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Articles by: Letizia Airos
Life & People
He seems like a typical Californian, tanned and healthy. You could run into him at the beach without even realizing that you have something in common. But it wouldn’t be the same thing if you ran into him at the supermarket. His shopping cart would definitely “speak Italian.”
Larry Guidi, with his family originally from Bagni di Lucca, has a subtle Tuscan inflection when he speaks Italian. He is the mayor of Hawthorne, a city in southwetern Los Angeles.
We sat down with him and his relatives in the garden at his home and from there we headed to a restaurant – needless to say, an Italian one.
His story begins with his father. In 1953, not finding any work in Italy, he decided to reunite with family members who lived in Limano and then with his brother in America. “He came to see my uncle who was already working in North America. I was born here in ’56. I am an American son. The Golden Boy. My father worked very hard and lived in a three-room house with seven others.”
The mayor remembers those times. “My uncle moved from Buffalo to Los Angeles. Even in the west there wasn’t any work. And for me, it was hard growing up in the Los Angeles area. We were always foreigners; they frequently used the term ‘mafioso.’ This was when I was little and I was going to school. Growing up, it was difficult for Italians to find work. I suffered many attacks in this sense.”
The decision to enter politics wasn’t an easy one. “I succeeded in gaining respect in the world of work and times seemed to be changing. But this wasn’t the case for political life. Larry Guidi, who no one knew, was a gangster.”
Public life remained difficult for an Italian. For Guidi, negative stereotypes strongly persist and are used by the opposing side. “For this reason I support NIAF; I have never watched the Sopranos. I do it on principle”
His last name, Guidi, can be a play on the word “guidos.” “They still attack me as if I were the Godfather. Not watching the Sopranos is my own personal way of boycotting. The mafia is not only Italian, but it is present in other countries such as Mexico and Russia. But here it’s still associated with Italy…with the Sopranos, enormous pinky rings, open shirts, gold chains…” We point out that Italians are loved in California nevertheless.
“Yes, it’s true, everyone loves Italy. But I am a politician and a politician always has adversaries ready to attack him. There are as many prejudices as there could be, especially in electoral races. They called me every name in the book. They attacked me as an Italian.”
The mayor of Hawthorne also speaks Italian well. “My mother taught it to me to the point where she didn’t make me speak English until the third grade. To this day she still speaks Italian when she gets excited. Many Italians changed their names but that wasn’t the case for me; my name is Guidi. I read a lot in Italian. I’ve recently begun to force myself to write in Italian thanks to the Internet.”
Italy runs deep inside of him. “I try to go back every year. I take a lot of photos. Italian architecture fascinates me. America destroys its own history. In my own way, I try to maintain Italian culture at home.”
There is also a connection to Mussolini in his family.
“My father was a soldier in the Duce’s army in Libya and I’m a distant relative of Rachele Guidi, his wife. Every time I go back to Bagni di Lucca, doors open because of my name. They say that I’m a distant cousin. My uncle knew the real story, but he passed away.”
His family wasn’t involved in politics before him. “I like Italian politics. In Italy, I’d go with Berlusconi. He’s a typical Italian. He has the same problems as Obama. People can agree or not agree. They both have several problems to solve, and they are both afraid to make decisions. Berlusconi started with a hard line but he now seems to have eased up. Immigration must be handled with a firm hand.”
Guidi is categorical on this issue. We ask him how a child of immigrants can think this way about other immigrants. Wouldn’t this experience imply more sensitivity?
“When we came here we were bound by quotas for Italians. They could control our arrival, and we would do the work that no one else wanted to do. Today it’s still necessary to control the flow of migration. We can’t encourage them to come without providing homes, jobs, healthcare. This is what I oppose.”
“The government cannot allow people to come into the country without knowing how to give them with what they need. In Florence, for example, I saw counterfeit merchandise being sold outside of a Gucci shop. It’s wrong for the economy, for the people who pay taxes, for everyone. We need to fix the problem!”
“We have a similar problem here in America. We must legalize the immigrants we need and take away the false hopes. Everyone wants to come to America, but it’s also a question of security. They can successfully bring in illegal fireworks for holidays. Who knows what else they can bring.”
We go into more detail and discuss the image of Italian-Americans in his line of work. “I consider myself moderate; I try to strike a balance. Nothing is black and white, especially when you are dealing with multiculturalism as we are today.”
He talks about his mother’s fascination with Kennedy and the importance for a politician to have charisma. We ask him point-blank if the he thinks he has this charisma as well.
“Charisma means that people listen to you when you speak, that they look you in the eyes and understand that you want to help them; it means being heard. It means to be recognized as a fair person. Kennedy had it. As far as whether or not I have it, that’s a difficult question to answer. They’ve told me that a mayor like me is either loved or hated, that there is no in between. For the rest, there are people who condemn me and people who work very hard on my behalf. I have suffered every possible attack. But in the end I think that this is why I’ve been at it for 18 years. When I started I had no particular political aspirations. I’m still intimidated by crowds but I must be strong.”
And now he uses his Italian heritage as a source of strength.
“I am proud of my heritage. Everyone knows that I am an Italian mayor.” He continues to talk in the garden at his home, in front of an espresso machine and a huge collection of espresso cups. “I’ve never forgotten where I came from; I’ve eaten pasta and polenta. And family is very important to us. My granddaughter loves caciocavallo and she eats mozzarella. My wife is Dutch, but she cooks Italian – lasagna, sausage and peppers, even rabbit until someone made a comment about Bugs Bunny…. My mother made gnocchi.”
“Every Sunday I have at least 30 family members over at my house, food and wine on the table for everyone. But no smoking and no piercings.”
Guidi continues to bring his Italian heritage to his political activities, almost to the point of mocking every stereotype.
“I’ve organized many initiatives that have distinguished me as an Italian mayor. For example, I created a space for the elderly to play bocce, the Italian festival, and a spaghetti contest – a pound of spaghetti eaten with no hands… I promote my culture for my family, my children, my grandchildren.”
He makes an espresso for us with mastery. Despite so much time he has spent in the United States, we can see that he operates as a true expert. He even warms the cup before pouring the coffee.
There are many Italian elements in his house, ornaments, paintings, a puppet that sings “That’s Amore” which his granddaughter adores, a garden full of fruit and vegetables.
“I wouldn’t change any of this…. If someone said to me, ‘I’ll make you an American Yankee,’ I’d say no. I love being Italian. I was the first in my family to become an elected official and unfortunately my father passed away before then.”
Does he think the United States will ever have a president of Italian descent?
“After Obama, anything is possible. Even I can. Up until recently no one wanted an African-American. He opened the door for every ethnic group.”
He goes on with pride: “In 18 years they have used every stereotype to fight me…. They said I was Capone’s grandson… Today I have made my being Italian-American a point of strength. I have overturned every stereotype. The message that I want to share is never allow anyone to use your culture against you. So, there’s the Italian festival, the spaghetti contest, the mozzarella factory….”
Yes, the mozzarella factory. Guidi has devoted a lot to the opening of the first Italian mozzarella factory in Los Angeles and perhaps in the United States. Real machinery and real professionals who make mozzarella in Campania have been imported directly from Italy.
He is determined: “I want to bring truffles here; I want to open a production company to make olive oil just as it’s made in Italy. I want to help develop an industrial sector that is truly Italian. I want to bring the real Italy here.”
We leave his energy and his authentic Italian-American story with Italy running deep inside of him.
(Special thanks to Darrell Fusaro)
Art & Culture
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.
Facts & Stories
The English translation of Italici is the fruit of a fortunate encounter between the Italian/American Digital Project and that side of Piero Bassetti’s multifaceted personality that led to the foundation of “Globus et Locus” 10 years ago.
A few months ago Bassetti–a renowned entrepreneur, politician, and a public intellectual–invited us to the headquarters of Globus et Locus in Milan, after discovering i-Italy.org on the Web. There, we had a rich exchange of opinions on what turned out to be a mission we deeply share: the creation of a virtual network for “Italic encounters.”
He told us that he had been waiting for years to assist in the spontaneous creation “from the bottom” of the first nodes of that network, and singled out i-Italy.org as one of them. We were flattered by his appreciation: we were aware that Piero Bassetti had been working for years on the theme of Italicity. We also knew that he approaches it in a provocative way—outside of the classical schemes, relieved from the inflated registers sometimes utilized in institutional discourse, and also from the most common stereotypes.
As editors of i-Italy, we are aware that the creation of an authoritative point of encounter, information and communication on the Web for the Italic community is not only possible, but it is a strongly-felt necessity. Together with our bloggers, readers, and on-line community members we have been working at this for over a year in order to lay the first bricks of the kind of Italy-city this book proposes. This is why, brief but incisive as it is, this book immediately caught our attention.
True, when we offered to explore the possibility to publish it in English, we already knew we had a good chance: we were certain that the most authoritative member and co-founder of the Italian/American Digital Project, Anthony Julian Tamburri, Dean of CUNY’s John D. Calandra Italian American Institute and codirector of the Bordighera Press with Fred Gardaphe and Paolo Giordano, would have been enthusiastic about it. The Italian/ American cultural community, which has provided inspiration and support to many of our initiatives, seemed the perfect environment to start this dialogue.
We turned out to be right, and thus the book you hold in your hands now is the product of just two months of intense collaboration with Piero Bassetti–via the Internet, of course. We invite the English native reader—who will find him/herself to be an “Italic” right from the very first pages—to approach this book not as a plea for the revival of some sort of exclusive sense of ethnic belonging, but rather as a sort of textbook for the cosmopolitan Italic citizen of the Third Millennium, one who feels his to be part of a constantly growing network of multiple, intertwined, g-local identities.
From the "Preface" to Italici. An Encounter with Piero Bassetti, by Paolino Accolla & Niccolò d'Aquino (Bordighera Press, 2008).
Abbiamo incontrato presso la sede di i-Italy l’assessore al lavoro con delega all’emigrazione della Regione Sicilia, Carmelo Incardona.
Ha deciso di venire negli USA, dopo solo due mesi dal suo insediamento, in occasione delle celebrazioni italiane del mese di ottobre: "Venire a New York è un obbligo per chi si occupa di emigrazione. Per la Sicilia l'emigrazione è una pagina della storia con risvolti tristi, ma al tempo stesso è motivo di orgoglio per l’affermazione dei nostri corregionali all'estero.”
Con grande energia Incardona, senza mezzi termini, mette in chiaro il suo impegno per promuovere l’immagine di una regione, che deve essere conosciuta come realtà del presente e del futuro."Vogliamo accompagnare le antiche tradizioni con le novità culturali che ci sono in Sicilia, con produzioni di qualità del territorio e vogliamo cominciare dalla nostra collettività, da tutti i siciliani egli amanti della Sicilia. Sono loro i nostri primi ambasciatori del Made in Siclily nel mondo".Un po’ provocatoriamente gli chiediamo: cosa c’è dopo il carretto siciliano, simbolo spesso abusato dell’isola più grande del Mediterraneo?Dopo il carretto ci sono grossi cambiamenti. Sono stati fatti tanti sforzi. Prima di tutto per le infrastutture. Abbiamo completato diverse opere, alcune sono in corso di realizzazione. Chiaramente c’è ancora molto da fare, ma è normale se si vuole essere al passo con la società moderna.Nella nostra isola c’è una qualità della vita molto elevata. Con il carretto si immagina ancora una Sicilia analfabeta, povera, non è piu così. Accanto alle tre università tradizionali (Catania, Messina e Palermo) si sono aggiunti consorzi in quasi tutte le province. Ragusa ha un consorzio, anche la piccola delle province siciliane, Enna, ha una grande università privata.La formazione ha avuto una grande crescita in Sicilia e sta cambiando intensamente la regione. Probabilmente oggi ci sono molti (o forse) troppi laureati per la ricettività del mercato. E certo questo è un problema, la Sicilia esporta all’estero le cosiddette “menti”, i cervelli formati nei nostri atenei.Abbiamo poi strutture alberghiere all’avanguardia che garantiscono servizi ad alto livello. Anche le più piccole uniscono ad un’accoglienza di tipo familiare tutti i confort che un turista può desiderare.Un’altra cosa importante è che la Sicilia prende sempre maggiore consapevolezza dei suoi beni architettonici e paesaggistici. Esistono percorsi molto interessanti dove turismo vuol dire anche cultura, conoscenza intelligente del territorio.Quello che manca ancora è un’azione coordinata e sinergica per la promozione della Sicilia. Un esempio, al Columbus Day, ci siamo presentati in mille associazioni diverse senza coordinamento. Questo danneggia la nostra immagine oltre a rappresentare un unitile spreco di risorse.Dobbiamo proporre la nuova Sicilia, quella che ha come eroi Falcone e Borsellino. Quella che fa della legalità non solo il principio ispiratore dell’azione di governo ma anche un fondamenale fattore di sviluppo. Quindi dobbiamo presentare la nostra immagine nuova, più corrispondente alla sostanza attuale. Dobbiamo quindi riformarci anche su attività di tipo culturale. Utilizzando diversi canali.”Cosa mi dice di questo nuova fiction ambientata in Sicilia “Agrodolce”?Può essere un buon canale?“Non l’ho vista, ma condivido l’iniziativa. Quando si fa un film, o una fiction, che ha per oggetto i siciliani non si può pensare sempre alla coppola, al carretto, alla lupara, alle strade non asfaltate... oggi è tutto diverso. Ha per esempio avuto una grande importanza per noi la fiction “Montalbano” tratta dai romanzi di Camilleri. A Ragusa abbiamo incrementato la presenza turistica. Le bellezze della Sicilia, ma partendo da un’immagine positiva. Se una persona si deve spostare da New York vuole andare in un posto dove si sente al sicuro!”In Sicilia c’è un grosso fermento artistico soprattutto tra giovani. Intendete promuoverlo all’estero?“Si bisogna portare qui i giovani che fanno rock. Che spesso può voler dire musica tradizionale siciliana in chiave moderna. Il rock nella nostra regione subisce l’influenza del passato ed è diverso da qualsiasi altro. Vorremmo fare di New York il palcoscenico per il lancio della nostra isola con testimonianze di caratura internazionale del mondo dello sport, scienza, spettacolo, arte per far conoscere la cultura siciliana di oggi.”Questo non si può fare senza un grande lavoro di lancio commerciale?“Lavoreremo con le Camere di Commercio sul territorio siciliano e con quella italoamericana di New York. Ovviamente anche con le istituzioni qui rappresentate come l’ Ice, Istituto di Cultura, Enit e Consolato. Vogliamo sollecitare investimenti statunitensi nell'isola, contribuendo anche allo scambio culturale di giovani tra le due sponde dell'Atlantico. Intendiamo facilitare il percorso burocratico degli investitori stranieri. Da anni si parla dell'istituzione dello "sportello unico" di cui anche la Sicilia deve ancora dotarsi.”Un’altra domanda un po’ provocatoria. Ha sicuramente visitato associazioni siciliane nell’area. Quanti giovani ha visto?“Nessuno. E’ ed perché ai giovani non interessa più il carretto... Lo stesso padre, nonno rifiuta il carretto, nonostante ne sia affezionato. Non vuole tornare in Sicilia, vuole rimanere qui negli Stati Uniti.Non so io stesso ho un figlio di 11 anni. Lui mi dice, quando mi vede manovrare con il telefonino, il pc: papà tecnologia, zero?Questo vuol dire che guarda avanti rispetto a me, rispetto a ciò che io rappresento. Riproporre il carretto significa riproporre il passato.”Però da parte dei giovani italo-americani rimane un grande amore per l’Italia e per la terra di appartenenza.“Si lo so, ma ci vuole una proposta seria che magari coniughi tradizione e modernità.”Ma allora torniamo al carretto. Se lei dovesse mettere un’immagine al posto del carretto cosa metterebbe?“L’arma dei Carabinieri. Oggi ci sono tanti giovani che denunciano. Ad esempio a Palermo hanno costituito un’associazione che si chiama “Addio pizzo” per tentare di sensibilizzare i commercianti a non pagare il pizzo. I giovani oggi hanno come eroi Falcone e Borsellino. Si l’Arma dei Carabinieri come simbolo di una Sicilia che impegna tante risorse nella legalità e nell’educazione alla legalità.”Queale è il bilancio delle sue giornate americane. Che impressione ha avuto?“In questi giorni mi sono fatto un’idea migliore su come organizzare la presenza siciliana qui. Ho avuto contatti istituzionali importanti, sono stato alle Nazioni Unite, ho visitato la comunità siciliana di Brooklyn, poi nel New Jersey, qui al Calandra Institute ho parlato a lungo con il dean, Anthony Tamburri, ho visto rappresentanti eletti del Cgie, Comites, dei Carabinieri, ho dell'associazionismo, ho parlato con la gente. Ho potuto riflettere sull’immagine della nostra regione qui. Era importante venire, soprattutto per il Columbus Day, quando le tutte le migliori energie vengono spese per promuovere l’Italia.Ho scelto New York perchè è la più grande vetrina. Se vogliamo riproporre una nuova immagine della Sicilia dobbiamo partire da qui, nel centro commerciale e culturale del mondo. Vorrei usare un paragone; se una cosa esiste oggi, deve stare in TV. Allo stesso modo per far esistere la nuova Sicilia, bisogna farla esistere a New York. E l’anno prossimo poporrò l’arma dei carabinieri come nostra immagine. Nella tradizione antica i Siciliani invece erano visti ostili all’arma. Oggi ne vogliono l’amicizia e la vicinanza.”
Palermo. "Festa in piazza Politeama (09.27.2008). From Radio 105 - Flickr Image
Life & People
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
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
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…”