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Italian Americans the White’s Clowns? Attacking Your Own Is not the Answer

In response to Lauren LoGiudice's article “Are Italian Americans the White’s Clowns? Not Only Columbus Has Failed Us”

Two Italian American icons in 1984: vice president candidate Geraldine Ferraro and NY Governor Mario Cuomo (Photo Ap)

To judge and mock an entire ethnic group is the worst kind of stereotype mongering. It’s the equivalent of using the hated N- word to describe an entire race. It’s even worse when the denigration comes from within the group.

In a recent article in La Voce di New York, the author asked the rhetorical question, “Are Italian Americans the White’s Clowns?” Lauren LoGiudice went on to ridicule their accent, mock their “guido” image, and blame them for their own negative stereotypes.

To judge and mock an entire ethnic group based on the relative few that you have known personally is an example of the worst kind of stereotype mongering, the kind that lumps every member of a group into one category without making necessary distinctions based on generation, education, socio-economic level, and individual philosophy.  It’s the equivalent of using the dreaded N- word to describe an entire race.

Setting aside the author’s problematic use of the English language that frequently gets in the way of her message, one thing is clear: the author keeps referring to “us” and “we” and “our” as if she speaks for every Italian American. This is puzzling and even infuriating, her experiences certainly do not represent mine, nor that of many others.

Generalizations such as, “We are no longer sure what it means to be Italian American. It’s 2018 there are more ethnic groups vying for attention and for people who are used to being the center of the ethnic white universe we’ve ceased to know where we really are anymore” hardly even need my comment. Every part of this statement is not only murky, but debatable.

To state that, “Where you find two Italian Americans together, you find guido pissing matches” should be considered criminal. To imitate their dialect as this author does with, “But it was the tiiiimes he was livin in, they wer awl were like daat” should also be considered criminal.  Indeed, it is most definitely an example of racist mockery. When statements–worse, attitudes– like these are the result of individual experience we need to beware of them, not publicize them.

Not content with focusing only on the negative, the author ignores that entire segment of the Italian American population that has made great achievements and contributions to the American mainstream.  Italian American Studies is a respected category of scholarship in academia. We try  not only to understand the mechanics of stereotypes and their creation, but also how racist articles like the one in question propagate them– and therefore reinforce while hypocritically deploring them. As a matter of fact, I myself will be teaching a course in Italian American literature and culture in the Fall at my College. I assure you that while I will acknowledge the existence of the mobster stereotype and will mention “The Godfather” as a classic movie, I will also be discussing respected Italian American authors such as the great Don De Lillo, Gay Talese and John Fante; artists such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, scientists like Fermi and Marconi; leaders like La Guardia, Giuliani, Cuomo, Ferraro. Personally, I think that these Italian Americans do carry a lot of weight and honor our ethnic identity.

Furthermore, to blame Italian Americans, as LoGiudice does,  for having Americanized their names, and to equate that with a lack of respect or love for their ethnicity is to be ignorant of historical facts.  It has only been about 20 or 30 years since the concept of assimilation has given way to multi-culturalism. Before that happened, if you as an immigrant, wanted to become a valued member of American society, and if you wanted to maximize your chances at success, you tried to assimilate. That was considered the “American way,” and to do so was a declaration of your loyalty to your newly adopted country. The infamous melting pot meant that you melded into the soup, but you also got to add your own flavor to it. Nowadays that metaphor has given way first to that of the salad bowl and then to that of the layer cake. Yet even in the days of assimilation, immigrants–Italian Americans included– continued to teach their children their language and culture, and to follow their traditions. Living as a hyphenated American is not, and never has been, an either/or proposition.

Other ethnicities have powerful watchdog organizations that protect and safeguard their image. Italian Americans do not. While one does exist it, and it did protest against “Jersey Boys” in 2013, the One Voice Coalition apparently has no teeth and not enough stomach for fighting

Protecting our image is up to us, yet the author blames the victims, “And so we’ve made ourselves,” she says. “We are upset about our vanishing identity because we subconsciously know it’s hallow, (sic) filled with vague shadows of Italian culture.”  Who is she talking about? Of course there are some people who are uninformed about their culture and their history of origin. But let’s keep things in perspective. The Italian American identity is not vanishing and there are plenty of us who not only are informed about our culture of origin but are proud to promote it through the arts, academic scholarship, or just our traditions. I invite LoGiudice to sign up for my course in the Fall.

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