A few years ago, an article written by Anne Beatts, entitled, The Amore, The Merrier, appeared in the Los Angeles Times. The article commences by informing the reader of a recent report made from a study done on contemporary life style in Italy. The study reveals that the majority of young couples there choose not to have children.
Based upon similar related revelations in the study, the report concludes, 150 years from now, there will be no more Italians! To which, Ms Beatts interjects editorially, “To some people, that might be cause for rejoicing.”
Confident that we are now chuckling along with her, she continues in an attempt at humor, making degrading racial inferences about Italian- American life experiences in the USA. This is accomplished by posing a series of queries to the reader such as: “Have you ever experienced the thrill of clam sauce. Peppered with stray bullets in Little Italy?” and followed by another, ” Have You ever felt a clammy hand that doesn’t belong to you, touch something very personal, that does belong to you, on a crowded bus in the Piazza Di Spagna?”
Now to me, the most infuriating thing about this article was the resultant absence of any voice of protest by those generally vigilant members from the variety of the Politically Correct Policing Organizations that normally would rush in with outcries of injustice. If this article had been predicated on the report of an impending world in which there would be an absence of Mexicans or Black-Africans, it never would have seen the light of day. That is precisely because, as the Times editorial staff recognizes full well, those same Politically Correct Forces would have been all over them like a wet blanket.
The willingness of the pre-eminent Los Angeles Times, having allowed a degrading piece about Italian Americans like this one to be printed at all, is illustrative of today’s all-too-common occurrence, in which debasing depictions of Italian stereotypes appear in varying print media with little or no consequence.
Posing a disturbingly bigger challenge is the popular, omnipresent Mafia film that is a surfeit of in today’s theatre fare. Due to the inherent influential power of the film ‘experience’, facilitated by previously unimaginable advances in the technology, Fantasy is convincingly presented as Reality today and more often than not, accepted as truth in the minds of the viewers. (Consider the renderings of Michael Moore) However, that being said, I think the performances and much of the writing in “The Sopranos” was brilliant.
Today’s audiences are bombarded with films representing an Italian-American life style today that is pure fantasy. Lifted from life as it existed in the New York of the early 1900′s, the fat Italian mother is seen dutifully preparing sauce in her kitchen, where a conveniently placed piece of crusty Italian bread loaf is available for her mobster son to dip into the sauce upon arriving home. Enter the handsome son who, as we have witnessed in earlier scenes, to be a brutal murderer, is nonetheless, portrayed here as charming, warm and loving with his mother.
Such stereotypical representations as these, have been so effectively “burned” into the psyche of American audiences over the years, one is led to be reminded of the artistically executed propaganda film, “Triumph of The Will, ” The Leni Riefenstahl work that had a profound psychological effect in shaping the beliefs and compliance of audiences in the pre-World War II years of Nazi Germany.
I used to wonder how it came to be that an ethnic group that contained such successful entertainers, artists, sports figures and business icons as Frank Sinatra, Henry Fonda, Amadeo Gianninni, Lee Iacocca, Tony Bennett, Leonardo Da Vinci, Robert DeNiro, Dean Martin, Al Pacino, Michelangelo, Jimmy Durante, Louie Prima, Henry Mancini, Pavarotti, Joe Dimaggio, Vince Lombardi, Tommy LaSorda, and Rocky Marciano, just to mention a few, could be treated with such a double standard of indifference.
Add to this, the fact that the favorite food in America today is Italian while the leading clothing designers and automotive designers are Italian. And how Italian Chocolate has led to Italy replacing Belgium as the “Chocolate Capital of the World” all beg the question of why such a tolerance seems to exist for the continual ridicule and disparagement of Italian-American culture? But I think that I’ve come to an explanation of sorts.
Having been born and living my younger years on the east coast, I have an opinion of how this has come about through the experiences of those years. I believe that one of the principal reasons lies with Italian-Americans themselves; or is with the history of their forebearers.
When their predecessors came to the United States at the turn of a previous century, they initially came as Sicilians, Genovese, Barese, Venetians, Piemontese and any one of an existing number of independent city-states.
The people from those states, thought of themselves and identified themselves as being of the region or city in Italy from whence they came. To them, their village or city was Italy, and though Italy finally was recognized as being a unified country in 1871; internally, because of the differences in the positions held by various factions within the country, the final disposition and determined entity known to the world as the nation of Italy, did not exist technically, until the 1950′s.
In previous times to the unification, long after the fall of the Roman Empire, many of these region-states were intensely competitive and often combative enemies with one another. Their disputes would lead to violent wars. As such, the populations of the separate regions held themselves to be citizens of their state or region. Going so far, in fact, that marriage in the Italy of those days only took place between a man and a woman from the same village or region.
It also must be understood that many regions of Italy had been invaded and conquered by other nations and so the culture and the loyalties of the citizens in those disparate regions took years to take the shape and reality of a truly unified Italy. Even today, Sicilians often complain that they still are treated as “poor cousin” by the Italian Government.
Giving support to my theory, in his book, Ethnic America,1 Thomas Sowell relates that New York city in the 1900′s, contained over 1000 different Italian shelters, each one serving only immigrants from the region represented by that particular shelter. Their cultural behavior, such as Italian women being live-in maids like the Irish, who had preceded them, “would be incompatible with southern Italian views of even the possibility or appearance of sexual laxity,”2 Italian men in the America of 1910 earned less annually than either native white or black males.3 Being smaller in stature than those of other immigrant groups and less strong, is the reason they were paid less. However, with the passage of time and the acclimation to their new nation, the availability of food and the eventual acceptance of intermarriage with other ethnicities led to their developing in line with other immigrant groups.
The factors mentioned here, played an important role in Italian immigrants failing to collect in cohesive voting blocks politically. Northern Italians, who preceded the massive groups of southern Italians, openly repudiated them as being “different”. The resulting effect of the “degrees of separation” that divided the early immigrants was a failure to acquire the benefit of being able to reliably deliver an “Italian block vote” and thereby gain all the political benefits and advantages that come with it in the political systems of the USA. That fact can be amply demonstrated by the success of the Irish; particularly in the northeast, and why they are such a presence in city and state governments, Police Departments, Fire Departments and other positions of authority.
1 Thomas Sowell, Ethnic America (Basic Books Inc. 1981) 2 Sowell, Ethic America PG 113
Ethnic America Thomas Sowell (Basic Books 1981)