Articles by: Anthony j. Tamburri

  • Facts & Stories

    Mother Cabrini, the Saint of Italians in America

    Frances Xavier Cabrini, born in the province of Lodi in Lombardy, eventually came to the United States toward the end of the nineteenth century. It was due to total serendipity that she became the saint for Italian immigrants in this country.

    It is also a sweet paradox that she, from the north, arrived during the great wave of southern Italian emigration to the United States. Having taken her vows in 1877, three years later she and six other nuns founded the religious institute Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As we read erlier, wanting to provide help to immigrants beginning in the U.S., Pope Leo XIII suggested instead that she go west, where, according to him, the already thousands of Italian immigrants in the U.S. were in great need of assistance. Mother Cabrini and six others arrived in the United States in 1889 and hit the ground running, so to speak.

    As they did in Italy, here, too, Mother Cabrini and her team founded the requisite housing, a series of schools and orphanages, and the necessary hospitals that chiefly served the Italian immigrant communities. Actions supported by the Church, for sure, but actions also emblematic of what Italians can do in order to help other Italians in need.

    In all, they founded close to 70 institutions of all types in numerous cities throughout the United States — Chicago and New York the two principal cities associated with Mother Cabrini today, as well as Cabrini College in Pennsylvania. Undoubtedly, Mother Cabrini was an exemplar of all things possible and thus a symbol of hope for all. She herself had crossed the ocean in 1889 and, in so doing, had followed the same route that thousands of other immigrants had and were taking.

    Privileged as she was in her role as nun — and let us underscore at this juncture her gender — she was a woman of great acumen, having succeeded in overcoming great obstacles of the time and demonstrating how all things were possible. In this sense, then, she was also an example of how one can get things done and, more important, how we can still today — and let us say should — open doors for all people who are in need of such assistance. Her legacy clearly lives on both within and beyond the Italian/ American community.

    Italian Americans continue to serve and donate to many Catholic and social institutions today, at times even beyond. If there is one thing to bemoan, it is that her medical institutions of New York — Columbus Hospital and the Italian Hospital, which eventually became the Cabrini Medical Center — could not be sustained and consequently closed in 2008. Nonetheless, Mother Cabrini remains that shining light not only for all those whom she helped, but, to be sure, that exemplar par excellence that we, today, should emulate for the dedication so necessary to get things done for the better good.

  • Facts & Stories

    Mario Cuomo: 1932-2015. Some Personal Reflections

    In my eight years in New York I have had the distinct pleasure, indeed the privilege, of having spent a number of occasions in conversation with Mario Cuomo. They were moments of all sorts, such as the following three: an interview under the spotlights of Italics during a NIAF New York event; a private moment outside the large dining room before he was to celebrate Geraldine Ferraro at a NOIAW luncheon; close to an hour chatting with him while we waited for the arrival of Italy’s then prime minister Mario Monti.

    During all of these occasions and others, two things stood out: one, he gave you his undivided attention, contrary to some others who often look over your shoulder as they react to something you have said; two, he truly listened to what you said, not just to react to it, but indeed to parse what you said in his response to you, in his attempt to uncover, together with you, the essence that undergirded the argument at hand. These are my first reactions to hearing of his death a few hours ago.

    Among the many things he is known to have said, his statement to the New Republic, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose,” seems one of the more demonstrative, lyrical phrases of who he was. The rhetorical beatitude of poetry and the practical elegance of prose perhaps best exemplify his profound understanding of the human condition. He was, for sure, the last big-hearted liberal of our times.

    He sprang onto the national scene in 1984, with his famous speech at the Democratic Convention. It was then, in that speech, that the entire United States finally saw the elegance of his rhetoric and the substance of his humanity that New Yorkers and their surrounding neighbors had already witnessed on numerous occasions. It was then, on that national stage, where he rebuked the individualism of the 1980s that was beginning to insinuate itself into the social fabric of the US; he especially underscored said social ill with his “Tales of two cities” reference, defending instead the “family of the United States,” in which we should all look out for each other. Such an idea he defined in his 1984 Iona College commencement speech, as he described “what a proper government should be: the idea of family, mutuality, the sharing of benefits and burdens for the good of all, feeling one another's pain, sharing one another's blessings — reasonably, honestly, fairly, without respect to race, or sex, or geography, or political affiliation.”

    He was, surely, an inclusive liberal, believing in the freedom of the individual as well as the government’s guarantees of individual rights and liberties: a form of government, namely, that was free of prejudice and bigotry, and that allowed freedom of action with specific regard to issues of personal expression and beliefs. He underscored as much in his 1983 inauguration speech as governor of New York:  “I believe government’s purpose, basically, is to allow those blessed with talent to go as far as they can on their own. But I believe government also has an obligation to assist those who for whatever inscrutable reason have been left out by fate – the homeless, the infirmed, the destitute – to help provide those necessary things, which through no fault of their own they cannot provide for themselves.”

    Indeed, he believed in the power of individuals to achieve, as we saw above. But he also believed in the power of individuals to practice their own beliefs in concomitance with others. Cuomo’s insistence on such liberties of religious expression was, one might say, stronger than his own Catholicism. Or, better still, we can say that he saw the former as an issue regarding the polis, whereas the latter was an issue regarding the individual, and the polis in this case should prevail. Challenged by his own archbishop in this regard back in 1984, Cuomo delivered yet another landmark speech at the University of Notre Dame that same year. In underscoring his distinction between the individual and the whole, he stated: “I protect my right to be a Catholic by preserving your right to believe as a Jew, a Protestant, or non-believer, or as anything else you choose. We know that the price of seeking to force our beliefs on others is that they might some day force theirs on us. This freedom is the fundamental strength of our unique experiment in government. In the complex interplay of forces and considerations that go into the making of our laws and policies, its preservation must be a pervasive and dominant concern.”

    I shall leave it to the political pundits to tease out his legacy in that regard. I shall also leave it to my reader to ponder the fact that my citations come from Mario Cuomo’s talks in 1983 and 1984.

    Those years were, for sure, changing times; and Cuomo’s voice was much needed. He was undoubtedly convinced of his Democratic ideals, but he was also open-minded and not bound by convention. He was, by all we have seen of and heard from him, that beacon of light for acceptance of all during an era when the shadow of self-absorbing individualism was looming ever so widely, overcoming notions of common or collective interests, and the inclusive pronoun “we,” which Cuomo so often underscored, was losing out to the exclusive singular pronoun “I”. With his death, we lost our true liberal lion, someone who always put the “we” before the “I.”

    It is said that when he was once asked what he wanted on his tombstone, he responded with two words: “He tried!” Indeed, he did! And in so doing, he succeeded like very few have.
    We shall miss both the eloquence and elegance of his speech and action.

    Antony J. Tamburri, Dean
    The John D. Calandra Italian American Institute
    Queens College
    The City University of New York

  • Life & People

    Once Upon a Piazza

    My first experience with an Italian piazza was, to my surprise, the only piazza in the town that I had visited back in 1970. Then, that small town in Lazio, Settefrati, at the top of the mountains in the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, had a winter population of a few hundred people. Fortunately, I got there in July.

    That piazza became, for me, a meeting place of the town’s citizens, from contadini (yes, there were still genuine contadini at that time) to the town’s pezzi da novanta, which included, first and foremost, the priest, someone I remember as a middle-aged man named Don Antonio. (He took a liking to me because, I guess, we shared the same moniker.) Also included in this group was, naturally, the mayor. (Yes, this little mountain town is its own comune and has its own mayor, as well as a few frazioni!).Then there were a few members of the town, such as a prominent family or two, the barber who, at that time, had the only public phone in town (one of the very few phones at all in those years…), and a relative or two of mine from my home town here in the States. And, of course, my grandfather, who had spent close to two decades, at that time, traveling to and fro because he had retired from Con. Ed. in the 1950s.
    That piazza was basically the town’s central nerve system. The only bar/caffè was there; the only alimentare was there; the post office was there; the barbershop/centralino was there; and the municipio and pro loco were also located there. As a consequence, if you needed to take care of business, you could basically go to city hall and get the documents you needed, then proceed to the post office for a stamp, and ultimately mail them. Once that series of tasks was completed, you could then proceed to the barbershop to call whoever was to receive your letter. In the meantime, if so desired, you could even get a coffee for that morning or afternoon pick-me-up. Or, if there were some special event going on, you might get a trim either before or after your phone call, in order to look ever the more dapper for later on.
    Yet, that piazza was, and remains, more than just the functional nervous system of the paese. It was where just about everyone ended up after dinner, somewhere between 8 and 9 PM, dressed well, though not necessarily to the nines; that was reserved for those special Sunday events. During these evening promenades, all sorts of other town business took place. Chats were held, for example, about what to do with the laundry fountain, located literally underneath the piazza. Yes, there was still, at that time, a functional public laundry fountain, where the proverbial lavandaie engaged their craft: cleaning clothes and, some would say gossiping, as they shared town news! Depending on the time of year, discussions on the annual feast of the Madonna di Canneto took place; a feast that lasts from the 14th to the 29th of August. Actually, two Madonnas inhabit the area: one ceramic, which spends most of the year in a sort of tabernacle in the church in town that overlooks the piazza; the other, a black Madonna that resides higher up the mountain   in the Sanctuary of Canneto. And, more important, over the years, what to do with the elementary school, whose population changed significantly from time to time, due to all sorts of reasons, most of which were tied to family economics and possible relocation.
    I remember so vividly my first time in that piazza. I had traveled close to twenty hours, from New York, to visit my grandfather. From JFK to Fiumicino; then to Roma Termini; then, to my chagrin, a failed attempt to get a train ticket to Settefrati. “Quale linea?”, the ticket man asked. “Boh!”, I replied, thinking, “What the heck did the paesanos back in Stamford mean when they said Settefrati was near Rome?” It took some research, as I dragged my suitcase all over Rome’s train station, but I did make it… I took a third-class train to Cassino, and then a taxi to Settefrati. The piazza, at my arrival, was empty! Well, almost. There was this young boy, sitting idly on a small wall, fiddling. I approached and asked him, in Italian, if he could direct to “la casa di Michele d’Egidio”. “You American?”, he blurted out loud, almost with relief. “Yes,” I replied. And after some introductory conversation, from which I learned he was there for the summer with his family, from a town in Connecticut only a few miles from mine, he knew exactly who my grandfather was and where he was staying. That teenager, who barely knew my grandfather personally, knew exactly where he lived; he habitually hung out in that piazza, even when everyone else was resting after a huge afternoon meal, soaking up not only the sun but, indeed, information about everyone and everything. (Yes, lunch-time meals were still abundant: a mountain of spaghetti al sugo, followed by a roasted piccione, followed by salad, and then either fruit or cheese).
    I returned to that piazza after twenty-two years. It was the same square, significantly redone, with the newly remodeled church still overlooking the piazza. Smack in the middle was a bandstand, where the nightly entertainment played for the few hundred that strolled in and out of that piazza after dinner, during this fortnight of celebrating the “festa della Madonna”! I returned, partly, because my cousins Theresa and Al were there on summer vacation, and we wanted to see their new house; partly, also, because, Italo, another dear cousin of 88 years, wanted once more, as he put it, “dopo più di trent’anni camminare con te a bracetto in piazza ancora una volta.” Yes, in that square he wanted, once more, to walk arm in arm, discussing with me—once more, after more than three decades—so many things, including my grandfather’s escapades over the years, as we had often done since 1971 in his sartoria, in Florence, in Piazza Santa Croce.

    Anthony J. Tamburri is Professor and Dean at the Calandra Institute



  • Op-Eds

    Bill de Blasio and the Combinatio Nova

    As some might look to Mayor de Blasio for his progressive politics, we can all surely look to him and his family as that model of a future engagement with regard to socio-ethnic politics and, more important, with regard to what we might consider a truly transgressive ethnic combinatio nova — namely, a new family paradigm that transcends not only national origin but indeed, in this case, race. Bill de Blasio himself is a child of mixed raciality, if indeed we consider Italians as part of a non-white category that is olive based, as the poet Rose Romano and others have steadfastly contended.

    With his family of Chirlane, Dante, and Chiara, de Blasio has taken the combinatio nova one step further in the melding of olive with black, offering up to society what portends at this juncture to be one of the newer forms of the American family of the future, one that is truly a rainbow reflection of U.S. society. But I would like to think that the de Blasios who inhabit Gracie Mansion constitute a model in other ways and for other people. In other ways, in so far as they demonstrate that the so-called power positions of a place like New York City can indeed be held not only by the white or the black, but indeed even by those of the combinatio nova.

    For other people, precisely because of de Blasio’s Italian heritage: during his current trip to Italy, the de Blasios met with former Minister of Integration, Cécile Kyenge, and her family, she the first African-Italian to hold a cabinet position, who is married to a “native” Italian.

    Thus, together with Minister Kyenge and her family, Mayor de Blasio and his family can also be a model for those in Italy who continue to look to the U.S.; for in spite of what some Italians and Italian Americans may think, Italy is no longer the monochromatic country they believe it to be. With its new immigration of the past three decades for sure, Italy is, at this juncture, more than ripe for its own wave of a combinatio nova.

  • Facts & Stories

    Immigration is not a Threat

    This interview will be broadcast on TV in our weekly episode of i-ItalyNY (NYC Life – Channel 25, for the NY metro area) as part of the presentation of the visit to the Museum of Immigration at Ellis Island by the President of the Chamber of Deputies Laura Boldrini.


    President, you’ve just spent the last moments of your visit here at Ellis Island. This is your first visit, right?

    Yes, it’s definitely my first time here. I had been in the US before, but never at Ellis Island. It was deeply moving for me. I strongly wanted to come here as President of the Chamber of Deputies. This is the place where millions of Italians arrived and it’s very meaningful for our migration history.


    Listening to the stories of the migrants being processed here, the description of their feelings when they arrived, it was a bit like reliving their experiences. Especially because their state of mind was the same I recognize in so many of the people I have met during the years I worked at the UN Refugee Agency. The same sense of relief for having made it to destination, the same anxiety of not knowing anything, not understanding the language, the fear of the future, the feelings of happiness coexisting with inevitable disorientation.

    Our guide explained how the processing procedures were obviously different, but still efficient: the system worked well. The admission criteria were quite strict, but only about 2% of the migrants didn’t pass the Ellis Island screening.

    Indeed, about 80% of the Italians were allowed in after disembarking. These people only spent 5 or 6 hours here…definitely not comparable to what happens in Europe today…


    The system was effective, with a health and a legal screening, but not too selective. There was a desire to allow people in: they represented the vitalizing energies that would contribute to the development of the Country. And this is exactly what constitutes the foundations of the US. This is the living proof of how immigration can be a resource, of how the Italians contributed to this Country in so many areas.

    During this visit I was glad to meet the old migrants, but also the new ones…the newest generation of talents, scientists, startuppers that find opportunities here. Again I have mixed feelings. I am proud that so many Italians are succeeding in this Country, that they are respected and so highly regarded. On the other hand though, there is disappointment for not being able to bring these talents back to Italy by offering the prospect of an engaging and gratifying career path.


    Our Country will stand tall only once we’ll be successful in attracting these talents back, while now they prefer remaining abroad because a Country like this offers all the opportunities that Italy denies them.

    I won’t ask you for solutions because we’re still looking for them, but I would like to ask you what impression did Ellis Island have on you in relation to the immigration we are experiencing in Italy now. Since Italy is the doorstep of Europe and suffers these waves of migration from Africa more than any other European country…


    I would like to clarify this point. The vast majority of the people arriving in Italy by sea are fleeing wars, dictatorships and persecutions. They’re asylum seekers and should be treated as such, both in the public language as well as from the political point of view.


    It’s a phenomenon common to most of Europe, the numbers of the asylum requests in Italy aren’t higher than in other European countries. The most dramatic aspect of this migration that affects Italy is the risks these people take, the crossing of the seas that is like Russian roulette, where people get onto these dinghies without the certainty of making it to the other side.


    This is the real emergency and the dramatic situation that the other countries don’t experience and we need to make our European partners understand that this is a shared responsibility.

    Saving human lives is a moral duty, an imperative that cannot be fulfilled only by Italy. I am very proud of what we do, but I wish it were a collective commitment of all the member states. Although there is an attempt to create common standards, to date each Country has its own immigration and asylum politics.


    On the asylum topic there are at least some European directives that establish standards. But if we want this to become a European issue we would need to renounce sovereignty on migration, and obviously it becomes difficult to expect more support from Europe without giving something up.

    What will remain with you after this Ellis Island visit?


    First of all respect for those who lived this experience having the courage to leave their homeland to reinvent themselves in a new Country. Respect, because it takes great energy to do all this and when you leave you have no certainty about your future.


    The feelings remain unchanged. What the Italian immigrants arriving here in the US suffered, is being felt these days by the migrants landing on our shores in Italy.

    That’s why I think we should respect those who arrive on our shores and not consider them a threat.

    Also, us Italian Americans living in the US should always keep in mind what our grandparents lived through to help us better understand what is happening today.


    Special thanks to Giovanna Pagnotta for her collaboration in writing this piece.


  • Fatti e Storie

    L'emigrazione non è una minaccia

    L'intervista che trascriviamo andrà in onda in televisione nel nostro programma settimanale i-ItalyNY (su NYC Life - Channel 25 , in tutta l'area metropolitana di New York), come parte del racconto della visita ad Ellis Island del Presidente della Camera dei Deputati.

    Presidente, ha passato la sua ultima ora qui ad Ellis Island.  E' stata la sua prima visita vero?

    Si, questa è la mia prima visita in assoluto. Ero già stata negli Stati Uniti ma mai ad Ellis Island. Per me è stato molto emozionante venire qui, ci tenevo moltissimo come Presidente della Camera. Questo è stato il posto dove milioni di italiani sono passati e rappresenta un valore molto significativo della nostra storia migratoria.

    Sentire i racconti della  guida che ci ha accompagnato sulle procedure, ma soprattutto le descrizioni degli stati d’animo delle persone che arrivavano qui, è stato un po’ come riviverle. Specialmente riguardo allo stato d’animo che è lo stesso che continuano a sentire ancora oggi moltissime persone che ho incontrato negli anni di lavoro all’Alto commissariato delle Nazioni Unite per i Rifugiati. La stessa sensazione di soddisfazione di essere arrivati, la stessa ansia di non sapere nulla, di non capire la lingua, la paura del futuro e i sentimenti di felicità e al tempo stesso di smarrimento rispetto alla nuova situazione.

    La nostra guida ci ha illustrato tutto ciò. Chiaramente le procedure erano differenti, ma comunque efficienti,  era un sistema che funzionava molto bene. Anche abbastanza duro rispetto ai criteri di ammissione. Però diciamo che solo il 2% le persone che non riuscivano a passare lo screening che veniva effettuato qui a Ellis Island.
    E infatti l’80% degli immigrati italiani sono entrati poco dopo lo sbarco. Queste persone hanno speso solo cinque o sei ore qui ad Ellis Island.  Non è molto paragonabile a quello che succede in Europa...

    Si, era un sistema abbastanza efficiente in cui c’era lo screening medico e lo screening legale, ma non era troppo selettivo. C’era interesse nel far entrare persone che venivano da fuori. Rappresentavano energie vive che avrebbero contribuito allo sviluppo del Paese. Ed è proprio su questo che si fondano gli Stati Uniti d’America. Questa è la prova vivente di come l’immigrazione sia una risorsa. Di come noi italiani abbiamo contribuito a questo Paese, in tanti ambiti e in tanti settori.

    In questa mia visita mi ha fatto piacere incontrare la vecchia migrazione ma anche la nuova, quella nuova generazione fatta di talenti, scienziati, startuppers che trovano qui un’opportunità. Anche in questo caso i miei sentimenti sono molto vari perché io sono orgogliosa che tanti italiani si facciano strada in questo Paese. Del fatto che vengano rispettati e considerati come delle eccellenze. Dall’altro lato però c’è amarezza nel non riuscire a riportare a casa questi ragazzi,  con un percorso professionale serio e gratificante per loro.

    Ritengo che noi come Paese riusciremo a rialzare la testa  solo quando saremo in grado di attirare questi nostri talenti che oggi preferiscono stare all'estero perché un Paese come questo oggi offre loro delle possibilità che l’Italia purtroppo non ha potuto offrire.
    Non le chiedo delle soluzioni perché ancora le stiamo cercando, però voglio domarndarle che impressione le ha  fatto questa visita ad Ellis Island, facendo riferimento all’immigrazione che c’è in questo momento in Italia. Perché l’Italia è la porta dell’Europa e quindi purtroppo soffre di più di tutte le altre nazioni europee di queste ondate di migranti dall’Africa.

    Penso che bisognerebbe fare chiarezza su questo concetto. La gran parte delle persone che arrivano via mare in Italia sono persone che fuggono da guerre, da dittature, da persecuzioni. Dunque sono richiedenti asilo e come tali devono essere considerati, sia nel linguaggio pubblico che dal punto di vista politico.

    E' un fenomeno comune a tanti altri paesi d’Europa perché il numero delle domande d’asilo che viene fatta in Italia non è superiore a quello di altri paesi. La cosa drammatica che tocca più da vicino l’Italia è il fatto che questa è un’emigrazione piena di rischi, questo attraversamento è una roulette russa, dove le persone salgono sul gommone senza avere la certezza di arrivare dall’altra parte.

    Questa è la grande emergenza, questa è la grande drammaticità che gli altri Paesi non vivono ed è li che bisogna far chiaramente capire ai nostri partner europei che c’è una responsabilità collettiva. Salvare vite umane è un dovere etico, è un imperativo che non può essere solo sulle spalle dell’Italia che lo sta facendo. Io sono molto orgogliosa che questo accada, ma sarebbe auspicabile che fosse un impegno collegiale di tutti gli stati membri. Anche se si sta cercando di armonizzare a livello europeo, ci sono delle direttive che fissano gli standard minimi, però ancora oggi ogni Paese ha la sua politica sia di immigrazione che di asilo.

    Sull’asilo almeno ci sono delle direttive europee che stabiliscono degli standard. Se però vogliamo che diventi una questione europea dobbiamo cedere sovranità. Gli stati membri ad oggi non hanno voluto cedere sovranità sulla materia migratoria e dunque è difficile reclamare più Europa quando non si è disposti anche a dare qualcosa in cambio.
    Cosa le rimarrà di questa visita a Ellis Island?

    La prima cosa è il rispetto, rispetto per coloro che hanno vissuto questa esperienza e hanno avuto il coraggio di lasciare il Paese per reinventarsi una nuova vita. Rispetto perché ci vuole una grande energia per fare tutto ciò. Quando si parte non si ha nessuna certezza riguardo al futuro.

    I sentimenti rimangono sempre gli stessi. Ciò che provavano gli italiani venendo qui in America è quello che provano anche gli immigrati che entrano nelle coste italiane in questo periodo. E questo è il motivo per cui io penso che bisognerebbe rispettare le persone che arrivano invece di considerarle una minaccia.
    E infatti anche noi Italo-Americani, che viviamo negli Stati Uniti, dovremmo sempre tenere a mente quello che i nostri nonni hanno dovuto passare per capire meglio quello che sta succedendo oggi.


    Un ringraziamento a Giovanna Pagnotta che ha collaborato alla stesura di questo testo

  • Op-Eds

    Random Thoughts on an Italian Elected Official’s “joke of passing fancy” on a Sunday Afternoon

    I wrote the following while in the midst of teaching a three-week course on “Italian” literature in America. During this period, we are also reading what both the Americans and the Italians wrote about those Italians who came during the great wave of immigration, 1880-1924.

     What follows convinces me even further that Italy, that geo-political zone of the peninsula and two large islands, is in dire need of studying its diasporic history in order to understand, once and for all, how those who had to leave Italy were treated by the so-called, but not behaving as such, host countries. With that as a background, it is indeed most difficult — nauseating might be a better term — to read Roberto Calderoli’s remarks about Italy’s Minister for Integration, Cécile Kyenge.

    The following quote comes from the online version of Corriere della Sera:

    Roberto Calderoli, vicepresidente del Senato ed ex titolare del ministero per la Semplificazione. «Fa bene a fare il ministro, ma forse lo dovrebbe fare nel suo Paese. È anche lei a far sognare l’America a tanti clandestini che arrivano qui» dice dal palco della festa del partito a Treviglio.

    Roberto Calderoli, vice president of the Senate and former Minister for the Administrative Simplification. "It's good for her to be a minister, but maybe she should better be a minister in her own country. It is also her responsibility if so many illegal immigrants come to Italy dreaming of America" he says from the stage the feast of his party (the Northern League) in Treviglio.


    And then he continued:

    «Io mi consolo — tuona Calderoli davanti a circa 1.500 persone — quando navigo in Internet e vedo le fotografie del governo. Amo gli animali, orsi e lupi com’è noto, ma quando vedo le immagini della Kyenge non posso non pensare, anche se non dico che lo sia, alle sembianze di orango».

    "I console myself - Calderoli thunders in front of about 1,500 people - when I surf the Internet and see photographs of the government. I love animals, bears and wolves, as is well known, but when I see pictures of Kyenge I cannot avoid thinking of the appearance of an orangutan - even though I am not saying that she is one."


    And so it goes… From Italy we have here yet another incident that is simply, and only as such, embarrassing; I see no excuse at all for such musings, unless, of course, one inhabits that world dedicated to “Whiteness” at all costs. Such a statement from Calderoli underscores a racism that is obviously so ingrained in certain Italians that they feel absolutely no shame is making such statements. Later, in fact, he stated the following to Radio Capital:

    «Ma, è stata una battuta, una battuta in termini della simpatia,… niente particolarmente contro, era proprio legata alle mie impressioni…»

    "But, it was a joke, a joke in terms of sympathy ... nothing particularly against ... it was linked to my impressions ..."


    He insisted, as is apparent for his statement, that he did not compare her to an orangutan. Yet, even our advanced students in Italian 101 would understand that the phrase “non posso non pensare … alle sembianze di orango” is a clear comparison to the predicate object. But the shamelessness of Calderoli is second to none. For as is apparent above, he then stated on the radio that it was said “in termini della simpatia”, which, here, can mean either “with congeniality” or in “passing fancy”. Really? Comparing someone to an orangutan can in some context or another be considered to be a statement of congeniality or of passing fancy?

    The issue here is twofold. First, we are dealing with the vice-president of Italy’s Senate, one of two parts of its national political body. It is one of two organs that decide the laws and legislations of Italy, which keep in check civil behavior in Italy, as is the case in other democratic countries. That any member of society might speak in this fashion is, and should be to all, unacceptable. That it then comes from someone in office, and in such a high office to boot, is patently unfathomable. What then complicates the matter even more is that he feels absolutely no shame in having said what he did. The brief interview he gave to Radio Capital underscores such a bold-faced thought process that, as is crystal clear, causes him no embarrassment.

    The conclusion? It all comes down to skin color and geography. If there are those northerners in Italy (he is, after all, of the Lega Nord) feel comfortable in calling southerners “terroni” (Oh, yeah, let us not forget, as is often said, “Africa comincia da Roma in giù.”) what would stop them from comparing someone from Africa to an orangutan? All of this, if we wish to be generous here, is due to complete ignorance on the part of one human being toward his sisters/brothers who manifest difference if only by their physical attributes. Ignorance of the fact that his own ancestors who left — check that, who were forced to leave — Italy at the turn of the 19th/20th century were treated in similar dehumanizing ways. Indeed, Italy’s prime minister Enrico Letta reminded Italy’s population (including its elected officials) as much this past May, when he read from a 1912 Report on Immigration to the US Congress, a report that was filled with a plethora of insults toward Italian immigrants of that time which are similar to if not identical to what we hear today from individuals in Italy, Calderoli leading the way.

    And it is indeed the difference in who speaks that lies here. Shameful and unacceptable that it is, it is one thing to hear such dehumanizing racial epithets from the public. It is totally different to hear it from an elected official, whatever his/her office may be. While they are, on a national scale, “representatives” of certain areas and specific ideologies, they are also, and indeed first and foremost (even though not all act accordingly, as we see here), defenders of the national code of laws and civic behavior. In his role as vice president of the Senate, Calderoli has taken it one step further. Italy and her emigrants and sons, daughters, grandchildren, and great grandchildren deserve a better legacy from the home country!

  • Facts & Stories

    Remembering Geraldine Ferraro, a Pioneer

    Geraldine R. Ferraro passed away Saturday, March 26, after twelve years of a valiant struggle with blood cancer. Mother, teacher, congresswoman, and vice presidential candidate, she did it all! She may very well be remembered most of all—prominently, I suspect—for her role as the first woman vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket. She will also be remembered, to those who knew her, as a sincere, candid, warm-hearted person, someone who was firm in her convictions, articulate as very few could be, and determined to be sure that everyone got her/his chance in life. This came through in all of her roles, from private citizen to public servant.

    Geraldine Ferraro will also be remembered as a steadfastly proud Italian American. She championed her Italian-ness always, second to no one else in her adult life. It was the topic of conversation the first time she and I spoke in spring 1984; unbeknownst to many at that time, she was being vetted as possible candidate for vice presidential candidate, and I was teaching Italian at Middlebury College. We spoke at length about our Italian/American community at large, how it was not as united as we might have so desired. Indeed, she was to experience such seeming dis-unity during and after the 1984 presidential campaign, when allies of her political opponents began to toss about those all-too-familiar unseemly suggestions and innuendos about her Italian background. She responded with firm yet courteous indignation, underscoring all along her steadfast pride in her family’s history, their many accomplishments in spite of the equally numerous obstacles, and in her pride as an Italian/American woman, someone who was able to grow and develop into a consummate professional, be it in the role of public service in the first part of her career or in that of private, legal counsel in her later years.

    Geraldine Ferraro was a pioneer, to be sure. She broke both gender and ethnic barriers before many others. Indeed, those who followed were able to move forward precisely because she had been there first, to burst through those glass ceilings that others could not smash previously. As the first woman, and Italian American, to be a candidate on a major party ticket, she is remembered surely for the first more than the second, or so it seems. Let us in the Italian/American community now be sure that she is equally remembered as the first Italian American as well. Furthermore, let us Italian Americans, in our enormous debt to Geraldine Ferraro, seek to learn from her historical, ethnic ground-breaking and her desire for unity, as she so suggested we do, in her 1985 lecture to the Coalition of Italian American Associations.

    More about Gerardine Ferraro
    Italics: The Italian American Magazine: September 2010
    Italics: The Italian American Magazine: October 2009

  • Op-Eds

    Speaking Italian, and Who Should or Should Not, if at All!

    The “who should or should not speak Italian” is an issue that is fundamentally unresolvable. What do I mean by such a seemingly essentialist declaration? Well, it is similar to the “chicken and the egg” debate that, in this case, is slightly modified as to why a plethora of children and grandchildren of Italian immigrants no longer speak the language. The conjecture is multiple, and one can never really arrive at a conclusion satisfactory to the majority, I would contend.
    That said, nonetheless, numerous are suppositions that lie at the base of the “whys” and “why-nots.” Here are a few: (1) Society at large made Italians feel shame at their peasant culture; (2) Children of immigrants wanted to assimilate and become “Americans”; (3) Children and grandchildren felt further shame at their Italian-ness after Italy declared war against the United States in December 1941, when the United States then re-applied the 1798 “enemy alien” act; (4) It’s too late once one reaches adult-hood; (5) Italian is an ethnic language; (6) Italian is not a practical language; (7) My family spoke dialect. And the list goes on…
    First, le me say that no one who is of Italian descent should be made to feel that they have to speak Italian, even though some of us might prefer the majority of Italian Americans would want to do so. Indeed, in this world of identity politics, where some wish to foist an ethnic identity on others (and knowing the language of that ethnicity might surely be considered an identifying component), we need to be sensitive to the desires of individuals; if they wish not to hyphenate themselves, so be it. Similarly, if they wish not to learn the Italian language, this, too, we should also accept. In this as in other cases, we clearly need to live and let live, regardless of what our own passion and philosophy might be vis-à-vis identity politics. And I say this as one who began teaching the Italian language and its culture in 1972, when I accepted my first full-time teaching position in a Connecticut high school.
    Second, one need not necessarily be fluent in a language associated with an ethnic identity if s/he has decided to dedicate a good deal of time and effort to the promotion and promulgation of the culture of that ethnicity. Here, too, however, some of us might want to see minimal knowledge of the language as an accompanying factor. What do I mean? Well. even if one does not speak the language in question, one should have a basic repertoire of some of the catch phrases that have, by now, appeared in all sorts of communiqués and the like. After all, we should be a bit more informed and knowledgeable about such an inventory than our “meddigans”, no?
    So, while a majority of the reasons listed above may lie at the base of why many of our peasani do not speak Italian, I would like to address a few. “It’s too late once one reaches adult-hood” is, perhaps, one of the most articulated and, yet, least true reasons with regard to adults learning a language. Is it more difficult, for sure, as we have developed in adulthood an array of conceptual habits that simply allow us to think in one manner (some consider this to be the “affective factors” in language learning). But research in second-language acquisition does not support, in any scientific manner, the hypothesis that second-language acquisition is impossible beyond a certain stage in life. It all relies, basically, on the learning strategies one adopts. One may simply go forward with memory use and the dictionary. Further, one might develop a series of other techniques such as identifying objects and/or actions with words of the target language; in communicating in the target language, one might adopt non-verbal forms of communication to get across one’s message. In addition, as we grow older, we do have a bit of an upper hand in; (1) our understanding about the use of language as a system; (2) our notion of rules as they apply to language; and (3) our greater sensitivities to the processes of subtly.
    But it is, I would submit, mostly the processes and effects of the so-called “affective factors” that might play the main role in adults not [able to] learn[ing] a second language. The main components here are apprehension, bashfulness, shyness and/or other concerns that deal with reticence due to false insecurities and, what we might consider, “bella figura.” We are much more self-conscious as we grow older, and the possibility of making mistakes at a later age takes on much more valence than it might have for a younger person. By sloughing off our concerns of “fare bella figura,” however, one surely guarantees a smoother and, I would underscore, more rapid acquisition of the target language. That is, we need to lower, as best we can, the anxiety factor; we need to be able to laugh at ourselves as we go forward while making those funny mistakes: e.g., wanting, for example, to buy some figs at the local fruit-vender’s stand, when, instead, we mistakenly refer to a most intimate part of the human body, simply because we substituted one vowel for another; or, asking for “two slices of bread with a slab of ice cream in the middle”—yes, this is the image you convey to the Italian, for example, when you literally translate ice cream sandwich. These are two of the many, and dare I underscore “funny,” faux pas that one makes when learning another language.
    “Italian is an ethnic language” is one of those popular non-sensical, false ”truths” bantered about when people are deciding what language to study. Much to my chagrin, I have heard this from many paesani as well, asking me why even I ever decided to teach Italian, as well as telling their children that it does no good for them to study Italian, that they should study another language, Spanish or French, for instance. Well, Italian is indeed much more than that “ethnic” language many want it to be. Let us be clear about this: Italian really acquired the label of “ethnic” only toward the end of the nineteenth century, at the outset of major emigration form Italy to the United States. Furthermore, such myopic labeling on the past of the then WASPs in power was buttressed by the fact that many emigrants from Italy were illiterate. Furthermore, as many of us know, the language they spoke, to a significant degree, was not standard Italian, rather a dialect indigenous to their local area of Italy.
    We need to re-consider Italian as a truly cultural language as it is both centuries old and has been the incubator for some of the most popular literary forms, many we still enjoy today, as well as the conveyor of some of the more profound philosophical thoughts registered throughout Western Civilization. Such a reconsideration is the responsibility, first and foremost, of anyone who has taken on the role of promoter, promulgator, and, yes even, defender of Italian language and culture in its multifarious forms in the United States. The Sicilian School of Poetry (no, they were not all Sicilians), for example, gave us the sonnet; Francesco Petrarca developed it further; and, as we all know, William Shakespeare made it famous beyond Italy in yet another language. Even today, within a North American context, the sonnet figures as a most popular literary form. All this, let us not forget, has its origins in medieval Italian literary culture. Second, we should not discount the Renaissance as an “artistic” movement only. Yes, we need to shout it from the roof-tops the grandeur of Botticielli, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Tiziano, Bernini, and the like.

    In addition, I would submit, we need to recognize some of the aesthetic and philosophical thought processes that subtend some of their art. Indeed, for what we consider today as “modernity,” we can surely see roots of the above-mentioned artists and the seeds for this modern epoch as early as the 1400s in Leon Battista Alberti’s De Pictura andDe re aedificatoria, which revolutionized the processes of painting and architecture for today’s world, as well as his Libri della famiglia, and, equally important, in Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man. In such a re-consideration of Italian and all that it portends pre-mass emigration, I would conclude this paragraph with an ever so brief reference to two Englishtenment thinkers, Giambattista Vico (Principi di Scienza Nuova d'intorno alla Comune Natura delle Nazioni [1725]) and Cesare Beccaria (Dei delitti e delle pene [1764]).
    That one then spouts to his/her children that Italian is not a “practical” language is, simply, pardon the simplistic pun, impractical. It is practical in the social sense in that in a number of metropolitan areas in the United States, Italian is still the lingua franca for a generation or two of our paesani. I point to NYC’s Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who in July 2008, signed the City’s first Language Access Executive Order (EO 120), according to which “city agencies that have direct interaction with New Yorkers must now translate essential public documents into the six most commonly spoken languages, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Italian and French Creole, and use telephonic, written and oral services to provide interpretation for the City's three million immigrant residents” (my emphasis). But Italian is practical in other ways. Like with any other language, Italian also gains us direct and unmitigated access to the culture of the land. It affords us the possibility to deal directly with those written texts, oral deliveries, and TV broadcasts and webcasts that we would otherwise have delivered to us through a mitigated channel that is translation. At the very least, subtlety is lost. Practical also because the more people who wish to learn and actually do speak Italian in this country, be they our peasani or not, help promote and promulgate a more positive—and at this juncture I would also add complete—representation of all things Italian and thus become part of a more constructive network with regard to a general image of Italy and those things Italian within the United States.
    “So what!”—you might be mumbling at this juncture, though I would like it to be instead “E allora?” “I’ve done great without knowing it!”—you retort. Sure, but don’t order off of that menu riddled with mistakes in your self-learned pronunciation if you are in the company of those Italians with whom you need to broker a deal, be that deal cultural or financial. You will, to put it literally, leave an impression. Instead, give it a shot! Take that lesson when offered, especially if it is free. (I made such an offer to many of the self-proclaimed leaders when they bemoaned not knowing Italian, for all the reasons listed above. Reaction? Silence.)
    In any event, so what do you do if you do not have the facility with Italian that you would like to possess, yet do not have the time to acquire such facility, and, further still, wish to access the culture in some manner of sorts that is more direct than simple translation? Well, you can do as some do: read through the daily Italian newspaper with the aid of a dictionary; the online dictionaries are getting better and better. You can also scan those pieces you deem more significant and run them through one of the translating machines on the web; they may not be as good as some might want, but they get you the information you need. Finally, if your facility with Italian is in fact at this level, be sure to consult with a friend when closing some of your correspondence with an Italian phrase.
    I have surely tried your patience with the length of what I have articulated above. That said, I shall now close with a simple, non partisan phrase.
    Alla prossima,
    Suggested Reading
    Allwright, D. and Hanks, J., The Developing Language Learning: An Introduction to Exploratory Practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009;
    Bialystok, E., & Smith, M. S. “Interlanguage is not a state of mind: An evaluation of the construct for second-language acquisition,” Applied Linguistics 6.2 (1985): 101-17;
    Bialystok, E., “Analysis and control in the development of second language proficiency,” Studies in Second Language Acquisition 16.2 (1994): 157-68;
    Dörnyei, Z., "New themes and approaches in second language motivation research," Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 21 (2001): 43-59;
    Ellis, R., “Measuring implicit and explicit knowledge of a second language: A psychometric study,” Studies in Second Language Acquisition 27.2 (2005): 141-72;
    Gobetti, Daniela, Robert A. Hall, and Frances Adkins Hall, 2001 Italian and English Idioms. New York: Barron's Educational Series, 1996;
    Hulstijn, J. H., “Theoretical and empirical issues in the study of implicit and explicit second-language learning,” Studies in Second Language Acquisition 27.2 (2005): 129-40;
    Krashen, S. Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. London: Pergamon, 1982;
    Lyster, R., & Mori, H., “Interactional feedback and instructional counterbalance,” Studies in Second Language Acquisition 28 (2006): 269-300;
    Ortega, L. Understanding Second Language Acquisition. London: Hodder Arnold, 2009.
    Williams, J., “Memory, attention and inductive learning,” Studies in Second Language Acquisition 21 (1999): 1–48.
    Italian catch Phrases
    N.B.: the addition of this brief glossary is really for those who are not fluent in Italian and thus might benefit from its presence here.
    “A presto” can be used to sign off an informal missive of sorts, wanting to say, “See/talk to you soon.”
    “Abbastanza” means “enough” in the sense that there is enough quantity of something. To say “Enough!” as in “Stop already,” or something of the sort, then one uses the 3rd person singular of the verb “bastare,” as in “Basta!” People get this right more than half the time it is used.
    “Alla riscossa” is part of a refrain from the song “Bandiera rossa” (The Red Flag), which was the slogan for the partisans fighting Fascism as well as the battle song of the Italian Communist Party (the old PCI).
    “Che sah diche” is the Americanized version of “Che si dice?” It means “What does one say” literally; or, much more liberally, “What’s up?” of “What’s new?”
    “Ciao” is one of the most mis-spelled words. It means “hello” or “good-bye.” Oh, it is not Italian to say “Ciao, for now!” Indeed, it is very un-Italian.
    Gedrule,” or something of the sort, is the phonetic spelling of “cetriolo,” which means “cucumber” and is used in Italian also to call someone “stupid” or a “bumpkin.”
    “Madone” are “Maron” are the two expressions of surprise and/or exclamation, which come from the standard Italian “Madonna”—Virgin Mary.
    “Sempre Avanti” is used by many who do not know Italian. Its origins are that of the battle cry from Mussolini’s Fascist era. The expression was sometimes longer, as in: “Sempre avanti ad ogni costo per la grandezza della patria!”
    “Stunahd” is the Americanized version of “stonato,” which literally is out of tune, out of harmony with what is going on.
    “Ti voglio bene” means “I love you,” in both a familial and romantic way, used in wither occasion. It is not the equivalent of the sign-off in a letter, “love,” or the like. In this case, one would say “Con affetto,” literally, “with affection,” or something similar such as “affettuosità,” which we would freely translate “affections.”

    Editors Note: This article by prof. Tamburri has evoked a conversation on our facebook page ( Here are some of the comments as of September 20, 11pm.

      • Anna Artillio Fleming how i wish my parents would have taught me.


        7 hours ago · · 2 people2 people like this. · 
      • Charles Catalosi Wow thats way my parents did speak so I would not understand them. Ok do I'm not the only one.

      • Andrea Zappone Interesting article, I heard the excuse "my family spoke dialect" so many times..not only in the US but in many other countries where Italians moved after WWII...I love the Italian Language, I don't care how impractical it might be!!!!!

        6 hours ago ·
      • Cristiano Pellegrini

        Dear All,

        Believe me or not, this fact of the parents not talking to their children on purpose is the same thing said by all the Italo-American people who I meet here constantly in Rome. Don't be sad, through Mrs. Cammy Reali we can set up f...ree lessons via Skype. I would be proud to do this for you guys. A friend of mine living in Denver is doing also in this way with me from time to time. It's a good way to improve! Think of that!

        I wish to be in NYC with Cammy to attend the San Gennaro's Fiest Day, but there is an Ocean in between !

        Have a good day, ciao!
        See More
      • Maria Losquadro-Mazza I grew up speaking only italian in the house and stupidly i let outside forces convince me i had to be only american and speak only american. I so regreat it cause i lost a lot of it but i am not letting my kids do the same. At 2 they were inroled in a toddlers italian language program and my husband and i talk to them in italian as much as possible.

        6 hours ago · 3 people3 people like this. ·
      • Maria C. Scali Want to thank my parents for speaking Italian at home, and teaching us to be proud of bring bilingual. Teachers used to try to convince them, that we would get confused in school , but in fact we always excelled !!

        5 hours ago · · 1 personLoading... ·
      • Gracie Stancati Skype lessons sound like a wonderful idea! :) I grew up with Italian spoken in our home and of course in my grandparents home but they didn't want us to learn the language. I took a few courses in college but learned more when traveling to Italy over the years! It's a beautiful language but not easy b/c of all the dialects from region to region. Proper Italian is magical - like a song! I love EVERYTHING Italian! ....bella Italia

        4 hours ago · 1 personLoading... ·
      • Gianluca Rottura I enjoyed the article. I believe it is important for ANYONE to learn Italian. Unfortunately, there are non-Italians who go out of their way to be Italian and act snobby with it, COMPLETELY MISSING THE POINT. Italians are not like that. People tend to do that with French as well. Learning another culture is no reason for one to beat another with it over the head. If you really want to be Italian, be loving. That's the foundation.

        4 hours ago ·· 4 peopleLoading... ·
      • Kristen Leann Garrett Italia bella...

        3 hours ago ·
      • Ellen Friedman che rottura....

        2 hours ago ·
      • Roberto Bob Alvarez Every American-Italian should learn to speak.

        I have a 60-minute free audio lesson at

        59 minutes ago ·
      • Francesca Cerchia Pensa I love that the Neapolitan dialect was spoken in my home when I was a child. When I grew up, I also learned that other language spoken in Italy; Italian.

        21 minutes ago ·

  • Facts & Stories

    Ken Ciongoli, a Selfless Promoter of All Things Italian and Italian-American

    It is with sadness that I write to inform you of the death of Dr. A. Kenneth Ciongoli, Chairman of the National Italian American Foundation. Ken passed away at his home in Burlington, Vermont earlier today.


    I had the privilege of having met Ken a little less than two decades ago, the prominent neurologist he was, who immediately demonstrated a passionate interest in the Arts, especially literature. He proved, over the years, to be one of the very few, truly invaluable friends of the Humanities at large. When I mentioned this to him only last week in a brief conversation we aired yesterday on Italics, his immediate response was to turn it around on me, paying me the complement I had just made in his regard.


    This was indeed the essence of Ken Ciongoli, a selfless promoter of all things Italian and Italian-American. He fought arduously the battles of ethnic stereotyping and discrimination; he did so with grace and aplomb. He was always proactive, never reactive; he was, also, always responsive to discussions about all relevant topics, and never unyielding to those who might disagree. This was Ken’s modus operandi, meaningful dialogue, when it came to such important matters. This is, to be sure, the legacy he leaves us: that we, too, engage in dialogue and debate, as we move forward in our work to perpetuate the overall culture of Italians in the United States.


    In commemoration of his life and spirit, the National Italian American Foundation has set up The Dr. A. Kenneth Ciongoli Colloquium Endowment. For more information, contact Elissa Ruffino, 202/939-3106, [email protected].




    Dr. A. Kenneth Ciongoli

    Dr A. Kenneth Ciongoli - Chairman

    Dr. A. Kenneth Ciongoli


    Dr. Ciongoli is past President and Vice Chairman of the National Italian American Foundation and presently NIAF's Chairman. During his tenure at NIAF, Dr. Ciongoli launched a number of initiatives including the Gay Talese Writers Series for prominent Italian American authors at the University of Pennsylvania. He also has led delegations of business leaders on missions to Italy and Argentina to foster greater tourism and trade initiatives between the U.S. and abroad.

    He is the author of 35 published articles and abstracts, medical and non-medical as well as three books; "Beyond the Godfather," "Let Me In," "Passage to Liberty." He has appeared on several TV shows including McLaughlin 's One on One and The Dennis Wholly Show.

    Dr. Ciongoli is a board certified neurologist. Currently, he is President of the Neurological Associates of Vermont and Clinical Associate Professor of Neurology at the University of Vermont College of Medicine (UVM).

    Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he is a graduate of St. Joseph's Prep and The University of Pennsylvania (Penn). After graduating from medical school in Philadelphia (PCOM '68), he completed a general internship in Detroit, Michigan, followed by a year of internal medicine at UVM. Subsequently, he was the first Neurology Resident at UVM to be awarded the title of Chief Resident (1973).

    Subspecialty interests and training:

    1. Neurophalmology (Harvard University Medical School)

    2. Neuropathology (AFIP - Walter Reed Hospital)

    3. Neuroimmunology (Komune Hospitalet - Copenhagen, Denmark)

    4. Neuroimmunology (Penn-College of Medicine, GRM '74)

    Dr. Ciongoli was the first non-Danish citizen to be awarded a Danish government fellowship. He was also awarded a NIB fellowship. He was appointed Physician Commissioner of the State of Vermont by three different Governors. Dr. Ciongoli was also appointed Senior Medical Officer of the United States Olympic Team in 1980 (Lake Placid, New York). He is listed in Who's Who in American Medicine, Who's Who in America and Who's Who in the World.

    Dr. Ciongoli is founding member of the Vermont Italian Colonial Association (VICA), a member of The Mutuo Soccorso, The oldest Italian American organization in Vermont and a past member of the Board of Governors of the Ethan Allen Club, the oldest continuous club in North America.