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My Turn

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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Mysterious Garfagnano

Since both my driving and language skills are severely challenged in Italy, I always hire Marcello, a driver/interpreter, when I’m researching a new novel. A few years ago, Marcello and I were speeding along the highway hugging the western bank of the Serchio River north of Lucca when we saw a mammoth stone footbridge at Borgo e Mazzano. Its beautiful humpback shape was obviously the work of many experienced craftsmen. “Wow! What’s that?” I asked. “The Ponte della Maddalena,” Marcello said. “But nobody calls it that. It’s Ponte del Diavolo.” The Devil’s Bridge? With a straight face, Marcello went on ...

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Vindication in New Orleans

On April 12, 2019, New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell officially apologized to the Italian-American community for the part her city played in the horrific lynching of 11 Italians more than a century earlier. In so doing, she brought some measure of closure to one of the most horrific abuses that our community has endured. The apology has its roots in the emancipation of slaves in the South after the Civil War. At the time, New Orleans found itself in need of cheap labor that ended up being filled by immigrants from Italy, particularly Sicily. They came in such great numbers ...

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Italidea-Midwest needs YOU!

The great South African leader Nelson Mandela once noted, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” As Mandela suggests, through Italian language, we can deepen our connection to all things Italian. And as we all know, Italy has so much to offer. Its art, culture, music, food and architecture are justly famous throughout the world and have given much pride to those of Italian heritage. The importance of Italian as a language not just of art, food ...

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