Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Legacy of Achievement: The Italian Americans

Italians have greatly contributed to science, arts, technology, cuisine, sports and banking worldwide. Italian people are also known for their attention to clothing and family values.

In addition to the 60 million Italians living in Italy, it is estimated that nearly 80 million people of full or part Italian ancestry live outside of Italy, mostly in South America, North America, Australia and Europe.  Here are countries that have Italian blood:
1.Brazil 25 million, 2.Argentina 20 million, 3. USA 18 million, 4. France 4 million,
5.Canada  1.5 million, 6.Uruguay 1.3 million, 7. Australia 850 000, 8.Venezuela 700 000
9. Germany 700 000,   10. Switzerland  600 000,  11. Peru   500 000,
12. United Kingdom 400 000, 13.Belgium 290 000, 14. Chile 150 000, 15. Paraguay 100 000,
16. South Africa 45 000, 17. Holland 30 000,  17. Mexico 20 000, 18. Costa Rica 20 000.

 A major wave of Italian immigrants came to America during the 1880’s through the 1920’s, after Italy’s unification in1861, when over 4 million Italians entered the United States. However the impact was far greater in countries like Brazil and Argentina.  The first Italian immigrants to America were from northern Italy, Veneto, Friuli, Lombardia and Piemonte. They were followed    by people from southern Italy: Sicily, Calabria, Campania and Abruzzi.

 Italian immigrants were originally discriminated against. In fact, there was a time when speaking Italian was a crime. It is ironic when we consider that America was named after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian explorer and geographer.

Italians and their descendants in America helped shape the country and contributed to the advancement in the quality of life in the United States.  They gained prominence in politics, sports, media, fine arts, culinary arts and in many other fields of endeavor.  No wonder that every year the US President signs an executive order designating the month of October as the National Italian American Heritage Month.  This proclamation is recognition of the many achievements and contributions of Italian Americans.
Here is a short list of prominent Italian American personalities among many other great Italian legends: Rodolfo Valentino, Fiorello La Guardia, Gerardine Ferraro, Nancy Pelosi, Mario and Andrew Cuomo, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, Antonio Meucci, Ghirardelli, Enrico Fermi, Enrico Caruso, Antonin Scalia, John Sirica, Madonna, Susan Lucci, Susan Sarandon, Anne Bancroft, Robert De Niro, Francis Ford Coppola, Sylvester Stallone, Leonardo Di Caprio, Danny De vito, Al Pacino, Alan Alda, Sonny Bono, Danny Aiello, Ben Gazzara, Ernest Borgnine, Mario Lanza, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Perri Como, Julius La Rosa, Louis Prima, Connie Francis, Annette Funicello, Henri Mancini, Guy Lombard, Liberace, Tony Danza, Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Yogi Berra, Tommy Lasorda, Joe Di Magio, Tony La Russe, Primo Carnera, Rocky Marciano.

I would like to add two names that are not well known but noteworthy nonetheless: Adelina Patti, a soprano who, while singing at the White House, touched the heart of President Abraham Lincoln, and Amadeo Giannini who founded The Bank of Italy in 1904 in San Francisco.
It served working class citizens of the area, especially Italian Americans living in San Francisco’s North Bay area. In 1928, The Bank of Italy merged with the smaller Bank of America.  In 1930 Giannini changed the name Bank of Italy to Bank of America.

Today the Italians are the 5th largest ethnic group in the US after the Germans, Irish, English and Africans. Thanks to various organizations, such as the Italian American Heritage Commission in New Jersey, the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) in Washington D.C. and
Casa  Italiana  Zerilli-Marini New York University, Italian culture is florishing in the USA.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Origins of Mafia

The MAFIA society is over 600 years old.  It started in 1282 in Palermo when Sicily was under French rule. On Easter Monday, during the evening prayer (vespers), a Frenchman harassed a Sicilian girl. I should mention that there are different accounts of the harassment, as to who the woman was, and who the Frenchman was. In fact, THE NEW YORK TIMES reported on May 3, 1891, that a beautiful young girl and her fiancé (betrothed) had approached the Church of the Holy Spirit in order to be united in marriage. As the custom dictated the groom went to look for the father of the bride in a room at the back of the church. While the bride was waiting in front, a drunken French sergeant threw his arm around her waist and with the other hand grabbed her breast.  The poor girl, overtaken by fear, started to scream and tried to run away.. Unfortunately, her shoe got caught in the crack of a stone pavement and she fell, hitting her head against the corner of the church building. At that very instant her betrothed arrived and, seeing his future wife down and bleeding, took his stiletto and drove it into the assailant’s chest crying Morte Alla Francia Italia Anela.”(Death to France is Italy’s Cry). As you can see the word MAFIA is an acronym formed from the first letters of the above Italian phrase. This incident infuriated all Sicilians who started to form secret societies who took up arms against the French who had ruled the Kingdom of Sicily with a very repressive regime since 1266. In fact this insurrection led to the so called War of the Sicilian Vespers which ended with their expulsion in 1302 with the Treaty of Caltabellotta.

The Mafia in America is believed to have been started by Don Vito Cascio Ferro, who fled to New York following the murder of a banker in Sicily. In the 1920’s, when Mussolini tried to eradicate the Mafia, many members of the secret society fled to America.  It doesn’t surprise me to read that during W.W.II, the Mafia collaborated with the Allies once they landed in Sicily.
In fact, they freed all anti-Mussolini prisoners including many society members. Once some were placed in positions of power, they started to make deals with politicians. If you look at the present political situation in Italy and at the number of politicians accused of corruption, you understand when it all started..