Italians Against Stereotyping
Italians in America - an everyday struggle
Italian Americans began immigrating to this great country in the late 1800's. Although, the first Italian to settle in New York was Pietro Alberti in 1635. He settled in Brooklyn where he purchased a parcel of land that today houses Our Lady of Loreto Church in Brownsville. The struggle and discrimination that they had to endure and continue to endure today is second to none. This is their story.
A History Lesson
Our Grandparents and Great Grandparents came to this great country to a better life. They were told the streets were lined with gold. The decision to make this arduous trip was very difficult especially leaving behind their families and loved ones. Finally, they arrived on the various ships that would take them to this new prosperous land. Many of them came on the bottom of the boat, over crowded and full of disease. They faced abuse by the wealthy passengers who lived in stately rooms above them. The food they ate were scraps and many of them went hungry. But they had the drive to come to America, the land of the free, where they would work hard and earn a good living.
Finally, they arrived on the shores of America. The earlier passengers arrived in Castle Clinton in Lower Manhattan and those that came later arrived at Ellis Island. They had to take a battery of medical exams and if they had any illnesses they were shipped back to Italy. For the "lucky" ones, they settled in Little Italys and usually stayed with relatives or piasani. The living quarters were cramped in old tenement walk ups. They immediately took jobs that most Americans of that era would not take. Many worked on construction while others cleaned streets or dug tunnels for the new subways. Family, the Church and the willingness to work was all they had.
What they soon found was the streets were not paved with gold instead they were full of disease, crime and abuse. At that time in Manhattan's Little Italy, there were two churches, Old Saint Patrick's Cathedral and Transfiguration. Italian immigrants would soon find out they were not allowed to attend mass in the church. For them it was the basement of the church. The Irish priests had a very strong dislike for these new immigrants. It got so bad that Pope Leo, upon hearing what was going on with Italians ordered this practice to stop. He also sent Mother Cabrini to American to assist Italian Immigrants.
Italians, being tired of the abused by the Irish Churches began to build their own churches. On Mulberry Street they built the Church of the Most Precious Blood, and in Brownsville Brooklyn they built Our Lady of Loreto. It was difficult but they persevered. They held on to their customs from the "old country". They honored their patron saints with open air festivals.
To them family was the most important part of life. The children was raised to respect family at all cost. The family, extended outside the traditional meaning of family. In addition to those who were relatives, you also had those from the same part of Italy, comari and compari. They too were treated with a level of respect and honor. It was this extended family that helped many of these immigrants to survive this new land.
100 YEARS LATER
Discrimination and Stereotyping Still Exist
Over One Hundred years after the great influx of Italian Americans that came to these shores, we still have to prove ourselves. Forget the fact that we have done more to make this Country great then most, we are still viewed by many as gangsters and buffoons. Even those Italian Americans that make it have to constantly defend themselves against the whisper campaign of their ties to organized crime.
Movies like the Godfather, Goodfellows and shows like the Sopranos have permeated the minds of those Non-Italians that watch these shows and has turn fiction into nonfiction. A large part of the blame is with us, who stand there with our mouths shut or worse that watch these shows and complain that those of us who speak out against them are thin skinned. No ethnic group in this country would stand by and do nothing if this attack on their culture existed. Don't believe me? Where is the show "Amos and Andy" or even the cartoon "Dick Tracy"? What we also hear all the time from those who watch these shows is "it is only a show". Now for Italian Americans, we know it is only a show. But for the Non-Italian American that watches these shows daily, they actually believe that this is what Italian Americans really are. Now if you think this has no effect on you or your relatives listen to this scenario. Two candidates, one Italian American and one Non-Italian American are up for the prestigious position of partner in a major company. Both candidates are equal in every way, education, experience, temperament ect. When the difficult choice has to be made as to which of these both incredible and qualified candidates will be made partner and there is no way to distinguish one from the other, the one concern that will come up is, what if Mario is connected in some way to organized crime or a close family member. Can we take the chance of ruining our reputation if that is the truth? At that point, the decision will be made not to give the position to Mario. This decision will be made because day after day week after week there is a popular TV show or movie about Italians and organized crime. The fact that according the FBI only 1 tenth of one percent of Italian Americans are involved in criminal activity. But you would never know that by the onslaught of negative shows highlighting us as criminals. Still think it doesn't affect you?
Italian Americans are also the only people in this country that are judged not on what they do but on the actions of those family members or friends that break the law. Many hard working uneducated Italian Americans lost their jobs at the Fulton Fish Market, not because they committed a crime but instead because they knew someone or was related to someone that committed a crime. The terminology is called "association". So if you were born and raised in a Little Italy and you grew up with someone that went bad or you went to their wedding or to a funeral you were now considered associated. No one else in this country has to defend themselves against growing up with someone that committed a crime. Plus, whenever an Italian American is arrested for a crime it is automatically labeled organized crime. Case in point, one community leader from Little Italy was charged with signing the bottom of an election petition sheet of which he didn't solicit the voter's signatures. What he did not know was the person who the sheet belong to forged all the signatures on the page. This is usually a common practice in local elections. Normally, what happens in this case is the one page of signatures gets thrown out. Very rarely is anyone ever charged with a crime and if so it is usually a misdemeanor. In this case the individual was charged with a felony and the case was handed over to the organized crime division. This is a documented case.
JOHN FRATTA OPENING REMARKS JERSEY SHORE SYMPOSIUM 2/6/10
St Frances College Stereotypes in the Media.
Another You tube video that talks about Italian American stereotyping.
Italian American Discrimination Does Exist
Keep No Secrets: The Art of Discrimination Against the Italian American Perception
Posted on June 22, 2008 by cronacaman
Conversations through email and blogs have reminded me several times by now that discrimination against Italian Americans is an issue. I think there are many more people out there who feel the same way but have been reluctant to bring this up, much the way they felt about the injustice that Italian Americans faced during World War II. Many felt that it was best not to discuss this episode. I think Italian Americans need to join the national dialog on race, which has been long overdue. This disparate group of Americans is probably one of the most important bridge cultures that we have in the United States. They are in a position to play a unique role in discussing racial harmony in the American melting pot. This has made me think that putting together a conference on the effects of stereotyping and discrimination of Italian Americans would be beneficial and could lead to some great dialogue and ways of thinking that have not been all that apparent.
Most people who know Italian Americans know that they are fine people. Discrimination against Italian Americans is based almost always on perceptions that have accumulated over many decades and which have been disseminated through mass media, which has contributed to a subtle form of mass hysteria. Discrimination against Italian Americans is more art than science since most people really aren’t sure why they may be tempted to discriminate or even know when they are discriminating. At this point in history, it just seems like it’s time for a review, to see where we’ve been and where we’re going as a community and as a nation. As a freedom-loving nation, how can we be free from discrimination if we do not have this discussion? Do we want to be free from discrimination? Do we have an Oedipus complex with discrimination, where we subvert freedom in favor of discrimination? How can we ever be a truly free people if we don’t fight discrimination in all its forms?
It’s unfortunate that Italian Americans live under a shadow of misperceptions that act like a tapeworm in the American national psyche. It’s hard to remove this bugger without it breaking off and growing back. It feeds on fear and misinformation but most of all it gets its nourishment from feeding on silence. Speaking up is the best way to starve this worm to death. As Mr. Patrick Henry once said, “Give me Liberty or give me Death.” Free us from the tape worm of discrimination or death of our humanity will be our permanent reality.
I really do believe that stereotyping and discrimination against Italian Americans is a problem and that it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. I think we are going to see spasms of discrimination as the Obama campaign moves through to the general election. This might be a good time to start facing down some of these issues. You can see a press release that the Commission for Social Justice of the Sons of Italy put out on the disparaging remarks made by NBC sportscaster about Rocco Mediate by going to my blog: http://cronacaman.wordpress.com/2008/06/19/italian...
If you want to see what some people call humor or comedy, take a look at this video on YouTube called “Family Guy Speaks Italian”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JhuOicPFZY. One of the comments posted in response to a protest of this video at this link is “BOOOOO. IT’S JUST COMEDY, YOU MORON.” I disagree. It seems harmless but it’s nothing less than racism masquerading as a cartoon, the most insidious form of racism and discrimination there is. It reminds me of the Camel Joe cigarette ads. They’re meant to seduce young people into thinking that cigarettes are cool and grown-up. But we know that cigarettes are addictive and deadly.
If you would like to see my review of a video of a conference on discrimination against Italian Americans held at Seton Hall University in New Jersey in December 2004 called “Anti-Italianism: Discrimination and Defamation in the History of Italian Americans”, visit this link at Amazon.com:
My proposal for such a conference would be based on something similar to what Lawrence DiStasi and the American Italian Historical Association, Western Chapter recently did with its conference on Central Valley agriculture. This conference might strike a theme like: Is everything right with Italian Americans in the American landscape? or How far have we come since nonni arrived in America? This would give people a chance to speak out and express in what ways they face discrimination or have noticed discrimination. Italian Americans also discriminate themselves and a conference of this nature might just as much be a mirror for Italian Americans to look at themselves and seek some behavior modifications. I don’t think that Italian Americans have come to terms with their true standing in American society. It’s a community that continues to struggle against barriers of acceptance in America.
Some of the “elephant in the room” topics that might be discussed at such a conference could include:
-A segment on the portrayal of Italians in the movies, in print, in law enforcement.
-How is the younger generation dealing with the fallout from the Sopranos? What is their experience in a post-Sopranos world? How many see “The Sopranos” as an identity for Italian American heritage and culture?
-What forms of discrimination take place, for example, in the job search process and what obstacles exist in the workplace, such as promotions? What about political campaigns? Why does the bias persist?
-What other forms of discrimination do men and women of Italian heritage experience? Do Italian American women discriminate against Italian American men in the workplace and vice versa?
-Discuss the image of Italian names from the point of view of market research, such as word association surveys.
-What can people do to minimize being victims of stereotyping and prejudice?
-How much has changed since our grandparents immigrated to America?
-Are Italian Americans too tolerant of ethnic slurs and discrimination against Italian Americans?
-How significant of a role do North-South origins play in bias between Italian Americans?
-Do Italian Americans need a “Garibaldi” figure to free them from “Village Idiot” syndrome?
-What progress have Italian Americans made as a group?
-Is it possible to settle on a single unified Italian American identity?
-What effects do “discrimination through the act of being ignored” have on Italian American self-esteem?
-Is there a glass-ceiling for Italian Americans?
I’m sure there are many other topics that could be discussed. Questions such as How are Italian Americans perceived? Why are they perceived the way they are? What’s the image of Italian Americans in America? How can this be overcome?
We could probably show the Heather Hartley documentary called “Linciati”, which is about the lynching of Italians in New Orleans in 1893, or the latest documentary by Peter Miller on Sacco and Vanzetti. We could have a discussion on Italian American literature, like “Christ in Concrete”, that describes one face of discrimination faced by Italian Americans. This would be an exploration on the roots of discrimination against Italian Americans. This would be a good chance for people to talk about this taboo subject without feeling like they are alone.
I’m sure there are many people who are feeling conflicted over this issue. Bias against Italian Americans is like a stench that hangs in the air. You think you can smell something but you’re not sure if that’s what it is. Or do we think we are we just imagining this?
I think we need to get people together and compare notes once and for all and calibrate just where Italian Americans really stand in America. How much progress have we really made since nonno and nonna left the Old Country? One of the important things about a conference on discrimination is that people should recognize when they see and hear comments that are discriminatory. It’s not okay to accept it. It’s vulgar and demeaning and it takes many forms. My idea for such a conference is to educate and raise awareness of the forms that discrimination takes. It’s also meant to strike down any myths that may actually be out there. And I think an academic forum is the only way to give credibility to the discussion of such a sensitive topic. It needs to be done in a tasteful way without looking like someone has an ax to grind. This is a dialog that America, not just Italian America, needs to have in order for it to continue to grow and to be all that it can be as a nation that has been blessed with the type of Constitution that we have. Destroy the tape worm before it destroys us, the United States of America, which was built on the backs of people from all over the world, especially Italian Americans.
Until we face this issue head on, I think the “Invisible Hand of Adam Smith” will hold Italian Americans back from achieving their true potential. As Lawrence DiStasi taught us with his superb book “Una Storia Segreta”, the best lesson ever: Keep No Secrets
What Can We Do?
First and foremost, END THE SILENCE. When someone passes remark about your possible ties to organized crime, even if it is in a joke form, which most are, challenge the person. If it happens in the work place make it clear you do not appreciate that joke. If it continues file a grievance with your employer. When a person on TV or radio say something that offends you as an Italian American lodge a complaint both to the person and the station. A Congressman was on a radio talk show one afternoon talking about a the high rates of interest that banks were charging for loans. He remarked that at this rate it would be cheaper to go to Vito on the corner to get a loan. I immediately called his office and told some staffer how offended I was with that remark. That afternoon, I received a call from the Congressman who apologized. That Congressman also worked with Italian American groups to promote a positive image of Italian Americans in his district. By the way, I didn't live in his district. Now, that was one of those rare times my complaint worked. I refused to endorse Hillary Clinton because of her first TV commercial showing her as if she was in the last episode of the Sopranos. I called her Chief of Staff, who by the way is Italian American and someone I know, and told her how offended I was with that commercial. Her ridiculous response to me was lighten up, that was pop culture. I told her that when Hillary did an Amos and Andy skit in a commercial I may consider to support her.
The bottom lines, if you hear something offensive, do something about it. Join up with others to fight those denigrate us. Many people complain and dislike Rev. Al Sharpton. I don't. I may not agree with everything he does but I admire the fact that he fights for his people all the time. We need an Al Sharpton in our community. One that is not afraid to be attacked or chastised. One that will lead Italian Americans in a fight for equal rights and go after those that try to negatively stereotype us.
What happened to Italian Americans? They were our Grandparents and Great Grandparents. They were tough and they survived. We need to get that toughness back and begin to stand tall against anyone that wants to hold us down. We need to question how our former Governor, an African American, could release a black man who was found guilty of killing an unarmed Italian American, after only serving four months in prison. If it had been an Italian Governor that released an Italian for the same crime, al hell with break loose, as it should. Not one Italian American Organization or leader voiced any disagreement with what Paterson did. Why? This is what has to stop.
National Italian American Action Network
End the Bigotry and Discrimination
The National Italian American Action Network is a new organization formed by John A. Fratta to fight bigotry against Italian Americans. This organization will be in the forefront of defending the rights and the reputation of the Italian American Community. Although it began in New York we hope to make it a nationwide organization.
The one thing we found during the fight to preserve the San Gennaro Feast is that all the Little Italy Communities in American are experiencing the same issues. Bigotry, discrimination and defamation of character. We will take on these issues wherever and whenever they arise. One Saturday, March 26, 2011 we held our first Italian Unity Day in Little Italy in New York. This was well attended and we are planning a much larger one next year.
As said above, we can no longer be silent while it is open season on our culture and our heritage. People have to know that if they attack the Italian American Community there will be a response.
You can get more information about the National Italian American Action Network by emailing us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update from John A. Fratta
This is an update from John A. Fratta on the National Italian American Action Network.
LAW AND ORDER SVU IN OUR HALL OF SHAME
ITALIAN AMERICAN BIGOTRY CONTINUES
Today in Gatecrasher
Italians offended by DSK likeness
J'accuse! The chairman of the Italic Institute of America is not happy with "Law & Order: SVU" producers' decision to depict a character based on Dominique Strauss-Kahn as an Italian. Rosario Iaconis, who describes the institute as a "think tank devoted to the continuity of Italian culture," tells us that "SVU" creator and producer Dick Wolf "slanders Italy" by "transmuting" DSK, "the frisky French pol accused of sexual assault" into a "lascivious" — and, we predict, Berlusconi-esque—Italian dignitary played by actor Franco Nero for an upcoming episode.
Instead of "recycling hoary stereotypes," Iaconis says producers could have based their "DSK doppelganger" on a number of scandal-scarred public figures including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards or Moshe Katsav, the former Israeli president who is serving seven years in prison for rape.
A spokesman for the show said he was unable to comment by deadline, but noted that the program is fictional.
Columbus Under Attack
If We Do Nothing Columbus Day will Be A Memory
For years now in Colorado Italian Americans celebrating Columbus Day have been attacked. Their annual Columbus Day Parade was been protested and in some cases there was violence. How about vilifying all the American cowboys, who built and tamed the wild west. Let's not forget about elected leaders of that time, neither. The following was posted on facebook by an Italian American warning us that if we do nothing Columbus Day will be obliterated.
ItalianAware: The End of Columbus Day: Canceling Italian America
Another Example Of Promoting A Negative Stereotyping Of Italian Americans
The Public School System
It has just been brought to my attention that the Public School Districts in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties have on their mandated reading list for 6th graders a series of books entitled "Al Capone Does My Shirts". When I heard about this, I checked with the New York City Department of Education. They don't have a mandated reading list for students. However, they do have a Mayor's Approved List of books for 6th graders and yes; this book is listed on it.
You have to ask, why would they be subjecting young children to a book that promotes a negative stereotype of any group? You have to also ask, why do they allow children to even hear the name of a mane of that nature? There are so many positive role models out there but these education departments would rather subject our children to the worst in our community rather then the best.
That is why; the Nassau and Suffolk Counties Board of Education and the New York City Department of Education, along with the Mayor's Office have earned a place in the Italian American Hall of Shame.
ITALIAN AMERICAN HALL OF SHAME
William Thompson, Jr. Battery Park City Authority regarding Pier A
Dick Wolf NBC regarding Law and Order SUV
Sally Ann Salsano - MTV regarding Jersey Shore
Jennifer Jean Graziano -VH1 regarding Mob Wives
David Chase HBO regarding The Sopranos
Bob Beckel - For his Greaseball and Guido Remark on his show "The Five"
Fox Network - For not Firing Bob Beckel
Nassau County Board of Education
Suffolk County Board of Education
New York City Board of Education
mayor's Office City of new York
I want to hear from you!!!!!
I am proud to be an Italian American and i am not happy about the abuse we are targets of on shows like Sopranos, Mob Wives, Law and Order SVU, the FIVE and Jersey Shore. I believe that it is now the time that we make our voices heard. I hope you will join me and write them letters objecting to these types of castings of Italian Americans and start boycotting both the shows, advertisers and networks who seem to think they can get away with this type of behavior.
Do you believe that negative stereotyping against Italian Americans is out of control?
Italian Books, Espresso & Pasta Machines
I am looking forward to hearing from you. I would like to hear your opinions on how to make this site better and you feelings about this very important topic.