Pride of an Italian Heritage by Christine Flowers


My Italian heritage is an integral part of my identity. You wouldn’t know from my last name, but I come from a long line of men and women who have vowels at the end of theirs. They painted frescoes on the ceiling of St. Peter, taught the world that the Earth revolved around the Sun, experienced flight centuries before the Wright brothers, turned the last sighs of doomed Violetta into heartbreaking music, took us across the world. valley of death, climb the steps of purgatory and pass through the gates of heaven, and fed us with the only food that fills the soul, beyond satisfying the stomach.

My Irish-French-Swedish (but above all Irish) father had no problem with my indoctrination in “Italianita” because he himself had been enchanted by his wife, a Sophia Loren lookalike who brought civilization as a marriage dowry. emperors, aqueducts, orators and myth. If anything, Irish Teddy was even more Italian than my mom, often joking in a quirky way that he was “Italian by injection”. And it is no coincidence that his hero, Cicero, shared his birthday: January 3.

I am writing all of this not as an apology for what follows, but as my Certificate of Authenticity, which is presented to you so that you know my allegiance. My pride comes from a source so deep and inexhaustible that I have taken any affront to this heritage as a personal attack. People who tried to tear the statue of Columbus from its place of honor in Marconi Square in South Philadelphia assaulted me, tried to steal my birthright, insulted my intelligence and crushed me under the weight. of their ignorance and fanaticism. It was personal, and that’s why I despise them and the mayor who supported them. Do not dare to sue me, bigots, because I have the Roman legions behind my back.

Of course, I’m also able to laugh at myself, which Italians can do in a way that hardly any other culture can handle. We are “solar,” a word that can roughly be translated as “sunny,” although this does not accurately convey the fundamental meaning. Italians are people who, crossing the darkness, seek the light. We love life. We are not afraid of death, because it motivates us to enjoy the days and moments of “la bella vita” while we have it at hand. It’s no surprise that the phrase “carpe diem” comes from Latin (which is essentially Italian without the pasta.)

So I can laugh at Tony Soprano when he’s obsessed with ducks in his pool, and I’m not offended when he hits a rival mobster (or civilian informant). I laughed at Father Guido Sarducci on “Saturday Night Live” and his exaggerated accent (and his cigarette). I laughed at the malooks of the “Jersey Shore” franchise, all tattooed and bouffant and clowning as they were. I can laugh at these things, because I know deep down that they don’t change the magnificence of my heritage.

Additionally, I have seen other groups take offense because of nicknames, traditions, policies and cultural artifacts that might be seen as somewhat anachronistic but don’t fit perfectly under the growing tent. vast of “prejudices”, “fanaticism”, “misogyny” and “intolerance”. ”, And I am proud to be part of a strong group of immigrants who took care of more than stereotypes.

We were lynched in New Orleans and no one cared

We were electrocuted on false accusations of domestic terrorism, and no one did anything.

We were herded into camps during WWII while our sons fought for the country that held us hostage, and we stayed to raise other sons.

We had our politicians accused of being members of the Mafia, and we continued to vote for them because they were better than anyone else.

We have survived and prospered, and we have shown this to this country for generations. A month is not enough to showcase Italian genius.

That’s why I can watch the “The Godfather” trilogy, and see the poetry of family devotion (to give or take a brother killed while fishing.)

That’s why I can laugh at comics like Sebastiano Maniscalco, which make annoyingly precise jokes about women’s facial hair.

And that’s why I plan to watch “The Many Saints of Newark”.

But I don’t speak for all Italians, not even those with whom I agree 99.5% of the time. My dear friend Dan Cirucci, who is actually one of the greatest sources of my legacy pride for who he is and what he has accomplished, has a bone to choose from with me. And since I love him and respect my readers, I’m going to let him speak. (While I’m going to have a cannoli …)

DAN CIRUCCI:

As usual Christine made a compelling point and associated it with such praise, you might think I would be at a loss for words.

But where would someone from our heritage be without the words, the arguments, the conviction, the passion that makes us what we are? So this is it.

Christine is right. We have suffered terrible indignities time and time again. And we fought to climb higher and higher each time. Today we stand on the shoulders of giants. But that is precisely the point. This story, this inspiring story of our triumph; this story of tireless determination, of pure faith and courage, has never been told enough. We have not received our due in popular culture – in the movies, in the theater, on television. Too often we have been described as compulsive, combustible and dangerous – as likely to kill as to kiss.

Quite simply, our history has been sacrificed to the Mafia saga and all of its worst elements. I saw that when I was a kid with the popularity of The Untouchables on TV. I saw that Al Capone and Frank Nitti were unnecessarily mythologized. And it has been repeated over and over again, most notably with The Godfather trilogy and now with The Sopranos. It’s easy money for those who perpetuate it. And that cements the worst kind of cliché. In addition, it is damaging. I’m sure there are young Italian-Americans out there who pretty much accept this on-going carnival of carnage as the true story of their legacy. Why? Because that’s all they saw in the media.

Just to give you an idea of ​​the magnitude of this situation, because of my last name, people have asked me if I knew or if I had known anyone in the crowd. Or, they crack up like, “I don’t want to be in trouble with you because you might send someone close to you after me.” Even if they mean it as a joke, it’s not funny!

Yes, there have been some admirable exceptions to the way we have been portrayed. The outstanding movie Big Night tops the list among them. And, you might be able to come up with one or two more examples. But, unfortunately, they are rare.

Instead, it’s more of the same. And the representations have become more and more brutal and graphic over the years.

So I don’t have any of that. Basta! Quite!

Instead, I’ll admire a beautiful painting by Frank Stella or enjoy the music of Henry Mancini or savor Stanley Tucci’s journey through Italian cuisine or attend a Broadway musical with Bernadette (Lazzara) Peters or m ‘marvel at a cleverly crafted legal dissent written by Judge Antonin Scalia or simply simmer in a jacuzzi.

But beyond all that, I’ll also be supporting the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum, which funds the efforts of creative artists to create films that honestly explore the Italian-American experience. This program, created by emeritus filmmakers and supported by the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) and the Italian Sons and Daughters of America (ISDA) cinematically presents the best of our rich and varied culture and experience in this country. He deserves our admiration and encouragement.

There are so many more positive and authentic ways to tell our story. Let’s pursue them – now!

Christine Flowers is a lawyer. His column appears Sunday and Thursday. Email him at cflowers1961 @ gmail, com.


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