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Articles by: Jerry Krase

  • Op-Eds

    The Rise of Italo-Trumpism



    Every few years, because it makes little sense also to me, I feel the need to explain American politics to Italians and Italian Americans alike. This year the center of my attention is the inordinate support expressed by Italian Americans for the presumptive Republican Party Presidential candidate “The” Donald Trump.  Thank God, for me it is only half of a reality check.  A major part of the problem of deciphering his Italo-appeal is the Huuuuge mountain of pseudo-journalistic effluence that has inundated American mass media about the Trumpster. In the entertainment business, and therefore it follows --- American politics -- there is no such thing as bad coverage even when it stinks to high heavens. In the past I only complained in writing about the likes of the “Fair and Balanced” Fox News and the "News doesn't have to be boring to be news," New York Post, but since the U.S. Presidential campaign season began in earnest I’ve added “Lean Forward” MSNBC and “All the news that’s fit to print” The New York Times to my list of unreliable sources.




    One Salon.com writer, Fedja Buric, thought Trump might be channeling Benito Mussolini, and with Trump’s chin skyward profile he might have a point. In “Trump’s not Hitler, he’s Mussolini,” Buric also argued that the anti-intellectualism of the Republican Party has led to a modern fascist movement in America. Less ominously,




    Alan Rappeport of The New York Times wrote that The Trumpster was “… reviving memories of someone who stirred local passions like few others: Frank L. Rizzo of Philadelphia.” The popularity of the “Big Bambino” Mayor was based on his take no prisoners attitude toward law-breakers, as well as social activists, and the noncompliant press.  Most recently in the Times Frank Bruni provided the Italian take on Trump who is seen as a somewhat perverse version of Silvio Berlusconi; a super-rich businessman, who knew how to use the media, and who promised to make Italy great again via a “new Italian miracle.” Having more than enough unflattering details, the similarities in their mutually repugnant views of women and immigrants were left for a subsequent column, I suppose, on why “Italy Feels Our Pain.”




    It is not difficult to explain Trump’s exalted place in Presidential preference polls among more or less likely Italian American voters. Italian Americans have been moving over into the Republican and more Conservative ranks as registered voters for some time. Even when registered as Democrats (DINOs – Democrats In Name Only) or simply “independent” they list starboardly. There’s is not an ethnic preference vote. Today’s Italian American voters were as likely to vote for their semi-co-ethnic Bill De Blasio as for Barack Obama. His name also ended in a vowel but many Italian Americans I have had the pleasure (?) to meet continue to believe, as does birther Trump, that our current President is a Kenyan-born Muslim.




    In my experience, where Staten Island (La Bella Isola) goes, so does the Italian vote. With about a half a million residents, Staten Island is the most conservative borough in New York City. As evidence, La Bella Isola has been trying, unsuccessfully, to secede from the “too liberal” Gotham City since the 1970s. In 1993 65 percent of its voters said, “yes, we can (leave)” in a 1993 referendum. According to Politico in Staten Island: “The mostly white, middle- and working-class Republican voters here have embraced the brash, Queens-born mogul as a hometown hero. So have some of the top GOP officials on the island, including Councilman Joe Borelli, who’s become a go-to Trump surrogate on national television…” As to Borough or Countywide elected officials I think only one is a Democrat and he, ex-Congressman Michael McMahon, also tilts much of the time to the right. As to prominent Italian American elected officials representing Staten Islanders who are more likely to upset Trump's bandwagon than jump on it are New York State Assemblyman Matthew Titone and New York Sate Senator Diane Savino.




    As to the confirmation of my earlier prediction; in the April 16, 2016 Republican Presidential Primary about 80% of Staten Island’s Republican voters thought Donald Trump should be become the Leader of Free World, and when necessary make decisions about whom to nuke. This was about the same outcome in other more or less identifiable Italian American voting areas in New York State. In contrast, all of the full and partial Italian Americans in my immediate family voted in the Democratic Presidential Primary for Bernie Sanders (whose name like Barack’s ends in a vowel). I had predicted he would get practically bupkis (niente di niente) when it comes to Italian American voters. Bernie stopped for a visit with one of my neighbors on Ninth Street in hyper-gentrified Park Slope, Brooklyn on his way to a HUUUGE rally in Prospect Park that was steps away from my house. I didn’t get to the rally but did manage to get a “FUTURE TO BELIEVE IN” (UN FUTURO IN CUI CREDERE) sign for my front window.




    Given this Italic rightward lean, one might ask who are the most prominent of New York Italian Americans supporters of The Donald? Googling on The Web I found, among many others, Ex-America’s Mayor and failed 2008 Presidential candidate Mayor Rudy Giuliani; real estate mogul and failed New York State Gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino; as well as current New Jersey Governor and failed Republican Presidential candidate Chris Christie. Trump also has local support in the form of Republican Party Chairmen Arnaldo Ferraro (Kings County --- AKA Brooklyn), John LaValle (Suffolk County --- AKA White-Landia), Joseph Mondello (Nassau County --- AKA White-Landia) and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano.




    Among entertainment luminaries is Scott Baio, AKA “Chachi (Ciacci) Arcola.” The most controversial public figure is probably Joe Arpaio, “America’s Toughest” Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona who, according to RealClear Politics, re-endorsed Trump at a Las Vegas rally in February mumbling in part: “What I like about him, he tells it like it is, most politicians, they are very politically correct, have you noticed? Nobody says anything, I can never understand. I can understand when he talks, some may not like it but that's tough...” Arpaio is not bright enough to understand that the HUUUUGE wall built by the Mexican government will probably put him out of the job by keeping out Mexicans.




    As for international supporters of Donald Trump there are many fellow anti-immigrant Know Nothingers such as Matteo Salvini, leader of the Italian secessionist Lega Nord; Frenchman Jean-Marie le Pen founder and former leader of the neo-fascist Front National; and Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who single-handedly changed the perception of Holland as a leading nation of tolerance. Last but not the least is, on the order of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean News Agency the Democratic Republic of Korea Today.




    I am a supporter of Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Senator who is proud to call himself a Socialist. Most New York’s Italian American voters feel slight connection to him or those found in Gerald Meyer’s The Lost World of Italian American Radicalism: Politics, Labor, and Culture (Greenwood 2003). According to Meyer “Radicalism had a powerful but largely unacknowledged influence in the Italian-American community.” His book tried to “restore to Italian-American history the radical experience that has long remained suppressed, but that nevertheless helped shape both the Italian-American community and the American left.” Chief among New York City’s Italian American leftist heroes was Harlem Congressman Vito Marcantonio (1935 -37, 1939-1945).   Ironically, Vito ran first as a Republican when it was a “progressive” party, and later with the Social Party splinter --- the American Labor Party (ALP). Fiorello LaGuardia also was supported by the ALP. Current Trumpsters, NYC Council Members Vincent Ignizio and Joe Borelli, contrast sharply with Peter Cacchione, a Brooklyn Communist Party City Councilman, who Meyer wrote “… strengthened the presence of the left within New York City’s Italian American communities.” Cacchione, popular among Italian Brooklynites, was elected to three consecutive terms (1941 - 1947). 




    There is another element that must be considered as to why Italian Americans, especially Italian American men, support Donald Trump. A constant theme is how he “speaks his mind,” “doesn’t take crap from anybody,” and “says out loud what we are thinking.” Despite all the distance that Italian Americans have travelled as far as education, income, and prestige “we” still carry the scars of the poor and working class cultures in which we and/or our parents, and definitely our grandparents were raised. To quote one of “our” greatest cultural heroes:

    For what is a man, what has he got?

    If not himself, then he has naught

    To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels

    The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!

     

    However, the Frank Sinatra song I wish more Italian Americans would sing today is:

    The house I live in, a plot of earth, a street

    The grocer and the butcher, and the people that I meet

    The children in the playground, the faces that I see

    All races and religions, that's America to me!

  • Op-Eds

    Like Obama, “Bernie” ends in a Vowel


    I’ve been off of the political commentary merry-go-round during the fall and winter seasons because I didn’t want to add to the growing mountain of pseudo-journalistic effluence that has inundated American mass media.  In the past I only complained in writing about the likes of the “Fair and Balanced” Fox News and the "News doesn't have to be boring to be news," New York Post, but since the U.S. Presidential campaign season began in earnest I’ve added “Lean Forward” MSNBC and “All the news that’s fit to print” The New York Times to my list of unreliable sources.

     

    They all seem not to like my favorite candidate, Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders, Even The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman felt the need to campaign for Hillary in a few recent columns; demonstrating that just because you win a Nobel Prize for Pro-New-Keynesian Economics doesn’t mean you opinion on matters electoral politics should matter. After all, didn’t Milton Friedman win the same prize for being Anti-New-Keynesian. However, I am not here to bury Brooklyn-born Bernie’s misguided opponents but to praise Him, albeit indirectly.

    I am also here try to explain his place in Presidential preference polls among more or less likely Italian American voters. You might think that among Italian American voters, Bernie’s major opponent is Hillary Clinton, but it’s really “The Donald” Trump. Italian Americans have been moving over into the Republican and Conservative ranks as registered voters for some time, and even when registered as Democrats (DINOs) or simply “independent” they list starboardly. Today’s Italian American voters are as likely to vote for Bernie Sanders as they were to vote for their semi-co-ethnic Bill De Blasio; or for Barack Obama whose name also ended in a vowel, but who many Italian Americans I have had the pleasure (?) to meet continue to believe is a Kenyan-born Muslim.

    To the best of my knowledge, where Staten Island (Richmond County) goes, so does the Italian vote. With about a half a million residents, Staten Island is the most conservative borough in New York City. As evidence, La Bella Isola has been trying, unsuccessfully, to secede from the “too liberal” Gotham City since the 1970s. In 1993 65 percent of its voters said, “yes, we can (leave)” in a 1993 referendum. According to Politico in Staten Island: “The mostly white, middle- and working-class Republican voters here have embraced the brash, Queens-born mogul as a hometown hero. So have some of the top GOP officials on the island, including Councilman Joe Borelli, who’s become a go-to Trump surrogate on national television…” As to Borough or Countywide elected officials I think only one is a Democrat and he, ex-Congressman Michael McMahon, also tilts much of the time to the right.

    Who then are the most prominent New York Italian Americans supporters of The Donald? Googling on The Web I found, among many others, Ex-America’s Mayor and failed 2008 Presidential candidate Mayor Rudy Giuliani; real estate mogul and failed New York State Gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino; as well as current New Jersey Governor and failed Republican Presidential candidate Chris Christie. Trump also has local support in the form of Republican Party Chairmen Arnaldo Ferraro (Kings County --- AKA Brooklyn), John LaValle (Suffolk County --- AKA White-Landia), Joseph Mondello (Nassau County --- AKA White-Landia) and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano. Slightly farther afield are Pennsylvania State Senator Lou Bartletta who previously endorsed Rick Santorum and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi who switched to Trump after Jeb Bush surrended to The Donald.

    Among entertainment luminaries is Scott Baio, AKA “Chachi (Ciacci) Arcola.” The most controversial public figure is probably Joe Arpaio, “America’s Toughest” Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona who, according to RealClear Politics, re-endorsed Trump at a Las Vegas rally in February mumbling in part: “What I like about him, he tells it like it is, most politicians, they are very politically correct, have you noticed? Nobody says anything, I can never understand. I can understand when he talks, some may not like it but that's tough...” As for international supporters of Donald Trump are fellow anti-immigrant know Nothingers: Matteo Salvini, leader of the Italian secessionist Lega Nord; Frenchman Jean-Marie le Pen founder and former leader of the neo-fascist Front National; and Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who single-headedly changed the perception of Holland as a leading nation of tolerance.

    The problem for Bernie Sanders among many Italian American voters is that he fits the mold of people who you might find in Gerald Meyer’s The Lost World of Italian American Radicalism: Politics, Labor, and Culture (Greenwood 2003) According to Meyer “Radicalism had a powerful but largely unacknowledged influence in the Italian-American community.” His book tried to “restore to Italian-American history the radical experience that has long remained suppressed, but that nevertheless helped shape both the Italian-American community and the American left.” Chief among Italian American leftist heroes was Harlem Congressman Vito Marcantonio (1935 -37, 1939-1945).   Ironically, Vito ran first as a Republican when it was a “progressive” party, and later with the Social Party splinter --- the American Labor Party. Note: Fiorello LaGuardia also was supported by the ALP. Current Trumpers, NYC Council Members Vincent Ignizio and Joe Borelli, provide a sharp contrast to Peter Cacchione, a Brooklyn Communist Party City Councilman, who Meyer wrote “… strengthened the presence of the left within New York City’s Italian American communities.” Cacchione was very popular among Italian Brooklynites and was elected to three consecutive terms (1941 - 1947). 

    Although I believe most of the full and partial Italian Americans in my immediate family will vote for him, even though “Bernie” ends in a vowel, I predict he will get practically bupkis (niente di niente) when it comes to Italian American voters in tomorrow's New York State Presidential Primary Election. Stay tuned for my post-election analysis. I should note that Bernie stopped for a visit with one of my neighbors on Ninth Street in hyper-gentrified Park Slope, Brooklyn yesterday on his way to a huge rally and concert in Prospect Park that was steps away from my house. I didn’t get to the rally but did manage to get a “FUTURE TO BELIEVE IN” (UN FUTURO IN CUI CREDERE) sign for my front window.

  • Op-Eds

    On the Road to Naples I Discovered Why Italian American Politicians are their Own Worst Enemies


    Both Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have deep family roots near Naples. Last week I went to the Universita degli Studi suor Orsola Benincasa in Naples to talk about, among other things, "Citizenship and Governance." Many would not believe it but Napoli is one of the best places in the world to learn about both topics. Walking around the city I could see how it works despite citizenship and governance. People say that Naples is chaotic and they are correct, but the chaos makes sense to its citizens and as a result their city simply "happens."




    Any attempt to control Neapolitans like traffic signals, anti-litter regulations, and even bicycle lanes have little effect on local life. Neapolitans don't expect much from their government and their government returns the favor. In contrast, in the Big Apple and the Empire State, New Yorkers hold their elected officials, especially Bill and Andy, to a much higher standard and blame them for every real and/or imagined slight.  In turn they blame each other, and their continuing feud, on the verge of vendetta, serves neither of them, or the rest of us very well. One might ask, "Why are Italian American Politicians their Own Worst Enemies?" The answer can be found in a corollary of the advice given by the 6th century BCE Chinese general Sun Tzu who wrote the Art of War. This Machiavellian–sounding sentiment was pilfered by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola and uttered by Al Pacino (Michael Corleone) in The Godfather Part II (1974): "My father taught me many things here — he taught me in this room. He taught me — keep your friends close but your enemies closer." My mother-in-law Rose Jordan-Nicoletti’s version of this universal, but especially Italian American, proverb was “Don’t apologize! Your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe it.” The parallel, yet competing, political careers of New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio clearly have been guided by these complementary aphorisms.

     

    Andy and Bill have become their own worst enemies because they are so much alike, and this makes them even more dangerous to each other. When one itches, the other one scratches and vice versa. As a result of their mutual quest for prominence they compete for just about everything. During the past six months the intense competition has evidently been for bad press and it is difficult to declare a victor. As with all bad news the basic headlines tell the whole sad story.

     

    For The New York Times Nikita Stewart announced “For Some New York Latinos, Enthusiasm for de Blasio Gives Way to Frustration.”  In The Daily News Albor Ruiz wrote of the “Rising Fury at Mayor de Blasio over Luxury Developments. “  In the New York Post Danielle Furfaro implied that de Blasio was peddling influence; “Campaign contributions behind move to cap Uber, New Yorkers say.” De Blasio’s progressive reformer campaign image opened him to charges of hypocrisy once he took office.


    “Mayor de Blasio’s Hired Guns: Private Consultants Help Shape City Hall” was the not so shocking discovery of Thomas Kaplan. To nobody else’s surprise Bill’s 2013 campaign advisers were still “at his side as a kind of privately funded brain trust, offering strategic advice and helping to shape the message that comes from City Hall.” And even less startling, as with every other political consultant I have ever known “Their involvement also poses conflict-of-interest concerns, as some of the consultants’ firms have clients that do business with the city.” The featured Comment, by "J" of New York, NY, said it all: “Based on his dismal performance as mayor, he is definitely not getting his money's worth out of these consultants. “




    Andy has been no slouch either in the bad news column, racking up an impressive record second only to Bill, and Andy’s fellow Governor Chris Christie. Alexander Burns told his readers that even his  “Fellow Democrats” don’t like “His Style,” (), while Burns’ fellow Times writers William K. Rashbaum and Suzanne Craig were more substantive with “Corruption Inquiry Appears to Expand to a Signature Cuomo Program.” 




    The investigation by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, was into the “Buffalo Billion” development bidding process. ” He has also caught the unwanted attention of the non-mainstream press as evidenced by Julian Guerrero’s unflattering characterization “Andrew Cuomo's Circle of Corruption” in The Socialist Worker.


     

    This embarrassment of riches has led the rivals to point fingers at each other. In the Daily News Erin Durkin blurted “De Blasio blasts Cuomo, accusing governor of thwarting his goals out of 'revenge.'”  Alexander Burns and Thomas Kaplan added “New York Democrats Join Mayor de Blasio in a Chorus of Dissent Against Governor Cuomo.” Two months later, Capital New York reported “Cuomo-de Blasio war expands to new fronts.” Simultaneously, veteran New York political war correspondent Fred U. Dicker warned de Blasio that “Cuomo (was) personally recruiting candidates to de-throne” him.  The latest embarrassment for both were reports in several New York City dailies that while on a joint visit to Puerto Rico they didn’t even look at each other. 


     

    Like feuding next-door neighbors, they have put plagues on their own houses. In the Daily News “About New York” reporter Jim Dwyer penned “Mayor De Blasio and Governor Cuomo Point Fingers, but There’s Enough Blame for Both.” The New York Post’s Natalie Musumeci reported “Mayor de Blasio’s approval ratings have plummeted to a new low, with relatively few voters approving of his performance.” Half said he didn’t deserve another term. Capital New York’s Josefa Velasquez said Governor Cuomo’s popularity glass was only half-full as his approval rating dropped twenty percent over the past six years. From the Fred Dicker’s sharpened quill comes “Mayor de Blasio is so reviled across the state that Senate Republicans are planning to use criticism against Hizzoner to boost their candidates in next year’s campaigns — and they’ll use critiques leveled by Gov. Cuomo to help demonize him.” 


     

    The closeness between Andy and Bill virtually makes them brothers, and in Italian families intense male rivalries are normal. My Sicilian-American mother’s four half-Sicilian sons constantly fought with each other over nothing. At my wife’s all-Italian family gatherings, I fondly remember my father-in-law Anthony Charles (Nick) Nicoletti and his brother-in-law Anthony Jordan Jr. taking center stage. Whatever comment one made the other quickly contradicted, leading to a verbal battle during which spectators were called upon to support “their” oratorial gladiator. As with the war between Andy and Bill, no one was ever declared a “winner.” 


     If truth be told, Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio won election because their opponents (Rick Lazio, Carl Paladino, Joe Lhota) were less appealing. Their campaigns also produced record low turnouts. Lucky for their egos however, once in office, our two rival emperor's got to wear new clothes. What their closest advisers won’t tell them however, the press seems only too happy to.

  • Op-Eds

    The Unfortunate Pilgrim



    Every October, or “Italian Heritage and Culture Month” as it known in La Grande Mela, I have mixed feelings. Few count me as Italian American despite treasuring my mysterious patrimony, including the fact that all Italians are anarchists until they are in charge.


    Despite having been a Founder of the American Italian Coalition of Organizations, and President

    of the American Italian Historical Association, I never apply for anything with “Italian” or “American Studies” in the title. As to “onlyreal Italians need apply” I’ve had too manybad experiences.


    For example, when I was Director of the Brooklyn College Center for Italian American Studies (1975-1984) several “real” Italian American professors complain ed that a “non-Italian” held the post.


    My researchon Italian American college students helpedestablish the Distinguished Professorship ofItalian American Studies. However, whensomeone mistakenly nominated me for thepost, I received a call from a prominent ItalianAmerican starting with “How dare you….”My identity problem has a long history. When I started dating my wife Suzanne Nicolettiin 1958, her parents wanted to know my“nationality.” As I didn’t know I looked throughsome family papers and discovered that mymother’s maiden name was “Cangelosi.”When I asked her why never told us she wasItalian she replied, “We’re not,” explaining thather mother said they were “Sicilian.”


    I thoughtthis was a positive, so I told Suzanne the “goodnews,” which for her un-Sicilian parents wasrather bad. Most of her relatives still think I’mIrish because most of the “mixed marriages”they know of are Irish-Italian.Three decades later, I got a PSC/CUNY grantto do “Photographic Research in SouthernItaly.” Suzanne’s relatives encouraged us tovisit their hometown in Laurino, Province of Salerno.


    A borrowed Italian Auto Club road map showed a direct route from Potenzato Laurino on an ominously colored Strada Provinciale (county road) 11e and 11f. As Idrove I asked pedestrians along the way “È questa strada per Laurino?” But the responseswere incomprehensible: “Si, ma bla, bla, bla,bla.” (“Is this the road to Laurino? Yes, but blah, blah, blah, blah”).


    The road morphedfrom two paved lanes, to two unpavedlanes, to one unimproved lane where weencountered goats and herders. After severalhours of breath-taking views and backbreakingbumps the roadway improved andwe entered Laurino.


    We asked people for the residence of lafamiglia De Gregorio and were energeticallypointed the way to a three-story stuccoedbuilding situated on a steep incline wherewe knocked on the door. The small, yetthree-generation, extended family was justfinishing dinner. When we explained who wewere, they treated us like lost, royal, relatives.The table was quickly re-set and after wefinished eating and drinking we were invitedto stay longer (even a few days).


    We thankedthem for their kind invitation but explainedwe were on our way to meet people inSorrento and needed to make up for the timelost in the mountains. The men took us to abar and introduced to neighbors and friends.There were some tears when we left and wefelt as though we were leaving “home”, butunderstood our real home was in Brooklyn. Back in “The States,” I decided to explore the“conversation” I had with people along Strada provinciale 11 to Laurino. I sent the e-mailmessage below to some of my academicItalian friends.


    Their responses reveal a greatdeal about authentic Italian bontà: Amici/eI need help with a translation of phrase from English into Italian for a paper I am writingabout my own, and my wife Suzanne’s,search for our roots in Italy.


    It regardstraveling to a remote village in Campania(Italy) and asking people along the waywhether this was the road to the town. Thequestion I asked, perhaps incorrectly, was:“E’ questa la strada per Laurino?” The answerin Italian was (credo): “Yes, but you can’t getthere from here.”; “Yes, but you can’t getthere this way.”; or “Yes, but the road turnsinto a goat path” (which it did). Grazie tante, Mino Cangelosi Krase.

    These were the replies:1. “Sì, ma non ci arriva da quì; Sì, ma non è questala strada; Sì, ma la strada diventa una strada dacapre.” Hope to see you soon. All the best MinoVianello.2. Traduzione: “E’ questa la strada per Laurino?Sì, ma non ci si arriva da qui. La strada diventauna mulattiera (mule trail).” Saluti, MaddalenaTirabassi.3. “Sì, ma non ci si arriva da qui; Sì, ma la stradava a finire in un sentiero (but I would not knowhow to translate ‘goat path.’)” Best, CristinaAllemann-Ghionda.4.


    Dear Jerry: My translation: “Sì, ma non ci siarriva da qui; Sì, ma non ci si arriva da questaparte; “Sì, ma la strada diventa una mulattiera.”Best, Stefano Luconi.5. Jerry, I am on my way to Venice for aMA thesis discussion where I acted as cosupervisor.“Si, ma non puoi/può andarci daqui...” Will get back to you soon again, best!Paolo Ruspini.6. The most Italianate response, which Igratefully received from my Italian colleagueswas as follows:Jerry: the question “E’ questa la strada perLaurino?” is perfect, in Italian. The problemis that, encountering a “native” in Italy, thenative — only to be kind — tends to reply to thequestion as if it were: “Is this the one best wayto Laurino?”; so that the reply is: “Ok, this wayis good, inasmuch as it goes to Laurino; the bestway, however, is ...” In fact, replying: “No, it’swrong, the good way is another one” the nativecould have felt uneasy, since the reply would bea bit rude. Anyway: your question was classical;I also would have used the same linguisticform; and I would have had the same reaction. Bye.


    Leonardo Cannavo.I replied to Leonard, thusly: grazie tante, macome si dice in italiano le frase? How would yousay it in Italian? And can I quote you in mypaper? I think your understanding of thesituation is perfect. La tua comprensione dellasituazione è perfetta!To which he wrote:Ok, sorry, I didn’t get the point. The easiesttranslations for the three phrases is asfollows:“Yes, but you can’t get there from here” = “Sì,ma da qui non ci può arrivare.”“Yes, but you can’t get there this way” = “Sì,ma da questa strada non ci può arrivare.”“Yes, but the road turns into a goat path” = “Sì,ma la strada diventa un sentiero per capre.”If you quote me in a paper of yours, it will bean honor; you need not ask for permission.


    Most unfortunately, few methodologists (andconsider that I feel uneasy wearing the hatof a methodologist) refuse to consider thecultural and psychosocial frames of theirjob. Speech interaction is both amusing andrevealing. Bye. L. As a child, I had attended a few Italian“football” weddings, and as an adult I went toa rather unsatisfying Cangelosi reunion, morelike a picnic, in Garfield, New Jersey. I hopedthe Cangelosi clan gathering would be like theSicilian wedding scene from the Godfather,Part II.


    For people like me expectations or“demands” for authentic experiences can’tbe met because we never experienced them.We move through the scenes but have neverbeen, and will never be, part of them. To beAmerican is to be uprooted, if not rootless,in the sense of having roots elsewhere, andour journey in search of our imaginary Italianhome made that clear. In searching formy roots I became an unfortunate pilgrim,because in the final analysis “You can’t getthere from here.”

     

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    Memories of September 11th Past, Present, and .....

    We decided to publish again this blog.  Because 9/11 is still in our minds.

    ---
    Today is September 11, 2009. Eight Years Later and still America has not come to terms with what happened to us and what we did to others as a consequence. I have entered here some of what I wrote immediately after the attack. In addition are some of the hundreds of photos I took in my Park Slope neighborhood a few days after 9/11 and which was misinterpreted by many as simple patriotism as opposed to thoughtful commemoration of the victims and sympathy for friends and family.
     

    On the evening of 9/11, 2001 I received the following message from my niece:

    Subj: Is Everyone Safe????

    Date: 9/11/01 5:37:29 PM Eastern Daylight Time

    From: (Liz) To: (Uncle Johnny), (Uncle Jerry), (Kristen Krase), (Katherine Krase), (Aunt Maryann), (Aunt Suzanne)

    I don’t know where everyone works. Can someone please check in with me and let me know our family is all safe and accounted for. Thank you. Love Liz

    I immediately sent Liz a note and the next day I sent out my own message in the early evening to everyone in my address book and to all the professional association list services to which I subscribed. Here it is:

    Subj: Re: The View from Brooklyn, NYC 

    We live in Brooklyn but the smoke from the fires and dust from the debris coated the neighborhood and we had to close all the windows and people were wearing dust masks on the street. My family is fine but there is so much horror. I spent the day with my three daughters and two grandsons. My wife worked at one of the hospitals receiving some of the bodies and triaged patients. I and my daughters went to the local hospital to give blood but there were so many people who came to contribute their blood that we were told to come back the next day. I have asked everyone to give blood and say prayers. I will go into the college today and see if I can do something meaningful. I am worried about inter-group problems in the city and especially at the university where students had been at each other’s throats over Middle Eastern issues. Jerry
     

    The message continued: I decided to play squash today (September 12, 2001) as I usually do on Wednesday mornings and forgot that when I take the subway there is a point en route which has(d) such a wonderful view of the NYC skyline and the twin towers. As we approached the Smith and Ninth Street Station which reputedly is the world’s highest subway station I moved to the window and almost simultaneously, and in total silence, people got out of their seats and moved to one side of the car. It was the most quiet time I have ever heard on a NYC subway car. I will not take any pictures of any of this as I’ve already seen too much. (I kept this promise by not venturing to the WTC until some years later but instead focused on how ordinary people responded to the tragedy with their own powerful messages. The photo below of the approach to Smith and (th St was taken some months after 9/11)

    In response to my message I received hundreds of responses expressing various degrees of sympathy and support. I was shocked however at the number of people who added a “but” to their notes. As the time from 9/11 and distance from the World Trade Center increased I noticed how much the view of America, especially by Europeans, had radically changed since we were an Ugly but well-intentioned superpower. I naturally assumed that there would be immediate and unequivocal sympathy if not support for the U.S. from among my colleagues. There was for my family, and me but there was too often a qualifier to expressions of compassion. Academics have an annoying tendency to give some kind of informed, objective, emotionless opinion of an historical event and this one was no exception. The messages reminded me that Europeans are keenly aware of and sensitive to American foreign (and military) exploits.

    The images which follow were taken as I walked around my neighborhood in the days immediately after 9/11. They show the ways that ordinary people responded.
     
     

  • Op-Eds

    Part II -- The Unfortunate Pilgrim*: Or You Can’t Get There From Here

  • Op-Eds

    Part I -- The Unfortunate Pilgrim*: Or You Can’t Get There From Here

  • Op-Eds

    Between Columbus and Cuomo



    With the sad announcement of the untimely (only 10 years my senior) death of Mario Cuomo on the same day of the second consecutive inauguration of his son Andrew as Governor of New York State, very important people (VIP), and not so important people (NSIP) like myself are rushing to comment on his legacy. The competion for notice is fierce. I have heard and read many "Odes to Mario" ranging from sour insults to treacly gushes. Like all potentially great people, he and his many parallel lives were complex and will require much more time to appreciate. Therefore, I offer here a small portion of a speech I gave in 1992 decorated with some current and sincere reflections. I began my talk with an observation that remains true today: Five hundred years ago an Italian discovered America. Five hundred years later, Americans have yet to discover Italians.


    A few months ago I attended an event to honor outstanding Italian American students at the CUNY Graduate and University Center. This occasion was one of many sponsored by the John Calandra Italian American Institute over the years. While enjoying the good company and collation, my good friend and colleague, Nick Spilotro, pulled me aside to ask me to address the Italian American Studies Committee of the United Federation of Teachers. He also graciously provided me with the title of my Italian Heritage and Culture Month presentation; "From Columbus to Cuomo." As he expected, I almost immediately began to change the text and the subtext of the Symposium. As I speak to you today, my title stands as not "From Columbus to Cuomo," but "Between Columbus and Cuomo." Who knows what tomorrow may bring. Perhaps next year's title will be "Between Queen Isabella and Geraldine Ferraro."


    As a gubernatorial appointee to the New York Council for the Humanities, some people might assume that I am a close friend, neighbor, or relative of the governor. I am none of these. Speaking honestly, my two most momentous "Cuomoccasions" took place many years ago. The first was in 1977, when he came to Brooklyn College to talk on the student radio station while he was running in the Democratic Primary for Mayor of New York City. Vincent Fuccillo, a professor in the Political Science department, who was then Director of the Center for Italian American Studies, Mario DiSanto, an adjunct faculty member of the Sociology department and a community activist, and I had arranged to meet with him to offer our services as advisors concerning the City University of New York. We also intended to offer ourselves as campaigners. We thought to ourselves: "How could he resist such an array of talent?" Bursting with ethnic pride and hopefulness when we met Cuomo at the school, our egos were quickly deflated when he made it obvious that he felt he knew more about CUNY then we did. Like Christopher Columbus, Mario Cuomo is not easy to love.


    The second Cuomomentous, and happier time in his presence was at the election night celebration after he had won the governorship of the State of New York. Then I stood with a group of ecstatic Italian American campaign workers chanting Ma- Re- O! In that campaign I helped in the Cuomo gubernatorial effort in Brooklyn while assisting in the bruising Congressional fight of Major Owens and the equally challenging Councilmanic race of Sal Albanese. In effect, I was trying to convince both African, and Italian-Americans that "Cuomo was the One." Cuomo's victory was Phoenix-like, rising from the ashes of the mayoral loss (to Ed "I" Koch). Like Columbus, when Cuomo decides to take a trip, he doesn't turn back until he reaches his destination; even if it's not where he thought he was going. Lacking intimacy with the governor, I polled a number of people who know him much better than I do to discover what he is "really" like. After a brief survey I have concluded that the nicest thing I can say about Mario Cuomo can be summed up in the word "Matilda." By the way (BTW), to this I received sustained, but cautious, applause.



    With his passing, whether he would have liked it or, more likely, not Mario Cuomo becomes a member of my personal batting lineup (he preferred professional baseball to politics) of Italian American political All-Stars, among whom are left-handed, right-handed, and switch hitters Fiorello La Guardia, Vito Marcantonio, John Marchi, Ella Grasso, and Geraldine Ferraro.


    As to the essence of Mario Cuomo: the more people disagreed with him, the more he was convinced he was right --- and he usually was. And, whatever personal faults he proudly displayed, as his archenemy Ed Koch (whom I doubt he will encounter is his afterlife) would have said "we should be so lucky."







  • Op-Eds

    Saint Francis Comes to Brooklyn

    Last week I received a last-minute invitation from Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and "The Committee for Frate Francesco” to attend the grand opening of the historic “Frate Francesco: Friar Francis: Traces, Words, Images “exhibition on Tuesday, December 12th.   The impressive four-page e-mail attachment declared it was “a non-transferrable, attendance strictly limited invitation” to which I promptly replied, explaining to my wife that I had to go it alone. However, when I got to Brooklyn Borough Hall early, as I usually am, I discovered that I was inexplicably “not on the list.” Having a lot of prior experience not being a V.I.P., I was not the least bit surprised; but also grateful that I was able to convince a somewhat befuddled staff member that “there must have been a mistake (which wasn’t mine).”

    Actually I’ve know the last two Brooklyn “Beeps" (BPs), Howard Golden and Marty Markowitz, pretty well and being accidentally left off an "invitees only" list was old hat for me. Other than letting me in without an invite, the security arrangements were unusually high tech. I had been given the once over with a beeping wand by a very friendly cop even before I got to the “sign in” table, and saw more police and security staff than ever before. Thanks to the wanding, I found some lost change and a few hearing aid batteries. After being admitted I was given a blue wristband that gave me entry to the guarded exhibit. I explained to the wristbander that the color blue (azzurro) was the Italian national color.
     

    Almost immediately after the formal program, I was greeted by the new, and First  African American, Beep, Eric L. Adams. As a major part of his job is being multicultural I reminded him that the last time I spoke to him was at the St. Patrick’s Day brunch of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. On that day, he, Marty Markowitz, and I were honorarily Irish. During this very Brooklyn reception I met some old, and made some new friends. One of my newest friends is, Jocelyn A. Cooper, the daughter of Andrew W. Cooper. He was a journalist and founder of the City Sun, an Afro-American-oriented newspaper that he used to relentlessly campaign for racial justice.  In the 1960s Cooper filed a lawsuit against the Federal government challenging the racially biased Congressional District lines in Brooklyn.  This led to the creation of new districts and the election of Shirley Chisolm, the first Black female, to the U.S. Congress. Later, while grazing through the exquisitely presented Umbrian regional delicacies, I found my old friend Cav. Joseph Bova, Democratic District Leader, 49AD.  This includes the diverse communities of Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights and Sunset Park. He re-introduced me to Joseph Rizzo, whom I knew when he was a student at Brooklyn College. Joseph provided the Italian to English and English to Italian translations for both the crowd and the many dignitaries during the formal program.
     

    The Frate Francesco exhibition had its U.S. debut at the United Nations, and it was the first time outside of Italy. To paraphrase the late Brooklyn College President, Robert L. Hess “If you want to go far, all you have to do is come to Brooklyn.” While sampling some tasty farro I bumped into a Swedish tourism writer with whom I shared opinions on immigrants in Gothenburg and Stockholm, the Wallander television crime series, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo film. On another table, Umbrian wines were being Poured by a “Mediterranean-Looking,” young man. “Are you Italian?” I asked in Italian (Lei e Italiano?) and English. “No. I’m Croatian” he said. “Hvala”(thanks), I replied.  A decade after the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement I participated in some reconciliation workshops in Croatia (Dubrovnik) and Bosnia/Herzogovina (Konjic). NATO (IFOR) “peace keeping” forces were still there. He said he was born after the war in Banja Luka. The city was the site of some of the worst ethnic cleansing, concentration camps, and several massacres. With all the gentrification and displacement going on in Brooklyn it’s nice to know it is still a safe haven for some people. After filling my wine glass, a few times, I met a Polish travel agent with whom I used my limited (mowie troche po Polsku) Polish. I told her how much I loved my visits to Poland and especially my brief stint as a visiting professor at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow.  As we continued our conversation she brought me over and introduced me to her foreign tourist agent friends. Two were Italian and the other a Chinese woman (nie hao ma?) who claimed descent from the Chinese Imperial family. They talked excitedly about how Brooklyn had become a favored global tourist destination and how good it was for their business. “Brooklyn is the new Paris,” I said half-jokingly.
     

    Before I left I climbed the grand Borough Hall staircase to see the carefully planned exhibition of some of the oldest and most precious books, letters, and manuscripts relating to Saint Francis of Assisi and the order he founded. The illuminated manuscripts and correspondence were displayed inside glass cases placed upon wooden desks that simulated those used by the monks who carefully inscribed the documents. Mounted panels told the story of Saint Francis and the production of the numerous 12th and 13th-century documents, papal bulls and manuscripts. When I entered several guides were taking people around and explaining the works to adults, as well as a few well-behaved children who accompanied them. The scene, minus the blackened fingers and tongues of the monks, vaguely reminded me of the movie The Name of Rose based on Umberto Ecco’s novel.
     

                 After all the great (free) food and drinks and conviality, I have to say that for me at least the highlight of the evening was the reading during the opening ceremony by my fellow Brooklynite John Torturro of the “Prayer of Saint Francis.”

    Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;

    Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

    Where there is injury, pardon;

    Where there is discord, harmony;

    Where there is error, truth;

    Where there is doubt, faith;

    Where there is despair, hope;

    Where there is darkness, light;

    And where there is sadness, joy.

    O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

    To be consoled as to console;

    To be understood as to understand;

    To be loved as to love.

    For it is in giving that we receive;

    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

    And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
     

    By the way, did I mention that my Confirmation name was Francis?

  • Op-Eds

    Peacemaking in the City

    My good friend, and fellow half-Italian, Paul Moses recently published The Saint and the Sultan in which he wrote: “If the greatest Christian saint since the time of the apostles had opposed the Crusade and peacefully approached Muslims at a time when they were supposed to be mortal enemies, that action can inspire and instruct us today...

    The story of Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malik al-Kamil says there is a better way than resentment, suspicion and warfare. It opens the door to respect, trust and peace. It needs to be told anew.”

    The potential for violence

    The neighborhoods in which I lived as a child were noted for gang violence. Venturing out of the Red Hook low-income housing projects was dangerous as it was surrounded by Irish, Italian, Puerto Rican, and “mixed” gangs who, when not fighting each other, found kids from “the projects” an acceptable alternative to assaulting each other.

    When we moved to the edge of Bedford-Stuyvesant in the 1950s, African Americans were added to the multiethnic menu of gangs one had to avoid travelling beyond the block.
     

    The history of bias-related crimes in New York presents glaring evidence of inter-group fear, hostility and potential for violence. No ethnic group has been immune. An internet search of local newspapers for inter-ethnic violence incidents over the past two years give this partial listing of polarities: Asian-Black, Asian-Hispanic, Asian-White, Black- Jewish, Hispanic-Jewish, and Indian-White. Most recent additions are anti-Muslim.  

    Victims and victimizers

    Italian Americans have often been in the middle of these conflicts as both victims and victimizers. The most iconic, was the murder of Yusuf Hawkins, an African American youth, in Bensonhurst in 1989. Warren Strugatch’s “Bensonhurst: Cartoon Sociology Masquerades as Solid Reporting,” captured the essence of the global media’s view of the neighborhood “inhabited almost entirely” by unemployed 18 to 22 year old men dressed in “tank tops and T-shirts who were proud of their whiteness and don’t like blacks.” Also easily found were “…

    elderly ladies who sell sausages at church-sponsored street fairs and retired gentlemen who linger outside the local members-only social clubs before entering to sip cappuccino in the semi-darkness.”

    He asked: “Where were the people who could speak in complete sentences? Evidently, articulate community leaders were not on street corners, and so they were not interviewed.” (1989). As usual, the bigoted trombones attracted the most media attention. In any case, if you asked people to list the most prominent qualities of Italian Americans “peacemaker” and “children of God,” (Matthew 5:9) would not be on the top of the list.
     

    Hawkins’ Brooklyn murder almost marked the Centennial of when eleven Sicilians were lynched in New Orleans. Even as victims rather than perpetrators, the reputation of Italian Americans was less than stellar.

    Theodore Roosevelt considered their lynching “rather a good thing” and The New York Times agreed, “the Lynch Law was the only course open to the people of New Orleans.”

    However, to preserve American honor President Benjamin Harrison apologized to the Italian government for the slaughter of these and other Italians in America and gave a $25,000 indemnity to the families of 18 victims. A few years later Gaetano Russo’s monument was erected as part of New York’s 1892 Quadricentennial Columbus celebration.

    Doing the right things
    Much of the reason for seeing more Francis Albert Sinatra than Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone in Italian Americana is that people don’t know where to look. Assemblyman Frank Barbaro led Italian- American community leaders and an Italian American student group (FIERI) to meet with African-American protest marchers at the site of Yusuf Hawkins murder as part of a continuing dialogue.

    The American Italian Historical Association, Italian American Writers Association, and Italian Americans for a Multicultural United States (IAMUS) were also being active in this regard. In the more distant past, other Francis-like leaders in New York City have been Mother Frances X. Cabrini, Fiorello LaGuardia, Leonard Covello, and Vito Marcantonio. Mario and Matilda Cuomo have been a special couple promoting better inter-group relations.

    As exceptions often prove the rule, despite his unsaintly reputation, Mayor Rudy Giuliani applauded the efforts of Community Understanding for Racial and Ethnic Equality and the Coalition of Italian American Organizations (CIAO) to build bridges between groups. He stated: “You understand all of the things that make the Italian- American community unique, and make us all so proud of our culture, but you also realize that New York City is strong because of how people from different cultures and backgrounds come together and learn about each other.”
    (Mayor’s Press Office, 1998)

    CIAO’s founder Mary Sansone established the first Afro American-Hispanic-Italian coalition with Monsignor Geno Baroni and Bayard Rustin, and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. As to mediating problems people thought were based on religious, racial or ethnic discrimination she noted: “As with most conflicts or disagreements, they were based on simple misunderstandings or a lack of facts.” (2006) Like CIAO, which was established to serve needy Italian Americans, the American Italian Coalition of Organizations, that I helped to found in 1977, continues its mission of service today in Brooklyn but to others such as the Chinese elderly at its 59th Street Senior Citizen Center and the children of Afro American and Latino families at its Court Street Day Center.
     

     
    Two top Italian peacemakers
    If I had to choose two from among many Italian American New Yorkers who would look good wearing Franciscan robes it would be my Facebook friend Diane Savino and my ex-neighbor Mayor Bill de Blasio. New York State Senator Savino has been deftly managing ethnic divisions in rapidly changing Staten Island while leading the passage of The Compassionate Care Act making medical marijuana available especially needed by cancer patients. As to bridging ethnic, racial, and religious differences in New York City, De Blasio has been applauded for simultaneously combating anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. If that’s not enough for sainthood, I don’t know what is.  

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