header i-Italy

Articles by: Letizia Airos soria

  • 20 luglio 1969. “Si anch’io andrò sulla luna. Papà vieni con me?”


    20 luglio 1969. Occhi puntati sullo schermo. Azzurri. Occhi piccoli e occhi grandi. Assonnati ma forzatamente aperti. Seduti sul divano della casa di famiglia un padre ed una figlia con il silenzio del paese intorno. Non è una notte di vacanza come le altre.


    Tutti dormono nell'appartamento. Il ritocco della pendolo appeso al muro scandisce i minuti, ogni mezzora circa i campanili delle chiese lo accompagnano per niente sincronizzati. Le campane non riuscivano ancora a suonare in contemporanea eppure l’uomo si accingeva a compiere il passo più importante della sua storia. Almeno per allora. Non c’era Internet, ancora non c’erano neanche i CD, la Apple non aveva inventato niente, non c’erano persino i cellulari.


    Nella mente della bambina, che ancora non aveva 8 anni, le immagini dei libri di scuola, i disegni di lune con le diverse fasi, fumetti ma anche la ricerca di concretezza, la voglia di sapere ed un sogno da vivere insieme a suo padre. “Si anch’io andrò sulla Luna. Papà vieni con me?”. Felice di saper leggere cercava di catturare i titoli in televisione.


    Accoccolata vicino al padre voleva capire. Poteva chiedere poco. Il patto era di rimanere in piedi ma facendo attenzione a non svegliare la sorella piccola, la mamma, i nonni.


    Il televisore in bianco e nero inviava immagini dagli Stati Uniti per portarla sulla Luna. Luna tanto lontana ma non molto più dell’America nella mente di quella bambina. L’America degli amici del nonno che tornavano al paese in vacanza e le regalavano biglietti verdi. Nonno Salvatore li guardava con occhi sognanti, fieri. I suoi amici ce l’avevano fatta!


    Come era lontana quell’America! E se gli americani riuscivano ad andare  sulla Luna erano lontani almeno quanto gli abitanti del satellite terrestre. Almeno questo pensava la bambina.


    Ma c’erano questi uomini della Luna? Si dovevano esserci per forza. Magari nascosti in quei buchi, che da poco sapeva chiamare nel modo giusto: crateri.


    Accanto a lei il padre. Trentacinquenne. Nell’aria la speranza nel futuro, cosi palpabile in quegli anni ‘60. Aveva appena comprato una nuova casa a Roma, si stava realizzando sul lavoro. Il ritorno ogni anno nel paese nativo per lui era quasi trionfale.


    Figlio di operaio era riuscito a studiare, "a farcela". Non soffriva più quella fame che tanto ricordava, anzi!

    Sì, anche per lui tutto sembrava possibile, conquistabile anche se con fatica. Anche la Luna.


    E finalmente il cuore balza in gola. Ma per poco….“Ha toccato”. Dice il giornalista, Tito Stagno. Dagli Usa risponde il collega, Ruggero Orlando. “Non ha toccato”. Poco dopo si ha la certezza.


    Il Lem, quello strano animale meccanico con i piedi, è veramente sul suolo lunare. Insieme ai due cronisti commenta un altro 'pezzo da novanta' del giornalismo italiano, Andrea Barbato. Ma la bambina questo, allora, non lo sapeva.


    Quegli occhi assonnati sono sempre più aperti. In cerca di immagini. Le prime arrivano capovolte, ma sono dalla Luna. Forse la Luna è capovolta? Istintivamente mette la testa sottosopra.


    Sarà ancora una notte lunga per il padre e la bambina. Piena di pensieri, commenti, emozioni. Tanti sogni.


    Tutto questo  fino al momento in cui Armstrong poggierà il primo piede umano sulla Luna. E quella frase storica che ha fatto storia,  fa pensare…  “E' un piccolo passo per un uomo, un balzo gigantesco per l'umanità".


    Un pensiero che tocca ancora oggi, 20 luglio 2009. In un modo però in cui non avrebbero mai immaginato, allora. Sia il padre, che oggi non c'è più. Sia quella bambina che lo ricorda più della Luna.


  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Cesare Casella. When Simplicity Wins

    Between a slice of prosciutto and a glass of prosecco, we chat effusively with the ‘rosemary chef.’ The chef who along with the Rosi family from Parma, the owners of Parmacotto, runs a local spot to eat, live, and experience Italy’s atmosphere in New York: Salumeria Rosi. It’s another successful venture for Cesare Casella.  
     
    We first observe him from afar. One cannot fail to notice his booth at the Fancy Food Show. Among the high quality products on display, prosciutto di Parma is irresistible, authentic and unmistakably Italian, but it also communicates passion. We have an excellent chef who slices our prosciutto: Cesare Casella. His lively eyes, his warm manner, his ability to put anyone at ease, and his ways that embrace and prepare your palate with human warmth are exceptional.

     He embodies the synthesis of true Italian hospitality connected to food. Cesare tirelessly slices prosciutto and arranges them on wooden cutting boards. Dozens and dozens of hands stretch over his counter, hands that cannot resist taking and tasting the product. It’s entertaining just watching the expressions of those who sample it. 

     
    We ask the chef to comment on the Fancy Food Show. He immediately offers us a glass of prosecco and we ask him to continue, not wanting to interrupt his work. And so while we talk he continues to slice prosciutto, greet guests, and entertain people.

     

    What does it mean for a chef to promote Italian products? How has your presence at the Fancy Food Show been going this year?

    For me, Italian products are the basis for everything. This year seems to be going well, at least for us. Having a successful, quality product is fundamental. And I am sure that even in this recession, with the right price-quality ratio, one can still profit.

     
    With Italian cuisine based on a few, select products focused on simplicity and quality, it can be said that during a crisis you can also save by choosing good, quality products. If you spend a little more you get so much more in return, in the end result. Not complicated recipes full of ingredients; you only need a few essential elements combined with art ... 
    Exactly. If you start with good quality ingredients, it’s hard to go wrong. It's important to build on the standard of Italian quality. It must be said, though, that not all Italian products are good because it’s obvious that there are products out there that are sub-par. We should listen to the advice from the experts.

     

    In general, Italian products have been damaged by amateur producers who sent shoddy products to the U.S. thinking that the Americans can’t tell the difference. But if these products don’t sell in Italy they’re not going to sell here. American consumers are very attentive to what they buy, they’re informed, and if they aren’t, they learn. You have to be careful. Those who take this seriously have no problems, but I think those who try to be shrewd will have problems.

     

    In your opinion what’s the key to your success as a chef? Do you think that it lies in your spontaneity and encouraging Italian simplicity?  
    I try to be myself and do what I like; if you do what you like, it’s easier to convey sincerity. I believe that it’s about being honest and being yourself. People trust me. I also believe that simplicity is the trump card with our products. We must simply be aware of having the best products and promoting them again and again.

     


    Simplicity, but also elegance and style ...  

    Italian style is Italian style; it’s unmistakable when it’s  there. In my opinion Italian style is one that manages to combine simplicity with taste. On the surface Salumeria seems to be a very simple place, but it comes from hard work and thorough research.

     
    When I first shared this idea with Rosi family, the owners of Parmacotto, we wanted to create

    an Italian delicatessen in New York. We noticed that we agreed on many things and had many things in common, so we opened Salumeria together.  
     
    It had to be something special because the Rosi family has style. An architect who was appropriate to their style was difficult to find so we chose a set designer instead...  

    A set designer...excellent. An Oscar winner?  
    Yes, Dante Ferretti. We chose a set designer because he works for the public. It’s based on art – both his knowledge and what the public expects.  

    We wanted to send a message. After all, Salumeria is not a store that you can find in the U.S., but when you walk in it feels like being in Italy. The entire interior was, in fact, made in Italy in six weeks and then transported to the United States. The 25 seats have been built into a very comfortable and elegant space with a photo mural of Italy that recalls the culinary traditions of each region. When they brought me the first set of plans, dark windows and a white Italy, I thought: this will be tremendous! And after so much work, I was drunk on happiness because it was so cool.

     
     

     One thing I’m curious about, that I think many are as well. How long have you been wearing the rosemary? When was the first time?  
     For thirty years. When I was a chef, I wore it in the kitchen, in my pocket because I had a garden with several types of herbs ready. Now I have to wear it because hardly anyone recognizes me without it.  
     
    Recently, in Aspen, I asked to have two rosemary plants in the booth and two in the apartment where I was staying. It’s not always easy to find it. They usually prepare packets with all my herbs for me. Yes, it’s been thirty years that I’ve been wearing rosemary, always in my chef’s jacket and in my tuxedo.

    ---

    Salumeria Rosi

    283 Amsterdam Ave. (73rd / 74th St)

    New York, NY 10023

    Phone: 212-877-4800
    View Map & Directions
     
     

  • Events: Reports

    "Bitter Bread" for the US. An Encounter With Gianfranco Norelli

    We interviewed Gianfranco Norelli in the library of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, surrounded by books that seemed to be watching us.

    It was an in-depth conversation about that aspect of America that is also Italian, the America that many Italian-Americans are still not familiar with. He told us about his large-scale project related to the documentary he has produced, written, and shot: Bitter Bread. 
     

    Through him the pages of history from the last century speak to the present.

     
    We present highlights from our conversation-interview organized by topics. It’s a preview of the U.S. version of the documentary film that will be screened at the Center for the Performing Arts at LaGuardia Community College/CUNY in Queens. 
     
    Traveling in Italy

    “While in Italy with my wife, who is an American citizen of Indian decent, we noticed a reaction that was disconcerting to say the least. On more than one occasion we witnessed episodes of suspicion, discrimination, and even racism against immigrants….” Gianfranco Norelli begins to tell us what led him to make the documentary "Bitter Bread" . 
     

    “I was surprised. I didn’t remember the Italy where I was raised to be like this. I have lived in the U.S. for thirty years, but I have always gone back for short periods. For some time there has been something new – an unexpected, offensive attitude towards immigrants. It is present even at the institutional level, for example, on the part of several mayors in northern Italy. There is little familiarity with the concepts of multiculturalism and diversity.” 

    A Documentary for Italians 
    And so Norelli, along with his wife Suma, decided to make a documentary to raise awareness about the difficult experience that Italian immigrants faced in America. An exceptional project with different points of view was born, one with a wide breadth and scope.  
    He is a journalist and a director who over the course of his career has made many important films, such as the documentary with Fabrizio Laurenti entitled Mussolini’s Secret. It tells the dramatic and little-known story of Ida Dalser which inspired the recent movie Vincere by Marco Bellocchio. 
     

    Immigration and Amnesia   

    Suma Kurien Norelli has focused on immigration for over twenty years. She teaches language and vocational training courses at LaGuardia Community College/CUNY. As a conscientious scholar of issues related to assimilation, she understands the situation in New York very well.

    Her husband tells us: “Suma has noticed that in Italy there is a lack of awareness on the part of social workers who deal with immigration issues. They lack a universal vision. Bitter Breadwas created to inform more Italians about the forgotten pages of history that very often are not included in history books….”

     This amnesia is caused by a deep gap between Italians and Italian-Americans: “They lost contact. Italians in America lost the opportunity to remember and examine their own history here, but also to keep up with the evolution of Italian society over the years.” 

    A Documentary for Americans and Italian-Americans

    Bitter Bread was originally created for Italian television, but the Norellis soon realized that they would have to make another version specifically for an Italian-American audience.

     “Many of these stories were not known, even in the United States. We have shown it on several occasions to Italian-American audiences. Very few of them knew about the lynchings of Italians, for example, or the fact that Italians were seen as a mixed race, neither black nor white, or that Italian immigrants were initially recruited to replace enslaved blacks on southern plantations…” 
     

    How were these subjects chosen? 
     

    “My wife and I made a list of topics and we discarded the ones that had already been covered in other films. We wanted episodes that were little known or not even known at all. We also wanted to revisit some themes. For example, we wanted to talk about the labor movement and trade unions, the role of women, the presence of a distinct culture, one of intellectual development on the part of immigrants that was not recognized by official history.”

     
    Universal Values of the Italian-American Experience  
      Norelli portrays the Italian-American experience in a surprisingly way; it is neither conventional, nor celebratory, nor self-referential. The film uncovers and captures the immigrant experience, and does so without pity or rhetoric. “One of the goals,” Norelli tells us, “was to demonstrate, through several concrete episodes, how this experience has universal value and relevance. It can be applied to other communities that have been discriminated against, that have had difficulty integrating, and that have paid a high price to assimilate, such as loss of their culture, language, and contact with their country of origin.”

     Bitter Bread was also shown at the Bangalore International Film Festival in India. “Here in Bangalore,” they told us during the festival, “there is a constant flow of immigrants from poorer regions

    because we are the information technology capital in the area. We are flooded with these poor immigrants who are causing our society a lot of stress….” 
     


    A Difficult Film  

    Up until a few years ago, Bitter Bread would have been considered a difficult film to make because of the subjects it tackles. Today the film, which is supported in part by NIAF, demonstrates a different way to look at these issues. 
    “I think the whole debate has evolved,” said Norelli. “There is a new a new outlook. It’s less defensive. This is because the phenomenon of immigration to America as well as migration worldwide has evolved. The debate has now expanded.”

     Speaking with Norelli about this film is like talking about a delicate, fragile creature. It has grown slowly and steadily through a lot of care and attention. The version that will be presented this week at LaGuardia Community College/CUNY is the result of hard work.  
     

    “At first we just translated the film and then had it shown here to gauge the Italian-Americans’ reaction. We realized that it had to be balanced and re-adjusted. The narration was recreated, removing the aspects that were already obvious to most Americans.

     It resulted in a clearer, more specific work. For example, we reviewed the relationship between Fascism and Italian Americans, or assimilation as a process of loss of identity and language.” 
     

    A Film for Young People   

    “We also had to organize a more linear narrative structure, one that could be easily used an educational tool. It was divided into nine chapters and the information is organized by theme. So for example a teacher could choose to talk about stereotypes and then find the information in one place. We also changed the pacing, and we accelerated many of the sequences by adding in more music. This was so that we could make it more engaging for a younger audience.” 
     

    Lynchings and Stereotypes

    Norelli gave us an overview of the topics that the film covers: “We start with the history of lynchings, beginning with New Orleans, as the most important example of difference, discrimination, and racism. We address the issue of negative stereotypes that today still affect the lives of Italian-Americans – the propaganda that portrays them as ignorant mobsters, etc.”  
     

    East Harlem  
     “We go on to discuss the creation of Little Italy. We do not use the usual neighborhood on Mulberry Street as a reference point, but the one in East Harlem instead. By the ‘30s it had become the largest Little Italy with more than 90,000 people living there. It gave us political leaders like Fiorello La Guardia and Vito Marcantonio, who, unlike the first, is relatively unknown. Marcantonio became the voice, not only of Italian immigrants, but of the entire ethnic working class in America.  
     

    At that time there were few representatives from the African-American and Latino communities and he also became their voice. He was re-elected seven times and so for a long period of time he had an opportunity to draft laws to protect the poorest and the most vulnerable. He created an alliance of different ethnic groups along with progressive white Americans which has not existed since. We can perhaps see a glimpse of it now, in a completely different way, with Obama’s victory.” 
     

    Americanization 
     “We then focus on the process of Americanization, the high price that Italians paid for integration with respect to the loss of their language, loss of contact with Italy, as well as the loss of their regional culture.”

     Settlement houses, which constitute a significant phenomenon, are also discussed. 
     

    “There were groups of volunteers who provided help with the language, jobs, and contacts in order to integrate immigrants into the larger society. They were mostly women, missionaries of sorts, who gave up their comfortable, upper-class lives to work from morning to night in poor neighborhoods. We chose to talk abut Harlem House where Italian immigrants received services.  
     

    In many cases it only amounted to a bowl of soup. There was not enough to eat in many immigrant families. It was this poverty, this desperation that drove them to organize into unions.”

     And how did these social workers help with the Americanization process?

     
    “They went into the immigrants’ homes. They insisted that they had to transform their habits and customs to become Americans. For example, they told them not to eat traditional foods, to use butter instead of olive oil. These are the interesting details that give a sense of change, but the most important factor was that in schools not only did immigrants have to learn English, but they could not speak Italian. Not even a word of Italian. Elderly people have told me that they have clear memories of the school principal ordering teachers to wash out their mouths with soap as soon as they said one word in Italian.” 

    The Anarchist Experience

    The film also deals with Italian-American experience in terms of politics, the labor

    movement, and anarchism. The film attempts to reexamine several events that are still difficult to recount.

     
    “Yes, the film not only speaks of pages of history that many do not know, but it takes a few pages that are already known and presents them in a different way.  
     

    It is important to show, for example, that while Italians today are often considered as a block, as a conservative force, for many years they had a tradition of progressive political activism spearheaded by laborers and those on the left. There were over a hundred newspapers written by the Italian left [in the U.S.].

     
    This progressive cultural and intellectual dimension was ignored by the dominant culture. To tell the truth, it was not only progressive, but at times it was even revolutionary, as in the case of anarchists. For this reason, it was stigmatized.”

    It is a history full of sensitive episodes.  
     

    “Gaetano Bresci left [the U.S.] in 1900 [with the intention of returning to Italy] to assassinate King Umberto I of Savoy. Bresci was a textile worker in Paterson [New Jersey] where one of the most important and difficult pages in the history of the American labor movement and trade unions took place. There were about 25,000 textile workers there, many of whom were from northern Italy, which had a deep-seated anarchist tradition, such as the town of Biella [in Piedmont].

     
    Another very clear case of erasing history is the attack on Wall Street. There is no plaque to mark the event, even though forty innocent people died in 1920. Today there are just [pock-marked] holes in the wall of [J.P.] Morgan Bank, but nothing is written there.” 

    The Extremist Movement  

    By analyzing this attack, we wanted to open a window onto the fact that there were also extremists. Sacco and Vanzetti were part of a group of Galleanists [followers of the Italian anarchist Luigi Galleani] but they did not participate in this attack because they were already in prison, accused of murder and robbery. And the evidence against them for those charges was not convincing either. Nevertheless we must remember that Sacco and Vanzetti were militants who believed that violence was necessary in certain cases. It seems that the bomb on Wall Street was planted by Mario Buda, another Galleanist who acted alone. 

    Immigration Past and Present   

    Norelli’s film invites us to become aware, to reflect on what is happening in both Italy and America, as well as to think about the striking similarities between the anti-Italian propaganda of the time and that of several anti-immigrant newspapers in Italy today.

     
    “We must draw parallels between what is happening today. We see that there are some Italian-American politicians who are very critical of immigrants. Fortunately it does not mean that all Italian-Americans think this way. We need to reflect on the fact that certain Italian newspapers publish denigrating images of immigrants that are not so dissimilar to images of Italians published so many years ago here in the U.S.…” 

    The World of American Politics

    Another theme is the Italian influence in the world of American politics. In the documentary we see a progressive Fiorello La Guardia who supported Roosevelt’s New Deal. Vito Marcantonio was, of course, even further on the left. One slogan from his election campaign said: “We have to take back the government from the hands of Wall Street.” It is a theme that is very relevant today.

    We also remember Leonard Covello, who is even lesser known. He was the first Italian-American educator. A man of the highest order, he foresaw the future with his multi-cultural awareness and ideas about integration. 

     

    Women and the Triangle Factory Fire   
     The contribution of Italian-American women is also an important aspect of the film. 
     

    “We talk about the Triangle Factory fire. It is officially known as an event in which the majority of workers who died were Eastern European Jews. This is true, up to 60%. The remaining 40% were southern Italians. I spoke with several historians who are truly surprised: how were there Italian women? And this is not the only chapter in which Italian women have played a significant role. Very often they were important union organizers. It is a

    bit of a reinterpretation even with respect to the phenomenon of the role of women and its significance.” 

    Religion 
     Norelli uses the Church of Harlem as a point of reference in order to consider the importance of religion to the community’s cohesion and self-defense. This is another vast theme that should be studied more thoroughly, especially the relationship between the Italians and the Irish who discriminated against them: “They considered the Italian’s faith to be almost pagan, less rigorous. Italians were forced to celebrate mass in the basement. It is enough to remember that although the Church of Harlem was entirely built by Italians, for 40 years it had parish priests who were Irish or German, but not one Italian.” 

    Enemy Aliens 

    There is another story that we know little about. “We also address the issue of internment of Italian ‘enemy aliens’ during World War II. It must be said that even for those who were not deported, life was difficult with the infamous label of enemy alien.” It is during this ugly period of American history that the abandonment of the Italian language increases even more. Italians were told not to speak the enemy’s language! 
     

    Norelli also alludes to the relationship with fascism. “Mussolini thought that Italians abroad could be a source of strength for his regime. And Italian-American relationship with Fascism brought about this huge misunderstanding. We must bear in mind that an Italian-American’s perception of fascism would have been very distorted by distance.”  

    Bitter Bread will be distributed in American colleges and high schools thanks to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which has decided to support this project. 

    Gianfranco Norelli continues: “It is definitely important to have the film broadcast on television. But I must also say that today content can be circulated without going on television. For example online, with a series of screenings leading to distribution in schools can do even more. Above all, I would like to encourage people of all generations to have a discussion. This is the goal. The film can even be found on Amazon.”  
     We hope that a wide distribution within the U.S. can bring the film back to Italy, where everyone should see it, not jut television viewers.

    This is especially true since Bitter Bread was produced for television two years ago, but it was broadcast at a time slot that was not suitable for young people: 11.00 pm.  
     

    This shows that much remains to be done to bridge the Italian/ Italian-American gap and to learn from the Italian experience abroad. It is not enough that many Italian newspapers have exposed the scandal that such a useful film as Bitter Bread was buried in the television schedule.

     
    The documentary will be screened on Thursday, June 11 at 7:00 p.m. in the auditorium of the Center for the Performing Arts at LaGuardia Community College/CUNY in Queens. The Consul General of Italy Francesco Maria Talò will be present, and Professor Anthony J. Tamburri, Dean of the John D. Calandra Italian-American Institute of Queens College/CUNY will introduce the event.

    The screening, which is free of charge, is organized by the Consulate General of Italy in New York, the Italian Cultural Institute, LaGuardia Community College/CUNY, the John D. Calandra Italian-American Institute of Queens College/CUNY, the United Pugliesei Federation of the Metropolitan Area, and the Italian Cultural Association of New York.

     
    It is a new English version that has been realized with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) and which will be distributed to universities and schools in North America and on the home video market.

    Bitter Bread in Images-Captions

    1. VITO MARCANTONIO LEADING A STRIKE LaGuardia’s electoral victory is made possible by the organizational and oratorical skills of a young man from Italian Harlem: Vito Marcantonio. Son of a carpenter, Vito is a protege of Leonardo Covello’s. He starts his political career running citizenship classes for Italian immigrants, the first step to being able to vote and having political power. When LaGuardia becomes Mayor, Marcantonio succeeds him in Congress. Marcantonio has a long career as a congressman. He is re-elected seven times for a total of 14 years and is the first political leader able to bring together a coalition of Italian Americans, Blacks and Puertoricans to fight for progressive causes.   After World War II Marcantonio becomes a target of the anti-communist witchhunt and is investigated by the FBI. His political adversaries manage to defeat him by changing the borders of his electoral district, incorporating into it many non Italian American voters.... In 1954 Marcantonio dies of a heart attack in the street as he is returning home after filing his candidacy for another congressional run.

    2. LYNCHING PHOTO:  Thirty-nine Italian immigrants are victims of lynchings across the United States between 1886 and 1916. This photograph, taken in September 1910, shows the lynching of two Italians in Tampa, Florida. The next day it appears on hundreds of postcards. The largest lynching in the history of the United States takes place in New Orleans in 1891 and involves the murder of 11 Italian immigrants.

    3. Picture of  Angeline Orsini, an Italian-American interned for 6 weeks after the Enemy Alien Act was emanated in 1942. She was in possession of a short wave radio. From the English screenplay of the movie: "When the United States enters the war against Italy, Germany and Japan, immigrants from these countries who have not become American citizens are declared 'Enemy Aliens'.”... Among these, Italians form the largest group: almost 600,000. According to the new law, the so called Enemy Aliens are required to carry special identity cards and are subject to curfews. They are not allowed to own short wave radios, firearms, cameras or other items with which they could aid the enemy. The family of Angeline Orsini owns a grocery store in a small town in Delaware. They also own a short wave radio. Angeline and her father are arrested by the FBI and are inprisoned in an internment camp in New Jersey for six weeks. They have lived for many years in the United States without becoming citizens. They are among the 2,500 Italian Americans who are interned during the war, some for up to three months.The “Enemy Aliens” of Japanese origin receive a harsher treatment. Although many are US citizens,  120 thousand of them are interned for the entire duration of the war.
     
    4. Picture from the movie "Il Lavoratore della seta" (The silk worker), 1917- The newspaper of the workers employed in the silk manufacturing industry in Paterson, New Jersey. The heading is one of more than 100 Italian newspapers released by Italian immigrants in the US.   

    (Traslated by Giulia Prestia)

  • Life & People

    "Bitter Bread" for the US. An Encounter With Gianfranco Norelli

    We interviewed Gianfranco Norelli in the library of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, surrounded by books that seemed to be watching us.

    It was an in-depth conversation about that aspect of America that is also Italian, the America that many Italian-Americans are still not familiar with. He told us about his large-scale project related to the documentary he has produced, written, and shot: Bitter Bread. 
     

    Through him the pages of history from the last century speak to the present.

     
    We present highlights from our conversation-interview organized by topics. It’s a preview of the U.S. version of the documentary film that will be screened at the Center for the Performing Arts at LaGuardia Community College/CUNY in Queens. 
     
    Traveling in Italy

    “While in Italy with my wife, who is an American citizen of Indian decent, we noticed a reaction that was disconcerting to say the least. On more than one occasion we witnessed episodes of suspicion, discrimination, and even racism against immigrants….” Gianfranco Norelli begins to tell us what led him to make the documentary "Bitter Bread" . 
     

    “I was surprised. I didn’t remember the Italy where I was raised to be like this. I have lived in the U.S. for thirty years, but I have always gone back for short periods. For some time there has been something new – an unexpected, offensive attitude towards immigrants. It is present even at the institutional level, for example, on the part of several mayors in northern Italy. There is little familiarity with the concepts of multiculturalism and diversity.” 

    A Documentary for Italians 
    And so Norelli, along with his wife Suma, decided to make a documentary to raise awareness about the difficult experience that Italian immigrants faced in America. An exceptional project with different points of view was born, one with a wide breadth and scope.  
    He is a journalist and a director who over the course of his career has made many important films, such as the documentary with Fabrizio Laurenti entitled Mussolini’s Secret. It tells the dramatic and little-known story of Ida Dalser which inspired the recent movie Vincere by Marco Bellocchio. 
     

    Immigration and Amnesia   

    Suma Kurien Norelli has focused on immigration for over twenty years. She has created a center at LaGuardia Community College/CUNY that teaches English and career development to immigrants. As a conscientious scholar of issues related to assimilation, she understands the situation in New York very well.

    Her husband tells us: “Suma has noticed that there is a lack of awareness about immigration issues. A lack of universal vision.  
      Bitter Breadwas created to inform more Italians about the forgotten pages of history that very often are not included in history books….”

     This amnesia is caused by a deep gap between Italians and Italian-Americans: “They lost contact. Italians in America lost the opportunity to remember and examine their own history here, but also to keep up with the evolution of Italian society over the years.” 

    A Documentary for Americans and Italian-Americans

    Bitter Bread was originally created for Italian television, but the Norellissoon realized that they would have to make another version specifically for an Italian-American audience.

     “Many of these stories were not known, even in the United States. We have shown it on several occasions to Italian-American audiences. Very few of them knew about the lynchings of Italians, for example, or the fact that Italians were seen as an "in-between" race, neither black nor white, or that Italian immigrants were initially recruited to replace enslaved blacks on southern plantations…” 
     

    How were these subjects chosen? 
     

    “My wife and I made a list of topics and we discarded the ones that had already been covered in other films. We wanted episodes that were little known or not even known at all. We also wanted to revisit some themes. For example, we wanted to talk about the labor movement and trade unions, the role of women, the presence of a distinct culture, one of intellectual development on the part of immigrants that was not recognized by official history.”

     
    Universal Values of the Italian-American Experience  
      Norelli portrays the Italian-American experience in a novel way; it is neither conventional, nor celebratory, nor self-referential. The film uncovers and captures the immigrant experience, and does so without sentimentality or rhetoric. “One of the goals,” Norelli tells us, “was to demonstrate, through several concrete episodes, how this experience has universal value and relevance. It can be applied to other communities that have been discriminated against, that have had difficulty integrating, and that have paid a high price to assimilate, such as loss of their culture, language, and contact with their country of origin.”

     Bitter Bread was also shown at the Bangalore International Film Festival in India. “Here in Bangalore,” they told us during the festival, “there is a constant flow of immigrants from poorer regions

    because we are the information technology capital in the area. We are flooded with these poor immigrants who are causing our society a lot of stress….” 
     


    A Difficult Film  

    Up until a few years ago, Bitter Bread would have been considered a difficult film to make because of the subjects it tackles. Today the film, which is supported in part by NIAF, demonstrates a different way to look at these issues. 
    The whole debate has evolved, explains Norelli, there is a new a new outlook. It’s less defensive. This is because the phenomenon of immigration to America as well as migration worldwide has evolved. The debate has now expanded.”

     Speaking with Norelli about this film is like talking about a delicate, fragile creature. It has grown slowly and steadily through a lot of care and attention. The version that will be presented this week at LaGuardia Community College/CUNY is the result of hard work.  
     

    “At first we just translated the film and then had it shown here to gauge the Italian-Americans’ reaction. We realized that it had to be balanced and re-adjusted. The narration was recreated, removing the aspects that were already obvious to most Americans.

     It resulted in a clearer, more specific work. For example, we reviewed the relationship between Fascism and Italian Americans, or assimilation as a process of loss of identity and language.” 
     

    A Film for Young People   

    “We also had to organize a more linear narrative structure, one that could be easily used an educational tool. It was divided into nine chapters and the information is organized by theme. So for example a teacher could choose to talk about stereotypes and then find the information in one place. We also changed the pacing, and we accelerated many of the sequences by adding in more music. This was so that we could make it more engaging for a younger audience.” 
     

    Lynchings and Stereotypes

    Norelli gave us an overview of the topics that the film covers: “We start with the history of lynchings, beginning with New Orleans, as the most important example of difference, discrimination, and racism. We address the issue of negative stereotypes that today still affect the lives of Italian-Americans – the propaganda that portrays them as ignorant mobsters, etc.”  
     

    East Harlem  
     “We go on to discuss the creation of Little Italy. We do not use the usual neighborhood on Mulberry Street as a reference point, but the one in East Harlem instead. By the ‘30s it had become the largest Little Italy with more than 90,000 people living there. It gave us political leaders like Fiorello La Guardia and Vito Marcantonio, who, unlike the first, is relatively unknown. Marcantonio became the voice, not only of Italian immigrants, but of the entire ethnic working class in America.  
     

    At that time there were few representatives from the African-American and Latino communities and he also became their voice. He was re-elected seven times and so for a long period of time he had an opportunity to draft laws to protect the poorest and the most vulnerable. He created an alliance of different ethnic groups along with progressive white Americans which has not existed since. We can perhaps see a glimpse of it now, in a completely different way, with Obama’s victory.” 
     

    Americanization 
     “We then focus on the process of Americanization, the high price that Italians paid for integration with respect to the loss of their language, loss of contact with Italy, as well as the loss of their regional culture.”

     Settlement houses, which constitute a significant phenomenon, are also discussed. 
     

    “There were groups of volunteers who provided help with the language, jobs, and contacts in order to integrate immigrants into the larger society. They were mostly women, missionaries of sorts, who gave up their comfortable, upper-class lives to work from morning to night in poor neighborhoods. We chose to talk abut Harlem House where Italian immigrants received services.  
     

    In many cases it only amounted to a bowl of soup. There was not enough to eat in many immigrant families. It was this poverty, this desperation that drove them to organize into unions.”

     And how did these social workers help with the Americanization process?

     
    “They went into the immigrants’ homes. They insisted that they had to transform their habits and customs to become Americans. For example, they told them not to eat traditional foods, to use butter instead of olive oil. These are the interesting details that give a sense of change, but the most important factor was that in schools not only did immigrants have to learn English, but they could not speak Italian. Not even a word of Italian. Elderly people have told me that they have clear memories of the school principal ordering teachers to wash out their mouths with soap as soon as they said one word in Italian.” 

    The Anarchist Experience

    The film also deals with Italian-American experience in terms of politics, the labor

    movement, and anarchism. The film attempts to reexamine several events that are still difficult to recount.

     
    “Yes, the film not only speaks of pages of history that many do not know, but it takes a few pages that are already known and presents them in a different way.  
     

    It is important to show, for example, that while Italians today are often considered as a block, as a conservative force, for many years they had a tradition of progressive political activism spearheaded by laborers and those on the left. There were over a hundred newspapers written by the Italian left [in the U.S.].

     
    This progressive cultural and intellectual dimension was ignored by the dominant culture. To tell the truth, it was not only progressive, but at times it was even revolutionary, as in the case of anarchists. For this reason, it was stigmatized.”

    It is a history full of sensitive episodes.  
     

    “Gaetano Bresci returned to Italy in 1900 and assassinated King Umberto I of Savoy. Bresci was a textile worker in Paterson [New Jersey] where one of the most important and difficult pages in the history of the American labor movement and trade unions took place. There were about 25,000 textile workers there, many of whom were from northern Italy, which had a deep-seated anarchist tradition, such as the town of Biella [in Piedmont].

     
    Another very clear case of erasing history is the attack on Wall Street. There is no plaque to mark the event, even though forty innocent people died in 1920. Today there are just [pock-marked] holes in the wall of [J.P.] Morgan Bank, but nothing is written there.” 

    The Extremist Movement  

    By analyzing this attack, we wanted to open a window onto the fact that there were also extremists. Sacco and Vanzetti were part of a group of Galleanists [followers of the Italian anarchist Luigi Galleani] but they did not participate in this attack because they were already in prison, accused of murder and robbery. And the evidence against them for those charges was not convincing either. Nevertheless we must remember that Sacco and Vanzetti were militants who believed that violence was necessary in certain cases. It seems that the bomb on Wall Street was planted by Mario Buda, another Galleanist who acted alone. 

    Immigration Past and Present   

    Norelli’s film invites us to become aware, to reflect on what is happening in both Italy and America, as well as to think about the striking similarities between the anti-Italian propaganda of the time and that of several anti-immigrant newspapers in Italy today.

     
    “We must draw parallels between what is happening today. We see that there are some Italian-American politicians who are very critical of immigrants. Fortunately it does not mean that all Italian-Americans think this way. We need to reflect on the fact that certain Italian newspapers publish denigrating images of immigrants that are not so dissimilar to images of Italians published so many years ago here in the U.S.…” 

    The World of American Politics

    Another theme is the Italian influence in the world of American politics. In the documentary we see a progressive Fiorello La Guardia who supported Roosevelt’s New Deal. Vito Marcantonio was, of course, even further on the left. One slogan from his election campaign said: “We have to take back the government from the hands of Wall Street.” It is a theme that is very relevant today.

    We also remember Leonard Covello, who is even lesser known. He was the first Italian-American educator. A man of the highest order, he foresaw the future with his multi-cultural awareness and ideas about integration. 

     

    Women and the Triangle Factory Fire   
     The contribution of Italian-American women is also an important aspect of the film. 
     

    “We talk about the Triangle Factory fire. It is officially known as an event in which the majority of workers who died were Eastern European Jews. This is true, up to 60%. The remaining 40% were southern Italians. I spoke with several historians who are truly surprised: how were there Italian women? And this is not the only chapter in which Italian women have played a significant role. Very often they were important union organizers. It is a

    bit of a reinterpretation even with respect to the phenomenon of the role of women and its significance.” 

    Religion 
     Norelli uses the Church of of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Harlem to as a point of reference in order to consider the importance of religion to the community’s cohesion and self-defense. This is another vast theme that should be studied more thoroughly, especially the relationship between the Italians and the Irish who discriminated against them: “They considered the Italian’s faith to be almost pagan, less rigorous. Italians were forced to celebrate mass in the basement. It is enough to remember that the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was built by Italians, for 40 years it had parish priests who were Irish or German, but not one Italian.” 

    Enemy Aliens 

    There is another story that we know little about. “We also address the issue of internment of Italian ‘enemy aliens’ during World War II. It must be said that even for those who were not deported, life was difficult with the infamous label of enemy alien.” It is during this ugly period of American history that the abandonment of the Italian language increases even more. Italians were told not to speak the enemy’s language! 
     

    Norelli also alludes to the relationship with fascism. “Mussolini thought that Italians abroad could be a source of strength for his regime. And Italian American's admiration for Fascism was not based on ideology, but mostly on the fact that Mussolini initially was respected by  many world leaders, including Americans. We must remember  in mind that an Italian-American’s perception of fascism would have been very distorted by distance.”  

    Bitter Bread will be distributed in American colleges and high schools thanks to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which has decided to support this project. 

    Gianfranco Norelli continues: “It is definitely important to have the film broadcast on television. But I must also say that today content can be circulated without going on television. For example online, with a series of screenings leading to distribution in schools can do even more. Above all, I would like to encourage people of all generations to have a discussion. This is the goal. The film can even be found on Amazon.”  
     We hope that a wide distribution within the U.S. can bring the film back to Italy, where everyone should see it, not jut television viewers.

    This is especially true since Bitter Bread was produced for television two years ago, but it was broadcast at a time slot that was not suitable for young people: 11.00 pm.  
     

    This shows that much remains to be done to bridge the Italian/ Italian-American gap and to learn from the Italian experience abroad. It is not enough that many Italian newspapers have exposed the scandal that such a useful film as Bitter Bread was buried in the television schedule.

     
    The documentary will be screened on Thursday, June 11 at 7:00 p.m. in the auditorium of the Center for the Performing Arts at LaGuardia Community College/CUNY in Queens. The Consul General of Italy Francesco Maria Talò will be present, and Professor Anthony J. Tamburri, Dean of the John D. Calandra Italian-American Institute of Queens College/CUNY will introduce the event.

    The screening, which is free of charge, is organized by the Consulate General of Italy in New York, the Italian Cultural Institute, LaGuardia Community College/CUNY, the John D. Calandra Italian-American Institute of Queens College/CUNY, the United Pugliesei Federation of the Metropolitan Area, and the Italian Cultural Association of New York.

     
    It is a new English version that has been realized with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) and which will be distributed to universities and schools in North America and on the home video market.

    Bitter Bread in Images-Captions

    1. VITO MARCANTONIO LEADING A STRIKE LaGuardia’s electoral victory is made possible by the organizational and oratorical skills of a young man from Italian Harlem: Vito Marcantonio. Son of a carpenter, Vito is a protege of Leonardo Covello’s. He starts his political career running citizenship classes for Italian immigrants, the first step to being able to vote and having political power. When LaGuardia becomes Mayor, Marcantonio succeeds him in Congress. Marcantonio has a long career as a congressman. He is re-elected seven times for a total of 14 years and is the first political leader able to bring together a coalition of Italian Americans, Blacks and Puertoricans to fight for progressive causes.   After World War II Marcantonio becomes a target of the anti-communist witchhunt and is investigated by the FBI. His political adversaries manage to defeat him by changing the borders of his electoral district, incorporating into it many non Italian American voters.... In 1954 Marcantonio dies of a heart attack in the street as he is returning home after filing his candidacy for another congressional run.

    2. LYNCHING PHOTO:  Thirty-nine Italian immigrants are victims of lynchings across the United States between 1886 and 1916. This photograph, taken in September 1910, shows the lynching of two Italians in Tampa, Florida. The next day it appears on hundreds of postcards. The largest lynching in the history of the United States takes place in New Orleans in 1891 and involves the murder of 11 Italian immigrants.

    3. Picture of  Angeline Orsini, an Italian-American interned for 6 weeks after the Enemy Alien Act was emanated in 1942. She was in possession of a short wave radio. From the English screenplay of the movie: "When the United States enters the war against Italy, Germany and Japan, immigrants from these countries who have not become American citizens are declared 'Enemy Aliens'.”... Among these, Italians form the largest group: almost 600,000. According to the new law, the so called Enemy Aliens are required to carry special identity cards and are subject to curfews. They are not allowed to own short wave radios, firearms, cameras or other items with which they could aid the enemy. The family of Angeline Orsini owns a grocery store in a small town in Delaware. They also own a short wave radio. Angeline and her father are arrested by the FBI and are inprisoned in an internment camp in New Jersey for six weeks. They have lived for many years in the United States without becoming citizens. They are among the 2,500 Italian Americans who are interned during the war, some for up to three months.The “Enemy Aliens” of Japanese origin receive a harsher treatment. Although many are US citizens,  120 thousand of them are interned for the entire duration of the war.
     
    4. Picture from the movie "Il Lavoratore della seta" (The silk worker), 1917- The newspaper of the workers employed in the silk manufacturing industry in Paterson, New Jersey. The heading is one of more than 100 Italian newspapers released by Italian immigrants in the US.   

    (Traslated by Giulia Prestia)

  • 'Pane' per gli Stati Uniti. Incontro con Gianfranco Norelli

    Incontriamo Gianfranco Norelli  nella biblioteca del J.D. Calandra Italian American Institute. Circondati da libri che sembrano osservarci con gli occhi dei loro capitoli. 

    Comincia una lunga conversazione su quell'America italiana che ancora  anche non molti italo-americani conoscono.  Ci racconta il suo grande progetto legato al documentario che ha prodotto, scritto e girato: Pane Amaro.

    E con lui  le pagine di storia del secolo scorso parlano al presente. 

    Organizzati per argomenti vi presentiamo i punti salienti della nostra conversazione-intervista. Un anticipo, prima di andare a vedere la versione per gli Stati Uniti del film al Center for the Performing Arts del LaGuardia Community College al Queens.

    VIAGGIANDO IN ITALIA

    “In Italia con mia moglie,  che è cittadina americana ma di origine indiana, avevamo notato delle reazioni a dir poco sconcertanti. Più di una volta abbiamo assistito ad episodi di diffidenza, discriminazione e addirittura razzismo nei confronti degli immigrati…” Comincia così Gianfranco Norelli a raccontare cosa lo ha portato a realizzare il suo documentario “Pane Amaro”.

    “Ero sorpreso. L’Italia dove ero cresciuto non la ricordavo così. Vivo negli USA da trent’anni, ma sono sempre tornato per brevi periodi. Da qualche tempo c’è qualcosa di nuovo. Atteggiamenti inattesi, offensivi verso gli immigrati. Anche a livello istituzionale, per esempio da parte di alcuni sindaci del Nord Italia. Si avverte poca dimestichezza con il concetto di multiculturalità e diversità.”

    UN DOCUMENTARIO PER GLI  ITALIANI

    E così che, insieme a sua moglie Suma,  Norelli decide di  realizzare un documentario per far conoscere la difficile esperienza degli italiani in America. Nasce un’opera unica sotto diversi punti di vista. Di grande respiro.

    Giornalista e regista ha realizzato nel corso della sua carriera lavori importanti. Tra i tanti ricordiamo il film-documentario con  Fabrizio Laurenti, “Il segreto di Mussolini”. La storia,

    drammatica e poco conosciuta, di Ida Dalser  che ha ispirato il più recente “Vincere” di Marco Bellocchio.

    IMMIGRAZIONE E AMNESIA

    Suma Kurien Norelli si occupa di immigrazione da oltre vent’anni. Dirige  professionale al LaGuardia Community College della CUNY. . Attenta studiosa dei problemi relativi all’assimilazione di immigrati, conosce bene soprattutto la realtà newyorkese.

    Suo marito ci racconta: “Suma ha notato in Italia impreparazione da parte degli operatori culturali nel trattare la "questione immigrazione". Manca un’ottica universale. ‘Pane Amaro’ è nato per informare di più gli italiani su pagine di storia che hanno dimenticato, che molto spesso non sono sui libri …”

    Si tratta di un’amnesia causata da un profondo gap tra italiani ed italo-americani: “C’è stata un’interruzione dei contatti.  Gli  italiani in America hanno perso l’opportunità di ricordare e esaminare la propria storia qui,  ma anche di seguire l’evoluzione della società italiana negli anni.”

    UN DOCUMENTARIO PER GLI ITALO-AMERICANI E GLI AMERICANI

    ‘Pane Amaro’ è stato inizialmente creato per la televisione italiana,  ma i coniugi Norelli presto si sono accorti che dovevano realizzare una versione anche per l’audience italo-americana.

    “Molte di queste storie non erano conosciute neanche negli Stati Uniti. Lo abbiamo mostrato in varie occasioni a

    audience italo-americane. Pochissimi sapevano per esempio dei linciaggi a italiani, del fatto che erano considerati un popolo di mezzo, né nero né bianco. Che immigrati,  sempre italiani, erano inizialmente reclutati per sostituire gli schiavi neri nelle piantagioni del sud ….”

    E come sono stati scelti gli argomenti da affrontare?

    “Con  mia moglie abbiamo fatto una lista dei temi e abbiamo scartato tutti quelli che erano stati già affrontati da altri film.  Volevamo pagine poco note o non conosciute affatto. Volevamo anche rielaborare certi temi. E abbiamo così raccontato per esempio l’impegno sindacale, il ruolo delle donne, l’esistenza di una cultura, di una elaborazione intellettuale da parte di immigrati che non era stata riconosciuta dalla storia ufficiale.”

    VALORE UNIVERSALE  DELL’ESPERIENZA ITALO-AMERICANA

    L’esperienza italo-americana viene raccontata da Norelli in maniera sorprendentemente non oleografica, celebrativa o autoreferenziale. Il film scava, fotografa una realtà e lo fa senza pietà, lontano da ogni retorica.  “Uno degli obiettivi - racconta Norelli -  era  di far vedere attraverso alcune storie concrete come questa esperienza abbia valore universale. Può essere applicata anche ad altre comunità che sono state discriminate, che hanno difficoltà di integrazione e pagato un prezzo carissimo per assimilarsi,  come la perdita della cultura, della lingua, del contatto con il paese di origine.”

    “Pane Amaro” ha partecipato anche al Festival di Bangalore in India. “Noi qui a Bangalore – hanno detto nel corso della rassegna - abbiamo un costante flusso di immigrati da altre regioni più povere perchè siamo una capitale dell’informatica.  Siamo  inondati di questi immigrati poveri che stanno mettendo sotto stress la nostra società…. ”

    UN FILM DIFFICILE

    ‘Pane Amaro’ fino a soli pochi anni fa sarebbe stato considerato difficile per i temi che affronta. Oggi il film, sostenuto anche dalla  NIAF,  dimostra un modo di guardare diverso.

    “Credo che tutto il dibattito si sia evoluto. – ci dice Norelli -  C'è un atteggiamento nuovo. Meno difensivo. Defensive, nel senso di aver paura di essere accusati  di qualcosa.  Tutto questo è dovuto anche all’evolversi del fenomeno migratorio in America e nel mondo. Il dibattito ormai si è allargato.”

    Parlare con Norelli di questo film è come parlare di una creatura delicata. Fragile. Cresciuta piano piano, grazie a grandi attenzioni. La versione che presenta questa settimana al LaGuardia Community College della Cuny è il frutto di intenso lavoro.

    “All’inizio abbiamo provato solo a tradurlo e mostrarlo qui per vedere le reazioni degli italo-americani. Abbiamo capito che andava ricalibrato e ritrasformato, adattato. La narrazione è stata ricreata, togliendo ciò che per gli americani era ovvio.

    E’ nato un testo più specifico, più chiaro. Per esempio sui rapporti fra il fascismo e gli italo-americani, o l’assimilazione come processo di perdita delle identità, della lingua.”

    UN FILM PER I GIOVANI

    “Abbiamo dovuto organizzare anche una struttura narrativa più lineare e più facile per usarlo come strumento educativo.  E’ diviso in nove capitoli e le informazioni sono organizzate in temi. Così un insegnante può scegliere di parlare per esempio degli stereotipi e trovarli tutti raccolti. Poi è cambiato anche il  ritmo, abbiamo

    accelerato molte delle sequenze mettendo più musica. Questo per renderlo engaging per un audience anche di giovani.”

    I LINCIAGGI E GLI STEREOTIPI

    Norelli racconta in sintesi i temi affrontati: “Si comincia con la storia dei linciaggi partendo da New Orleans, esempio più importante della differenza, della discriminazione e del razzismo.
    Affrontiamo il tema degli stereotipi negativi che ancora incidono sulla vita degli italo-americana. Quella propaganda che li dipingeva come mafiosi, ignoranti…”

    EAST HARLEM

    “Poi parliamo della creazione della Little Italy. Non usiamo come punto di riferimento quella più comune di Mulberry Street, ma quella di East Harlem. Negli anni '30 era diventata la più grande. Oltre 90.000 persone. Ha espresso leader politici come Fiorello La Guardia e Vito Marcantonio, che, a differenza del primo, pochi conoscono.  E’ stato la voce, non solamente degli immigrati italiani, ma in generale della working class americana etnica.

    In quell’epoca non c’erano molti rappresentanti per gli african-americans o per i latinos e lui ne divenne un po’ la voce. Fu rieletto sette volte e quindi per un periodo lungo fu in grado di presentare progetti di legge in difesa dei gruppi più poveri, più deboli.  Creò un’alleanza di gruppi etnici diversi insieme con la white-american progressives che non è mai più esistita e che forse c’è solo adesso, in condizioni completamente diverse, soltanto con la vittoria di Obama si può intravedere.”

    L’AMERICANIZZAZIONE

    “Affrontiamo poi il processo di americanizzazione, del prezzo che hanno pagato gli italiani per l’integrazione e quindi la perdita della lingua, la perdita dei contatti con l’Italia, della cultura anche regionale”

    E si parla delle settlement houses. Un fenomeno molto importante.

    “Erano gruppi di volontarie che fornivano aiuto per la lingua, di lavoro, di contatti. Per l’inserimento sociale degli immigrati. Erano soprattutto donne. Una specie di missionarie che rinunciavano alla vita comoda della loro classe sociale e andavano a lavorare dalla mattina alla sera nei quartieri poveri. Abbiamo scelto la Harlem House dove gli immigrati italiani hanno beneficiato di servizi.

    In molti casi si trattava solamente di una scodella di minestra. Non c’era abbastanza da mangiare in molte famiglie immigrate.  E’ questa povertà, questa disperazione che li ha portati ad organizzarsi in sindacati.”

    E come hanno aiutato queste assitenti sociali il processo di americanizzazione?

    “Andavano nelle case degli immigrati. Insistevano che dovevano trasformare usi e costumi per diventare americani. Per esempio non mangiare più le cose tradizionali, usare il burro al posto dell’olio d’oliva.  Sono curiosi i particolari che danno il senso del cambiamento, ma l’elemento importante era che nelle scuole non solo dovevano imparare l’inglese: non potevano parlare italiano. Neanche  una parola in  italiano. Persone anziane mi hanno raccontato di avere una memoria chiarissima del principal della scuola che ordinava agli insegnanti di lavargli la bocca col sapone appena dicevano una parola in italiano.”

    L’ESPERIENZA ANARCHICA

    Importante nel film il racconto dell’esperienza politica, sindacale e anarchica degli italiani. Nel film si tenta un riesame di alcuni momenti ancora difficili da raccontare.

    “Sì, il film non solo parla di pagine della storia che molti non conoscono, ma prende alcune pagine già conosciute e le riorganizza in una maniera diversa.

    E’ importante mostrare per esempio che gli italiani qui, spesso considerati in blocco una forza conservatrice, hanno avuto per molti anni una tradizione di militanza politica progressista, di sinistra e operaista. Ci sono stati oltre cento giornali scritti dagli italiani di sinistra.

    Questa dimensione culturale e intellettuale progressista è stata ignorata dalla cultura dominante. A dire il vero non solo era progressista,  ma era a  volte addirittura rivoluzionaria. Come nel caso degli anarchici. Per questo è stata stigmatizzata.”

    Una storia con dei  momenti delicati da raccontare.

    “Gaetano Bresci, nel 1900 partì per uccidere il Re, Umberto I di Savoia. Era un operaio tessile di Paterson dove si è svolta una pagina importante della storia sindacale americana. Anche molto dura. Erano circa  25.000 operai del tessile, molti venivano dal Nord Italia, dove esisteva una profonda tradizione anarchica, come Biella.

    Un altro caso chiarissimo di cancellazione è legato all’attentato di Wall Street. Non

    esiste sul posto una targa, eppure sono stati uccisi quaranta innocenti nel 1920. Sono rimasti soli i buchi nel muro della Morgan Bank. Ma non c’è scritto niente.”

    L’ESTREMISMO

    “Con l’analisi di questo attentato abbiamo voluto aprire una finestra sul fatto che c’erano anche degli estremisti. Sacco e Vanzetti facevano parte del gruppo dei Galleanisti ma non parteciparono a questo attentato poiche’ erano gia’ in carcere, accusati di omicidio e rapina. E anche per quell’accusa le prove non erano convincenti. Comunque e’ importante ricordare che Sacco e Vanzetti erano militanti e credevano che in certi casi la violenza fosse necessaria. Pare che la bomba a Wall Street sia stata messa da Mario Buda, un altro Galleanista che agi’ da solo."

    EMIGRAZIONE DEL PASSATO E DEL PRESENTE

    Il film di Norelli invita a prendere coscienza. A riflettere su quanto sta accadendo in Italia ma anche in America. Su impressionanti similitudini tra la propaganda anti-italiana di allora e quella di certi giornali anti-immigrati di oggi in Italia.

    “Oggi occorre fare il parallelo con quello che succede. Vedere che  ci sono dei

    politici italo-americani molto critici contro gli immigrati. Tancredo è uno di questi. Per fortuna non vuol dire che tutti gli italo-americani la pensino così. E riflettere sul fatto che certi giornali italiani pubblichino immagini denigratorie nei confronti degli immigrati non dissimili  da quelle che rappresentavano gli italiani tanti anni fa qui…”

    IL MONDO POLITICO AMERICANO

    Altro tema è quello dell’influenza italiana nel mondo politico americano. Nel documentario troviamo un Fiorello La Guardia progressista che sposava il New Deal di Roosvelt. E Vito Marcantonio era ancora più  a sinistra ovviamente. Uno slogan della sua campagna elettorale diceva: ‘Dobbiamo riprenderci il governo dalle mani di Wall Street’. Un tema molto attuale.

    Ricordiamo anche Leonardo Covello. Meno conosciuto. Si tratta del primo educatore italo-americano. Un personaggio di grande livello, che ha anticipato i tempi con la sua coscienza multiculturale e con le sue idea di integrazione.”

    LE DONNE E IL TRIANGLE FACTORY

    Importante, nel film, anche il contributo delle donne italo-americane…

    “Parliamo dell’incendio al Triangle Factory.  E’ ufficialmente noto come un episodio in cui la maggioranza delle operaie che morirono erano ebree  dell’Europa orientale. Ma questo è vero fino al 60%. Il 40% erano italiane, del meridione.  Ho parlato con diversi storici che mostrano grande sorpresa: 'ma come, c’erano delle italiane?' E non solo in questo capitolo le donne italiane sono state importanti. Sono state spessissimo grandi sindacaliste. Un pò una reinterpretazione anche del ruolo delle donne e di come fosse importante”

     

    LA RELIGIONE

    Per parlare dell’importanza della religione come elemento di coesione e di autodifesa della comunità, Norelli prende come punto di riferimento la Chiesa di Harlem. Anche in questo caso si intuisce la vastità di un tema che andrebbe approfondito molto più a fondo. Il rapporto con gli irlandesi prima di tutto. Questi discriminavano gli italiani: “Consideravano la fede degli italiani quasi pagana, meno rigorosa. Gli italiani erano costretti a celebrare le messe negli scantinati. Basti ricordare che nonostante la chiesa di Harlem sia stata interamente costruita da italiani per 40 anni ha avuto parroci irlandesi e tedeschi. Non un italiano.”

    ENEMY ALIENS

    Un’altra storia di cui si sa poco: “Affrontiamo anche il tema dell’internamento degli Enemy Aliens italiani durante la Seconda Guerra Mondiale. Va detto che anche per coloro che non vennero deportati la vita era difficile, dato  il marchio infamante  di enemy alien.”  Ed in questo brutto momento della storia Americana cresce ancora di più  l’abbandono della lingua italiana. Non si doveva parlar come il nemico!

    Norelli accenna anche al rapporto con il fascismo. “Mussolini pensava che gli italiani all’estero potessero essere un elemento di forza del regime. Ed il rapporto degli italo-americani con il fascismo ha procurato dei grandi fraintendimenti. Dobbiamo tener presente invece che la percezione che un italo-americano poteva avere qui del fenomeno del fascismo era molto falsata dalla distanza. “

    ‘Pane Amaro’ verrà distribuito nei college e nelle high school americane grazie al Ministero degli Affari Esteri che ha deciso di appoggiare questo progetto.

    Gianfranco Norelli: “Certo è importante trovare una trasmissione televisiva. Ma devo anche dire che oggi si possono veicolare contenuti anche senza andare in televisione. Per esempio, on line, con una serie di screenings che preludono alla distribuzione nelle scuole si può fare anche di più. Vorrei poi cercare soprattutto di far parlare le persone, diverse generazioni. Questo è l’obiettivo. Il film si trova pur su Amazon”

    E noi speriamo che una grande distribuzione negli USA possa riportare il film di nuovo anche in Italia. Dove andrebbe risottoposto all’attenzione e non solo del pubblico televisivo.

    Sì, perché ‘Pane Amaro’, realizzato per la televisione due anni fa, è andato in onda in una fascia oraria non certo adatta ai giovani: 11.00 di sera.

    Questo dimostra che c’è ancora molta strada da fare per superare il gap italiani/italo-americani e per far tesoro dell’esperienza italiana all’estero. Non basta che molti giornali italiani abbiano allora gridato allo scandalo per un film utile come ‘Pane Amaro’ ma nascosto nel palinsesto.

     Pane Amaro verrà proiettato giovedì 11 giugno alle 7:00 p.m. nell’auditorium del Center for the Performing Arts de LaGuardia Community College al Queens. Parteciperà il Console d’Italia Francesco Maria Talò. La serata verrà introdotta dal Prof. Anthony J. Tamburri, Dean del Calandra Italian American Istitute del Queens College-Cuny

    La proiezione, che è gratuita, è organizzata dal Consolato Generale d’Italia a New York e dall’Istituto Italiano di cultura. Tutti gli italiani hanno una storia di discriminazione accademica. Ci sono molte rappresentanze della cultura italiana qui a New York, il La- Guardia Community College, il John D. Calandra Italian American Institute-CUNY, la United Pugliesi Federation of the Metropolitan Area e l’Associazione Culturale Italiana di New York.

    Bitter Bread è una nuova versione inglese appena realizzata con l’appoggio del Ministero degli Affari Esteri e della NIAF – National Italian American Foundation per essere distribuita alle università e alle scuole del Nord America nonché nel mercato homevideo.

     

    Didascalie "Pane Amaro in immagini":

    Foto 1: Vito Marcantonio alla guida di uno sciopero. LaGuardia deve la sua vittoria elettorale alle capacità organizzative ed oratorie di un giovane dell'Harlem italiana: Vito Marcantonio. Figlio di un carpentiere, Vito è un protetto di Leonardo Covello. Inizia la sua carriera politica organizzando corsi di cittadinanza dedicati ad italo-americani, concepiti come il primo passo per guadagnare diritto di voto e potere politico.  Quando La Guardia diventò sindaco, Marcantonio gli succede al Congresso, dove rimane per molto tempo. Viene rieletto sette volte, rimanendo in carica per 14 anni. Diventa il primo leader politico capace di organizzare una coalizione tra americani, neri e portoricani che combatta per cause progressiste. Dopo la Seconda Guerra Mondiale Marcantonio diventa un obiettivo della politica anti-comunista della "caccia alle streghe", e viene sottoposto a investigazioni da parte dell'FBI. I suoi avversari politici riescono a sconfiggerlo cambiando i confini del suo distretto elettorale, e incorporandovi numerosi elettori non italo-americani.... Nel 1954 Marcantonio muore di infarto per strada mentre sta tornando a casa dopo essersi candidato di nuovo al Congresso.

    Foto 2: 39  immigranti italiani vengono linciati negli Stati Uniti tra il 1886 ed il 1916. Questa fotografia, fatta nel Settembre 1910, mostra il linciaggio di due italiani a Tampa, in Florida. Il giorno dopo compare su centinaia di cartoline. Il più grande linciaggio della storia degli Stati Uniti avviene a New Orleans e causa la morte di 11 immigranti italiani

    Foto 3: Foto di  Angeline Orsini, italoamericana internata per 6 settimane nel 1942 a seguito dell' Enemy Alien Act perche' aveva una radio a onde corte. Dalla nuova narrazione inglese del film: "Quando gli Stati Uniti entrano in guerra contro l'Italia, Germania e Giappone, immigranti di questi Paesi che non sono ancora diventati cittadini americani vengono dichiarati 'alieni nemici'. Tra questi, gli Italiani sono in numero maggiore: quasi 600,000. Secondo la nuova legge, i cosiddetti 'alieni nemici' devono portare con sè carte di identità speciali e sono soggetti a coprifuoco. Non hanno il permesso di possedere radio a onde corte, armi da fuoco, macchine fotografiche o altri oggetti che potrebbero aiutare il nemico. La famiglia di Angeline Orsini possiede un supermercato in una piccola città nel Delaware. Possiedono anche una radio a onde corte. Angeline  e suo padre vengono arrestati dall'FBI e imprigionati in un campo di internamento nel New Jersey per sei settimane, dato che dopo molti anni negli USA non avevano ottenuto la cittadinanza. Sono tra i 2,500 italo-americani internati durante la guerra, alcuni per quasi tre mesi. Gli 'alieni nemici' di origine giapponese ricevono un trattamento più duro: anche se molti di loro sono cittadini americani, in 120,000 vengono internati durante l'intera durata della guerra."

    Foto 4. Foto del giornale "Il Lavoratore della seta"  anno 1917. Giornale dei lavoratori dell'industria della seta di Paterson, New Jersey , la maggiore degli USA. Uno dei quasi 100 giornali in lingua italiana pubblicati dagli immigrati italiani negli USA.

  • Art & Culture

    New York. Energy at the Italian Cultural Institute

    We interviewed the director of the Italian Cultural Institute, art critic, and Italian historian Renato Miracco.

    Since his early days in office, he has worked to create a new image for that monument to Italian culture in New York, the Italian Cultural Institute. He has done so with creativity and enthusiasm, but also with a realistic approach. He has transformed the headquarters on Park Avenue into an increasingly more vibrant venue for concerts, presentations, exhibits, as well as a meeting place for artists and writers, and for the young and the young at heart.

    Firm and tenacious, with support as well as some opposition, he has, over the course of one and a half years, transformed the image of the Italian Cultural Institute while consistently bringing the institution to the attention of the media and the American people.

    We remind him, when we begin our discussion, of the very first interview that we did, when he had just arrived....
    A year and a half? It seems like 10 years! It’s difficult to sum up the emotions and the experiences that have accumulated during this time...” 
     

    He immediately reaches back into his memory, to the days when he first arrived.

    I photographed the institute just as I entered the building. I actually photographed it so that I could remember it just as I found it. One of my priorities has been to open up the rooms and make them more accessible, to recover the dignity that had been completely lost, the dignity of the building both on the inside and the outside. I started by adding lamps and flowers, and painting the railings and the walls. I wasn’t able to do all that I would have wanted because I didn’t have financial resources. But, if nothing else, we can now count on at least three areas for exhibits, presentations, and meetings which allow us to rotate spaces.

    The last space is a small gallery that will be renovated with funds donated by Giulia Ghirardi Borghese. The space will accommodate events dedicated to photography, that is, artists and photographers. We will almost definitely inaugurate the opening with an exhibit by Tina Modotti in September....

    Tina Modotti? The Italian-American who is so significant yet not at all well-known….

    Exactly, this is exactly one of my goals, to introduce personalities such as this. The second objective is to create a different perception of the Italian Cultural Institute. It must be seen as a dynamic place where things happen, sometimes even glamorous events. It can’t be seen as a stale place, but one that provides a space for young people. This can be done while remaining faithful to tradition.

    I remember the two times that we went to events at the Armory Show. It’s not easy with all the competition. American guidebooks now consider the Italian Cultural Institute among the trendiest places, along with the Metropolitan. It’s not just because we sponsor the “Sunday at the Met” events. When there is an Italian conference at the Met on Sunday, the institute is always present. It’s fantastic! The presence of so many diverse people is fantastic – and not just Italians, who are of course always welcome. Italian culture is becoming more well-known but not only in a self-referential way among Italians. Italian culture needs to be promoted to Americans, and that is why we speak both English and Italian at the institute’s events. It’s for this reason that the New York Times has practically monitored our progress over the years and has dedicated many truly flattering articles to our events.

    The Morandi exhibit at the Met was certainly a magical moment for Italian culture in New York.

    The exhibit that I curated for the Metropolitan, along with Maria Cristina Bandiera, was a great opportunity. At that time I had also organized a concurrent exhibit at the institute of watercolors and drawings that then toured the U.S. It was event organized in partnership with major American cultural associations. 

     

    And to raise the visibility of your events, you created a series of books….
    Yes, it was a series published by the Cultural Institute. For now, there is only one section on art, but there will, of course, be a section on literature. The first volume was devoted to Melotti, the second was devoted to Morandi, the third to young artists in New York, and the fourth to Torre. These are the cornerstones of an extensive plan.

    Miracco’s strategy is clear: collaboration and synergy, particularly with New York and American cultural stakeholders.

    It is important to present Italian contemporary art in partnership with American institutions. It is not a point of arrival, but a point of departure. But to reach this point, the institute needs to develop a sense of integrity that was not there before.

    It is essential, in my opinion, to get one’s hands dirty. For example, to organize an event involving young people, you need to get close to young people. To do this you must go and see, look, and do it directly without delegating. And that goes for everything. You can’t talk about culture if you don’t live it every day, if you don’t go to the right places every day. This is as true for art as it is for literature. Consider the Pen Festival, for example. It was the first time the institute hosted a Pen event.
     

    You have overcome many difficulties. Which ones are still left?

    The difficulties that remain, I think, are like those of a woman in labor. They are there at first and then they are forgotten once they have been overcome; they are replaced by the joy of having overcome them. The fatigue is forgotten…. There are only a few of us; I would really like to hire more people….

     
    Would you like more autonomy?
    Yes, I have some autonomy, but then many times it depends on other conditions. It’s very difficult to have direct contact with our benefactors. If they have money, they prefer to organize an event on their own, not to associate themselves, not to give money to an institution. The Italian mentality, a little less so in the U.S., is that the state must provide, not the private sector.
     

    How do you choose events?
    The quality is of course crucial. The first thing is to move away from self-referential events, and we have succeeded in part. The second is to organize events that interest a greater percentage of the American and the Italian public, and doing so in such a way that people feel at ease at the institute, part of the life of the institute. I have a serious problem with programming. We are in a country where things need to be planned three or four years in advance, not 10 or 15 days. The budget that I have barely covers the building’s maintenance. And we can’t forget – how can I guarantee programming in three or four years, if first of all, I don’t know if I can stay for two or three or four more years....

    I’d like to return to planning important events. I’m thinking about Futurism.

    How can I do this? And how can I do it without any money? At this point I don’t know how much money I have this year for Futurism, but I will do it nevertheless. It’s the first time that the institute is involved with Yale, Briston, CUNY, Columbia University, the MoMa, the Metropolitan, and others. We will all work together to create a program about Futurism.... We are all equally prestigious organizations; we’ll host events and we’ll go there for conferences.

    I know that you are preparing for a major fundraising campaign...
    Yes, fundraising, that’s true, but without a silent auction. People must be willing to show their faces if they really want to help. This, for me, is fundamental, especially if we consider hosting the event at a glamorous locale rather than have a seated dinner. I don’t want to waste money, either on the location or on food. You eat at home, but you can go there for a drink and most importantly to support Italian culture. I would therefore like to do something a little different, something less conventional and a little more challenging.

     
    And when were you thinking of having it? Where?
    In mid- to late September. I can say that Fabrizio Ferri will willingly donate his “Industrie” space where Madonna had her party. And I’m also trying to involve Italian actors and actresses....  
     

    So we can say that Futurism will be a great celebration in the coming months....
    And that’s not all. We also have the science festival with Vittorio Bo to mark Gallileo’s anniversary. There will be a series of lectures here at the institute, and perhaps at Hunter College and at CUNY. I am organizing it along with the region of Venice.
    It’s all about synergy, contacts, and collaboration….
    Otherwise, we can’t do it…not at all….

    Concert of the group "Dissonanzen". The event was held recently at the Italian Cultural Institute. It is the first of a series organized by Renato Miracco to celebrate Italian Futurism.  
     


    Translated by Giulia Prestia

  • Events: Reports

    Vignelli. Simple Design for a Confortable Life

    He wore a suit with a black tunic. She was next to him, dressed in black and white with one discreet but striking jewel that offset her outfit. Last week Massimo Vignelli and Elena Valle, excited as children, received the honor of commendatore nell’ordine al merito della Repubblica Italiana from the Italian Consul General Francesco Maria Talò and from Renato Miracco, Director of the Italian Cultural Institute of New York.
     
    Those who saw them receive the honor could have possibly not known anything about them, about their life intimately linked to the history of design. But in the way they carried themselves and presented their message, one thing was clear: simplicity speaks. Their work is eloquent simplicity and pure design. 

    Their distinguished physical figures continue to stand out as they are enveloped in the environment that surrounds them. They resemble their elegant work a bit, but they are never detached from the world around them.

    Their work is the product of passion and perseverance, but also of a gaze that seeks simplicity. “One needs to know how to design everything today. From ordinary objects to cities of the future, even the most mundane, everyday objects can inspire.”

    They are designers by profession. The Vignellis have created the most important graphic images for practically every industry, from conceptualizing objects to product packaging, from interior environments to road signs. Their mission: “To make people’s lives comfortable.” They have accomplished that first and foremost by living and interacting with people.

    Moving to America in the late ‘60s, Massimo and Elena, partners in life and work, founded Vignelli Associates in 1971.  

    Among other things, they have designed the New York City subway map, logos for American Airlines, Ducati, Bloomingdale’s, Xerox, Lancia, Cinzano, Ford Motors, Benetton, the Museum of Fine Arts, the graphic image for TG2 RAI, as well as everyday objects such as armchairs that are now part of design history. They have dictated the law in the world of contemporary typography and graphic design, leaving an immediately recognizable impression on their products.

    Massimo Vignelli, with fun-loving class, after receiving the honor reminded us of an imaginary Italian commendatore or a middle-aged man with a potbelly.

    The unmistakable cross pinned to his black outfit, he announced:  “I’ll bring it to bed!” He said this during a dinner hosted by Director Renato Miracco at his home. There was a sweet smile on Elena’s lips as she removed the pin from her outfit. Can we guess? While it was perfect for her husband’s suit, the cross didn’t go well with her long, silver jewel. She will carry the cross in her heart. We’re sure of it.

  • Events: Reports

    Newark. A Meeting Between Italy and Portugal

     The Italian community in Newark is no longer in the shadow of New York. Up until a few months ago, the Italian Consulate of New Jersey’s capital was recognized by the Italian government only as a Vice Consulate. Today the Italian Consulate of New Jersey is making a name for itself by planning interesting and original initiatives as a result its newfound autonomy. One of these noteworthy programs is a round table discussion organized by Consul Andrea Barbaria along with his Portuguese colleague, Francisco Carlos Duarte De Azevedo, as a part of a larger program of celebrations honoring the European Union.

    We asked the young Italian diplomat about this event as well as the day’s other activities at the Consulate. Newark is an important and strategic part of the consular network within the United States, but it seems that only a few are familiar with its activities.

    How did the idea of an Italian-Portuguese round table come about?

    After the Consulate’s inauguration ceremony we solidified our relationship with the Portuguese Consul General of Newark. We soon realized that we share the same point of view on many subjects because we frequently deal with similar issues and we both belong to the same European group. We met and came up with the idea to organize a joint event. We decided that the best thing would be to approach it from an economic-commercial point of view, one of financial investment, as it would be easier to attract speakers on this topic from local agencies. We then decided to have the event twenty-four hours before the celebration dedicated to the European Union.

    Is this the first Italian-Portuguese collaboration?

    Yes. The Portuguese Consul General told me that over the course of his tenure he had never thought of doing something like this with the Italian Vice Consul because the territorial jurisdiction would have created compatibility problems. He had to avoid misunderstandings and overlap from his Portuguese colleagues since we both depended on New York. He wanted to wait for the promotion.

    We would like to give a snapshot of the current Italian community in Newark, a neighborhood with a large Portuguese presence….

    Let’s start with the Italian Consulate in Newark. We have about 16,000 people on the consular registry. This statistic includes Italians along with the many facets of the Italian- American community, most of whom are the third or fourth generation descendents of Italian immigrants.

    Certainly in terms of the number of Italian Americans, New Jersey is very strong. With a population of 8,000,000 or so, nearly more than 1,500,000 are of Italian origin.

    The Portuguese community is equally significant, but obviously less so from a historical point of view.

    The last great wave of Italian immigration occurred in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The Portuguese, on the other hand, arrived in the ‘60s and especially in the ‘70s. I would say that this phenomena is directly related to the democratic transition in Portugal, decolonization, and their gradual quest for independence.

    And now in Newark their presence is very much felt….

    There are 70,000 who are registered with Portuguese Consulate General. In some ways it can be said that the Portuguese community has taken the place of the Italian community, in the sense that that the Italians who used to live in Newark have now moved to the more residential surrounding areas.

    For the most part, the Portuguese live in the Ironbound neighborhood close to Penn Station. It was once inhabited by Italians who have since left the neighborhood, when it was still called “Old First Ward.”

    In recent years, Ironbound has seen an influx of Brazilians and other Latin Americans. Today it is characterized as a neighborhood with a strong, primarily Portuguese imprint along with various other influences.

    So the two communities are connected in several ways, but the round table discussion focuses on business relations….
    After deciding to devote part of the celebration to honor the European institution, we considered several possibilities. For example, we discussed investing in New Jersey and New Jersey investing in Italy and Portugal. We also discussed tourism a great deal....

    There was a significant American presence….
    Yes, representatives from local agencies at various levels, such as Jack Donnelly (Governor Corzine’s Deputy Chief of Economic Growth), Steven Pryor (Deputy Mayor of Newark), and Philip Alagi (Essex County Executive). There were also representatives from various Italian institutions, along with their Portuguese counterparts, such as the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce, ENIT, ICE, etc.

    They all hoped to highlight the significant Italian and Portuguese presence in New Jersey. Above all, the American speakers emphasized the anticipated incentives that will encourage investment, as well as the transportation system, the airport, the highways, the state’s proximity to Manhattan, and its large university presence.

    New Jersey is also a main center for technology….
    Yes, especially for environmental technology. We also learned that the government wants to invest in these sectors here.
     

    So it was an important discussion….
    Yes, I would also like to say that last month sen. Alfredo Mantica, on behalf of Italy, signed an agreement in Lisbon to strengthen talks with Italy, and we expect to collaborate with the diplomatic and consular networks of both countries. What can we say? This panel discussion can be seen as a small example, a corollary to this intention, and a program designed to have a larger impact on a local level.

    We would like to take this opportunity to discuss the Consulate’s current activities. It’s a very challenging time with several institutional events going on at once….
    Yes, we are planning for the celebration during a busy time. We are working on the European elections for so-called “temporary voters,” but we are also involved in the organizational structure for the referendum which is much more complicated.

    With the Consulate’s promotion, your responsibilities have increased along with its autonomy….
    Yes, and from a financial point of view as well. But we remain connected to New York and our instructions come directly from the Embassy.

    So you are planning the June 2 celebrations within this context?
    Yes. I would also like to add that we are also monitoring the fundraising activities to benefit the victims of the earthquake in Abruzzi, which is an important and sensitive undertaking. The celebrations for the national festival here are different from those in New York; we would never even think of competing with the events there. It is, first and foremost, an official celebration that commemorates the birth of the Italian Republic. Our intention is to increase participation as much as possible, especially within the Italian-American community which perhaps has not yet had an opportunity to connect with the Italian Consulate in Newark, and to clearly demonstrate the Consulate’s presence in the area.

    It’s the first national holiday since the Consulate in Newark was “promoted.”
    It has been a long process and a particularly difficult one that has finally led to the Consulate’s promotion. It will be our first June 2nd holiday as the autonomous Consulate of Newark. Another message that we want to share, along with the institution’s message, is the rediscovery of the Italian community’s history in Newark. Although the progressive movement of Italians began here, their historically significant presence sometimes seems hidden. On June 2 a series of photographs will be on display which will remind us how important our presence has been here. Sandra S. Lee collected these images for the book Italian Americans of Newark, Belleville and in October they will be on display at the Museum of Art, Casa Colombo. We hope that dipping into the past also means opening up to the future.

  • Style: Articles

    Vignelli. Simple Design for a Confortable Life

    He wore a suit with a black tunic. She was next to him, dressed in black and white with one discreet but striking jewel that offset her outfit. Last week Massimo Vignelli and Elena Valle, excited as children, received the honor of commendatore nell’ordine al merito della Repubblica Italiana from the Italian Consul General Francesco Maria Talò and from Renato Miracco, Director of the Italian Cultural Institute of New York.
     
    Those who saw them receive the honor could have possibly not known anything about them, about their life intimately linked to the history of design. But in the way they carried themselves and presented their message, one thing was clear: simplicity speaks. Their work is eloquent simplicity and pure design. 

    Their distinguished physical figures continue to stand out as they are enveloped in the environment that surrounds them. They resemble their elegant work a bit, but they are never detached from the world around them.

    Their work is the product of passion and perseverance, but also of a gaze that seeks simplicity. “One needs to know how to design everything today. From ordinary objects to cities of the future, even the most mundane, everyday objects can inspire.”

    They are designers by profession. The Vignellis have created the most important graphic images for practically every industry, from conceptualizing objects to product packaging, from interior environments to road signs. Their mission: “To make people’s lives comfortable.” They have accomplished that first and foremost by living and interacting with people.

    Moving to America in the late ‘60s, Massimo and Elena, partners in life and work, founded Vignelli Associates in 1971.  

    Among other things, they have designed the New York City subway map, logos for American Airlines, Ducati, Bloomingdale’s, Xerox, Lancia, Cinzano, Ford Motors, Benetton, the Museum of Fine Arts, the graphic image for TG2 RAI, as well as everyday objects such as armchairs that are now part of design history. They have dictated the law in the world of contemporary typography and graphic design, leaving an immediately recognizable impression on their products.

    Massimo Vignelli, with fun-loving class, after receiving the honor reminded us of an imaginary Italian commendatore or a middle-aged man with a potbelly.

    The unmistakable cross pinned to his black outfit, he announced:  “I’ll bring it to bed!” He said this during a dinner hosted by Director Renato Miracco at his home. There was a sweet smile on Elena’s lips as she removed the pin from her outfit. Can we guess? While it was perfect for her husband’s suit, the cross didn’t go well with her long, silver jewel. She will carry the cross in her heart. We’re sure of it.

  • Facts & Stories

    Newark. A Meeting Between Italy and Portugal

     The Italian community in Newark is no longer in the shadow of New York. Up until a few months ago, the Italian Consulate of New Jersey’s capital was recognized by the Italian government only as a Vice Consulate. Today the Italian Consulate of New Jersey is making a name for itself by planning interesting and original initiatives as a result its newfound autonomy. One of these noteworthy programs is a round table discussion organized by Consul Andrea Barbaria along with his Portuguese colleague, Francisco Carlos Duarte De Azevedo, as a part of a larger program of celebrations honoring the European Union.

    We asked the young Italian diplomat about this event as well as the day’s other activities at the Consulate. Newark is an important and strategic part of the consular network within the United States, but it seems that only a few are familiar with its activities.

    How did the idea of an Italian-Portuguese round table come about?

    After the Consulate’s inauguration ceremony we solidified our relationship with the Portuguese Consul General of Newark. We soon realized that we share the same point of view on many subjects because we frequently deal with similar issues and we both belong to the same European group. We met and came up with the idea to organize a joint event. We decided that the best thing would be to approach it from an economic-commercial point of view, one of financial investment, as it would be easier to attract speakers on this topic from local agencies. We then decided to have the event twenty-four hours before the celebration dedicated to the European Union.

    Is this the first Italian-Portuguese collaboration?

    Yes. The Portuguese Consul General told me that over the course of his tenure he had never thought of doing something like this with the Italian Vice Consul because the territorial jurisdiction would have created compatibility problems. He had to avoid misunderstandings and overlap from his Portuguese colleagues since we both depended on New York. He wanted to wait for the promotion.

    We would like to give a snapshot of the current Italian community in Newark, a neighborhood with a large Portuguese presence….

    Let’s start with the Italian Consulate in Newark. We have about 16,000 people on the consular registry. This statistic includes Italians along with the many facets of the Italian- American community, most of whom are the third or fourth generation descendents of Italian immigrants.

    Certainly in terms of the number of Italian Americans, New Jersey is very strong. With a population of 8,000,000 or so, nearly more than 1,500,000 are of Italian origin.

    The Portuguese community is equally significant, but obviously less so from a historical point of view.

    The last great wave of Italian immigration occurred in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The Portuguese, on the other hand, arrived in the ‘60s and especially in the ‘70s. I would say that this phenomena is directly related to the democratic transition in Portugal, decolonization, and their gradual quest for independence.

    And now in Newark their presence is very much felt….

    There are 70,000 who are registered with Portuguese Consulate General. In some ways it can be said that the Portuguese community has taken the place of the Italian community, in the sense that that the Italians who used to live in Newark have now moved to the more residential surrounding areas.

    For the most part, the Portuguese live in the Ironbound neighborhood close to Penn Station. It was once inhabited by Italians who have since left the neighborhood, when it was still called “Old First Ward.”

    In recent years, Ironbound has seen an influx of Brazilians and other Latin Americans. Today it is characterized as a neighborhood with a strong, primarily Portuguese imprint along with various other influences.

    So the two communities are connected in several ways, but the round table discussion focuses on business relations….
    After deciding to devote part of the celebration to honor the European institution, we considered several possibilities. For example, we discussed investing in New Jersey and New Jersey investing in Italy and Portugal. We also discussed tourism a great deal....

    There was a significant American presence….
    Yes, representatives from local agencies at various levels, such as Jack Donnelly (Governor Corzine’s Deputy Chief of Economic Growth), Steven Pryor (Deputy Mayor of Newark), and Philip Alagi (Essex County Executive). There were also representatives from various Italian institutions, along with their Portuguese counterparts, such as the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce, ENIT, ICE, etc.

    They all hoped to highlight the significant Italian and Portuguese presence in New Jersey. Above all, the American speakers emphasized the anticipated incentives that will encourage investment, as well as the transportation system, the airport, the highways, the state’s proximity to Manhattan, and its large university presence.

    New Jersey is also a main center for technology….
    Yes, especially for environmental technology. We also learned that the government wants to invest in these sectors here.
     

    So it was an important discussion….
    Yes, I would also like to say that last month sen. Alfredo Mantica, on behalf of Italy, signed an agreement in Lisbon to strengthen talks with Italy, and we expect to collaborate with the diplomatic and consular networks of both countries. What can we say? This panel discussion can be seen as a small example, a corollary to this intention, and a program designed to have a larger impact on a local level.

    We would like to take this opportunity to discuss the Consulate’s current activities. It’s a very challenging time with several institutional events going on at once….
    Yes, we are planning for the celebration during a busy time. We are working on the European elections for so-called “temporary voters,” but we are also involved in the organizational structure for the referendum which is much more complicated.

    With the Consulate’s promotion, your responsibilities have increased along with its autonomy….
    Yes, and from a financial point of view as well. But we remain connected to New York and our instructions come directly from the Embassy.

    So you are planning the June 2 celebrations within this context?
    Yes. I would also like to add that we are also monitoring the fundraising activities to benefit the victims of the earthquake in Abruzzi, which is an important and sensitive undertaking. The celebrations for the national festival here are different from those in New York; we would never even think of competing with the events there. It is, first and foremost, an official celebration that commemorates the birth of the Italian Republic. Our intention is to increase participation as much as possible, especially within the Italian-American community which perhaps has not yet had an opportunity to connect with the Italian Consulate in Newark, and to clearly demonstrate the Consulate’s presence in the area.

    It’s the first national holiday since the Consulate in Newark was “promoted.”
    It has been a long process and a particularly difficult one that has finally led to the Consulate’s promotion. It will be our first June 2nd holiday as the autonomous Consulate of Newark. Another message that we want to share, along with the institution’s message, is the rediscovery of the Italian community’s history in Newark. Although the progressive movement of Italians began here, their historically significant presence sometimes seems hidden. On June 2 a series of photographs will be on display which will remind us how important our presence has been here. Sandra S. Lee collected these images for the book Italian Americans of Newark, Belleville and in October they will be on display at the Museum of Art, Casa Colombo. We hope that dipping into the past also means opening up to the future.

Pages