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Articles by: Anthony julian Tamburri

  • Op-Eds

    Robert Viscusi (1941-2020)

    It is with profound sadness that I write to inform you of the death of our dear friend Robert Viscusi, Professor Emeritus of Brooklyn College. He died this morning at Lennox Hill Hospital after a valiant battle with cancer. He is survived by his beloved wife, Nancy, and two children, Victoria and Robert.

    For those of us who knew Bob well, we knew a kind man, someone who was always respectfully inquisitive and concerned about his friends and, at the same time, always a cheerleader in championing them and their accomplishments. He was, as well, a great advocate of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute; he made it known to many, and we remain ever the more grateful.
    I first met Bob at the 1987 annual conference of the American Italian Historical Association, and we struck up a friendship that has lasted ever since. At first, it was based on our work. My own professional preparation moved me to come to Italian/American studies through the back door of methodology and theory. Indeed, Bob’s work guided me greatly in those first few years. His ideas and the rhetorical craft through which he articulated them served as a significant model for me; it continues as much today.

    Bob was fundamental to the development of Bordighera Incorporated and its journal VIA and book series VIA Folios. In the later years Bordighera Press published his collection of sonnets and/or epic poem, Ellis Island, which earned an excellent pre-publication Star Review from Publishers Weekly, that closed as follows: “[T]he sonnets are far from uniform, at times manifesting as short stories, at other times as short bursts of philosophical inquiry or bursts of pure song. This is a new delicacy for aficionados of creative poetry and an anthem of sorts for those who—however far removed from immigration—occasionally feel displaced from home.”

    Bob wore numerous hats throughout his career: highly esteemed professor, cultural theorist, literary critic, novelist, and poet are some of the monikers we can ascribe to him. He was also a cultural broker: Bob co-founded the Italian American Writers Association in 1991, for which he formulated its three rules: (1) Read one another; (2) Write or be written; (3) Buy each others’ books. It is a triad of exhortations that he articulated throughout the years, whenever he had the opportunity to do so.

    Among Bob’s many books, we shall surely remember his award-winning novel, Astoria (2003), and his critical magnum opus, Buried Caesars and Other Secrets of Italian American Writing (2006), considered by some to be “the best book written on any ethnic group in America or anywhere else.… This is an astonishing, gorgeous work” (Matthew Frye Jacobson). But some of already knew that, didn’t we?

    I close this brief encomium with an example of the big, generous heart that Bob possessed. At the beginning of the last decade, Bob took on a major translation project: to render into English Francesco Durante’s ground-breaking anthology, Italoamericana II, a 900-plus-page tome originally published in Italy in 2005. What stood out were two things: (1) Bob’s incredible knowledge of and intellectual ability to articulate ever so masterfully the Italian immigrant phenomenon, and (2) his dedication to this project, his desire to render it as best possible in English. This was no small task in making popular someone else’s work; generosity does not begin to describe Bob’s largesse and beneficence involved in such work.

    Bob’s scholarly and creative works will live on precisely because they are so outstanding and hence greatly beneficial to all. They will serve yet future generations of scholars as they engage in their own professional development of cultural and literary studies of the Italian diaspora. But Bob the person — he who could turn a phrase and make you smile, or formulate a theoretical notion and make you go Hmmm — shall be dearly missed. In the meantime, fortunately, through technology we shall have the opportunity to revisit with Bob, as we have a few recordings of him in the Italics TV archive. I will leave you with two at this time.

    Bob on Italics:
    Lecture: “The Orphanage: Encounters in Transnational Space" (Sept 29, 2017)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQxXWQAAV5U&t=414s
    Symposium: "L'oro di Napoli: All that glitters is gold!" i (at 1:03:10) Bob reading from his Ellis Island
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stQLl9k6mIc

    Robert Viscusi in "An Oration Upon The Most Recent Death of Christopher Columbus"
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVdOt7pbKRg&t=2s

    *Anthony Julian Tamburri
    Dean & Distinguished Professor

  • Op-Eds

    Reflections on An Italian Icon

    Umberto Eco passed away Friday evening in Italy! With his death, Italy loses one of its best representatives of all that is Italian: he was smart (an understatement, to be sure), amiable, flexible in thought and manner, and someone who wore his fame very well and thus never made you feel uncomfortable. Indeed, he was one of the few, the very few most approachable “famous” Italians I have met thus far in my four-plus decades of interaction with the haute monde of Italy. 
    I first met Umberto Eco in the late 1970s, in Berkeley, California. He had been invited by a couple of departments, Italian, Rhetoric, and the like. I had already come to know, on paper, Umberto Eco the semiotician; this was, in fact, the period of his English edition of his A Theory of Semiotics, a book that went on to influence generations of students/scholars of interpretation theory; a few years before the debut of Eco the novelist. But we didn’t really talk that much about semiotics; initially, though that is how the conversation began. I mentioned to him that my introduction to semiotics came via semiology, having first read Roland Barthes’s Elementi di semiologia years earlier; he smiled as we discussed what we — he, I should say — thought the main difference was between semiotics and semiology. For me, I must say, it sent me in another interpretive direction, one that has, ever since, made me look at a text (written, visual, or figurative) in its many signifying possibilities. 
     But, as I stated above, we didn’t speak much more about semiotics during that first meeting. We spoke, instead, about Liguria and nineteenth-century literature. More specifically, about Bordighera and Giovanni Ruffini. When Eco heard that Bordighera was, at that time in my life, a regular haunt of mine during the summers, he asked me if I had read Dottor Antonio. Of course, I thought he was pulling my leg. But, alas, I learned about a new nineteenth-century writer that evening, and indeed went on to read the above-mentioned novel, but in its original English, Doctor Antonio. Yes, Giovanni Ruffini wrote that novel in the 1850s while exiled in English after the failed 1848 attempt of unification. And I learned this at a cocktail party from Umberto Eco, and not in the regular graduate seminars offered on Italian fiction. 
     This was vintage Eco, I came to understand over the years. The expert in what some see as an exceedingly esoteric field that is semiotics, Eco could talk to you about the most seemingly banal to the most ostensibly inscrutable, and he did so in a most satisfactorily accessible manner. He was, as well, a popular voice, an academic intellectual who was willing to change registers and speak to the more general public; hence, his weekly column, “La bustina di Minerva,” for Italy’s best-selling magazine L’Espresso; and his topics varied from popular culture to the most serious of political issues. They constituted, I would underscore, the articulations of one of Italy’s truly public intellectuals.
     My favorite four books of his are, by now, classics. A Theory of Semiotics and The Role of the Reader constitute my own analytical base of interpretation; and I pass on those thoughts with delight to my students when I teach both literature and interpreattion theory. My favorite two novels, in turn, are The Name of the Rose and The Island of the Day Before, two different worlds of centuries ago that, through his narrative skills, Eco has rendered contemporary in many ways.
    I last saw Umberto Eco at the United Nations a bit over two years ago, where he delivered a lecture entitled “Against The Loss of Memory.” He was vintage Eco. People have and will refer to Umberto Eco as any and all of the following: writer, linguist, philosopher, novelist, semiotician, journalist, etc. He was all of that, as he was also the academy’s intellectual rock star! One thing is guaranteed for sure, he shall not be lost in our memory!
     
    Anthony Julian Tamburri
    Dean, John D. Calandra Italian American Institute
    Distinguished Professor of European Languages and Literatures
  • Facts & Stories

    The Coincidence of Italian Cultural Hegemonic Privilege and the Historical Amnesia of Italian Diaspora Articulations


    Cari Amici,


    I am sending along the Call for Papers for the next Italian American Studies Association’s annual conference (formerly, American Italian Historical Association), to be held in Long Beach, California, hosted by California State University Long Beach’s George Graziadio Center for Italian Studies under the leadership of Dr. Clorinda Donato.
     
    As you peruse the Call and the many suggested themes, and as you ponder especially the four highlighted adjectives ("Recorded, Reported, Projected, and Pixilated”), let me ask that you think a bit outside the box and, perhaps, think of antonyms, so to speak, and consider how Italian Americans are seen, or NOT, by Italian cultural hegemonies. 
     
    As for my own experience, as someone who migrates regularly between both Italian and Italian diaspora studies, I offer up the following as food for thought as well as an invitation to think differently.
     
    As we know, Italian-American studies does not enjoy the favorable positioning one might think it does (or should) within Italian studies (especially when conceived within the mid-set of italianistica) both inside and outside of Italy. A decade ago the American studies journal in Italy, Àcoma, dedicated a special issue to the theme, “L’America che leggiamo: saggi e aggiornamenti,” with no reference at all to any U.S. writer of Italian descent, not to mention the notion of any semblance of a thematics we might call Italian-American literature. This, notwithstanding the aesthetic positioning of John Fante in Italy, or the cultural/literary history of the United States with the likes of — Yes, it is a long list of many, not all, whom we should surely know. — Helen Bartolini, Mary Jo Bona, Grace Cavalieri, John Ciardi, Peter Covino, Don DeLillo, Rachel Guido deVries, Emanuel di Pasquale, Louise DeSalvo, W. S. DiPiero, Louisa Ermelino, Gil Fagiani, Maria Famà, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Mario Fratti, Fred Gardaphe, Dana Gioia, Daniela Gioseffi, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, George Guida, Gerry La Femina, Annie Rachel Lanzillotto, Frank Lentricchia, Maria Lisella, Paul Mariani, Donna Masini, Stephen Massimilla, Fred Misurella, Joey Nicoletti, Jay Parini, Joseph Ricapito, Nicole Santalucia, Felix Stefanie, Maria Terrone, Lewis Turco, Joseph Tusiani, Anthony Valerio, Pasquale Verdicchio, Richard Vetere, Robert Viscusi, Arturo Vivante, Frances Winwar, and so on. Or, better still, there are those who have and continue to write poetry and/or fiction in Italian and live in the U.S.: Luigi Ballerini, Emanuel Carnevali, Peter Carravetta, Alessandro Carrera, Tiziana Rinaldi Castro, Giovanni Cecchetti, Ned Condini, Alfredo de Palchi, Rita Dinale, Franco Ferrucci, Luigi Fontanella, Arturo Giovannetti, Ernesto Livorni, Irene Marchegiani, Mario Moroni, Pier Maria Pasinetti, Emanuele Pettener, Mario Pietralunga, Giose Rimanelli, Annalisa Saccà, Victoria Surliuga, and Paolo Valesio are some of the names that come to mind in this regard. 
     
    Fortunately, let me add as I continue, contrary to the above-cited Americanist journal in Italy, the Italian studies journal, Studi italiani, housed at the Università degli Studi di Firenze and edited by Gino Tellini, launched last year the section “Oltreconfine,” which is dedicated to the Italian diasporic voice outside Italy, especially that voice articulated in Italian. Then, at the AISNA (Association Italiana di Studi Nord Americani) biannual conference at the Università degli Studi di Napoli L’Orientale last September 2015, the Association dedicated a plenary session to the volume, Transcending Borders, Bridging Gaps: Italian Americana, Diasporic Studies, and the University Curriculum, a collection of essays that originated from a four-day workshop at the Rockefeller Foundation Center in Bellagio, Italy. So, surely, Spes ultima sea! Things are looking up!
     
    Given as much, then, the simple question is, “Why does Italian diaspora studies linger in the academy, both in the United States and in Italy?” “What is its position within ethnic studies across the U.S.?" Alternatively, one might ask, “Why, then, haven’t programs of Italian studies outside Italy picked up the mantle, given the vast number of Italians who left Italy during the great wave of migration?” One might assume, for instance, that those of Italian descent have, perhaps, engaged in an act of identity descension (pun intended) for which any reference to their Italian ancestry is null and void, and, consequently, their identity politics is solely articulated within a U.S. profile. In yet another sense, one might readily assume that there indeed exists a sort of hegemonic privilege among scholars of “Italian” (Read, peninsula. [Yes, the privilege of hegemony, I would submit, is restricted to those on the peninsula; the islanders are not always invited into the club.]) cultural history and practice (Read, literature and cinema especially.) for which any notion of an extra-Italy articulation of something that resembles “Italian” in some manner or form, simply does not exist. Ultimately, then, one might speak in terms of an historical omission of any sort of cultural manifestation of an Italian diaspora. That said, I am proposing the following session(s):
     
    "The Coincidence of Italian Cultural Hegemonic Privilege and the Historical Amnesia of Italian Diaspora Articulations"
     
    The session is open to any and all notions of and/or discourses on the aesthetic with regard to the relationship, or lack thereof, between Italy and the many Italian diasporas. Submissions should include author’s complete name and email address, a title, a 300-word abstract, and a brief description (150 wds. max.) of the author’s work with regard to any form of an Italian diaspora. I am especially interested in submissions of presentations that will prove to be intellectually stimulating, provocative, and, in the end, notably productive with regard to a greater strategy for the inclusion of Italian diaspora studies within the university curriculum both here in the United States and in Italy.
     
    Send all submissions and inquiries electronically to the following email address: tamburri@bordigherapress.org. The deadline for complete submissions is no later than February 19, 2016.
     
    Con viva cordialità,
    Anthony
     
    Anthony Julian Tamburri, PhD
    Dean, John D. Calandra Italian American Institute
    Distinguished Professor of European Languages 
         and Linguistics
    Queens College/CUNY
    25 West 43rd Street, 17th Fl
    New York, NY 10036
     
     
          **********************************************************************
     
    Recorded, Reported, Projected, and Pixilated:

    Italian Americans in Mass Media
     
    November 3rd to November 5th, 2016
    California State University—Long Beach, Long Beach / Los Angeles, California
     
    Music, theater, film, multi-media, mass media and advertising, publishing, artistic renderings, science and technology, and the burgeoning digital humanities have characterized and are changing the way Italian Americans conceive of themselves  and how they re-conceptualize and re-signify their identities.  
    In recognition of this powerful moment in the representation of ethnic American identities, the Italian American Studies Association is calling for contributions from scholars and writers in every field for its 2016 annual conference. 
    Fittingly slated for a California venue where Hollywood and the Silicon Valley have led the charge in forming our media-driven lives, the conference will take place at California State University, Long Beach, November 3-5, 2016.
    We invite full panels or individual papers as well as digital short films, digital projects, digital art, digital presentations, and creative writing.  Presenters are limited to presenting one paper/presentation of scholarship and one creative writing reading or one creative panel or scholarly presentation and one chair position.  Presentations are limited to 15-20 minutes based on the number of people in a panel.  If you are willing to serve as a chair, please indicate that willingness in your cover letter.  Please send us a brief one paragraph bio with your credentials and your abstract of 100-250 words detailing your thesis and indicating what type of presentation you will be presenting: a traditional scholarly paper, multi-media presentation (PowerPoint or Prezi), short film or digital artifact, digital art, original creative writing. Please note that the selection of panels will be a more competitive process than the selection of individual presentations.


    Possible paper or panels might include but are not limited to:
    ·         Italian Americans and social media
    ·         Poetry & literature in the digital age
    ·         Scientific & technological Italian American innovation related to or represented through multi-media or mass media
    ·         Italian diaspora represented through mass media and multi media
    ·         Columbus Day and Italian American Heritage Through Social Media
    ·         Italian American representations in advertising or film
    ·         Italian Americans in recorded music
    ·         Italian American representation on Youtube,  blogs, MEMEs, and Vine, and other digital/ media platforms.
    ·         Deconstruction of the mob/mafia theme in multi-media
    ·         Analysis of Italian-American political figures.
    ·         The politics of co-opting and marketing Italian-American language, posturing, culture, and/or stereotypes for politics or products for political gain.
    ·         Italian American communication styles and patterns in social linguistics.
    ·         Italian American representations in African-American literature or film
    ·         Italian Americans and  comedy such as Key & Peele
    ·         Italian American female icons such as Madonna, Lady GaGa, Sophia Loren
    ·         The intersection of white privilege and historical discrimination as represented in multi-media
    ·         Uncovering Italian American history through digital archives
    ·         Italian American artists and design aesthetics in modern culture
    ·         Italian American ancestry and the digital artifact
    ·         Exploring one of these topics through digital short film, documentary short, or other multi-media project including creative writing.

     
    Deadline for Abstracts: March 11, 2016
    Expressions of interest and inquiries can be sent to Dr. Alan Gravano at Alan.Gravano@outlook.com.
     
    Copyright © 2016

  • Events: Reports

    Videre Neapolim et Mori

    “Videre Neapolim et Mori” is an expression that has dubious origins. There are those who read it as “See Naples and then die,” because once you’ve seen Naples you’ve seen it all, and there thus is no need to see anything else! Or, as the expression has also been interpreted, “See (the great/big city of) Naples and then (the small city of) Mori.” Once you’ve seen Naples, you then must go on to Mori. One problem with this second interpretation is that the ancient city of Mori remains an enigma; in Italy today, Mori is a small city in northern Italy, in the Alto Adige. Nonetheless, whatever the phrase’s origin may be, let us just say that once you’ve seen Naples, you have surely seen it — most of it, at least— all.

    People in the United States know Naples for certain aspects of its more modern history; two  might be, (1) Italian emigration, and (2) a certain organized criminality associated with the city and its region. Indeed, we need to be aware of such things; it helps us better understand our history. But we also need to let people see the flip side of that coin.

    The flip side, for the Americans, will let them know that Naples is rich with culture; indeed, it has been a richly cultured city for centuries, with an international sphere of influence to boot. Philosophy (Fonseca Pimentel, Filangeri, Vico, Croce), Music (Scarlatti, Rossini, Merola, Daniele), Cuisine (fish, pasta, pizza, processing of tomatoes), Religion (Cathedral of San Gennaro and its world-wide appeal, other churches that are the burial sites of historic figures), Performing Arts (De Filippo, Martone, Sastri, Servillo, Sorrentino, Totò, Troisi, the “opera buffa”), Literature (Basile, Serao, Di Giacomo, Malaparte, Saviano), together with other societal and cultural movements, have made Naples one of the most significant cities of western Europe, a major center for the Baroque in the seventeenth century, second only to Paris.

    Today, it is the ninth largest city in the European Union and it remains one of the largest within the Mediterranean. So, yes, Naples remains ever today that magnificent city of wonders, with its neighboring Vesuvius, two entities, individual in their own rights, with a liberating spirit that reminds us of the mythical Masaniello.

    Thus, to celebrate Naples and its parallel destiny with our own New York City, we have invited Naples’s mayor Luigi de Magistris and Monsignor Gennaro Matino to the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute for a symposium on Italian emigration to the United States.

  • Op-Eds

    What Therefore [historical forces of emigration] Hath Joined Together, let not [Italian nationals 100 years later] Put Asunder


    Leaving aside for now the argument that might surround the difference in the six languages, I do wonder why Italian is skipped over by New York city, especially since it is one of six “official” / “mandated” languages, on both the city and state level, in which documents and websites are to be translated and interpreters provided.

     
    As for Italian, it goes without saying how Italy has contributed to the world of art, commerce, and culture since the Middle Ages, as it continues to do so today. One example is that more than 60% of the world’s art is Italian in origin. A second example with regard to commerce reminds us of the Florentine, Venetian, and Genovese banks, the origins of what we know today as the modern day banking system. A third still, is the influence Italian literature has had on non-Italian world figures: the sonnet, the short story, and the post-classical epic. Finally, on a more local level, of the approximately 8 percent of New Yorkers who are of Italian ancestry, approximately 18 percent speak Italian. Combine this with the new global immigration that includes a higher percentage of Italians here in the New York metropolitan area, it would make as much sense to include Italian as it does to include, for instance, Hebrew and Japanese.

     
    So, why shouldn’t we in the “Italian” (read, Italian and Italian/American) community join forces and fight for what only seems to be the most logical of processes? Well, most recently, I heard that a group of Italian nationals who live here in NYC have taken it upon themselves to attempt to have a bi-lingual program created in a public school that their children might attend. At first blush, I was momentarily delighted. But on quick reflection, I found this, too, rather intriguing: that a group of Italian nationals who live and work in NYC would go about such a campaign on their own; that they would not try to involve some of the Italian/American associations, first and foremost AATI, the American Association of Teachers of Italian, the national professional association of teachers of Italian. Or, equally important, why not approach the NYC local organization IACE, the Italian American Committee on Education, which serves circa 40,000 students of Italian throughout the Tri-state area?

     
    Such a desire to go it alone on the part of these Italian nationals raises a number of issues. Why would Italian nationals not involve Italian Americans who would also very much want to see bi-lingual programs for their children? What advantage do they see by going alone, by ignoring the assistance they might receive from Italian Americans? How is it possible that they cannot see the advantages of partnering with the Italian/American community?

     
    These are fundamental questions that cannot be answered in this venue. But one surely must wonder at such a desire for separation on the part of Italian nationals. This is not the first time that such a discrimen has manifested itself. We have, furthermore, seen such cleavage and bifurcation on other occasions in the past that have dealt, in some cases, with other campaigns or other issues of recognizing “Italian” (here read, only, Italian and NOT Italian/American) intellectual and academic talent in the United States. Why such a distinction? Why such sundering when, instead, acceptation and unification would serve the great good of the Italian (now, read, here once more Italian and Italian/American) community in the United States?

  • What therefore [historical forces of emigration] hath joined together, let not [Italian nationals 100 years later] put asunder



    Leaving aside for now the argument that might surround the difference in the six languages, I do wonder why Italian is skipped over by New York city, especially since it is one of six “official” / “mandated” languages, on both the city and state level, in which documents and websites are to be translated and interpreters provided.
    As for Italian, it goes without saying how Italy has contributed to the world of art, commerce, and culture since the Middle Ages, as it continues to do so today. One example is that more than 60% of the world’s art is Italian in origin. A second example with regard to commerce reminds us of the Florentine, Venetian, and Genovese banks, the origins of what we know today as the modern day banking system. A third still, is the influence Italian literature has had on non-Italian world figures: the sonnet, the short story, and the post-classical epic. Finally, on a more local level, of the approximately 8 percent of New Yorkers who are of Italian ancestry, approximately 18 percent speak Italian. Combine this with the new global immigration that includes a higher percentage of Italians here in the New York metropolitan area, it would make as much sense to include Italian as it does to include, for instance, Hebrew and Japanese.
    So, why shouldn’t we in the “Italian” (read, Italian and Italian/American) community join forces and fight for what only seems to be the most logical of processes? Well, most recently, I heard that a group of Italian nationals who live here in NYC have taken it upon themselves to attempt to have a bi-lingual program created in a public school that their children might attend. At first blush, I was momentarily delighted. But on quick reflection, I found this, too, rather intriguing: that a group of Italian nationals who live and work in NYC would go about such a campaign on their own; that they would not try to involve some of the Italian/American associations, first and foremost AATI, the American Association of Teachers of Italian, the national professional association of teachers of Italian. Or, equally important, why not approach the NYC local organization IACE, the Italian American Committee on Education, which serves circa 40,000 students of Italian throughout the Tri-state area?
    Such a desire to go it alone on the part of these Italian nationals raises a number of issues. Why would Italian nationals not involve Italian Americans who would also very much want to see bi-lingual programs for their children? What advantage do they see by going alone, by ignoring the assistance they might receive from Italian Americans? How is it possible that they cannot see the advantages of partnering with the Italian/American community?
    These are fundamental questions that cannot be answered in this venue. But one surely must wonder at such a desire for separation on the part of Italian nationals. This is not the first time that such a discrimen has manifested itself. We have, furthermore, seen such cleavage and bifurcation on other occasions in the past that have dealt, in some cases, with other campaigns or other issues of recognizing “Italian” (here read, only, Italian and NOT Italian/American) intellectual and academic talent in the United States. Why such a distinction? Why such sundering when, instead, acceptation and unification would serve the great good of the Italian (now, read, here once more Italian and Italian/American) community in the United States?

  • Op-Eds

    Comunicare l'Italia all'estero: A follow-up




    So, as I said in a comment to Letizia Airos's piece, as long as Italy continues to speak only in Italian and only to those who are registered in AIRE (the official list of Italian citizens living abroad), it will remain a nation in search of admirers... That is, it will remain closed up in a shell, impermeable to those who do not speak Italian, even to those who, regardless of their lack of abilities to engage in a conversation in Italian, nonetheless promote Italian culture and the study of language here in the States. But these Italian living in their tricolore shell have even shut out those who do speak Italian, indeed who promote the language and culture of Italy and its diaspora, if only, one might assume, because they are not listed in the AIRE. And the “Italians” do so together with some Italian institutions here, which have also tried to close out the “non-Italians”.


    Airos's piece came to mind today because of a comment I made on Facebook with regard to my most recent stint in Calabria. I stated the following: "Just back from UniCal having followed in the footsteps of Sam, Paul, Peter, and Fred, and all of us having worked with Margherita and Marta, to deliver CLIA (Cultura e Letteratura Italiana Americana). We just completed its first cycle, an historic course added this year to the curriculum for the Laurea Magistrale in Letteratura italiana moderna e contemporanea at the Università della Calabria, the first university in Italy to add such a course.  Oh yeah! I doubt that an item such as this — Italian Americans helping bring Italian Americana to an Italian university — will be covered by the Italian press in USA, perhaps i-Italy and La voce di New York, but surely not by America Oggi or any other Italian or Italian/American news outlet. Surely, to boot, not the Italian correspondents in the USA. They're too busy dealing with things such as how we should no longer talk about fuga di cervelli but rather spostamento dei talenti! Vattelapesca!" Indeed, today I saw two analogues to spostamento dei talenti instead of fuga di cervelli: one is “cervelli Made in Italy”; the other, “nessuna fuga cervelli; solo globalità”.


    Of course, this raises the old issue of how Italians see Italian Americans. It calls to mind the old writings of those who willy-nilly expressed disdain and disrespected the Italian immigrant and his off-spring in America. I have in mind two writers especially: Giuseppe Prezzolini and Mario Soldati. The insensitivity coupled with an apparent sense of delight in describing as much only helped create a greater gap between the two groups that exists still today, if only by the almost total silence, lack of coverage, on the part of Italian correspondents today in the States who seem to have absolutely no interest in intellectual interrogations by and about Italian Americans. This, in spite of the fact that some of the best studies on Italian literature and cinema over the past quarter century originate in the United States.


    So, what's to do? Well, one must simply keep on trucking; keep moving forward with the same desire to contribute to the promotion and promulgation of Italian culture.  Alla riscossa, ragazzi, should be the motto, because whoever says “Sempre avanti” does nothing but take steps backward toward a regime-like mode of thought.

  • Art & Culture

    A Language of Acceptance


    When I think back to some of the incidents of racial epithets and the like that we have witnessed in these past thirty-plus years of a post-civil rights era—similar incidents, I would add, that we continue to see in this current, mis-named post-racial area of Barack Obama’s presidency—I wrestle with some thoughts that I believe I may share with others. Namely, what lesson(s) could there possibly be for us, both within and beyond the Italian/American community.


    I often muse as I ponder some of the semantic vitriol: If there is one thing—and I must underscore, one of many—we might learn from these incidents, it is that “names [indeed can] hurt you,” to paraphrase the old children’s retort to name-calling. We might indeed rethink the twenty-first-century deconstructionists and rework Descartes’s “Cogito ergo sum” into “Loquor ergo sum”; or, to be more precise with regard to the theme of verbal violence, because violence it is, “I speak, therefore, I can hurt.”



    A language for the post-racial era
    More significant to the matter at hand, if there is anything positive that can come out of such debacles, it is the possibility of rekindling such a discussion on race and ethnicity in this supposedly post-racial era both within and beyond the Italian/American community. Yes, we have had ample opportunities in the past two decades to rekindle such a conversation—unfortunately, with very little success, if any at all—but we should not lose hope.

    We did, I believe, as the collective imaginary of the United States, lose something somewhere between the 1980s and 1990s, when, so it seems, certain concepts fell by the wayside.

     

    Tolerance vs. Acceptance
    One sad result in all of this, I would submit, is the loss of the word “acceptance” and its coincidental concept of inclusiveness. If memory serves me well, “acceptance” was indeed the operative word in the 1960s and 1970s, during the progressive period of socio-political advancements in a collective consciousness with regard to race and gender. Yet, today, it seems to have been replaced by the ever so implicitly exclusionary term “tolerance.”

     

    I am very much aware of the concept held by many that in order for someone/something to be accepted, s/he / it must first be tolerated. I have heard this argument from a good number of friends and acquaintances. But I am hard-pressed to accept such a hierarchical procedure.



    The simple semiotic process of “tolerance” conjures up something distasteful, if not outright negative, and the person tolerating will, in fact, have to put up with, bear, support, or stomach. “Acceptance,” on the other hand, underscores an individual’s assent of a state of condition or situation—in this case, someone’s difference (e.g., race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality)—which said individual does not attempt to disapprove or modify as such.

     

    Bringing ‘acceptance’ back in
    I would like to think that we are indeed capable of “accepting” at first blush, that we can immediately see the advantages that such difference—to be sure, sometimes outright challenges—can offer. And so, let us begin with language.



    This most significant difference in terminology, as simple as it may seem at first glance, could make a wonderfully productive starting point for a reworking of an Italian/American collective imaginary on race and ethnicity, so that, while we are always wanting to move ahead, this might be one moment where we decide to go backwards (if ever so briefly), in order to move forward eventually in a much more constructive manner.



    This can, for sure, be a beginning for a discussion between all the main “players”—media, political, and intellectual/academic figures alike—in order for Italian Americans to tackle head-on the discourse of race and ethnicity that, over the past twenty-five-plus years, seems to have been conveniently muzzled by the power of language, be it verbal or visual.  

  • Op-Eds

    Silence is not always golden...


    I posted the following on Facebook two days ago, and within minutes there were reactions from both Italians and Italian Americans who share my overall view:


    “Here instead we get Opti Pobà, who previously ate bananas and then suddenly becomes a first-team player with Lazio. That’s how it is here. In England, you need to demonstrate what you have on your CV and your pedigree.”

    Didn’t we have enough of this in the early to mid-20th Century in Europe? Yes, a rhetorical question. And how can Italy’s collective conscious accept such things? Then, again, they accepted Roberto Calderoli’s comments about former Ministro dell’Integrazione Cécile Kyenge, who is African Italian.

    Where’s the outrage from the Italian-American community? Indeed, were someone to call any of us “spaghetti benders” and the like, with other food references, holy hell would break loose. But about this, silence! Non va mica bene, ragazzi!


    Last summer, July 2013, I posted an op.ed. in reference to Roberto Calderoli’s horrible comments with regard to then Ministro dell’Integrazione Cécile Kyenge, referencing how features of orangutans come to miind when he thinks of her. Now, we have the head of Italy’s Soccer League referenceing bananas when speaking of African soccer players in Italy. That two high-ranking individuals, poitical and not, feel so much at ease to make such comments, and publically to boot, truly boggles the mind.



     In my op.ed. last July 14, 2013, I had stated the following: “From Italy we have here yet another incident that is simply, and only as such, embarrassing; I see no excuse at all for such musings, unless, of course, one inhabits that world dedicated to “Whiteness” at all costs. Such a statement from Calderoli underscores a racism that is obviously so ingrained in certain Italians that they feel absolutely no shame is making such statements.” Indeed, the same can be said in reference to Carlo Tevecchi’s remarks about bananas and, I would add, the 63.63% of the 274 delegates present who voted for him.

     

    As I asked earlier today on Facebook, in the above-cited quote, where is the outrage? Where is the outrage from Minister Renzi, the ne plus ultra of a new breed of Italian politicos? Where is the outrage of the new breed of politicos that are part of this new government in Italy? As members of a younger generation that grew up on the likes of Americanized Italian TV and co-students of mixed race in their classes, can they not see the issues at hand when such a pubic figure spews forth racist comments and there are no consequences? In this regard, perhaps this new government that wants to present itself as progressive was not progressive in its decision to eliminate the Ministry of Integration. Where is the outrage of all those southern Italians who, rightly so in most cases, claim victimization of the northerners? And, finally, where is the outrage from the Italian-American community?

     

    It is, indeed, this last group with which I shall close. Where is the outrage from all of those self-proclaimed spokespeople from the Italian-American (read, both those who are Italian- and American-born) community? Where is the condemnation from those individuals who go apoplectic over any coupling of criminality to Italians in the United States? Where is the demand for an apology from Tavecchio for his despicable, racist comments?



    Well, this is not new news. We were informed a week or so ago that Tavecchio was a favored candidate. Our community was silent then and it remains ever so mute today.



    Alla riscossa, figlioli!

  • Library: Articles & Reviews

    Italoamericana: Writing for a Cause

    With his anthology of Italian writing produced in the United States from 1885 to 1942 circa, Italoamericana (Mondadori, 2005), Francesco Durante introduced Italy to a literary tradition — a canon — that was totally unknown to the Italian literary establishment.

    A wake-up call for Italians

    Like Gian Antonio Stella’s L’orda, quando gli albanesi eravamo noi (Rizzoli 2002), Durante’s anthology put Italy on notice. At a time when Italy had already transformed itself into a country of arrival, dealing with the coincidental issues of social misunderstanding and bigotry that accompany immigration, Italoamericana reminds Italians that their own citizens had left their country well over a century earlier and, in their new locales, faced innumerable trials and tribulations brought on by the citizenry of their host countries. It is, de facto, a wake-up call for Italy; how it now behaves — or does not — vis-à-vis its current immigration phenomena.

    A true literary tradition

    Yet, Italoamericana is more. It is proof positive that the immigrants who came to the United States was not the illiterate bunch that many would want us to believe. From fiction to poetry and to theater, we find a literary tradition that was vastly productive and, for the most part, aesthetically successful. 

    The creative writers were serious in intent — at times comical and sarcastic, other times sober and prescriptive — in dealing with their local surroundings as theme. What we thus find is the birth of a literary canon in Italian outside Italy. As far back as 1885, people here have been producing literature in Italian, that was also published locally, as there were numerous local Italian-language publishers.

    The essayists and journalists, in turn, spoke to a variety of issues that plagued the Italian community at that time: analogous, indeed, to those that now plague the new immigrants in Italy. Gino Speranza’s essay (“How It Feels to Represent a Problem ”) discussed “how few Americans ever consider how very unpleasant, to say the least, it must be to the foreigners living in their midst to be constantly looked upon either as a national problem or a national peril” (52). 

    Alberto Pecorini (“The Children of Immigrants”) examined the conflict between immigrant parents and their children, where education and personal growth were strange concepts to the former. 

    Alfredo Tarchiani (“Neither Foreigners nor Americans”), similarly, spoke to identity: “The Italians of America are Italian-Americans and so shall they remain. They cannot dissolve their bonds of affection for their homeland regardless of how many naturalization cards they acquire or how many oaths they take. They can, however, be equally obedient, devoted, and productive citizens of the United States…” (72).

    Indissoluble bonds of affection

    Italian writing in the United States continues. One need only think of Peter Carravetta, Alfredo de Palchi, Rita Dinale, Luigi Fontanella, Irene Marchegiani, Elda Tasso, Joseph Tusiani, Paolo Valesio et alii. 

    These are some of the writers today who have lived here for numerous decades and have negotiated, each in his or her own way, themes analogous to our earlier authors; writers today, as Tarchiani said of his time, who “cannot dissolve their bonds of affection for their homeland regardless of how many naturalization cards they acquire or how many oaths they take.”

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