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Articles by: Letizia Airos

  • Life & People

    Sicily. What is There After the Carretto?

    We met with the Minister of Labor Carmelo Incardona who oversees emigration for the region of Sicily.


    After only two months in your position, you decided to visit New York for the Italian celebrations during the month of October.


    "Coming to New York is a must for anyone who is concerned with emigration. For Sicily, emigration is a page from our history with sad implications, but it is also a reason to be proud because of the achievements of our fellow citizens abroad."


    With great conviction, Incardona in no uncertain terms asserts his mission to promote the region’s image, one that is based not only on its past but on its present and future as well.


    "We want ancient traditions to go hand in hand with the Sicily’s current cultural innovation, along with quality regional products. We want to engage our community, Sicilians and those who love Sicily. They are our primary ambassadors of Made in Sicily all over the world."


    A provocative question: What is there after the Sicilian cart, the ubiquitous Sicilian symbol par excellence?


    "After the cart, there have been many changes. There have been so many advancements, especially in the infrastructure. Many large-scale public projects have been completed and several are still in process. Clearly there is more to be done, but this is to be expected if we want to be in step with modern society.

    There is a very high quality of life in Sicily. With the cart, one still imagines a Sicily that is illiterate and poor, but it is no longer like this. Along with the three traditional universities (Catania, Messina, and Palermo), consortia have been formed in practically every province. Ragusa has a consortium, and the smallest Sicilian province, Enna, has a large private university.


    They have had a great impact on Sicily and have been changing the region intensely. Today there are many (or perhaps too many) college graduates for the market to bear. This is certainly a problem. Sicily exports so-called “minds” – intellects that were formed in our universities.


    We also have hotels that are on the cutting edge and guarantee a high level of hospitality. Even the smallest places provide warm hospitality with all of the services that a tourist could want.


    Another important aspect is that Sicily is ever-increasing its awareness about its landscape and architectural assets. There are many interesting travel itineraries where tourism also means culture and gaining knowledge, understanding.


    We still lack a coordinated and synergistic plan of action for the promotion of Sicily. For example, on Columbus Day we were featured in a thousand events without any cooperation or coordination. This damages Sicily’s own image.


    We must present the new Sicily, the one with Falcone and Borsellino as its heroes. This “legitimacy” is not only the main principle behind the government’s action, but it also contributes to Sicily’s development. We must therefore put forward our new image, one that corresponds to reality. We must regroup and organize with respect to cultural activities while using diverse channels."


    What can you tell me about the new novel set in Sicily, Agrodolce?  The Italian TV Fiction. Could this be a good channel?


    "I have not seen it, but I agree with the initiative. When a book or a film is made with Sicilians as its main characters, one can no longer think solely of the cap, the cart, the shotgun, the dirt roads…today it is completely different. For example, the novels by Camilleri (Montalbano series) have been very important for us. We have increasing numbers of tourists in Ragusa. Sicily’s beauty…but beginning with a positive image. When people leave New York, they want to go to a place where they feel safe!"


    In Sicily there is a wide-spread artistic movement, especially among young people. Do you intend to promote this abroad?


    "We need to bring young people here who “rock.” This usually means traditional music played in a modern key. Contemporary music in our region is greatly influenced by the past and is completely different from anything else. We want New York to be the stage from which we launch our island’s modern cultural richness and its international value in the world of sports, science, entertainment, and art."


    And this cannot be done without a large-scale commercial effort?


    "We will work with the Chamber of Commerce in Sicily and with the Italian American one in New York. Obviously, we will also work with institutions here such as ICE, the Italian Cultural Institute, ENIT, and the Consulate. We want to solicit U.S. investments in the island, which will also contribute to a cultural exchange between young people on both sides of the Atlantic. We intend to facilitate the bureaucratic red tape for foreign investors. For years they have discussed a “one-stop point of service” which Sicily still needs to create."


    Another slightly provocative question: You must have visited some of the Sicilian organizations in the area. How many young people did you see?


    "Not one. And it is because young people are no longer interested in the cart…. The same father, grandfather reject the cart even if they have an affection for it. They do not want to return to Sicily, they want to stay here in the U.S. I have an 11-year old son. When he sees me struggling with my cell phone or computer, he says: “Technology, Dad – zero?” This means that compared to me he looks ahead, compared to what I represent. Re-introducing the cart means re-introducing the past."


    But for many young Italian-Americans, there still remains a great love of Italy and for their land.


    "Yes, I know, but we need to propose something that perhaps connects tradition with modernity."


    So then we return to the cart. If you would have to replace the cart with another image, what would it be?

    "The Carabinieri. Today there are many young people who are politically active. For example, in Palermo they created an organization called “Addio Pizzo” to try and convince business owners not to pay protection money. Today young people consider Falcone and Borsellino heroes. Yes, the Carabinieri as a symbol of Sicily that employs many resources to create a legal and law-abiding society."


    What was your experience during your stay in America? What impressions do you have of this visit?


    "Over the past few days I gained a better perspective about how to organize the Sicilian presence here. I was in contact with important institutions, I was at the U.N., I visited the Sicilian community in Brooklyn and then in New Jersey. I was at the Calandra Institute and spoke at length with Dean Anthony Tamburri. I met with elected representatives of the CGIE, Comites, and the Carabinieri. I have the ability to network and I spoke with many people. I was able to reflect on the image of our region here. Most of all, it was important to come for Columbus Day when the best efforts are made to promote Italy.


    I chose New York because it is the largest window on the world. If we want to recast a new image of Sicily, we must begin here, in the commercial and cultural capital of the world. I would like to make a comparison: if something exists today, it must be on TV. In the same way, in order to make Sicily exist we need to make it exist in New York. And next year I wil propose the Carabinieri as our image. Historically, Sicilians were viewed as being hostile toward the Carabinieri. Today they want friendship and community."

    (Traslated by Giulia Prestia)



                       Palermo. "Festa in piazza Politeama (09.27.2008). From Radio 105 - Flickr Image




  • Art & Culture

    An Italian Think-Tank in the U.S.

    In front of me sits Anthony Julian Tamburri, Dean of the J.D. Calandra Institute. We are surrounded by books, notes, photocopies, videotapes, and literary magazines. A careful observer, taking a look at his office which is a few steps away from the New York Public Library, immediately perceives that no book is positioned casually. Taking a volume from a bookcase just to read a phrase, a paragraph, is the gesture his friends and colleagues are used to seeing the most.

    This time I am meeting with him to gather his impressions on the conference “Italians in the Americas”, organized by the Institute. But the conversation develops and little by little becomes an intense reflection that goes
    far beyond considerations of the three days of fruitful work. The symposium, after all, is not just a point of arrival for him – after a year and a half of heading the institute – but also a starting point for further challenges.


    Tamburri starts visibly satisfied: “It worked out very well. First of all because the topics were many, and different from those usually tackled in Italian American conventions. For instance, there were two really interesting contributions on Italians in Latin America: one by David Aliano on Fascism and the other by Stefano Lucconi on political mobilization in Argentina and in the United States. Then, thanks to the studies performed by Vincenzo Milione and Maddalena Tirabassi, we have had the chance to reflect, with the help of precise data, on the numbers concerning emigration into the Americas.”

    Speakers coming from different countries participated in the conference. In fact, in the title of the conference, Tamburri refers to the term Americas in an inclusive sense. What do Italians in the Americas have in common in his opinion

    “The way they feel about Italy”, he says. And with particular intensity, adds: “Everybody looks towards Italy, although in different ways. For example, the welcome that Brazil and Argentina gave their immigrants was very different from the one the United States gave. Just think that Argentina is a country that also has Mediterranean characteristics.”

    Is there something specific then, to the experience in the United States, as well as a concept of “continuous renegotiation of identity”, as Fred Gardaphe had questioned in his inaugural dissertation?

    ”Yes. The history of immigration in the United States is really peculiar. Even if we compare it to Canada’s immigration history. If we analyze not only the studies, but also the novels and the movies on the argument, we are made very much aware of this.”  

    Speaking as Dean of the Calandra Institute, what are the topics tackled at the convention that could be better developed in the future?

    "From an academic point of view, psychology and politics. Next autumn the Calandra Institute will publish a volume encompassing 30 years of socio-psychological studies. They’re works written by professors that came here as fellows, by scholars who have had different kinds of relations with the Calandra Institute and by members of our staff
    .  The greatest part is still unpublished. Now, in “Italians in the Americas” there is a very important – and in some aspects unique - section dedicated to psychology with Donna H. Di Cello, Elizabeth Messina and Antonio Terracciano. They have analyzed psychological racism and existing stereotypes, with reference to Lombroso, regarding southern people. As far as politics are concerned, there is a section entitled "Is there an Italian/American body politic?" The really enlightening considerations of the two political scientists Ottorino Cappelli and Rodrigo Praino are to be considered a starting point for a more profound analysis about the Italian American political network."

    I would need much more space to report on the contents of a conversation that had become increasingly more pleasant and interesting...

    “There were many different discoveries… There are many important topics to which renewed attention should be given. The process of renegotiation of identity on which we have to work must include a rediscovery; we  have to go way back in history and ask ourselves questions, even ones that aren't nice or comfortable.We have to find answers and articulate them, even if they're not the ones we were expecting.”

    Many think anyone and everyone of Italian heritage should reach this goal, even people in the mother country.  

    ” Surely Italy itself must still come to terms with its emigration. The so-called ‘dominating culture’ has preferred to keep quiet until a few years ago. That is the reason why literary works such as Pane Amaro (Bitter Bread) by Elena Gianini Belotti and the movie bearing the same name by Gianfranco Norelli, the novel Vita (Life) by Melania Mazzucco and also the movie My name is Tanino by Paolo Virzi, even if in some sense debatable, are so important.”

    And what about in the U.S.? The popularity of Italian American culture in Hollywood movies is undeniable, even if the way it is presented has caused several controversies in the community.  

    ”That’s true. American Italian culture has become very popular in the movie world, essentially when it comes to talking about the Mafia. In the first period of movie history, 252 Mafia movies were made. But from 1972 until 2000 another 700 have come out. Besides Vincent Minnelli and Frank Capra, who we were incapable of appreciating as Italian American directors, there are many others still not identified as Italian Americans. Among them are Stanley Tucci, Greg Mottola, Gary Marshall and also Tom di Cillo, Michael Cimino, Brian De Palma. These are great directors that have not made only Mafia movies. There are many of their works that still need to be interpreted, given that they apparently seem to lack any Italian American cultural content. Our task is to study all these cultural products and teach the public how to appreciate them.”

    Certainly Tamburri does not deny Italian Americans’ own responsibilities:

    “It's also a problem that exists inside the Italian American community. From a cultural point of view we are still a very young community and we should try to appreciate more fully the so-called cultural products. Books, cinema, figurative art… We have to give research in these fields the same prestige that we attribute to those studies we consider more “useful”, like studies in medicine and economy. Mens sana in corpore sano (A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body).”   

    So there are many challenges to face. What does it mean for you to face them as the Dean of the Calandra institute ?


    ” What is lacking in the Italian American world is what I call a think-tank. Other ethnic groups have their own. Since its foundation the Calandra Institute has had the task and the mission to operate within the research field, but its principal function for a long time was that of assisting and advising CUNY students. In the ‘70s people started to understand that Italian Americans met difficulties in the passage from the blue to the white-collar worker world. The first generation coming to the United States surely did not have these types of expectations or needs
    .  People in the following generations started going to university, but there were some problems. Many students abandoned their studies after a few years, and professors of Italian origin had a difficult time getting promotions. It wasn't t easy dealing with these impasses. In 1979, when the Calandra was founded, this was its principal task. Nowadays there are different problems and in 1995 the institute was re-launched as a University Research Institute. And now we have to become an out-and-out think-thank.”

    Studies in the Italian American field are lacking in the academic world. It’s necessary to create “schools”. What can the Calandra Institute do to promote the establishment of other university chairs?

    We have paved the way, but we have to try to collaborate at a national level. We must immediately create a network of study centers called to work for this goal. We have to carry out a project, a philosophy. And we must build a multilevel dialogue with the cultural institutions in Italy. We have contributed, as an example, to the organization of the Film Festival in Pesaro, in which a section on Italian American cinema was proposed.In September the Calandra Institute will reply with its own festival. And the “American study centers” in Italy can do a lot. Scholars of American Studies have to expand their horizons and also welcome studies performed by Americans of Italian origin. Some time ago there was an Italian magazine that published an edition wholly dedicated to the ethnic groups present in the United States…the only group that went unmentioned were Italian Americans! The same thing, it must be said, is happening here with the very famous American Studies Association (ASA). For the last 8 years in his annual inaugural speech, the president makes not one mention of Americans of Italian origin. It is inconceivable to me that this group goes unrecognized.”

    So if nowadays a student wants to undertake Italian American Studies he still has to face many difficulties…  

    ” He has to be lucky. If he finds a professor interested in Italian American Studies he might make it… Fred Gardaphe and I have discussed the possibility of promoting two or three PhD programs. But a greater amount of information needs to be divulged. To this end the Calandra doesn’t just use traditional TV networks… It has its own TV show on CUNY TV, Italics, and a few months ago it started to actively collaborate with the website www.i-italy.org whose editorial unit is hosted in our buildings
    . Although our TV slot is only 30 minutes long, we can do a lot through the web and also through video technology. People all over the United States, and also in Italy, read us. This month, in particular, we are organizing a number of events to avoid the closing of the AP Italian program. An institute like Calandra, that is a branch of a prestigious university like CUNY, has to act as a true engine for the diffusion of Italian American culture. It also has to be a place where students can do internships. A short time ago we sent out notices telling students they have the chance to do internships at different levels, either in television or in journalism, in marketing and in  graphics.”

    We asked him to tell us briefly about upcoming scheduled events. The most important ones…

    ”We have a scheduled event for every month, but four of them are more important for the moment. In September the New American Cinema Festival, in October a symposium entitled FIAC (Forum on Italian American Criticism) in collaboration with Stony Brook. Then, in 2009, in March, the Neapolitan Post Card on the diffusion of Neapolitan music in the world and, in April, the second annual convention entitled The Land of Our Return. This will be an important moment for rediscovery and comparison; it’s a phenomenon that still needs studying.” 

    Anthony Tamburri: a real volcano of ideas, projects, initiatives. We could go on for hours. But we have to part ways and, leaving his study, curiously, a phrase uttered by John Adams in 1819 comes to mind. I still think of it as illuminating on the question of generational “transitions”: “I must study politics and war so that my children will have the chance to study mathematics and philosophy, navigation, commerce and agriculture, and they in turn will give their own children the opportunity to study painting, poetry and music.”


    (Translated by Marina Melchionda)

  • Facts & Stories

    Alessandra Farkas: "Un'Italia egoista quella di oggi"

    La raggiungiamo per chiederle qualche impressione sugli eventi che nell’ultimo periodo hanno portato alla luce in Italia fenomeni di intolleranza verso cittadini rumeni. Alessandra Farkas, corrispondente da New York del Corriere della Sera, parla con noi dal suo ufficio.

    Abbiamo cercato lei per cominciare questo viaggio sulgi italiani e l'immigrazione e il rischio xenofobia, anche per la sua esperienza personale. L'ha raccontata efficacemente lei stessa in “Pranzo di famiglia” (Sperling & Kupfer 2006), un libro dedicato alla storia di suo padre e con lui di una intera generazione vittima delle persecuzioni naziste in Ungheria. Paolo Farkas, traumatizzato dalla violenza antisemita subita dalla sua famiglia (il padre morto ad Auschwitz, la madre uccisa per strada e il suo cadavere gettato nel Danubio), per riuscire a vivere rimosse il passato. Nascose la propria origine ebraica anche ai figli. Ma la svelò ad Alessandra, undicenne, che venne a conoscere così la tragica storia della famiglia Wolfnmer Farkas, influente dinastia mitteleuropea di editori.

    Ti dico che sono rattristata sia come giornalista che come persona. Sono rattristata, allarmata e preoccupata. Si tratta di episodi di razzismo bello e buono. E non vorrei ripetere delle cose che potrebbero apparire ovvie: anche gli italiani in America sono sati perseguitati e trattati come “neri-bianchi” - in modo veramente spaventoso. Discriminati, senza poter entrare nelle scuole, addirittura linciati. Che oggi anche un solo italiano si comporti così con gli immigrati mi da fastidio per memoria storica….”


    Pensi dunque che i timori di un’ondata xenofoba che cresce in Italia siano fondati?

    Putroppo sì. Vedi, anche in America c’è razzismo. Ma è il razzismo di un gruppo contro l’altro per contendersi la stessa torta. Ebrei contro irlandesi, italiani contro neri, ispanici contro nuovi africani che arrivano. Sono certo tutti razzisti ed hanno un’ansietà socio-economica rispetto al segmento di popolazione che li precede, o li segue, e minaccia le loro conquiste. Ma la questione è meno meno razziale e più socio-economica.  

    A me pare invece che in Italia ci sia ancora la paura dello straniero. La xenofobia. E’ diverso. Esiste ancora il concetto di un'Italia degli italiani, che deve essere Bianca, Italiana e Cattolica, con i cognomi tutti italiani. Lo dice una che è cresciuta in Italia con un cognome che non è italiano. Mi facevano sentire diversa. Perchè hai la K nel nome e la K non esiste neanche nell’alfabeto italiano. Allora sei un diverso. Anche se sono italianissima, nata a Roma da madre romana. Però ho le stimmate dello straniero.

    In Italia rimane questa dimensione, e soprattutto vedo poca assimilizione. Ci vado spessissimo, e c’è una una cosa che mi rattrista. Quest'estate sono stata al mare, ad esempio, e sulle spiagge si vedono solo italiani. I pochi neri sono babysitter che accompagnano i ricchi … Poi non vedi vivere gli immigrati insieme agli italiani. Sono tutti a sgobbare nelle cucine, a fare le colf… Non esiste integrazione, non li vedi nei ristoranti per esempio: se ci sono, non siedono ai tavoli ma ti servono da mangiare. Ce ne è di strada da fare…”


    Pensi che chi vive in Italia non si renda conto di quello che stai dicendo? Che gli occhi di chi viene dall’estero riescano a vedere di più...?

    Forse si. Vai in Italia e ti sembra di stare in un paese completamente segregato. Gli stranieri sono segregati, vivono in quartieri per stranieri, mangiano in locali per stranieri, non frequentano posti italiani. Non è giusto, questa è gente che sta anche prendendo la cittadinanza, sgobba e sta dando tanto all’Italia. E’ ora di riconoscerli. Ma a me pare che agli italiani vada benssimo lo straniero fino a quando fa la colf da quattro lire, mestieri umili, il servo che ti pulisce il sedere… E sono sono stupita che questo capiti in Italia. Non dovrebbe succedere… Secondo me bisognerebbe ricordarsi che siamo tutti emigranti. Non siamo nati tutti ricchi, con il cucchiaino d’argento.”


    Ma abbiamo un'Italia che non sa più accogliere, secondo te…

    "Ricordo quello che raccontava mio padre. Quando è venuto in Italia faceva la fame, aveva100 dollari in tasca ed era orfano. E l’Italia di allora era poverissima, ma gli ha aperto completamente le braccia. E va detto che anche gli italoamericani che sono venuti qui negli USA non hanno trovato solo ostilità. Tutto sommato gli italiani possono ringraziare qualcuno che li ha aiutati ad inserirsi in America; e lo stesso vale per i profughi ebrei dopo la Guerra."


    E cosa è cambiato da allora?

    Penso che più si diventa ricchi e più si diventa egoisti. Ho dei racconti antichi di una Roma povera dove un sacco di gente ti aiutava. L’aneddotica si spreca. Si mangiava tutti poco, ma si divideva sempre un piatto con gli altri. Non voglio fare la prosopea da film neorealista… era l’Italia di allora, e non si tratta di fare sentimentalismo da libro Cuore. Purtoppo adesso tutti si rinchiudono nelle loro case eleganti, riscaldate e … l’ immigrato rimane fuori. Mi sembra molto egoista l’Italia questo momento…”