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Italian Americans throughout the country unofficially celebrate October as Italian American Heritage Month. Although some states and localities, such as New Jersey and Salt Lake City have officially designated October as such, the Federal government has yet to proclaim a National Italian American Heritage Month,.  A Congressional resolution was introduced into Congress to make the national designation official across the United States. However, progress has been slow. As of the end of September, only five congressmen had sponsored the resolution, including its original co-sponsors Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Pat Tiberi (R-OH), who are also co-chairs of the Italian American Congressional Delegation.  Read more…>>

We wanted to share with you  what our good friend Many Alfano, editor of the Alfano Digest, recently posted on his blog.

When will we stand up and defend our Heritage!

Will we ever have enough Italian Americans that will stand up and defend our heritage and culture from continued negative portrayals?

Will we ever have enough Italian Americans that can make a difference in putting an end to the endless degradation, ridicule and defamation perpetuated by the media, the entertainment and advertising industries and those Italian Americans that profit from the unbalanced negative stereotypical images? Why are there so many Italian Americans that make light of these negative portrayals and dismiss them as ‘only entertainment’?  …and defend their opinion by suggesting that we “lighten up.”

Those who shrug it off say we should learn to laugh at ourselves. I believe Italian Americans have a great sense of humor and we do laugh at ourselves, but how many times can we laugh at ourselves – once, twice, a hundred times?  But, when it’s thousands of times, then we’re being laughed at and ridiculed.

Manny Alfano

We have the Italian Americans that believe that all ethnic groups are stereotyped – and that’s a way of life.  My question to them is … to what degree are they stereotyped but balanced with all the positive roles.  I challenge them to research and compare the number of negative films, TV sitcoms, and reality shows that are defaming Italian American on a daily bases compared to any other group being negatively portrayed.

To those Italian Americans that feel we can counter the negative by promoting the positive and by doing good deeds, think about the fact that for more than one hundred years Italian American organizations and individuals have been doing just that.  My question is,  has it changed  the perception of Italian Americans today by one bit?

We have the Italian Americans that feel because they “made it” and point out that stereotyping hasn’t stopped them from climbing the ladder of success.  Not so fast, my friend. How many of you have heard that the way you “made it” was because you are “connected.” By the way, I suggest you don’t wear a silk suit, a pinkie ring or gold chain. And you can forget about driving a Cadillac if you ever want to be seen in a positive light.

We have the Italian Americans that feel we should not complain, in other words, don’t make waves; don’t write letters  or send e-mails of protest; and, never protest by picketing.  It seems they want to be loved … show the world we’re good people.  By doing any of this, have things changed?  Did it stop the defamation?  Are we being portrayed in a better light?  Most important, are we no longer the butt of negative, stereotypical jokes?  Are we no long depicted as buffoons, bums and bimbos?  Are Italian Americans respected?

I strongly believe that respect is given to those that are not only loved, but because they demand respect.  Fear sometime plays an important part in receiving that respect.  That’s fear as in being called out on negative, stereotypical portrayals.  Organizations such as the ADL, NAACP, La Raza, etc., demand respect, and they get it, because those who would cast aspersions know that they will be called out on their defamation.

I have always felt that education was key!  Knowing ones history can only add to one’s pride and knowledge.  But many of our people want to sugar coat our Italian and Italian American history and eliminate any of the negative history that Italians and Italian Americans have been subjected to, such as decimation of southern Italian by the north, lynchings, World War II internment, discrimination, defamation and the negative stereotyping by the media, etc. just to name a few.  Our history must be a complete unabridged history.

Now, when it comes to Italian American actors, there are those that say we should not blame or hold them accountable.  Some constantly take negative roles that demean Italian Americans.  These same people defend them stating “after all that’s their job and they have to make a living.”  As well as state, “They have to take these roles early in their careers and when they ‘make it’ they’ll get the better positive roles.”  My question to them is – after you “make it” will you take some of the millions of dollar you made depicting us as the lowest of the low and produce films and programs depicting us in a positive light?  Or, will we get the same old bull that positive scripts about Italian Americans don’t sell?  I say produce them anyway and take it as a tax loss.

And to those that defend these programs as well-done, classic  works of art, let me remind you of well-done films like “Birth of a Nation,” “Amos and Andy,” “Little Black Sambo,” and Shylock in the “The Merchant of Venice,” and “Ivanhoe” to name a few that are demeaning and some no longer with us.

We must be ever mindful that the repetitious nature of a stereotype infects the minds of viewers!  Perception is reality!

I also want to know if there are any Italian Americans that refused to take roles that demean and stereotypy their people and heritage.  Other groups have stood up for their heritage by refusing to play demeaning stereotypic roles.  Harry Belafonte expressed resentment at stereotypical roles in 1950s movies, and thus abandoned films.  Refusing to play into “black woman” stereotypes are people like Lena Horne who bucked the system and stayed true to her culture and roots.  Angela Bassett turned down a lead role in the movie “Monster’s Ball” because she believed the character was demeaning and stereotypical.  These are just a few that have refused to sell out.

When are Italian American actors and actresses going to quit selling themselves out and stop taking roles that demean & demoralize our heritage and culture?

And now they have replaced fictitious characters with real low life’s, buffoons, cafoni, and bimbos in the proliferation of Reality Shows  – “Jersey Shore,” “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” “Jerseylicious”  “My Big Friggin Wedding,” “I Married a Mobster,” “Mob Wives,” and “Carfellows.”   Will it ever end?

After decades of negativism of Italian Americans these images are etched in the minds of millions. Those that choose to remain silent serve to condone and are part of the problem that will shackle our children and grandchildren with these negative images affecting their lives and livelihood.

It is my firm belief that we must speak out against these images with one strong united voice if we are ever to succeed.  We must support the films, books, actors, and writers that portray Italian Americans in a positive light.

As more Italian Americans stand up and defend their heritage, more will get behind us.  But it has to start with us.  We must continue to speak out against negative portrayals and also support those who portray Italian Americans in positive ways.

Manny Alfano

Bloomfield, NJ

On July 22, 2011, the Italian Ambassador, Giulio Terzi, spoke at the AP Annual Conference held in San Francisco.  His theme, ” Italian: a door to Europe, a bridge to the future,” makes a strong case for the teaching of Italian language in American public schools. Amb. Terzi  also responded to those critics who have said that Italian language is no longer relevant:   “The Italian of nuclear physicists, doctors, architects and artists is exactly the same language which has been spoken for the last millennium. Can the same be said of other European or Asian languages?”  We’re sure you will enjoy reading the entirety of his remarks, which we reproduce below:

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I am honored to be here tonight to celebrate a milestone for the Italian language in the United States – its return to the Advanced Placement Program. And I am particularly pleased to be able to mark this important moment together with those who made it possible.More Italian in the USA has been the Italian Embassy’s and the Consulates’ motto since the very beginning of my mission in Washington in October 2009. We believed then, and strongly believe today, that the extraordinary bonds which go hand-in-hand with the political alliance of our two Countries can be further enhanced in the field of Italian language and culture. This is a top priority that comes straight from the highest Authorities of my Country: the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs had all underlined, the need to promote the Italian language in the United States. My Government has spared no efforts to support this campaign.

Giulio Terzi

Talking about no efforts spared, let me recognize the College Board’s outstanding job. Through the skilled leadership of its President, Governor Gaston Caperton, the College Board proved to be a strong, steadfast partner whose collaboration was – and is – invaluable. Thank-you, Governor Caperton, for your farsightedness and, if I may say so, for your friendship: they were pivotal in the realization of this project. I’d also like to praise Governor Caperton’s staff and single out, in particular, the work of Trevor Packer and Mark Cavone.

My deep gratitude goes to the Conference of the Presidents of the Major Italian American Organizations, to the Italian-American organizations and to those Italian companies which contributed to our campaign. Let me say grazie to all those who daily teach and disseminate our language in American schools: the Italian principals in the United States, the teachers, the local non profit organizations and, naturally, the students. Last November 10th agreement in New York bears their signature too.

***

It was the dawn of the 14th century, when a Florentine man of letters embodied, in his immense culture and vision, the eclecticism and confidence in the future of Man – values that would have later inspired and shaped Humanism and the Renaissance. This poet wrote, in Latin, a short “scientific treatise” to prove what, according to him, were the distinctive features of languages spoken in Italy and in Europe at that time.

The first quality regarded, we would say today, the social function of communication. Languages derive from cultural roots which may be very broad and ancient, but they take foot and evolve continually thanks to a number of different elements, artistic genres, and different channels and patterns of communication.

He also noted that the traits of a language, however much they may evolve, must respond to specific criteria, both in their structure (grammar, in the first place), and in their national and regional dimensions.

The man of whom I speak is Dante Alighieri, and the unfinished work is the “De Vulgari Eloquentia”. In his days, Italy had fourteen “vulgar” languages, that is to say, dialects commonly used in different areas of the peninsula, which all derived from Latin. Langues d’Oc and Langues d’Oeil shared the same roots, as did their dialects north and west of the Alps. Dante’s comparison between the different vernaculars led him to conclude that the dialect of his native Florence possessed the characteristics, vitality, structure and flexibility necessary to become a great national language – that is, the Italian one.

I have lingered upon the Supreme Poet’s ideas not merely to recall that this literary giant is rightly called the “Father of the Italian language”. I have mentioned him because through his farsighted and modern proposal he reached out to all Italians at a time when Italy was politically fragmented, and would continue to be so for the next five centuries.

The stress test the Florentine language was subjected to in the De Vulgari Eloquentia, be it in its “genetics”, flexibility, potentiality for communication or even in its harmony (Italy is “la terra dove anche il si’ suona” – the land where yes is musical) yielded astounding, unique results, with a long-lasting legacy. Many scholars have noted how 14th century Florentine, unlike other “vulgar” languages of the time, is perfectly comprehensible in this day and age. The poetry of Dante, Petrarca, Cavalcanti and others is musical, moving and evocative and, most significantly, can be appreciated by all those who know our language today.

Very few, perhaps no other modern language, can boast such a strong combination of tradition and innovation. The Italian of nuclear physicists, doctors, architects and artists is exactly the same language which has been spoken for the last millennium. Can the same be said of other European or Asian languages?

***

While celebrating Italy’s 150th Anniversary this year, we should not forget that the Italian language had such a crucial role, and was such a binding element, in the building of our Country: Italian language was truly the “founding moment of national identity”, and “one of the most ancient and noble cultural forces that have united the country and kept our citizens together and cohesive abroad”, as President Giorgio Napolitano recently said.

***

According to Italian scholar Roberto Cartocci, “ethnos”,  the people and its tradition, is the characteristic which the identity of a nation is built upon. Another basic component -he said- is “logos”, language, which defines the community. And “logos” played an essential role in “creating Italians” much before the Risorgimento had succeeded in creating Italy, as a Country, in 1861. It helped to overcome divisions between those living in the different States and entities within the peninsula.

Even outside our geographical boundaries, as a Romance language Italian was decisive in the development of other European idioms and cultures. Niccolò Machiavelli wrote that no language could express all without having to borrow from other languages. This being the case, Italian must be considered as an exceptional lender towards the rest of the world. The influence of Italian on other languages’ lexicon reached its height between the 11th and the 15th centuries. At that time, Italy was already an important mediator between Europe and Northern Africa, the Arab peninsula, and the Far East, to include the Byzantine Empire. Arabic words entered the Italian language and later migrated into other languages following a phonetic – and at times semantic – re-elaboration. Most of the words I am thinking of are used in the technical and scientific domains – terms such as cipher [from “cifra” in Italian] and the number zero [from “zero” in Italian]. The world of food was greatly influenced by Italian too, especially for what were considered, at that time, as “luxury” goods such as sugar [from “zucchero”] and sorbet [“sorbetto”]. The diffusion of Italian words decreased after the 15th century,  but our words and symbols continued to be very much present in many other languages, in particular in fields such as the maritime one, banking, poetry, music and painting. Some examples among thousands?  “Banker” and “usurer” [respectively banchiere and usuraio in Italian]; “sonnet” [sonetto], or yet “cappella” and “gusto”, when referring to operas and classical music.

Mirroring Italy’s role as a formidable cultural and political mediator, through the centuries our language has developed its unique ability to act as a bridge between the different communities along the Mediterranean’s borders: in particular, with the Arab civilization: many words from Arabic migrated into other European languages through our own.

Walt Whitman, author of Leaves of Grass, one of the masterpieces of American literature, said of the United States: “I am big.  I contain multitudes.”  And herein lies also the greatness of Italian culture and language: It contains multitudes. To bring closer, to integrate, and to join: this is what Italian has done, both as a language and as a culture, throughout the centuries. This, if you will allow me to use a term which is at the center of a debate in the United States – is the exceptionalism of the Italian language, which reflects the history of the greatest cultural and humanistic reality in the world; a country which, according to UNESCO, is home to over half of the world’s artistic and cultural heritage.

In modern times, this “bridging” role has gone to the millions of Italians who have moved abroad to all continents. This is particularly true for the Italian and Italian-American community in the United States. President Obama expressly recalled, on the occasion of his March 17th Proclamation for the 150th Anniversary of the Unification of Italy, the Italian community’s extraordinary contribution to this Country.

These millions of Italians have followed the same path that ideas and political thought had trodden decades and centuries before them: they crossed the Atlantic and helped to shape the very foundations of the United States. The “unalienable rights” cited in the Declaration of Independence – notably life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – find their roots in values such as the Italian Renaissance’s concept of the “centrality of the human being”. Filippo Mazzei and Thomas Jefferson enjoyed a great friendship and exchanged many ideas:  the “All men are equal” phrase enshrined in the “Declaration of Independence” is attributed to the Italian philosopher. Gaetano Filangieri and Benjamin Franklin’s long and interesting correspondence wed the former’s dream of a universal constitution with the solid strength of a nascent federal State where freedom and equality could finally be achieved. As for the pursuit of happiness, it’s easy to see how it connects to what today is referred to as the “Italian style”. Just think of opera, or of Italian fashion and cuisine, and of all the words commonly used by Americans – and by the rest of the world, for that matter. Terms which also carry broader concepts, such as the Mediterranean diet and healthy living, which are now priority policies for all governments: words, to put it simply, which lead to winning models.

***

Let us now look at some facts. Between 1998 and 2009, the Modern Language Association tells us that students of Italian in American universities rose by almost 60%, passing the 80,000 threshold. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages reckons that between 2004 and 2008 high-school students learning Italian went up to 78,000, from a previous 65,000. Last but not least, there are 88,000 people learning Italian through our local non profit organizations.

Some other data points: 75 million people in the world are native Italian speakers. On the Internet our language is in the top ten – yet another proof of the modernity and functionality of our language.

And this is the linchpin which brings us back to why we are here today. Was it even conceivable that a cultural and linguistic reality of these proportions were not included in the AP Program? It was absolutely not.

But we must not rest. The reinstatement of Italian in the AP Program is a big accomplishment in itself, but it is also the beginning of a renewed campaign that began last November, when we signed the agreement with the College Board. A campaign we have continued to work on in recent months to enhance the freshness and appeal of the Italian language in the United States.
***
The Italian Language Observatory was one of our first steps in this direction. It includes representatives of donor organizations, teacher associations, university professors and high-school teachers, and directs all activities pertaining to the dissemination of the Italian language in the United States. Its strategic plan was approved by the College Board, and it works hand-in-hand with our institutes of culture (starting with that of San Francisco); as well as our local non profit organizations; our education directors and university lecturers. Naturally, the Observatory also works closely with structures of excellence such as the “Scuola d’Italia Guglielmo Marconi” in New York.

An important part in this new campaign will be played by the many interuniversity agreements between Italian and American institutions, such as that signed by the University of Maryland and the University for Foreigners of Perugia: this will assure a new generation of Italian language teachers. Or again, by the Memoranda of Understanding which exist at a State, County or School District level, such as that between the Consulate General in San Francisco and school authorities in California, for the certification of Italian teachers in that State. Schools in Lombardy and US universities have signed agreements which enable American students to come to Italy as English language assistants whilst learning Italian, and how best to teach it.

***

With these tools, and the many I haven’t mentioned, we can surely be satisfied with what we have already achieved, but we must – as I said – look ahead and strive for much more. The Observatory has just encouraged the creation of a website – www.usspeaksitalian.com – which is taking its first steps on the Internet. I encourage all of you, your children, your family, your friends, to get to the website and to participate pro-actively in this debate. But please, wait a few seconds more, until I have finished! The website is an independent interactive portal which teachers, families and students alike can use to seek information on learning Italian in the United States.

Let the US speak Italian. Let us all speak Italian!

Grazie.

As alluring and romantic a notion as it might be, “la dolce vita” never truly applied to all Italians, and certainly not to those who left Italy to improve their lives in America. Similarly, growing up Italian American was far more nuanced than the typical picture of huge family gatherings, a table spilling over with sumptuous foods, and Nonno at the head of the table presiding magnanimously over his happy, laughing brood. Yet, much of the literature written by and about Italian Americans has mostly perpetuated this sentimental view.

One of the difficulties an Italian American writer faces is in revealing raw truths about one’s family. Difficult, because of the unwritten rule that Italian family members do not air their dirty laundry in public. Doing so is a sign of disrespect and disloyalty to the family. A family’s skeletons stay in the closet, and often remain hidden, even father from son, mother from daughter, husband from wife, but certainly and always from strangers.

But in the new book Anarchist Bastard by Joanna Clapps Herman (yes, Clapps is an Italian surname and can be found in some phone books of the Basilicata region), the author treads where few others have dared. In what must have been a personally difficult decision, Clapps tells the story of her Italian American family’s life in Waterbury, Connecticut. Her tale covers the good and the expected, and relates experiences that many Italian Americans will easily identify with. What sets the book apart from other Italian-theme literature, however, is that Clapps also bares many of her family’s failings and serious flaws, shedding light on some dark corners of the family’s past.

Read more . . . >>

 U.S. Ambassador David H. Thorne’s statement on Lady Gaga’s participation to the 2011 EuroPride

I am delighted to hear that Lady Gaga has agreed to participate in EuroPride Roma 2011.  Lady Gaga has been a public advocate for LGBT issues, which are very important to  us.

As Secretary Clinton says regularly: “human rights are gay rights and gay rights are human rights.”  I am very proud to have an Italian-American artist of her stature visit  Rome and we look forward to the concert.

SOURCE:  US Embassy in Italy

Posted in Italian Americans|Tagged David Thorne, Lady  Gaga|

Many years ago, Washington lawyer Joe Grano, after returning to Washington from a trip to Rome, Italy, realized that the two cities shared more than just their status as capital cities. Joe saw that the arts and architecture of the two cities were similar, of course, but he also noted that perhaps those similarities were not accidental but deliberate.

Joe Grano and Gianni Alemanno

As Joe explained to CiaoAmerica!, “The American Founding Fathers chose a republic as their preferred form of government after having studied extensively the ‘constitution’ of the Roman Republic. Once it was decided to create a new city for the Seat of Government, it was only natural that they chose Roman architecture for their main public buildings. This was a deliberate decision of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. It is certainly not accidental that the three buildings that represent the legislative, executive and judicial branches, i.e. The Capitol, the White House and the  Supreme Court building are ultimately derived from Roman models, albeit two from an indirect route. Indeed, Jefferson highly recommended a rotunda for the new U.S. Capitol building.”

Joe Grano  decided to act on his observations and over the years became the force behind efforts to join Rome and Washington in a “Sister Cities ” agreement.

But even before that campaign, Joe founded the Constantino Brumidi Society and began efforts to have, among others, Constantino Brumidi, the “Michelangelo of the Nation’s Capitol,” recognized by the U.S. Congress.  Eventually, through his tireless efforts, and his ceaseless prodding of national Italian American organizations, Congress  posthumously awarded Brumidi a Congressional Gold Medal.

Now that the medal has been minted, Joe is indefatigably prodding appropriate Washington institutions to hold a ceremony to commemorate the minting of the medal.

This past Tuesday, Joe sat among the invited guests witnessing the signing ceremony of the “Sister Cities” agreement. He must have felt a moment of satisfaction as he watched the Mayor of  Rome,  Gianni Alemmanno, and the Mayor of Washington, D.C., Vincent Gray sign the document in the historic John Wilson Building, seat of the D.C. government.   Outside the building, the U.S., D.C. and Italian flags waved in the breeze.

Joe recalls that he first brought the “Sister City” idea to the attention of the administration of former DC Mayor Anthony Williams and enlisted the help of other local groups, including SMATCH.  However, by the time the then-Mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, expressed an interest in signing an agreement, the city elected a new mayor.  Under the following Mayor, Adrian Fenty, whose mother Janet  Perno  Fenty is incidentally Italian American, a series of meetings were held with heads of local groups and distinguished Washingtonians to draft a protocol and agreement. Early  in 2008, the draft protocol was approved by Mayor Fenty and then transmitted to Rome. Unfortunately, soon after it was sent, Veltroni resigned as mayor.  Read more . . .

MTV’s Jersey Shore has been an embarrassment to Italian Americans since its inception.  It’s no surprise that Wall Street Journal writer Stacy Meichtry  says that the casting of Jersey Shore in Florence, Italy , is creating a “culture clash.”  In the story, which appears on the front page of today’s Journal, Meichtry writes that the Jersey shore cast is getting “a cold shoulder in Italy.”   The cultural superintendent for the city of Florence, has banned the Jersey Shore cast from filming in any of the city’s hallowed museum.”   Andre Dimino, former president of UNICO, a national Italian American group, has branded Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi as the country’s worst ever export after she crashed into an Italian police car this weekend.  “She really is the lowest of the low and will do anything for attention, even hitting a police car.”  “She is our worst ever export and is an embarrassment for Italian Americans and our whole country.” said Dimino to a reporter.  We are sure Italians will agree!