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Articles by: Letizia Airos soria

  • Life & People

    The Language of Ugo, Alexander & Sam

    An evening with Alexander Stille and his son Sam can turn into an important and endearing reflection on the relationship between father and son and its infinite nuances. The son of the great and unforgettable journalist Ugo Stille (born Mikhail Kamenetzky), an Italian-American with Russian origins, recounts memories of his relationship with his father and their link to the Italian language.

    Alexander, himself a famous writer, journalist and professor at Columbia University, opens himself up with emotion recalling some specific, and at times difficult memories.

    “Our father never taught us or spoke to us in Italian,” he begins. Aware of the surprise that this statement could provoke, he adds, “I know, it sounds weird. He had a job that was focused on the relationship with Italy, in 50 years he wrote thousands of articles in Italian and no one in his family was able to read them…”

    The air is full of emotion but it is eased by Sam Stille, three and a half yeas old, asking his dad what the carrots he is eating are called, and if they speak Italian or English. The lovely boy will not stop attracting my attention for the entire evening trying to speak in Italian, with a few sentences and some songs that I hadn’t heard in a long time – like “ma che bel castello, marcondino-dirondella… San Martino campanaro, suoni tu … suoni tu”.

    While Alexander speaks, I try and follow the memory and create an imaginary line that unites the three Stilles. Generational passages are the foundations of our lives. His tale unfolds as he tells the story of his father, forced to emigrate first from Russia, due to anti-Semitism, and then from Italy for the same reasons, when the Fascist regime enacted the racial laws in 1938. The past enters the room we are in, amongst the books, magazines, toys, knick-knacks, the Jewish chalice placed in a corner and a backpack full of papers laying on the floor. The past touches the present, the year 2008.

    From the window you can see the north end of Manhattan and Broadway splitting into two. In 1941 the Kamenetzkys headed for the United States and that must have been the year Ugo Stille decided to never look back. But his son was able to change his mind, with his passion for learning a language and a culture.

    “Yes, I studied Italian on my own, in different phases. When I was 17 I was lucky enough to do it in school, and then I went to Italy for a while on vacation. I was in London, a relationship had just ended, and so I called my dad and said: I want to go to Italy, where should I go? I was taken in by an American woman and I found myself in an Italian and Anglo-Saxon environment that I found very beneficial…”

    Alexander Stille’s relationship with Italy continues to grow more intense. After the ‘escape’ he returns to the United States and finishes his studies, but decides to study Italian more in depth thanks in part to an aunt who also spoke the language. He returns to Italy looking for work, willing to do anything to be able to speak Italian in everyday life. From this moment on it is a crescendo thanks to school, work and a professional career.

    “I started reading my father’s articles… I think he was happy. Even if he never actually told me – I had the distinct feeling that he was perplexed but pleased. I started to understand a lot more about his world. But he wanted it to be my decision, he never did anything to facilitate this reconciliation. And my sister doesn’t speak Italian.”

    I try to understand why. Alexander is working on the story of his family and this is in part for him a very delicate reconstruction process


    It was the forties and Ugo Stille, like many other Italians who emigrated to the United States, decided to speak only English, abandoning the Italian language in order to fully integrate himself into American culture:

    “Maybe in his story there are some affinities with the Italian-American Diaspora. But his journey was different. An Italian-American friend of mine told me that when she asked her grandmother: ‘where do we come from?’ She would answer, ‘we come from poverty, forget it.’” For Alexander Stille’s father it was another kind of poverty. The one tied to the absence of humanity. “My father was middle class, deeply tied to Italy, but he had to leave because he wasn’t welcome. He had grown up as an Italian child, but wasn’t considered one.” Ugo Stille had a deep bond with the country, and after the tragedy of having to leave it “he chose to never look back, to marry an American, to never speak Italian with his children.”

    And so, one of the most important figures in Italian journalism acquires Italian citizenship only when he needs to in order to become editor-in-chief of Corriere della Sera. “I think that my efforts to learn Italian helped him make peace with Italy. I tried to enter his world.”

    And Sam? During our adult conversation Sam has promoted me to Italian sister. In a few hours he has told me all the Italian words he knows and has asked me to translate others. “With him I try, as much as possible, to speak Italian sometimes. He listens to Italian CDs for kids, he has some books. I often take him to see people who speak Italian. But I think he also needs a full immersion. This summer we’re going to Italy and I’ll enroll him in an Italian kindergarten. Next year we will stay in Italy for six months. I think it will be important for him. When he comes back he will definitely have a base.”

    And who knows what it will mean for Sam, when he’s older, to read his grandfather’s columns in Italian. His grandfather who would never have imagined that it would be through that language – the one that he didn’t want to pass on to his son Alexander – that he would be able to reach his grandson, his grandson Sam.


    From Talking Italy. A special 12-pages print issue dedicated to Italy’s culture and language.

  • Life & People

    NOIAW Celebrates Italian Family

    Last Sunday, in honor of its 28th anniversary, the National Organization of Italian American Women (NOIAW) celebrated family with a luncheon for one hundred guests in an incredible setting – Chelsea Pier 60 on the Hudson River.

    Roseanne Colletti of WNBC played master of ceremonies, sharing the stage with many important guests throughout the evening. Some of the illustrious guests included Matilda Raffa Cuomo, Geraldine A. Ferraro, Francesco Maria Talò, Joan Roccasalvo, Joy Behar, Renee Taylor, and Joseph Bologna. Particularly meaningful was the selection of the guests of honor: Rachael Ray and her mother, Elsa Scuderi, while Singers Cristina Fontanelli and Michael Amante provided a pleasant accompaniment to the event.

    The Consul General Talò (Honorary Chair with his wife Ornella) underscored the important role of women in Italian-American history, from Mother Cabrini to Geraldine Ferraro. Family-education-management were the key words for Talò. He spoke of the importance of passing down identity through family, and how important communicating through the language of origin is today. For all these reasons, said the Consul, it is "important to promote the AP Italian program."

    The founder and chairwoman, Aileen Riotto Sirey, surrounded by her granddaughters, and the President, Carol Silvagni MacLeod, summed up the journey of NOIAW and the importance of the role of Italian-American women today. Lots of reflection on the meaning of family took place at the luncheon, from table to table, between the various guests. Starting from those nearest and dearest to us we can work towards the future without forgetting the past. Donna de Matteo (NOIAW Scholarship Committee) presented Michelle Dutton, Susan Simone, Kristine V. Spano, Nicole Vidri, with this year's NOIAW scholarships.

    The proceeds from the Sunday luncheon and a large auction will be used to raise the amount given out to deserving students. Also important is the work towards a cultural exchange with contemporary Italy, one of the organization's more recent objectives. Last year 18 Italian young women spent an intense and unforgettable time with Italian-American families. And this is the first step in a "circular dialogue” that NOIAW wants to keep increasing.

    For almost thirty years NOIAW celebrates men and women of Italian origin and Rachael Ray and her mother Elsa Scuderi, received this important acknowledgment on Sunday.

    Rachael Ray is an Emmy-nominated television star. Her magazine "Every Day", which enjoys a large readership, and her television program "30 minute Meals", are well known by many Americans. Through her Sicilian origins (Gela) she promotes a style of cooking that is inspired by Italian traditions, but simplified and made easier for everyone. Ray bases her recipes on natural ingredients and is known for forgoing the measuring cup.

    Matilda Raffa Cuomo was moved as she remembered her Sicilian roots and her mother's dynamic personality. And "when I look at Rachael," she said " I'm like a notepad ready to take notes".

    Geraldine Ferraro told of her emotional response after listening to the song "Mamma" sung by Michael Amante, and jokingly she said: "Enough of these Sicilians, let's celebrate Neapolitans!"

    Rachael Ray's speech focused on her mother: "My work is her work, everything I do comes from her". She told the audience about how her mother had passed on to her the Italian spirit of a "good life", one not dependent on money. Her mother, she said, "made me understand how great it is to work and to respect all types of jobs." Elsa Scuderi told America Oggi about her first trip to Sicily and that her daughter had been surprised when she returned home with sand she had taken from the beach. Scuderi added, "I'm excited today, also because tomorrow is my husband's birthday!"

    Among the luncheon's noteworthy guests were Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimo, Anthony J. Tamburri, Fred Gardaphe, Peter Carravetta, Marie Garibaldi, Angela Mazzarelli, Saliann Scarpulla, Patricia Lafreniere, Dominic Massaro, Joseph Sciame, Rosemarie Gallina-Santangelo, Christine Meola, and Bea Tusiani.

  • Fred Gardaphe: Reinventando il concetto di identità

    Giovedì scorso si sono aperti a New York i lavori della conferenza internazionale "Italians in the Americas". La tre giorni di studio, che si è svolta presso il John D. Calandra Italian American Institute (Queens College, CUNY) è stata dedicata ad analizzare i diversi aspetti dell'italianità nelle Americhe, con contributi di importanti studiosi dagli Stati Uniti, dall'Italia e dal Sud America.

    Dopo una breve introduzione del Dean del Calandra Anthony J. Tamburri  e un saluto di James Muyskens, President del Queens College, i lavori sono stati aperti da una prolusione di Fred Gardaphe, recentemente nominato Distinguished Professor of Italian Studies del Calandra Institute, intitolata "Beyond the Immigrant Paradigm: identities and the future of Italian American culture".

    L'intervento di Gardaphe si è concentrato sul concetto di identità tra passato e futuro nelle comunità italiane negli Stati Uniti. Partendo dall'ormai famoso "melting pot", Gardaphe ha spiegato che in realtà si tratta solo di un mito.  Attraverso un affascinante excursus storico ha mostrato come il quinto più grande gruppo etnico negli USA abbia dovuto rivisitare costantemente il proprio concetto di identità, ricostruendolo e reinventandolo ad ogni generazione. Gli italiani in America "hanno rinegoziato costantemente il rapporto tra le culture locali e le proprie origini". Il punto è che questa ricostruzione va fatta non solo con grande rispetto del passato, ma anche con grande attenzione alle evoluzioni e ai cambiamenti futuri. Rimangono importantissime le varie "Little Italies", dove cultura e costumi italiani sono stati tramandati per generazioni senza l'ausilio di libri o opere organizzate. Ma le "Little Italies" stanno ormai scomparendo e la conoscenza della cultura e la reinvenzione costante dell'identità italiana in America deve passare anche per la costruzione di costanti e coordinate opere intellettuali.

    Attraverso una serie di aneddoti divertenti, ma allo stesso tempo molto crudi, Gardaphe ha affrontato  il tema dell'assimilazione nella società americana. Sono tante le storie che spiegano come sia stata dura la lotta, prima di tutto interiore, tra una cultura legata alle origini e la cultura dominante del luogo di accoglienza. I nodi sono tanti. Prima di tutto quello linguistico.  Dalla necessità "americanizzare" il cognome italiano fino ad ogni piccolo, ma spesso grandissimo passo per  "rapportarsi" ad una nuova cultura. L'intero ragionamento presentato è teso a mostrare quanto, anche in virtù di questa sua storia, sia "fluida"  l'identità italo-americana, per niente statica o chiusa nel tempo, come può  forse apparire ai non addetti ai lavori. È una realtà in costante metamorfosi e pronta ad un ulteriore passo per riconoscere se stessa. Lo dimostra anche l'aumento esponenziale di persone che, secondo il Census Bureau, scelgono di dichiarare la propria discendenza italiana. Se si legge questo dato alla luce della diminuzione del fenomeno migratorio italiano,  si ha un ulteriore prova di quanto in realtà il controverso concetto di identità sia molto meno rigido di quanto si tende a credere.

    Uno dei punti cruciali  della relazione ha riguardato l'importanza della "definizione" della propria identità. Secondo il relatore definire, individuare ed indagare la propria identità è infatti l'unico modo di uscire fuori dalla gabbia interpretativa costruita da altri intorno alla comunità degli italiani d'America. Questa gabbia è costituita da una serie di stereotipi e luoghi comuni legati soprattutto al mondo della criminalità organizzata, ma anche al cibo, e comunica una serie di interpretazioni spiacevoli, spregiative e semplicistiche della cultura italiana. Iniziare ad auto-definirsi ed auto-analizzarsi è dunque un imperativo culturale di estrema importanza per una comunità che ha bisogno di smettere di farsi "definire dagli altri" per cominciare a creare schemi di interpretazione propri.

    Senza alcun dubbio l'unico modo di rapportarsi a questa questione è inserire il dibattito all'interno di una più ampia discussione legata alla questione della razza. Per Gardaphe l'incontro della cultura italiana con quella americana ha finito per modificare e plasmare il rapporto della comunità con le proprie origini. Questo fenomeno è diventato ancora più forte da quando la "razza" italiana ha iniziato ad essere considerata parte integrante della "razza" bianca. Questo peculiare status ha richiesto infatti a gran parte della comunità l'assimilazione di diversi comportamenti, atteggiamenti mentali e modi di rapportarsi ai gruppi etnici ed alle usanze dominanti. A lungo andare un comportamento di questo tipo non può esimersi di lasciare tracce indelebili sul concetto di identità collettiva.

    In conclusione, secondo il relatore è importante che in un futuro, speriamo prossimo, il tema dell'identità della comunità italo-americana cominci a definirsi all'interno delle istituzioni culturali ed educative. Le idee inizieranno così a circolare e verrà finalmente superata la segregazione di questo tema nello spazio geograficamente limitato e deliminato rappresentato dalle varie "Little Italies".

    La trasmissione della cultura italoamericana è stata basata fin'ora soprattutto sull'oralità e pochissimo sui libri.  È ora necessario per la nostra sopravvivenza culturale riuscire a rinegoziare la propria identità attraverso uno studio attento di se stessi. Gli italoamericani devono sviscerare insomma "both history and story". Se così non sarà, il tema italo americano continuerà ad essere determinato da "altri".


    (Originariamente pubblicato su Oggi7)


  • Facts & Stories

    Fred Gardaphe: The Importance of Defining “Identity”

    Last Thursday marked the start of “Italians in the Americas,” a three-day conference hosted by the John D. Calandra Italian/American Institute (Queens College, CUNY). The papers and presentations were devoted to analyzing the diverse and varied aspects of “italianità” in the Americas, with significant contributions from scholars from North and South America as well as from Italy.


    After a brief introduction by Anthony J. Tamburri, Dean of the Institute, and a welcome by James Muyskens, President of Queens College, Fred Gardaphe, who was recently appointed Distinguished Professor of Italian Studies at the Calandra Institute, delivered the keynote lecture entitled “Beyond the Immigrant Paradigm: Identities and the Future of Italian American Culture.”


    Gardaphe’s address focused on the idea of identity within the past and future of Italian communities in the United States. Beginning with the famous concept of a “melting pot,” Gardaphé explained that in reality it refers only to a myth. Through a fascinating historical account, he demonstrated how the fifth largest ethnic group in the U.S. has had to revisit its concept of identity, reconstructing and reinventing it with each new generation. Italians in America “had to constantly renegotiate the relationship between their local culture and their origins.” This reconstruction of identity is carried out not only with great respect for the past, but also with great attention to evolution and future change. The various Little Italies still remain relevant and important places where Italian culture and customs are handed down through generations without the aid of books or organized activities. Little Italies, however, are disappearing and as a result, cultural knowledge and the reinvention of Italian identity in America is a process that must be transformed to include ongoing and coordinated intellectual activity.


    Through a series of entertaining but crude anecdotes, Gardaphe tackled the theme of assimilation into American society. Many stories illustrate this struggle, especially the internal struggle to reconcile one’s origins with the dominant culture of the host country. The assimilation process sometimes included the necessity of “Americanizing” one’s Italian surname and frequently included changing minute aspects of one’s everyday life, but it was these seemingly small changes which amounted to significant steps in bridging the gap with the new culture. Gardaphe showed that within the context of history, Italian/American identity is fluid and not at all static or frozen in time, despite how it may appear to those who are not directly involved in this work. Italian/American identity is in constant transformation and it is poised for another step towards self-realization. According to the Census Bureau, there has been an exponential increase in persons who choose to identify themselves as being of Italian decent. If one reads this data in light of the decrease in Italian migration, it is further evidence that the question of identity is much less rigid than one would tend to believe.


    One of the crucial points of the lecture is the importance of defining “identity.” According to Gardaphe, the act of defining, individualizing, and investigating one’s own identity is in fact the only way to escape from the “interpretive cage” constructed by those outside of the Italian/American community. This cage has been created from a series of stereotypes and common associations that are connected mostly to the world of organized crime, but also to food, and convey a series of negative interpretations and a pejorative and simplistic view of Italian culture. It is therefore a cultural imperative for the community to examine and define itself rather than continue to be defined by others.


    For Gardaphe, the primary way to resolve this question is by introducing it into a larger discussion of race. The meeting of the Italian and American cultures resulted in the community’s transformation and the reshaping of its relationship with its own roots. The process became stronger as the Italian “race” was increasingly considered an integrated part of the white race. This peculiar status required the community to assimilate with respect to different behaviors, mental attitudes, and ways of relating to other ethnic groups as well as the dominant culture. In the long run, undergoing a metamorphosis of this type cannot but leave indelible marks on the concept of a collective identity.


    In conclusion, it is important that in the future the subject of the Italian/American community’s identity will be considered by those within cultural and educational institutions. In this way, ideas will begin to circulate and they will eventually go beyond the geographical space limited to and represented by the various “Little Italies.”


    The transmission of the Italian/American culture in the past has been based on oral tradition rather than a literary one. It is necessary for our cultural survival that we succeed in renegotiating our own identity through a careful study of ourselves. Italian Americans must therefore examine “both history and story.” If they do not, the subject of Italian/American identity will continue to be determined by “others.”


    (Translated by Giulia Prestia)





  • Life & People

    Sardinia. Sea, Culture, Traditions, Unique Way of Life

    Sardinia was the topic at the New York offices of the Agenzia Italiana per il Turismo (Italian Tourism Agency). The director, Riccardo Strano, introduced the Minister for tourism, artisan arts, and commerce for Sardinia,  Luisa Anna Depau, who presented the second Mediterranean island.

    Ms. Depau spoke with particular efficacy, to an audience of tourism insiders, about a destination that is still mostly unknown to Americans.

    From her first words she painted a picture of a Sardinia where nature, traditions and even its variegated linguistic heritage remain largely unspoiled. This ancient and rare integrity is definitely an attractive element for the American tourist, ever more attentive to the cultural and historical heritage when visiting a European country.

    The acenstral traditions of Sardinia, the charm of its ancient traditions, the extraordinary beauty of its nature and its monuments, the effortlessness of its cuisine, seem to come to life in a very inviting video. At the end the councillor commented: "the only thing this video is missing is the smells.". Sardinia is in fact a real concerto  of colors, images, sounds, but also of aromas and scents.

    After the screening of the video Ms. Depau again spoke of the rare historical heritage of her region. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Byzantines and Spaniards all landed on this splendid island. The Sardinian population has known how to enrich their culture with these influxes and create a real cultural treasure.

    Assimilating and revising different influences that weren't hidden or superimposed on one another but were instead integrated. It is an island that holds many secrets, one of which is longevity. For this reason the Sardinians has been the focus of international research.

    In Sardinia we find ourselves on the line  between a sense of eternity and the knowledge of being able to touch in the present the same past, witness to the future. The millenary 'nuraghi' seem to be sentinels between sea rocks, beaches, the woods, churches, museums, archeological trails.

    The Minister for Tourism, Luisa Anna Depau, shared with us in a short interview the promotional activities of Sardinia in the US, without glossing over the difficulties.

    "One of the problems that an American tourist is sure to find when he decides to come to Sardinia, is the absence of a direct flight. We are working on getting that. We are in talks with Eurofly - together with Meridiana which is based in Olbia. It's important that we have already been able to achieve a New York - Rome - Cagliari or Olbia for example, where you only have to go through check-in once, even though there is a connecting flight.

    We are working hard to get direct flights from various European cities. In four years, we have been able to go from five to twenty-six European cities. We are also actively working on improving the infrastructures, especially the rail system".

    Who is the prototypical tourist for a region like Sardinia?

    "The American market is tremendously vast. I think our island first of all, is quality destination, made for high-end travel. And fortunately this is a sector that hasn't felt the repercussions of the falling dollar. Starting from the very famous Costa Smeralda, Sardinia is known as a destination for elite tourism. There are prestigious five-star and many four-star hotels on all of its coasts."

    But Sardinia is also a beatiful island in the interior. How do you introduce that? In Europe, as a tourist destination it is compared to a caribbean island in the Mediterranean. Can its interior, together with its history and culture, be a further element of attraction for Americans who have the Caribbean so close?

    "Yes it's true. We are known first of all for the sea. The tourism economy is based on this. But now we are focusing on promoting the rest of the island as well. The real wealth of Sardinia is its culture, its traditions, its unique way of life. I think we have to aim at having year-round tourism, with well-distributed fluxes."

    What have you done and what will you continue to do present Sardinia to the US?

    "We started this very important operation last years. It had been fourteen years sinc the region had last reached out to this market.

    And in September we were the main sponsor of the New York Film Festival, with a series of events. Next September we will sponsor it again and we will organize 'Sardinia week' with cultural events together with Columbia University.

    In the meantime we are putting our tourism workers in touch with American tour operators. Thanks to ENIT twenty of them will come to Sardinia at the end of April.

    We are looking for specific possibilities, like for example the New York Festival, for promotional events. We are looking for connections to introduce other aspects of our regions, like our books, film, music, folklore, art. Few people know for example two Sardinian artists that were very for US, Costantino Nivola (1911-1988) and Albino Manca (1898-1976)."

    And how important is the presence of the Sardinian community in the US?

    "I am particularly saddened by the passing of the President of the Shardana club, the Sardinina association here. Bruno Orrù was a very special person. It was a huge loss for us. But we are counting a lot on what he was able to build. The Sardinian presence in the US is a huge support for our projects. Last year they helped us a lot."

    Also this week in New York, the Councillor presented in the New York offices of the Istituto Nazionale per il Commercio con l'Estero (National Institute for Foreign Commerce) an event on artisanal worsk that will take place in the month of October in Cagliar
    i. It is a fair with 200 artisanal businesses from the Mediterranean basin.

    "The concept is that Sardinia has a rich artisanal tradition, but a lot of this work is not justly compensated. The idea is that of passing the skills into the industries of design, fashion and other sectors. Using these old techniques for new goals, we are inviting architects, artists, designers, interior decorators."

    The next stop for the Minister in her North American tour to promote Sardinia is Toronto.



  • "Italians in the Americas”, studiosi a confronto

    Comincia oggi organizzato dal John D. Calandra Italian American Institute (Queens College/Cuny) un simposio di tre giorni che raccoglie, in una cornice  internazionale, interventi che spaziano su diversi argomenti: identità etniche e conflitti culturali, estetica e psicologia, arti visive e letteratura, questione femminile, società e politica.

    Il convegno sarà introdotto da James Muyskens, Presidente del Queens College, da Anthony Julian Tamburri, Dean del Calandra Institute e dall'intervento inaugurale del nuovo arrivato al Calandra, Distinguished Professor of Italian American Studies  Fred L. Gardaphe, su "Beyond the Immigrant Paradigm: Identities and the Future of Italian American Studies".

    Abbiamo posto al Dean Anthony Tamburri, ideatore ed ospite del convegno alcune domande, cominciando naturalmente da quella su come è nata l'idea di "Italians in the Americas"…

    "Il covegno nasce dall'esigenza di creare un discorso 'internazionale'. Infatti fino a ora Stati Uniti, Canada e qualche paese dell'America Latina, hanno portato avanti singolarmente il loro colloquio con l'Italia. Ma non mi risulta che sia mai stato fatto un discorso internazionale che raccolga nel complesso l'emisfero americano, con la sola eccezione di un convegno del 1992. Quindi possiamo usare in questo senso per la la prima volta negli Stati Uniti l'aggettivo ‘Americano’. Ovvero inclusivo non soltanto di un lavoro effettuato in un solo Paese, ma negli Stati Uniti, in Canada, Messico, Argentina, Brasile … e così via.

    Un grande contributo in questa direzione è stato dato dalla rivista della Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli,  che oggi si chiama "Altreitalie". Questa rivista ha rappresentato una componente veramente importante per creare una conversazione nel senso etimologico della parola, una conversazione italiana e americana. Hanno dedicato a questo approccio diversi numeri della loro rivista. Un altro grande contributo in merito lo ha dato, come storico italiano, Emilio Franzina."

    Dunque negli USA è la prima volta, dopo tanto tempo, che si svolge un convegno di questa portata e che fra l'altro, guardando il programma, raccoglie interventi davvero diversi tra loro. Esite un filo conduttore in uno spettro di temi cosi ampio?

    "Si è vero, è abbastanza ampio. Volevamo prima di tutto cercare di radunare un gruppo di intellettuali e studiosi in un unico posto per poter discutere le diverse esperienze degli italiani nelle Americhe. Volevamo un confronto. Abbiamo proposto fin dall'inzio una così vasta serie di temi e mi sembra che la risposta sia stata molto interessante".

    E ci sono anche diversi studiosi che vengono dall'Italia?

    Si. Per esempio i due storici piu attivi in questo momento in Italia per quanto riguada lo studio degli americani italiani: Stefano Luconi e Maddalena Tirabassi, la direttrice del "Centro Altreitalie".

    Cosa si aspetta da questa tre giorni?

    "Prima di tutto per me è importante festeggiare all'apertura del convegno il nostro nuovo professore di chiara fama,  Fred L. Gardaphe. Farà un discorso tutto suo, molto incisivo. Poi mi aspetto una serie di interventi interessanti che possano testimoniare le esperienze “americane italiane”, o in generale degli italiani all'estero, dei loro figli e anche dei loro nipoti.

    Dopo il convegno metteremo insieme un volume. Chiederemo ai vari studiosi di prendere un po' di tempo per lavorare sui loro interventi e farne un saggio. Per la fine dell'anno dovremmo avere un volume, o parte di un volume, pronto per il pubblico.

    Per informazioni http://qcpages.qc.edu/calandra/iaconfpgn.html

    Calandra Institute, 25 West 43rd Street 17th Floor. Tel. 212 642 2094


  • Art & Culture

    When Italian American Theater Becomes Universal

    Whoever is expecting to see a regular play about the relationship between a mother and daughter, even according to the gap between cultures and generations, will be amazed. Even from the opening seconds of the monologue, you can tell that the woman standing in the middle of the stage wants to give all of herself to her audience. She is engaged, excited, unpredictable, and even melancholic at times, but she is always full of subtle irony. In this piece, the Italian-American actress and writer, Antoinette LaVecchia, relates the lack of communication between an Italian-American mother and her Americanized daughter while showing their diverse levels of communication.


    Mother-daughter relationships are often confusing and commanding, as well as distant yet close thanks to a mysterious chain of conflict and harmony. Every minute of this show, even its most hilarious moments, hides a nagging desire for understanding.


    At the beginning of the show, we find Antoinette describing her birth. The psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung once said that every woman contains her own mother and her own daughter within her inner self. The irreverent, instinctive, and, at times, profane gestures that the actress uses to simulate her birth question us about the mystery of this blessed event. The audience is not just watching a birth; Antoinette, in her movements and through her voice, allows us to enter the uterus of her mother while she is giving birth. We watch and live the first moments of the newborn who is about to make her initial contact with the outside world and who literally has to detach herself from her mother's umbilical cord. We follow Antoinette until the moment of her "birth". At the same time, we watch the contractions, the pain, and the fear of her mother; we also hear her internal cry of "Go back inside". The act of b! irth is there in front of our eyes in its purest and crudest form.


    From this point on, mother and daughter confront their own unique identities by following a path that constantly shifts between moments of attraction and repulsion. The entire monologue is a brilliantly improvised crescendo during which the Italian-American experience transcends ethnic boundaries and assumed universal characteristics.


    An instinctive actress: Antoinette LaVecchia tells us about her autobiographical monologue IN SPITE OF MYSELF.


    "My mother hasn't seen it yet... Even non Italian-American women will see themselves in it..."


    There is irony and anger but also tenderness, distance, and reflection: two women tell their life stories in an unsuspecting show of similarities. The crucial moments of family life are relived across a series of flashbacks and therapeutic self-evaluation where the mother figure is often found to be at fault, "There's a monster under my bed! I can't sleep! Mom, can I sleep with you?" "Pray to the Blessed Virgin... You be fine!" It is easy to set aside this faithfulness lived through superstition and devotion, resignation and defense, and justification of the existence of God to understand this Italian-American working mother who immigrated to the United States from Southern Italy and the rebellion of her daughter. "Figlia mia, do you go to church? No?! If you don't go to church that means you do! n't believe in God. You'll have bad luck. Do you take an image of Padre Pio with you wherever you go?... My daughter is divorced! Good people don't do those kinds of things! Once you get married you're stuck for life. Why do people always need to be so happy?"

    This sense of constant guilt where it seems obligatory to feel condemned to a certain lifestyle clashes with the daughter's determination to control her own destiny. She believes in God but she doesn't go to church. She sells her wedding gown to a second-hand clothing store and she is divorced. She wants to be an actress. Because she is tormented by the constant uninvited phone calls from her mother, she looks for satisfaction not just as a daughter but also as a woman.

    The mother-daughter voices are striking; they look for each other, even if they don't always understand each other. The levels of communication between them are contradictory but they frantically attempt to meet each other at times so they could find a possible compromise. For example, the mother insists on sewing curtains for her daughter but she wants nothing to do with them at first. Eventually the daughter gives in; she will have curtains on her window (a symbol of her mother's skill as a parent "There can't be windows without curtains!"). But, the daughter's curtains will not be decorated with purple lines and polka dots. They will be white...

    We met the writer-actress at the end of her performance. From the second she opened her mouth, it was easy to understand that her involvement in this show is not only professional but also personal.

    "My mother has never seen this show, she might see it sometime next week. I am a little nervous but I think it will do her good to see it. I am very sure that my way of life, especially my divorce, has made her reflect on her own lifestyle and, as a result, she has become more independent as a person. She is now 57 years old and thanks to her interactions with other people, she is getting stronger. It took her 10 years to learn English and she lived an isolated life which she devoted to the needs of her family."


    Antoinette, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you were able to write this very personal piece.


    "My family is originally from Salerno; we came to America when I was 3 years old. My mother worked but was very much a loner. This show really helped me to understand her as well as to overcome the sense of oppression that II felt because of her constant attempts to control my life. She wanted me to be more like her but she couldn_t communicate with me: we didn't speak the same language. Thanks to this show, I have been able to understand her as well as find her. I rediscovered her story, her origins; I think I have understood why she always wants to control meit is an attempt to communicate..."

    When did you write this monologue?


    "I didn't really write it. In Spite Of Myself is a work in progress, much like my relationship with my mother. It is not a scripted piece; it is improvisation."


    The story that you portray is found within the Italian-American culture. Do you think the message it contains goes beyond cultural boundaries?


    "Certainly. The mother-daughter relationship that I describe has a universal appeal. Many women have seen themselves in what they have seen on stage and they were not Italian-American."


    How do you think that women in American cinema and theater are portrayed?


    "They are often portrayed badly. The representations are not true to life: the female voice has not yet been heard as it deserves to he."


    Let's use a modern example, what do you think of the character of Carmela Soprano?


    "I like her strength, there are women out there who are like that. But the character herself is exaggerated: she is too masculine. Also, the representation of the Mafia is overdone and unrealistic. There is too much fiction..."


    Do you have any projects for the future?


    "I would like to talk more about families and relationships. I enjoy acting; I am an actressbut this experience of being a writer has been amazing."


    Is there an actress that influences your work?


    "Without a doubt Anna Magani. She has a very instinctive acting style."


    It is true, the most striking part of In Spite Of Myself is Antoinette's use of her body and of her voice as well as the added pauses: Antoinette, the woman, is visceral, precise, and motherly. The image of the solitary actress at the middle of the stage that reminds us so much of the middle of a mother's womb will most assuredly remain engraved in your minds after having seen this performance.

  • 'Pane Amaro'. Quella storia che ancora non si conosce

    Il “caso”  degli italo/americani in 105 minuti? Una bella scomessa quella che si è posta il regista-giornalisa Gianfranco Norelli. E la sala dell’Auditorium del Graduate Center della City University of New York era gremita l’altra sera per “Pano Amaro”,  film documentario,  raro omaggio alla storia italoamericana. Prodotto dalla Rai,  e destinato prima di tutto al pubblico televisivo italiano,  il lungometraggio ha  catturato gli sguardi di almeno tre generazioni italo-americane e anche molti italiani presenti.

    Il film rievoca, con grande attenzione documentaria, momenti salienti e spesso drammatici della vicenda italoamericana,  dal 1880 fino alla fine della seconda guerra mondiale. Un arco di storia vastissimo ed intenso è raccolto con cura in quasi due ore di proiezione che presentano rari documenti storici, fotografici e filmati, testimonianze dirette e commenti di esperti e studiosi.

    Norelli, grazie al ‘mestiere’ di attento cronista, intraprende un percorso narrativo asciutto, senza lasciarsi andare a sentimentalismi, inutili retoriche. Il risultato è un contributo denso di spunti di riflessione, di informazioni, vicende.  Si percepisce nel corso della proiezione quasi l’ansia del regista di raccogliere più elementi possibile, consapevole di raccontare tanta storia poco conosciuta. Soprattutto ad un pubblico italiano.

    Certo, non solo. Anche per molti italiani americani, questi 150 di storia risultano spesso oscuri. Ci sono vicende che  non fanno ancora davvero parte del patrimonio culturale e dunque dall’identità di molti italo/americani.  A questo si aggiunge il vero e proprio gap culturale che si è aperto negli anni tra l’esperienza italiana e quella italo/americana. Il risultato è che un complesso alternarsi di amore-odio-indifferenza nei contronti del proprio passato pesa sugli italiani da entrambe le sponde dell’oceano.

    Ma visto da New York il film-documentario di Norelli ci ha fatto sorgere innanzitutto domande che riguardano gli italiani in Italia. Quanti di loro sanno che le vittime del più grande linciaggio degli Stati Uniti, nella New orleans del 1891, erano italiani? Quanti sanno che gli italiani, alla fine dell’ottocento, per così dire rimpiazzarono nelle piantagioni gli schiavi neri emancipatisi? E che venivano definiti “un popolo di mezzo” – insomma né bianchi né neri? Quanti italiani conoscono l’ondata di razzismo anti-italiano che si era diffusa anche tra gli opinionisti americani? Si raccontavano gli italiani come un’incontrollabile orda... Quanti sanno delle vicende degli operai italiani che lavoravano in condizioni durissime, dei loro scioperi e delle loro lotte, della ventata anarchica, e del complesso impegno sindacale – sia tra gli operai che, segnatamente, tra le operaie? E poi, cosa si sa o si studia, degli italiani dichiarati “stranieri nemici” durante la seconda Guerra mondiale, internati e separati dai componenti americani delle loro famiglie?

    Proprio perché pochi sanno, è importante che questo film presenti i commenti di studiosi come Nunzio Pernicone, Fred Gardaphè, Gerald Meyer, Mary Ann Trasciatti, Peter Vellon. I linciaggi, gli attentati anarchici, la tragedia del Triangle Strike in cui morirono 150 operaie, la vicenda di Sacco e Vanzetti, i campi di internamento durante la seconda guerra mondiale, le condizioni di vita, la religiosità, la lingua, l’americanzzazione. E poi le figure di Fiorello La Guardia, Vito Marcantonio, Carlo Tresca, Generoso Pope, Leonard Covello – tra i tanti italiani americani ricordati nel film.

    Questi interrogativi sono già importanti in sé, ma lo diventano ancor di più alla luce delle nuove ondate migratorie, sia In America che in Italia. La consapevolezza del fatto che l’esperienza migratoria, direttamente o indirettamente, ha riguadato nel secolo scorso milioni di famiglie italiane è cruciale in un momento in cui flussi migratori si intrecciano su tutta la terra e l’Italia diventa per la prima volta un paese-meta.

    E “Pane Amaro” dà un contributo in questa direzione, andando anche al di là del percorso storico che compie. È un invito a conoscere e riflettere per gli italiani in qualsiasi parte del mondo. Nel pubblico italiano/americano presente abbiamo colto una grande attenzione, commozione in certi momenti. In alcuni loro commenti e riflessioni si avvertiva il caro prezzo che hanno dovuto pagare gli italiani per integrarsi, evidente anche dopo generazioni. Il fatto che molti parlino solo inglese ha in questo caso un valore simbolico. Si ripercorre così la storia in pochi istanti. Prima di tutto la paura di parlare il dialetto dei loro nonni, poi l’ “ordine” di parlare solo inglese per non farsi riconoscere come enemy aliens, poi la perdita del contatto con l’Italia. Infine il ritrovamento e la ricerca sulle proprie radici.

    Molti del pubblico hanno preso in mano il microfono per parlare. Si sono presentati così: Nome Cognome, seconda generazione. Nome Cognome, terza generazione… E sono soprattutto le giovani generazioni che oggi riscoprono la cultura, ed anche la lingua, italiana con grande curiosità.  Ma capita ancora  che, proprio come i loro coetanei italiani, pochi di loro conoscono la storia dell’emigrazione italiana in America. È paradossale, ma è così. Un vero e proprio lavoro di autocoscienza e riconoscimento delle proprie radici è ancora da compiere.

    Trentanni fa lo scrittore Pietro di Donato, l’autore di Christ in Concrete, aveva pronosticato  un “rinascimento” degli scrittori italoamericani. “Il nostro momento è ora. Lo vedo perchè non siete più i figli dei muratori, andate a scuola e siete bambini con dei cervelli”. Sono parole che, insieme alle immagini e ai racconti del film di Norelli, non possono che far riflettere nel 2008.

    Suggerimenti di lettura:

    Jennifer Guglielmo and Salvatore Salerno (ed), Are Italians White?: How Race is Made in America, Routledge, 2003.

    Thomas A. Guglielmo, White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945, Oxford University Press, 2003.

    Jerre Mangione and Ben Morrale, La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian American Experience, Harper Collins, 1992.

  • Facts & Stories

    A New Wing of Agusta-Westland Helicopter Factory in Philadelphia

    AW 139 helicopters  - “custom made”. For the Aga Khan who requested it multimedia center, lounging couches and much more inside. But more importantly helicopters for international and government organizations, for emergency medical care, for companies from all over the world, for military clients. All built with the latest technology.

    Last Tuesday, I was at the inauguration of the new Augusta Westland plant in Philadelphia, where about 30 AW139 a year will be built. It’s a 30 million dollar investment for 10 thousand square meters of the most advanced machinery. By the end of the years 500 people will be working here to assist the Vergiate (Varese) plant and to fill the world market request – particularly the American market, third in the world of helicopters.

    The AW139 is a multi use aircraft: relief operations, transportation, surveillance. Already 300 have been ordered around the world and 110 have been delivered.

    It takes about 24 months and between 10 and 15 million dollars, depending on the specifications, to own an AW 139. The “customization” work, the process by which the aircraft is made to order for the client, is one of the things the plant takes most pride in.

    Very advanced technology and a smart system that puts online the resources and materials to assemble an aircraft with great attention to details.

    Visitors to the plan are sure to be surprised. A vast and modern, almost “artistically” minimalist area, in which different components are prepared for assembly. A long and wide corridor to walk through where we observed how the best of technology is researched and worked on to reach a market that is so difficult and competitive.

     Motors, transmissions, rotors, metallic and composite material constructions and much more, ready to be put together in the completed “helicopter system”. A real museum pending on the present. We were taken by the enthusiasm of a child accompanying another guest. In a space so large with different parts of an aircraft spread around like you would have with a model helicopter, it would be impossible not to capture the imagination of a young visitor. And fortunately this time we see the reality of a product created thanks to the resources of our country, which needs to show reasons to be proud, particularly to the younger generations. Finmeccanica is certainly a working Italian reality at the global level, which can be admired on many levels.

    At the ribbon cutting ceremony, next to the president and CEO of Finmeccanica Pier Francesco Guargaglini, other high executives of the company was the Italian Ambassador in Washington, Carlo Castellaneta and members of Congress as well as politicians and local authorities.

    In the speeches by the American speakers the enthusiasm for this new source of jobs and for the opening that can be created for American companies in the area was evident. Best technology and long-lasting jobs were the key words. "This is a celebration both of the work of AugustaWestland in Philadelphia – noted Senator Robert Casey – and of the creation of hundreds of jobs” and  “We are very proud of this plant – said representative Allyson Schwarz – we thank AugustaWestland for having invested in advanced technology”.

        As far as jobs are concerned AugustaWestland employs ten thousand people in plants all over the world, particularly in Italy, Great Britain and the United States.

    The managing director Giuseppe Orsi said the company is involved “in USA programs worth 13 billion dollars over the next five years”, “America represents the world’s third largest market for helicopters, - he added – we have been in Philadelphia for 25 years where we have created a plant that is a model for others – with highly specialized technologies and jobs”. All of this despite the impact of the appreciation of the Euro over the dollar. 

    AugustaWestland has been in Philadelphia since 1980. Created in 1986 as a 7.000 square meter area dedicated to the maintenance of commercial helicopters in the United States. In 2004 the assembly line for the AW 119 Koala helicopter is housed here.

    The growing importance of this plant is also thanks to the training and maintenance services provided. This allows AugustaWestland to provide operating solutions to almost 400 civilian helicopters in US as well.


    The Italian Ambassador in Washington, Gianni Castellaneta, in his speech, placed the focus on how the success of AugustaWestland is “a further confirmation of the importance of international cooperation especially during periods of economic difficulty.”

    Pier Francesco Guarguaglini said “ the next step will be to increase commercial operation in the United States and improve performance in the sector of electronic defense, where we are weakest.” The assembly line for the smallest helicopter, the single turbine AW119 Ke is already up and running in Philadelphia. Guarguaglini continues: “The decision to build a second line shows how much Finmeccanica and AugustaWestland are committed to investing in the US where today we have more than 2,000 employees”. At the end of his speech he added: “The US remains an important market but we are also looking at other places, like India and Japan.”

    It’s worth reminding that in the US, the Charleston (South Carolina) plant for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner program is also where the final assembly for the C-27J for the US Army will take place. Finmeccanica-Augusta is also a partner in the program for the presidential helicopter VH-71 and for the BA609 (New York-Texas).

    In the report on the various activities of the company we notice one piece of data among many: Finmeccanica invests resources equal to 14% of profits in Research and Development. Something that many still don't do in Italy.



  • AugustaWestland a Filadelfia. L'Italia al top della tecnologia

    Elicotteri AW 139 “su misura”. Per l’Aga Khan che ha chiesto di realizzare dentro un vero e proprio centro mutlimediale, poltrone relax, e molto di più. Ma soprattutto elicotteri per organizzazioni internazionali, governative, per il soccorso sanitario, per aziende in tutto il mondo, clienti sia civili che militari. Tutto realizzato con altissima tecnologia.

    Siamo stati, martedì scorso, è stato all’inagurazione del nuovo stabilimento di AugustaWestland a Filadelfia in cui verranno assemblati circa 30 AW39 all’anno. Si tratta di un investimento di 30 milioni di dollari per 10 mila quadrati di area con le più moderne attrezzature. Qui lavoreranno, entro la fine dell’anno, 500 persone per affiancare lo stabilimento di Vergiate (Varese) e soddisfare la domanda da parte del mercato mondiale e soprattutto statunitense, al terzo posto nel mondo per gli elicotteri.

    L’AW139 è un velivolo che si presta a molteplici usi: operazioni di soccorso, trasporto, di sorveglianza. Ne sono già stati ordinati oltre 300 esemplari da tutto il mondo. Ne sono stati consegnati 110.

    Ci vogliono circa 24 mesi e tra 10 e i 15 milioni di dollari, a seconda delle necessità,  per possedere un W 139.  Il lavoro di  “costomizzazione”, ossia il processo tramite cui si fornisce un prodotto realizzato su misura per un cliente, è uno dei punti di orgoglio dello stabilimento.

    Tecnologia avanzatissima dunque e ricorso ad un sistema intelligente che mette in rete risorse e materiali per assemblare un velicolo con grande attenzione ai particolari.

    Il colpo d’occhio di chi visita lo stabilimento è assicurato. Un’area vastissima e moderna, quasi “artisticamente” minimalista, in cui i diversi componenti vengono preparati per essere assemblati. Un lungo largo immenso corridoio da percorrere dove abbiamo osservato come il meglio della tecnologia viene raccolto e lavorato per raggiungere un mercato così difficile e competitivo.

    Motori, trasmissioni, rotori, stutture metalliche e materiale composito e altro ancora, pronti per essere integrati nel “sistema elicottero” completo. Un vero museo in fieri del presente. Siamo rimasti colpiti anche dall’entusiasmo di un bambino che accompagnava un ospite. In uno spazio così vasto con i diversi moduli di un velivolo, sparsi cosi come si fa per un modellino di elicottero da comporre. Impossibile non attirare la fantasia di un giovane visitatore.  E per fortuna questa volta la realtà di un prodotto realizzato grazie ad energie del nostro Paese che ha tanto bisogno di dare, soprattutto alle giovani generazioni, motivi di orgoglio costruttivo in questo momento. Finmeccanica è sicuramente una realtà italiana operante a livello globale a cui si può far riferimento su diversi aspetti.

     Al taglio del nastro di inaugurazione hanno partecipato, oltre al presidente e amministatore delegato di Finmeccanica Pier Francesco Guarguaglini, alti dirigenti della compagnia, l’Ambasciatore italiano a Washington Giovanni Castellaneta  e membri del Congresso Americano, politici e autorità locali.

    Evidente negli interventi dei relatori americani presenti l’entusiasmo soprattutto per questa nuova fonte di occupazione e per l’indotto che si può creare per altre compagnie americane nell’area. Best technology and long-lasting jobs, sono state le parole chiave. “Questa è una celebrazione sia del lavoro dell’AgustaWestland a Filadelfia - ha osservato il senatore Robert Casey - sia della creazione di centinaia di posti di lavoro” e  “siamo orgogliosi di questo stabilimento - ha detto la deputata Allyson Schwarz - ringraziamo la AgustaWestland per avere investito nell’alta tecnologia”.

    AgustaWestland per quanto riguarda l’occupazione,  raggiunge 10 mila dipendenti in tutto il mondo con stabilimenti in Italia, Gran Bretagna e Stati Uniti.

    L’amministratore delegato Giuseppe Orsi ha detto che la società è impegnata “in programmi USA del valore di 13 miliardi di dollari che si concretizzeranno nei prossimi cinque anni”, “L’America rappresenta un terzo del mercato mondiale degli elicotteri, - ha aggiunto - Siamo presenti da 25 anni a Filadelfia dove abbiamo creato uno stabilimento che è un modello. Con tecnologie e posti di lavoro di alta specializzazione”. Tutto questo nonostante l’impatto dell’apprezzamento dell’euro sul dollaro.

    AgustaWestland è presente a Filadelfia dal 1980. Nasce nel 1986 con un’area  di 7.000 metri quadri dedicata alla manutenzione della flotta di elicotteri commerciali negli Stati Uniti. Nel 2004 viene realizzata una linea di assemblaggio per l’elicottero AW119 Koala.

    L’importanza di questo stabilimento cresce grazie anche alla fornitura di  servizi di addestramento e manutenzione. Questo consente alla AgustaWestland di offrire soluzioni operative anche a quasi 400 elicotteri civili negli USA.

    L’ambasciatore d’Italia a Washington Castellaneta,  nel suo intervento ha posto l’accento su come il successo di AugustaWestland sia “una ulteriore conferma della grande importanza della cooperazione internazionale, soprattutto in periodo di difficoltà economica”.

    Pier Francesco Guarguaglini ha detto che  “Il prossimo passo sarà quello di incrementare le operazioni commerciali negli Stati Uniti e migliorare le performance nel settore della difesa elettronica, in cui siamo più deboli”. Sempre a Filadelfia è già operativa la linea di assemblaggio del più piccolo elicottero monoturbina AW119 Ke.  Ancora Guarguaglini: “La decisione di costruire una seconda linea dimostra quanto Finmeccanica e AugustaWestland siano impegnate ad investire negli USA, dove oggi lavorano per noi oltre 2.000 persone”. Poi alla fine del suo intervento ha aggiunto: “Gli Usa rimangono sempre una piazza  importante, ma guardiamo anche ad altri mercati, come India e Giappone”.

    Va ricordato negli USA,  lo stabilimento a Charleston (Sud Carolina) per il programma Boeing 787 Dreamliner dove si farà anche l’assemblaggio finale dei C-27J per l’Esercito statunitense. Finmeccanica-Augusta è poi anche partner nel  programma dell’elicottero presidenziale VH-71 e per il BA609 (New York – Texas)

    Nel rapporto che leggiamo sull’attività svolta raccogliamo fra le tante un’informazione: Finmeccanica impegna in Ricerca e Sviluppo risorse pari al 14% dei ricavi. Va notato che, in Italia, lo fanno ancora in pochi.


    (Pubblcato su Oggi7 il 24/2/2008)