolved ... without an altogether positi vist reductionism.”

    This insistence on the monolithic, in fact, is one of the greater challenges of the Italian/American community. Too many want to see Italian Americans as those cast from one mould—a fiction, for sure, as has been demonstrated by the more recent reaction to an intellectual presentation of a sub-culture of Italian America, which we can readily call the “guido” factor, where a series of reactions from the self-ascribed spokespeople cried foul and, in some cases, either denied the existence of this sub-culture or, in ignoring the original intent of the colloquium, used it as a platform to jockey for positioning within the so-called “Italian-American community.”

    If Piero Bassetti’s notion of Italicity has any significance in this greater discourse of ethnicity—and I would submit that there are indeed many—it is precisely the non-monolithic base that is inherent in his concept of this “new form of shared and pluralistic experiences.” In the end, and as a global phenomenon, “Italicity is held together by a set of values, of traditions, of ‘ways’ of being, of looking at the world and dealing with it.” It is precisely these “’ways’ of being” that, once we dig deep enough, we might finally realize function also on a [g]local level. For as Italicity figures indeed as that “mixture of communities which will no longer aggregate on the basis of old territorial criteria of borders that are decided by the State-Nation but rather on connections that go beyond geographical limits,” so too on a local level we should recognize a “mixture of [identities that can] no longer [presume to] aggregate on the basis of old … criteria of borders that are decided by [the self-appointed few].” This is, to be sure, one of the most important lessons one can take away from Piero Bassetti’s Italic Lessons.


    Italici: An Encounter with Piero Bassetti. Paolino Accolla and Niccolò d’Aquino, eds. (New York: Bordighera, 2008)

    Michael M. J. Fischer, “Ethnicity and the Post-Modern Arts of Memory,” in Writing Culture. The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus (Berkeley; U of California P, 1986)



    [email protected]

  • Facts & Stories

    Guido: an Italian American Youth Style

    What follows are the introductory remarks of Prod. Anthony J. Tamburri, Dean of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, at the colloquium "Guido: an Italian American Youth Style" (January 21, 2010).

    First, I want to thank those who have helped make this colloquium possible. At the top of the list are Professor Donald Tricario and Johnny DeCarlo, for accepting our invitation and—in light of the heated discussions that followed our initial press release—for being here today. That said, I cannot underscore enough that fact that they are our guests here at the Calandra Institute, as you all are. We expect that all present, who might disagree with anything said today, will do so in a respectful manner. We here at Calandra will simply not tolerate any gratuitous insults or vituperous offense. 

    I also want to thank Dr. Joseph Sciorra, who organized this event, and Dr. Fred Gardaphè who found himself in the unenviable position of being the object of unflattering commentary and who responded with much grace and aplomb. Finally, I need to thank Italics, under the direction of William Schempp, and, under the direction of Drs. Letizia Airos and Ottorino Cappelli. These two outlets, both now multi-media, while located in New York, can prove to be the national networks for all things Italians. This, too, we shall explore in the near future.

    Now, let me start out by doing what we were taught not to do in Ciceronian Rhetorical Studies and underscore what this is NOT. Our colloquium is NOT an “educational” lecture, as someone stated to me; in our brief announcement nowhere is this adjective present. It is also NOT geared to “young and impressionable minds,” as someone wrote. Though I would submit to all of you present that many undergraduate college courses across the country address social issues much more debatable than the one we shall discuss here today. Our intended audience is a general one, open to the public at large. Also, I need to underscore further that this a colloquium (1) that does NOT glorify the notion of this one component of Italian-American youth about which little is known, and (2) that does NOT glorify the MTV show “Jersey Shore.”

    As for the first point, whether one likes it or not, there is this component of Italian-American youth—an articulation of cultural expression, call it what one wishes—that manifests itself in this manner and that has been dubbed “Guido.” We may not like it, but it does exist, as there are also members of other ethnicities that have taken on what is widely considered negative nomenclature and adopted it as their moniker. I would remind the audience of the “gangsta rap” group that eventually called itself by the abbreviation NWA (“Niggers With Attitude”), which lasted from 1986-1991. The African-American community addressed this and other issues they found problematic, and continue to do so today.

    We are not asking anyone “to accept” this or any other “sub-culture” that may exist in the Italian-American community. Yet, precisely because this culture has been show-cased on television, and precisely because it has remained unknown to many, we need to be sure that we can speak to it in an informed manner, rather than let a commercial enterprise that is MTV decide to appropriate it, distort it, pass it off as real and authentic, and, hence, representative (falsely, I would add) of Italian-American youth at large. For as much as those in our community who are familiar with this sub-culture and may not like it, we simply need to be aware of it and, further, know its roots so we can better comprehend its existence in an informed manner. 

    Like some adults in our community, some of our young engage in life styles that are not acceptable by the majority. The question then is, What do we do about it? As a community at large, and especially our national organizations and institutes, we need to investigate such phenomena in order to be as informed as possible about what is happening beyond the center, the mainstream, of our community.

    As for the second point in my opening paragraphs, our colloquium was indeed prompted by the MTV show, the entire process of which raised a series of questions and angered Italian Americans, just as NWA did in the African-American community. But this colloquium is NOT about the show and it does NOT justify it any manner; nowhere did we imply either. This colloquium is about the phenomenon of the “Guido” that, regardless of its merits or lack thereof, has its origins and is associated with Italians in America.

    Such problematic questions, as I have discussed many times with others in the past, are what we as a community at large have not addressed. We have, instead, let others take possession of these issues—Italian Americans and non Italian Americans in the media, for example—and we have been left to react, and we have done so separately. We have rarely, as a community, had our own forums on this and other matters that have arisen in the past once we have gone through that primary phase of reacting to the issue, something valid by all means but only a first step. (I have, for instance, blogged about this in the past with regard to the lack of substantive cultural philanthropy; only one national organization has engaged in endowed professorships, and individuals in this regard are far and few in between.)  

    Whether it is this current issue, or what some have previously dubbed the “Madonna” factor and all the “wannabes” of the 1990s, or the more general issue of why we are often associated with much troubling imagery such as, first and foremost, organized crime, as a community at large we have not taken possession of the discussion. We have not, that is, engaged in any profound discussion and investigation of the “whys” and “what-fors” of any of the hot-button issues mentioned above, or any other matter, as far as I know, that have troubled members of the Italian-American community.

    This colloquium is a first step in such a practice. That said, let me also underscore that this colloquium can indeed be a first-step in our (not just Calandra’s, but the entire Italian-American community’s) investigation of this and other issues that some find problematic. 

    In order for us to embark on such a path, therefore, I am asking those in leadership positions of NIAF, NOIAW, OSIA, and UNICO here present today to remain after the conclusion of this event, so we might share some preliminary ideas on what to do next. Subsequent to this meeting, we can surely discuss what other problematic issues we need to address in a more analytical manner that we have not done before. 

    This is a long-term commitment that asks us to gather as a community of Italian Americans at large (NIAF, NOIAW, OSIA, UNICO, other national Italian-American organizations such as AATI and AIHAILICA,  and scholars, teachers, and writers) and investigate the myriad of topics such as those mentioned above that others have defined for us. Other ethnicities have done so, as I mentioned above with regard to NWA. I especially have in mind the so-called “town-gown” combination of, for instance, Bill Cosby and Professor Alvin Poussaint. The Italian and Italian-American communities here in the United States have not done so, and I would submit to you that, as much of a stretch as it may seem in this context, the current situation of the Advanced Placement Exam in Italian is symptomatic of such an absence of these practices.

    As you well know, the Calandra Institute is a university research institute dedicated to, among other things, the study, research, and analysis of Italian-American history and culture, which includes investigating even, or dare I say equally so, those issues that we find problematic. That said, I am announcing a new program we will soon launch, the occasional meeting of the minds, which will discuss contemporary issues we should indeed be addressing. These meetings will be broadcast live on the Internet by Italics, and subsequently archived on-line in order to be then accessible for later viewing.

    In closing, I am confident this will prove to be the productively informative event it was originally planned to be.

  • Op-Eds

    Per un “Verso” o per l’altro, non è un caso “Piccolo” da scartare*

    I have pondered and pondered the speech I was born to, lost now, mother gone, the whole neighborhood bull-dozed, and no one to say it on the TV, that words are dreams.

    —Felix Stefanile, “The Americanization of the Immigrant”

    In two recent “Op Eds” on i-Italy, two gentlemen seem to have come to loggerheads over a sort of argument of what should come first, the chicken or the egg: namely, Italian/American courses at the college level or the Advanced Placement Program in Italian. Tom Verso states in his “Fighting the ‘Better Fight’” that “Italophile lamenting about AP Italian continues. But, for Philo-Italian Americana, the ‘Better Fight’ would be over the non-existence of Italian American history and culture in our public schools, colleges and universities.” Arthur Piccolo, in turn, references what he sees as the “bane of the Italian American community our often argumentative non-supportive attitudes among Italian Americans organizationally and individually. […] I see the self-inflicted naïveté (not to be taken personally Mr. Verso) that is the very worst characterization that defines Italian Americans. Oblivious to strategy.” (“It’s All About Strategy Mr. Verso”).

    Well, both are necessary for our culture to thrive into the future. We need the language classes because they open doors for us to better understand the culture of our ancestors’ country of origin, as well as the current geo-political conditions of that same country, not to mention access to a greater general knowledge of Europe. The AP, in turn, allows our students the same advantage as those who study the so-called canonical languages that both the dominant culture, and hence also the College Board, have supported for fifty-plus years (French, German, and Spanish); they get college credit for work done in high school! We also need the Italian/American courses because they allow us, Italian Americans, to understand better our culture; these courses also allow the non Italian Americans to access basic notions and facts of Italian Americana and, we hope, better understand who we are so we no longer hear those still accepted ethnic references that those who make them may find “cute” but what we, instead, find offensive: “Here come the Don!” “Hey, Bada-bing, che see deech!” For I am loath to believe that one could joke around today – Nor should one be able to do so! – with expressions such as “Here come the Kingfisher!” and not get an earful, at the very least, for a racially insensitive comment.

    Both, however, have also fallen victim to what we might call the socio-cultural malaise of the Italian American. And this is where both Piccolo and Verso are correct. Verso’s lamenting the lack of initiative on the part of Italian Americans to fight what he sees as the “better” fight underscores the community’s seemingly disregard for the courses and, one might infer, disregard for the culture; for if one does not fight the fight, someone can only assume that one is not interested. Piccolo, rightly so, underscores the Italian/American community’s naïve approach to the struggle in social issues. The community simply does not seem to have the “consapevolezza” (read, awareness and “saper fare”) of how to engage in such a struggle. We seem to overact in some cases, calling a “spoon a spade” while ignoring the more significant issues of infiltrating the system. Or, we seem to ignore the more insidious and yet, on the surface, seemingly insignificant causes that, in the end, are the ones that we need to defend and uphold. We are, for sure, “oblivious to strategy,” as Mr. Piccolo states; and it is also true that even those who do come to the defense of Italian/American causes, many seem to do so only “nominally,” as Mr. Verso states.

    This, indeed, is one of our problems. We engage in the socio-political and cultural struggles almost as an afterthought. Or, as we have seen in the past, we lack that self-critical capacity to come to the fore when in fact one of our own sins, so to speak. And I dare not raise the ugly incidents of Howard Beach and Bensonhurst, ignored as they were by the then self-appointed leaders of the Italian/American community. Let’s go back less then two years ago: Where were the clamorous protests over the Clinton ad that emulated the Sopranos during the 2006-08 Democratic campaign? Where were the equally clamorous protests about that occasional silly-minded Italian/American elected official (e.g., Salvatore Iaquinto) who used Godfather imagery for his re-election campaigns? Instead, we demand that actors not accept jobs (i.e, not eat), but we do nothing to support those playwrights and screenwriters who can write the more acceptable plays and films many want to see. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of Mario Puzo’s Godfather novel. How many Italian Americans know that this year also marks the 20th anniversary of the film True Love (dir. Nancy Savoca)? How many Italian Americans have even seen the movie? It deals with local, working-class issues, much of which is seen through a gendered lens. Do we not want to revisit our working-class origins, having moved to the suburbs in those glorious houses that, pray tell, resemble those we saw in that HBO series? Or, are we simply afraid to let the female voices out of the kitchen?

    Finally, for now, we always seem to resort to a distinction—and not always a constructive one—within our community as opposed to seeking out unity within and therefore distinguishing our community from the greater dominant-cultural thinking power brokers. That said, I was sorry to read the distinction in Verso’s Op Ed between Italophile and Philo-Italian. It harks back to an awkward and uninformed conversation of a few years ago when some tried to distinguish between “activists” and “academics.” It is, first and foremost, an incongruent dichotomy (pardon the risk of tautology). For should not an admirer of things Italian (read, “Italophile”) stand side by side someone who is pro-Italian (read, “Philo-Italian)? More significant, it lays a foundation for separatism from within as opposed to unity vis-à-vis the dominant culture, which lies outside our community. This type of internal discord does not exist within other ethnic (read also, racial) communities. The so-called activists of those communities do not distinguish themselves from the so-called academics. Indeed, they each cross over, so to speak, and join forces when a situation inimical to the survival of their culture rears its ugly head. Some of our Italian Americans, instead, denigrate and dismiss each other—a metaphorical elbowing under the basket—in order to be first and, one can only assume, bask in the glory!

    Adjectives such as the “first,” “only,” “largest” when used to place itself ahead of other organizations does very little to advance unity though a great deal to stimulate separatism. In similar fashion, first-person singular pronouns shouted from the rooftops by self-recognized heroes and other acts of conceit add to the dissonance and quarrelsome cacophony within our community. We basically need to remove the vainglory and supplant it with selflessness. Otherwise, we shall all lose in the end: no Italian/American courses, no Advanced Placement Program in Italian, and, in final analysis, no one to promote our Italian/American culture.

    *One way or another, it is not a small thing to cast aside!

  • Op-Eds

    Saving the AP in Italian. Is it just a question of money?

    What follows, then, is a brief history of the outcomes of the Advanced Placement Exam in Italian that was only recently approved in 2005 and launched in 2006—yes, only four years ago—as the fourth of seven language exams that were offered this past spring by the College Board. It is also an implicit call to arms, if we are to rescue the AP in Italian from its current state of suspended animation.


    What one sees is a dramatic increase over the first four years that, many of us would contend, is due to the greater work by the Italian-American community at large (teaching and non-teaching) to get the word out, so to speak; and there is no reason to believe that this will not continue, especially since this is uncharted territory for Italian language studies. The numbers clearly speak for themselves. From year to year, there has been a dramatic rise, especially from year two to year three (plus 17.5%), and from year three to year four (plus 25.7%). From year one to year four, the growth has been even more dramatic, a numerical increase of 830 exams taken, which translates into an aggregate percentage increase in three years of what can only be considered an outstanding 51.9%.

    AP Italian Language and Culture Examination Volume Changes



    Number of Exams

    Annual Percent Change

    Aggregate Percent Change











    + 2.8%



                   *Unofficial number furnished by a member of the exam committee.


    In January 2009, the College Board decided that the exam was no longer economically feasible, and the figures that were presented to reinstate the exam were overwhelming; for one year, $1,500,000, only if, as some have understood, this constituted the beginning of a larger amount that would be raised annually in order to reach an eventual sum total of $11,500,000. The requisite number of exams originally expected by the College Board for Italian, as I have understood it, was 10,000; and because that number, or something vaguely close to it, has not materialized, outside funding is thus obligatory. Yet, the numbers of those taking the exam for German average around 5,000, give or take a few hundred. As we understand it, outside funding is not obligatory. The obvious question is, Why is Italian being held to a different standard? There has been no response forthcoming.


    At a meeting held with the College Board this past April 20, 2009 (present also were representatives of the Italian Embassy, the NY Consulate, and COPILAS), we found out that the 2,400-plus exams ordered at that time were equal to the CB’s projections for 2014. At that same meeting, we had asked if the costs could then be recalculated, given this change. I had also requested  at the April meeting that the 2010 exam not be cancelled precisely because, I underscored, we needed to see if this significant rise in numbers over a two-year period (2007-2009: 785 students, 47.8%) does in fact constitute the beginning of a trend.


    After our April meeting I did indeed receive a response with regard to funding, which underscored (1) the need for $11.M, as the increase in students for this spring’s exam, in the CB’s opinion, has very little to no consequence in reducing funds, (2) a contract with an entity or individual who guarantees the full amount of $11.5, (3) and until these first two conditions are met the exam will not be re-instated.


    A number of things thus stand out at first blush. In addition to the obvious “Why is Italian being held to a different standard?,” one might indeed ponder how an organization that relies so much on statistical data can use only three years as a measuring stick. I suspect that in this case independent statisticians might argue otherwise, that more time and, indeed, more data (read, sittings and grades of the exam) are necessary. Another issue that comes to mind is that there seems to be no one within the College Board administration (i.e., the national Board of Trustees) who might readily argue—namely, who might possess the requisite knowledge and thus be prepared to argue—for the continuation of the Advanced Placement Program in Italian. This is a question of cultural awareness and sensitivity, something that we as individuals acquire according to our life-long, quotidian existence, which is rooted in both the social and the professional.


    The Italian language has always been a cultural vehicle, though in the United States for, perhaps, close to a century, if not longer, it was considered primarily—and in this regard I would say unfortunately—an ethnic language by mainstream thinking and organizations (yes, in spite of Dante et alii). The significant cultural valence of Italian has never been more obvious than over the past thirty-plus years, with the advent of Italian cinema and fashion first and foremost, the creation of the various “enti gestori” funded by the Italian government, and a rebirth in the translation of contemporary Italian writers and essayists such as Italo Calvino, Oriana Fallaci, Umberto Eco, and Dacia Maraini, among others.  The individual who possesses such social, professional, and, I would now, add cultural acumen and insight does not seem to occupy a place on the national Board of Trustees of the College Board. This is, to be sure, part and parcel of the challenge that lies ahead. Such a lack of cultural, ethnic, and racial discernment and mindfulness lies at the base of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s; similar comprehension and acknowledgement eventually led to the classification of Italian Americans as a “protected class” within the CUNY system for comparable reasons, a situation very much still unresolved.


    Thus, it should not seem a stretch to consider the absence of such ethnic and cultural sensitivity as yet a further stepping stone in this struggle to save the Advanced Placement Program in Italian—a language and culture that have given to Civilization the roots of modern western poetry (Dante and Petrarca), the template for what we call Modernity (the philosophy and art of the Italian Renaissance), and the matrix for our own modern-day legal philosophy (Cesare Beccaria), should simply not be cast aside because of  a budget that has yet to be explained in great detail and/or any other reasons unbeknownst to the public discourse thus far articulated.


    This is a struggle in which we all must engage; it is not the right of any one person or entityu to do so. Instead, we need to move as a collective. Furthermore, we need to reach out to our elected officials on all levels—national, state, and local. They, more than most of us, are in a strategically, strong position to put pressure on such monolithic, and dare I say monopolizing, entities, such as the College Board. A not-for-profit should not be concerned primarily with profit when deciding the future of an exam that was given only three years to develop, all of which raises doubts to the commitment to the project in the first place. Various financially successful AP exams do indeed fund others; that said, Italian should not be excluded without the requisite opportunity (read, time) to develop. This should be totally unacceptable to all of us, and the Italian/American community needs to express it/our indignation in as many venues as possible, beginning with those in the more influential positions to do so.

  • Op-Eds

    Representation of Italian and Italian/American Culture and History. "And Now What…?"

    A few months ago Michael Kinsley wrote an offensive article in which he aped what he thought would be a conversation that included a gangster of Italian origins. We can call it silly, supercilious, or anything else we might want to, but what is clear is that the piece was, intentionally or not, downright mean. Kinsley took a stereotype of an ethnic group and publicly squeezed it for all he could.

    More recently Italian/American groups from the Mid-West shamed MillerCoors LLC into stop running ads featuring Frank Vincent, of recent The Sopranos fame, advertising Miller Lite in the United States. This is, to be sure, a clear case of ethnic stereotyping, as the ad showed Vincent offering “protection” to store owners, clerks, and bartenders. The president of the Italian American Human Rights Foundation (Chicago), Lou Rago, said the group had threatened a boycott. He then went on to say that “if you agree [that] you wouldn’t have two black actors doing Amos and Andy, if you agree … you wouldn’t have two Polish actors pretending to be stupid, and if you agree … you wouldn’t have two Hispanics pretending to be gang-bangers, then you agree with us that this is wrong.” Indeed, we could not disagree. This is something many of us have stated ad nauseam.

    Why then, we continue to ask, do individuals and companies continue to use a most offensive stereotype in a public forum, regardless of the context? The answer is quite simple, as disturbing as it may seem. Kinsley, MillerCoors LLC, Verizon, as well as others, basically feel entitled to do so because the so-called dominant culture thought process in the United States allows, indeed encourages, people to do so. From Kinsley one Italian-American groups sought a public apology (Not sure that happened. If it did, it was behind closed doors); others, like the Italian American Human Rights Foundation, succeed in having the spot pulled. This, I would underscore, is admirable to be sure. But it is not the end all. Indeed, it is only the beginning. we need to move forward from these apparent end goals.

    We need to be sure that Italian and Italian/American history and culture are part of the USA curriculum at the public school level, K-12. We also need to be sure that professorships in Italian Americana exist on the college level; I have spoken to this issue in this venue on a couple of occasions. The success of such actions lies with us, the Italian/American community. We need to support our own activities in that we attend events, and this means sitting through lectures that, in the end, truly do inform us toward a greater completeness of knowledge of our culture in spite of the fact that we might believe we know it all already. We need to respond with courteous  yet firm indignation when—whether it be at a social event or business meeting—someone makes an offensive comment about Italians or Italian Americans in his/her feeble attempt to make a joke. We need to engage in a cultural philanthropy that is second to none!

    More significant, it is tantamount that our public officials engage in a greater degree of ethnic discourse, one that clearly surpasses those ethnic boundaries of social events. Namely, it is simply not enough for our elected representatives (congressional, senatorial, state, and municipal) to proclaim their Italian pride at Italian events such as Italy’s National Day or the Columbus Day Parade. They need to do so at events and in venues that are NOT Italian and Italian/American. They need to uphold the value of our Italian legacy in these venues precisely because, for instance, (1) what we know today as “modernity” has its origins in the Italian Renaissance; (2) what we know as philanthropy today has its “modern” roots in the Italian Renaissance; (3) what we know today as the United States legal system, it has its roots in an eighteenth-century Italian legal philosopher, Cesare Beccaria; (4) what we know of the art world is that more than sixty-percent of the world’s production is Italian in origin; (5) what we know of United States contemporary literature is that some of our best sellers are Baldacci, Ciresi, DeLillo, Scottoline, Trigiani, to name a few. Simply stated, we need to go beyond “pizza” and “nonna”!

    All this to say that Italian culture goes well beyond what we sometimes hear described as the three Fs, Food, Fashion, and Fun. Italian culture is all of the above and more. Language, for instance! How is it, some of us marvel, that the College Board can cancel (it is officially “suspended”) the Advanced Placement in Italian, a national exam, after only three years, and there is not a peep from the greater, more power-wielding Italian/American community of socio-political leaders in this country? Where is that well-articulated, national sense of outrage and indignation? Where are the Italian/American Waters, Sharptons, Jacksons, Rangels, and others who immediately come to the defense of their culture when it is under attack? Still in the making?

    Well, let us indeed ask for the public apology and let us even call for the pulling of the offensive commercials. But once we achieve these goals, let us also make sure that the fertile terrain exists for those scholars, writers, filmmakers, and artists who will need the support to tell the stories that need to be told. Where is, for example, the community support for filmmakers such as Nancy Savoca, John Turturro, and Marylou Tibaldo-Bongiorno? As a group, do we even go to their films? Where are the fellowships for writers to spend four to six weeks perfecting their craft? Do we even buy, as well as read, their book? Where are the think tanks that look to Italy’s legacy in the United States, exploring also, indeed first and foremost, the history of Italian immigration in this country? Such specific entities exist for other US ethnic groups, indeed funded also from within. Yet, the Italian/American community cannot seem to set up such entities unless they are funded from without. The John D. Calandra Institute is the closest thing to what I am underscoring here. We need more institutes in different parts of the country that can make it possible for the public discourse in the United States to include Italian Americana as part and parcel of the national conversation.  As I write, we have yet, definitively, to cross that threshold.