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My Turn

Musical adventure

by Addison Teng In November 2019, Music Institute of Chicago violin and chamber music faculty member Addison Teng took three of his students — Maia Law (age 17, Glencoe), Aria Messina (age 16, Chicago) and Kodai Speich (age 16, Rockford) — on a 10-day trip to San Marino and Italy. The trip was hosted by Istituto Musicale Sammarinese in San Marino; Conservatorio Bruno Maderna in Cesena, Italy; and Istituto Superiore di Studi Musicali “Pietro Mascagni” in Livorno, Italy. The Music Institute students performed alongside local students and took masterclasses from conservatory professors. The mission of this residency was to promote ...

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For love of la bella lingua

Five-time Oscar winner Federico Fellini once said, “A different language is a different vision of life.” As a world-renowned film director, Fellini captured many aspects of life through his lens, immersing us in various cultures. Fellini believed that exposure to different languages forces us to see the world from the perspective of the people who speak those languages and the cultures in which they live. I am proud to have been named the ente gestore (president) of Italidea-Midwest as of January 2020. Italidea-Midwest is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to teaching students the Italian language as well as the traditions ...

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The fight of our lives

We are stronger together than apart. There is no greater testament to that fact than the multiethnic coalition that has rallied to reverse the Chicago Board of Education’s decision to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The removal of Columbus Day is not just about Italian Americans. On the evening of Feb. 26, while most of us were welcoming home our children from school or sharing dinner with family or friends, the Chicago Board of Education usurped Columbus Day. Poof. It was gone faster than your Nonno could pinch your cheek and let go. And why? Because the community ...

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Italians know things

“Is my eggplant parmesan soggy?” I queried my husband after a New York Times Food Section article thrust me into momentary self-doubt. “NEVER,” he reassured me. “Solving the Puzzle of Eggplant Parmesan” (NY Times, Sept. 22, 2017) quoted the advice of several accomplished chefs — one who learned to cook at his mother’s side in her well-regarded restaurant in Lyon, France — but none of them were Italian. What’s wrong with this picture? We Italians irrefutably know certain things about life, love and food. These lessons were taught to us in our nonnas’ kitchens, absorbed through the atmosphere of our ...

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Education trumps anti-defamation

The predominant image of Italian Americans in today’s media comes through representation of our working-class presence. The predominant voice of protest of those images comes from Italian Americans in the middle class. Those educated out of the working class no longer connect to those who have remained working class. One result of this class mobility through education is the creation of Americans with Italian names who do not see anything wrong with writing, producing, directing and acting in films that, while protected by the First Amendment, offend other Italian Americans. For help in understanding this struggle, we need to review ...

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Here we go again

A huge warehouse. Rival gangs. Bad blood. It all came together when a group of gangsters, dressed as outsiders, surprised their rivals and murdered them in cold blood on a cold February day. We all know the story: the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, Feb. 14, 1929. Actually, no. The gang rub-out described above refers to the Wah Mee Massacre of Feb, 19, 1983, which took place in Seattle. Thirteen gangsters were brutally murdered as opposed to the seven who were killed in Chicago, thus making it the worst mass gang slaying in American history. And yet, no one ...

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City of my soul

I first journeyed to Matera, Italy, in 1985. It’s found in southern Italy in a once impoverished region of Basilicata. The city has been inhabited by man since the paleolithic era and is touted by some as the longest continually lived-in community on Earth. It’s extensive cave-like dwelling districts, the Sassi, are a marvel to behold. Witnessing Matera from across its massive ravine, one comes to appreciate why it’s been known as the underground city. It appears as it has since the time of Christ, so much so that Matera has frequently been used as the background for biblical films, ...

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We’ve endured far worse

I can’t recall the last time a film was as simultaneously popular and polarizing as “Green Book.” The story about the unlikely friendship that blossoms between a casually racist Italian-American bouncer and an elitist African-American concert pianist during a road trip through the South in 1962 was a fan favorite, earning $322 million at the worldwide box office. It also cleaned up during awards season, netting Oscars as well as Golden Globes for best picture, supporting actor and original screenplay. But the cinematic rendition of the real-life sojourn taken by Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga and Don Shirley attracted as much ...

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We deserve better

“In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons … who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.” No, that’s not a quote from a conspiracy theorist. Nor does its vaguely sinister overtone belong to someone like Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s vile minister of propaganda. Ironically, it’s a quote from Edward Bernays, the brilliant 20th-century American credited as the father of ...

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The culture we belong to

In my mother’s hometown in Italy, people don’t ask, “What is your name?” Rather, they ask, “To whom do you belong?” You answer with the family name, actually most of the time with the nickname by which your family is known in town. The importance of belonging to a family, to a community, comes before one’s own individuality. The community shares the same values, customs, traditions and dialect, as well as hopes, beliefs and expectations. Italians who left Italy and came to this country have maintained many of those values and traditions. The fourth- and fifth-generations Italian-Americans of today are ...

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