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Articles by: Jerry Krase

  • Op-Eds

    Glass Houses (Case di Vetro)


     

    It is always a good idea before beginning a new quest to check on reality as we have come to know it. So, when I started writing this article to ascertain who and what is captivating America’s Collective Consciousness, I checked the “Hot Searches” on AOL. They were as follows: American Idol, Ashley Dupre, Big Brother, and Geraldine Ferraro.
    Such mixing and matching is to be expected in our hyperrealistic world. Similar, whenever I complain about the faulty writing of my students, I am often reminded that “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” (Popoli che abitano in case di vetro non doverebbe gettare le pietre.) It is best to just go along with the flow.
    A short while ago Geraldine Ferraro threw the belated second of two missives at someone of color (qualcuno di colore). In short she had offered that “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position.” What she meant by “this position” of course was in front of her own favorite Presidential aspirant, and incidentally fellow white woman, Hillary Rodham Clinton. As a result she left her perch as "Honorary New York Leadership Council Chair" for the Clinton campaign so she could “speak for herself.” The first rock found its mark during the 1988 Presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson when, according to the Washington Post, she had remarked that "if Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn't be in the race." More troubling (disturbandosi), for us Italian Americans at least, is that when she unsuccessfully ran as Vice President in 1984 and for the Democratic New York Senate nomination in 1992 she suffered from anti-Italian bias and stereotyping.
    Ex-Governor (“9”) Eliot Spitzer made a lot of enemies (molti nemici) when he was New York State’s top stone thrower. As Attorney General of the State of New York he famously went after pimps, pros, politicians, and potentates with a vengeance. Now they are returning the favors. At first he was only under a small cloud for illegally using his newly acquired authority as the Democratic Party’s Governor to persecute the Republican Party’s Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno in the still pending “Trooper Gate” affair. Now he’s under a massive cloud for possible criminal acts such as transporting someone across state lines for the purpose of prostitution, money laundering, misuse of campaign funds, and misuse of State funds. With a great deal of Schadenfreude Italo-americano Joe Bruno, and ex-NYSE Chairman Richard Grasso might say, “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.” Eliot’s most favorite DC date Kristen (Ashley Dupre) would agree, as she is signing contract after contract to profit from the expensive assignation (convegno galante costoso). 
    While we weren’t looking, New York State Lieutenant Governor David Paterson just became the first Black Governor of the State of New York, as well as America’s first Blind Governor. He has demonstrated that, with great effort (con sforzo grande), one can simultaneously overcome more than one hurdle. As Geraldine would agree, Blackness is more talked about in politics than blindness, at least blindness of the eye as opposed to blindness of the mind. It is alleged that Governor Paterson makes up for his visual limitation with a sharp wit and tongue. His oratorical prowess was quickly challenged at an Albany news conference where he was asked whether he had ever patronized a prostitute. He briefly paused and cast his first stone: “Only the lobbyists.” No one seemed to hear the tinkling glass in the background. His father Basil is a member of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, PC, where according the firm’s website: “Among the more than forty labor unions the firm has as clients, Mr. Paterson (dad-babbo) personally represents Local 1199/SEIU; Local 237 (the largest Teamsters local in the U.S.); the United Federation of Teachers and Local 100/Transport Workers Union" Information about the firm can be found www.nyc.gov “Lobbyist Search.” 
    Just like Hillary, Barack Obama seems to attract stone throwers. One of Barack’s top advisors, Samantha Power, threw a small stone at Hillary (called Hil’ a “monster” ((mostro)) and then resigned from the campaign. The white woman was Senator Obama’s senior foreign policy advisers. His Black Pastor, The Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr, of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, on the other hand seems to make a living throwing stones at prominent pale persons. Television networks and web cams alike have been replaying his holy day performances during which he righteously complains that, among other things racial, America is run by rich white people. If this weren’t an election year his political homily would hardly be news worthy. In Hillaryesque fashion Obama has denounced his entertaining but nevertheless racist rants as “inflammatory and appalling (infiammatorio e spaventoso).” Reverend Wright no longer serves on Barack’s African American Religious Leadership Committee, I am told.
    One thing is even more sure than death and taxes in political campaigns; more misdirected verbiage is to come, unfortunately.
     

  • Op-Eds

    What’s Real (and not) in American Politics?


    For me at least, the passing of William F. Buckley adds another nail in the coffin of “real” as opposed to “reality” tele and other journalism. Bill never crossed the, at one time, clear line between the two. As conservative as Bill Buckley was, he was also respected by those on the Left and was often critical of the Right. Frankly speaking, I often can’t distinguish between The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, O’Reilly, Hannity and Colmes, Hardball, Lou Dobbs, and even Kudlow and Company. Virtually all stripes of writers and TV hosts barely hide their partisanship and boosterisms. As the graffiti subway poster shows, the public is not fooled by claims of journalistic objectivity but they also don’t seem to care.

     

    Not surprisingly, today’s candidates for the highest public office are as likely to appear today on Oprah and Saturday Night Live as on Meet the Press and Charlie Rose. Does fact and/or fiction make a difference in life? When I was growing up on the gritty streets of Brooklyn, I was constantly bombarded by cautionary aphorisms, admonitions, and axioms such as “Trust him as far as you can throw him.”, “Don’t believe everything you hear.”, “All that glitters is not gold.”, and the multi-purpose “Things aren’t always as they appear.” It was many years before I grasped the meanings of statements which, paradoxically, refuted themselves. I was singularly gullible and often talked into engaging in dangerous, and sometimes criminal acts by so-called “friends.” So much so that a common retort by authorities (parents, teachers, priests, cops) to my many admissions of guilt was: “If he told you to jump off the Empire State Building would you do it?” To which I would reply, “It depends.” Little did I know that many others had trouble deciphering reality. Plato needed a cave and Lewis Carroll a rabbit hole to explain the worlds they lived in. And Baudrillard?; he gave up on the project and invented hyperreality.

     

    Now many pundits talk about the US Presidential race as though it were a simulation of something else. They mistakenly think the public is confused and can’t distinguish between the actual and the virtual. The most recent of these was an excellent piece by Allessandra Stanley in The New York Times. In The TV Watch she asked the rhetorical question: “20th Debate: Reality Show or a Spinoff?” (2/27/08) Alessandra noted that at the televised Ohio debate Hillary claimed that the press was tougher on her than ‘Bama. To prove it, she unabashedly cited a Saturday Night Live sketch in which the “journalists” asked Barack if he was comfortable. “And for the rest of the evening, the MSNBC debate did look a bit like the “S.N.L.” parody.” In the same sense that The New York Times mirrors The Onion (a parody paper), I might add. There is also the case of the “Two Hil’s.” By that I mean the consecutive appearances of Paris Hilton and then Hillary Rodham Clinton on The David Letterman Show just before “Super Tuesday” (February 5th) which, if I remember correctly stopped one of “Hil’s” in her tracks. We must wait until the results from “Little Super Tuesday” (March 4th) to measure the impact of the “SNL” as opposed to the Letterman” Effects. Apropos of the blending of realities was a recent “Hot Search” offered on Google for: “democratic debate,” followed by “American idol.” Writers and commentators of merit can’t keep themselves from scribing about the time that “Hillary cried” and when “girls swooned when Obama smiled,” or wore a “Somali costume” and committed “plagiarism.” They note that John McCain may have had an “affair with a lobbyist” but ignore the fact that McCain bases much of his “right” to the presidency on his stature as both a victim of torture as well its occasional advocate. There seem to be no real, I mean burning, issues in America today. There is no “manifesto; as in “what to do.” We Americans select the candidate first and then screenwriters script a platform. It is the Great Race, American Idol, Survivor, et al combined. I’m sure that “fictional?” television programs like 24 made Obama more acceptable as President because viewers got used to seeing a Black man (Dennis Haysbert as President Palmer) in the White House. The short-lived Commander and Chief , starring Geena Davis as President Mackenzie Allen, might have done the same for the “better half.” If you were to Google the interrelation between real and imagined black and female presidents during this, an election year you would find tens of thousands of entries, not the least of which (CNN 2/23/07) notes that

     

    BEVERLY HILLS, California (AP) -- The United States will have a female president next year—on the Fox TV series “24.” It is no wonder why we can’t distinguish reality in our virtual cave today where reality, simulation, simulacra, and hyperreality are interchangeable. American politics is not “like” a television show. It “is” a television show. “Where is Jean Baudrillard when you need him?”, he said jokingly. Ask William F. Buckley.

  • Life & People

    Italian Unity - Unità Italiana


    Because I had recently witnessed the orgiastic rite of the Right as the Left left from governing Italy, I wondered what Italian Unity (Unita Italiana) might look like were I ever to observe it up close and personal.  Then I fondly remembered one warm summer night in Urbino a few years ago. It was July of 2006 and I had been invited to the University of Urbino to give a few lectures on Visual Sociology during its UrbEurope Summer School. My topic was “Urban Europe Between Identity and Change” and I held my students enrapt (he said jokingly) as I expounded upon “Visualising change in urban contexts.”  

      

    All was not lost however as my wife Suzanne and I were given the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful city, Urbino, and an exquisite region (Le Marche) of Italy. Our visit was accidentally tied to both the graduations of Urbino's students and the World Cup (la Coppa del Mondo) of Soccer (il Calcio) between the favored (la favorita) France and underdog Italy. 

     

     

     

    Suzanne and I reserved a corner, ring-side table at a restaurant on a small square where a large screen had been set up so that people in the town could watch the contest together. In virtually every other location in the city, bars and restaurants had converted their establishments into extensions of the world cup stadium. The space slowly filled with those of every age and sex, and by the start of the game, we were forced to watch the game under, around, and through those who stood just outside the perimeter of the restaurant and our obstructed view point.

     

    When the international battle ended in a tie, I decided to take a position near the front of the audience and try to capture their reactions during the sudden death shoot off. The following photos need no further explanations as Italians reponded in unison with every shot until they burst into ecstatic fury with the win, hugging and kissing everyone in sight.

     

    They then moved en masse to the main square, Piazza Garibaldi, as folks from other parts of town joined them in a rare dsiplay of national unity.

  • Facts & Stories

    Schadenfreude Italiano


        After all this fuss a few weeks ago about how Ian Fisher of The New York Times was making Italy look bad (faceva fare una mala figura all'Italia), Italy did it all by itself (da sola). The Germans have the word Schadenfreude to describe the malicious pleasure one enjoys when they see someone else fail. Come si dice in italiano Schadenfreude? There certainly must be a cognate, as it seems to be a favorite Italian pastime. 

    Almost every evening at 7:30,  I watch RAI Television News (Telegiornale) on Channel 63. It is there that I witnessed the spectacle in the Italian Senate as the 20 month-old, allegedly Center-Left, government of Romano Prodi disintegerated amid pushing, shoving, shouting, spitting, cursing, and the uncorking of what looked like Asti Spumonti bottles that overflowed during the political orgasm (orgasmo politico). It was brought about by the pique (picca) of a minor party Minister of Justice, Clemente Mastella, who resigned and then vented his anger by withdrawing his party's support in the Senate because his wife was being investigated for corruption. The final tally was 161-156.

        It is said that "nature abhors a vacuum" (la natura aborre il vuoto). Perhaps because of its tragic historical experience with them, Italians abhor strong majorities. It is certainly difficult to have a national leader, no less a Dictator, if no one is allowed to speak for anyone else.  Absolute autonomy is the preferred antidote to Fascism (Fascismo) of left and right. It is also the alluring charm of Italy - chaos (caos). It also explains why Prodi had an easier, and much more successful, tenure leading the European Union than he did Italy (twice-due volte). Over the decades I have read many versions of the story of Italy as Alice's Wonderland (paese delle meraviglie) by the likes of Edward Banfield, Carlo Levi, Luigi Barzini, Gaetano Salvemeni, Antonio Gramsci, and Alexander Stile, and many others. Some thought the backwardness (arretratezza) was limited to the lower classes. Others to the South (il Mezzogiorno)... but of course it runs from top to botom and north to south. For example, many Italian business owners abhor large (especially multinational) corporations who they fear (hanno paura di) will take over a whole industry and reduce Italians to mere little fish in a much bigger bowl.

        This adversion to cooperation, and to the good of the whole over its individual parts (Comunità), obviously came over with Columbus to America. Ironically, America is the place where the Children of Columbus are recognized leaders in almost every aspect of American life; especially as to major American businesses and financial organizations (Iacocca, Bartiromo, Grasso, et cetera.). Yet, for better and for worst, Italian American organizations themselves don't rule. One brief example must suffice here. I may have mentioned somewhere that some three decades ago I was at the founding of American Italian Coalition of Organizations in New York City. A number of us (piu o meno promenenti) had gathered to deal with a crisis of social services to a needy segment of the large Italian American community in the Big Apple (la Grande Mela). My position as a Board member and experience as a community organizer brought me into close contact with dozens of Italian and Italian American groups. One such was a marvelous "Federation" of organizations (clubs) representing more and less recent immigrants organized around the towns, and regions in Italy from which they regularly came and went. 

        My good friend, and one-time President of both the Federation and Coalition, Mario DiSanto often took me to meetings of all the individual clubs, but it was the larger gatherings when all the groups sat around a set of tables that was most instructive as to Italian-style organizations (organizzazioni all'italiana). The official language of the meetings was English; which suited me very well as my facility with Italian was almost nothing (quasi-niente). I was introduced, spoke, and was addressed by the assembled members in English. However, when the group representatives didn't want me to know what was going on, they spoke to each other in Italian.  When they didn't want the other clubs to understand, they whispered amongst themselves in their own dialects.

        According to Jeff Israely in his "How An Italian Government Falls (Time Magazine: 1/24/08): "Most expect that the next showdown at the polls will feature Berlusconi and Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni, who was Prodi's No. 2 back in 1996-98 administration but is no longer close in the same camp. There are reports that Prodi will team up with small parties from the far left to try to stave off Veltroni's rise, which would no doubt bring on more nasty infighting. Many believe that a caretaker government made up of moderates from both center-left and center-right is necessary to bring about the reform necessary to bring more stability to the political system. Such an interim affair would probably turn out to be arcane, and painfully boring. That may be just what the country needs."

        When I was young (quando ero giovane), people said that Italian cars, like the Alfa Romeo, looked good but spent more time in the repair shop than on the road. It was also said it was difficult to find a good Italian mechanic. Given that there have been more than 60 since the end of World War II, one might say the same about Italian governments. Finally, I might say, in sardonic contrast, that American governments seem to run very well but unfortunately (purtroppo) often in the wrong direction.
     
    Postscript (poscritto): As soon as I finished writing this barely bilingual (bilingue) essay, America's Mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, who once led the Republican pack in the race to become America's President, withdrew from the competition. Although this may give rise to Schadenfreude Italiano among many, it is not so for me. As a life-long Democrat, I preferred him as the Republican Party nominee. John McCain, whom Rudy embraced and endorsed, will be a lot more difficult for either Barack  or the Rodham-Clintons to beat in November.

  • Op-Eds

    Giuliani's Italian American Voting Bloc?


          When I finished reading here at i-italy Dom Serafini's animated opinion piece, "Against Rudy Guliani the Strategy is to Divide Italian Americans" that concludes with the phrase "all Americans of Italian origins should indeed vote for Rudy exclusively because he's Italian, which is by itself a good enough reason and a guarantee of everything America stands for." I thought to myself "Great! Italian Americans have finally become so together as a hyphenated ethnic group that they pose a threat and will no longer be ignored by the political powers that be. Then I thought of all the Italian Americans (and Italians) I know who find it difficult to agree on the time of day, even when they are looking at the same clock.


        There is some history to the fact of Italian disunity, as well as their dissing themselves. I'll mention only a few instances which are close to home as to direct experience, and some about which I have written (see below). For example, people often speak of the "old days" when the Brooklyn Democratic Machine was led by cigar-chomping Italian American icon Meade Esposito. In response to complaints by many Italian-American judge-wannabees that they were overlooked by him in favor of other hyphenated-wanabees, I asked him about it at a dinner where he was being honored by an Italian American organization as its "Man of the Year." Meade's matter of fact answer was that Italians were not noted for voting, or contributing. It was a very Italian response.


        When I was campaigning for Mario Cuomo the first time he ran for New York State Governor we had great difficulty generating the hoped for, but never quite realized, overwhelming support from the large Italian American community. Most of the Children of Columbus found him too liberal for their own tastes. Cuomo became much more popular among his brethren as a powerful (but still misunderstood) incumbent. Another very Italian attitude. When Rudy Giuliani ran for Mayor of New York City he also evoked a less then enthusiastic response from many Italo-Americans who said his mob prosecutions showed he was against his "own kind." Like Cuomo, Giuliani became more popular with his own kind as he had patronage to dish out. Also as with Cuomo "it" was never enough. Beyond ancient and contemporary history, there is also ample theory as to why Italians might not vote for other Italians. The Political Machine got its name from the analogy of a mechanism that moves without thinking... automatically. Simple-minded ethnic and other voting blocs are part of the process; Women for Hillary, Blacks for Obama, Mormons for Mitt, Creationists for Mike. etc. Vote for me because I look, speak, pray, believe, like you do. Intelligent voters in real democracies vote in their interests. But in order to do so they must ask and answer the question "If this person is elected how will it benefit me?" My experience in politics, as both a partisan and a researcher, is that although Italian Americans hardly act in concert they are keen on electing people who they think best represent their interests. In fact, even the historically less than stellar rates of participation of Italian Americans reflected their all too often correct judgement that it really didn't make much difference who was elected.


         In order for Italian Americans to be unified, they first must see themselves as sharing some common fate. There are very few issues which weld Italian Americans together (as Italian Americans) and are not cross cutting issues with other groups. Italian American business owners have far more in common with other business owners than with Italian American workers. One issue tested as a unifier has been "Stereotyping" and "Defamation," but too many Italian Americans themselves are more a part of the problem than the solution. By the way, both Mario and Rudy are big fans of Mafia genre films and television. Those who wish to build an Italian American "nationalism" frequently contrast themselves to Jews and Blacks as in "Why can't we be like them?" Frankly, I don't think that the experience of the Holocaust or slavery is devoutly to be wished for anyone.  Perhaps it can happen in foreign policy: "Italy as the homeland for the Italian people ...?" This wouldn't even work in Italy today.


        Although Rudy can count votes on the stereotype of Italians as tough, the fact is that Italian Americans are not monolithically conservative. It is true that many Italians have changed allegiances from the Democratic party. However it was never a real allegiance. Even when Italians were Democrats, they were liberal on economic issues ( as in union contracts) but more conservative on social ones (such as abortion). Ironically, as Italian Americans have become more educated many have also become more liberal on social issues. Rudy is one of these "tough but liberal" conservatives. As to Ethno/Racial Italian solidarity it is doubtful that followers of Geraldine Ferraro, Nancy Pelosi, or Andrew Cuomo would even lip-sync praise to Giuliani. The best thing going right for him right now in the primaries is the pathetic array of candidates displayed by the Republican Party.


        My free (for what it's worth) political consulting advice to Rudy Giuliani, if he really wants to get Italian Americans to vote for him, is to show how they will gain by his elevation. How will they prosper? How will their children not be left behind? This is the same strategy needed by the other (non-Italian-American) candidates to capture and wake up the sleeping giant. For his supporters to simply employ a strategy of saying, even screaming at the top of  their lungs, that Italian Americans should vote for Giuliani because he is, like them, Italian-American is taking a big chance. Italian American voters are hardly the type to respond to "trust me" or "just say yes" campaign slogans.

     



     

    Jerome Krase, "The Missed Step: Italian Americans and Brooklyn Politics." in F. X. Fem­minella (ed.) Italians and Irish in America. Staten Island, New York: AIHA, 1983: 187‑198.

     

    J. Krase and Charles LaCerra. Ethnicity and Machine Politics: The Madison Club of Brooklyn. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1992.

     

    J. Krase, “The American Myth(s) of Ethnicity.” in Shades of Black and White: Conflict and Collaboration between Two Communities. Edited by D.Ashyk, F. l. Gardaphe, and A. J. Tamburri. Staten Island: AIHA, 1999: 103-16.

     

    J. Krase, Phillip Cannistraro, and Joseph Scelsa, (eds). Italian American Politics: Local, Global/Cultural, Personal. Staten Island: AIHA, 2005.


     

  • Op-Eds

    Authentic Little Italy: Che Cos’è?



    Preface

    There are many in the field of Italian American Studies who are not especially sanguine about its future; either as an academic or a more popular cultural enterprise. At meetings of the American Italian Historical Association and the Italian American Writers Association the eyes and smiles of old-timers widen whenever a new young voice is heard. As everyone knows, scholars and authors of all ethnicities require intellectual progeny. To die unquoted or unread is the fate of those in a special section reserved for intellectuals in Dante’s First Circle of the Inferno.

    On the brightest side, I had the recent pleasure, and indeed honor, of helping to launch a new journal with my “Authentic Little Italy: Che Cos’e? A Photo Essay” (presented here in brief) in The Harvard College Journal of Italian American History and Culture. The Journal was created by Editors in Chief- Justin Rossi and Sabino Ciorciari, under the guidance of their Faculty Advisor- Elvira DiFabio, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Romance Languages at Harvard.

                The Harvard Italian American Association started this project in November, 2006 to be distributed on campus as well as to Italian American leaders, scholars, academic programs, and organizations. Its goal is to promote the highest level of scholarship and provide a forum and resource for those with a passion for all levels of Italian American culture. HIAA’s
    Mission
    is “t
    o promote and engage the rich culture of all things Italian American and to provide a welcoming Italian American community on the Harvard campus.” More information about the group can be found on its website: http://www.harvarditalianamerican.org

     

    Introduction

    Is there an “authentic” Little Italy, and if there is, what does it look like? On the first part of the question, I take the negative position. The second part of the question though is a bit more complex. In cities across the
    United States
    , Italian neighborhoods of one sort or another, real and imagined, are presented as spectacles for visitors from far and near. Even more unfortunately, these places are seen as representations of “real” Italian Americans.

     

      


     


    Portland, Maine July, 2000

     

    During a trip to
    Portland, Maine I asked where I might find the Italian American section of town. He gave me simple directions that I followed across a recent highway extension to a partially cleared mixed residential, industrial, and commercial part of the city. There I found a few “Italian” restaurants and businesses, “St. Peter’s Catholic Church founded by the Italian Community” as well as indications of an Italian past in the form of fig trees and grape vines growing wild. It seemed to have an Italian Present, but little in the way of an Italian Future except for this delivery van making a claim of ethnic authenticity for “Amato’s Italian Deli.”

    Despite the fact that more than sixteen million claim to be Italian American today and that Italian American stereotypes are common, a many scholars maintain that Italians Americans are not a “real” ethnic group at all. Rudolph Vecoli strongly disagrees and argues that Italian American are not “just like” any other White Folks. In American society today being an Italian American, or being identified as such, has significant effects on one’s life chances which are different from others, even other White Ethnic groups. For better as well as for worse, that which stands for Italian Americans and Italian America is Little Italy. For some Italian Americans, it is also the place where they periodically seek authenticity and a return to “Their roots.” One often reads in local newspapers about Italian Americans who return to the “old neighborhood” from the suburbs to shop, touch base with remaining old friends, or to attend a religious or cultural festival. In most cases the neighborhood they or their offspring are returning to is not what they left behind. Some “Italian” neighborhoods are virtually empty of those with Italian roots. In other cases remaining Italian Americans are surrounded by restaurants and shops more designed for tourists than for them. Little
    Italy
    entrepreneurs have often responded by “creating” authenticity in sometimes perverse ways.

    Most of these Little Italies are examples of what I have termed “Ethnic Theme Parks” which are preserved as spectacles for the appreciation of tourists. I must caution the reader however that I have selected for this essay some images which are the most glaringly, in my opinion, non-representative of Italians in
    America
    today. Although the images are taken in different Little Italies they could have been found in almost all of them. In many of these same neighborhoods there is much to be commended and recommended as to local Italian American life and culture. Unfortunately it is not these more accurate ethnic elements which are the easiest to turn into saleable commodities.

     

     

     

    North End,
    Boston
    , 2004

     

    I have been observing and photographing the changing urban landscape of
    Boston
    for a quarter of a decade. The North End of Boston has long been an urban tourist space with a split personality. All year long, in this now highly gentrified neighborhood most of the visitors come in search of American Colonial and Revolutionary War landmarks such as the
    Old North Church, and follow one or another variant of the Freedom Trail walking tour. For many others, it is a place to find “Authentic Italian Cuisine” at restaurants like Al Dente, and, in season, observe an Italian feast. Note that as tourist restaurants open, old neighborhood ones close to make room for them.

     

     

     

     

    Wooster Street, New Haven, 2003.

     

    As most other Little Italies, the Wooster Street version in
    New Haven
    has well defined boundaries. In addition to an impressive street spanning arch marking the grand entrance to the Wooster Street, red white and green banners like this festoon the commercial strip. Not far away, minus the banners, one might discover the more historically important Italian Consulate building.

     

     

     

     

    Al Capone at the Italian Market on Arthur Avenue, The
    Bronx, 2006

     

     

     

     

    Umberto’s Clam House Replica on Arthur Avenue, The Bronx, 2006

     

    As other Little Italies in New York City continue to demographically wane, Arthur Avenue in the
    Belmont
    section of The Bronx has made a strong claim to be the most authentic of the remaining enclaves. This is despite the fact that only a small minority of persons who identify themselves as Italian American still live there among Latinos and Albanians. Old institutions such as the “Italian” Public Market still remain, but others such as a replica of Manhattan Little Italy’s Umberto’s Clam House have recently appeared on the scene.

     

     

    Al Fresco Eating on Mulberry Street, Manhattan, 2007.

     

     

     

     

    San Gennaro among Wooden Indians in a Cigar Store Window,
    Manhattan
    , 2007

     

    The most venerated, perhaps venerable , and certainly the most visited of all of America’s Little Italies continues to be on Mulberry Street which is squeezed on three sides by a growing Chinatown and on the other side by  gentrifying NoLito (North of Little Italy). The barely religious Neopolitan feast of San Gennaro still takes place here but most of the year it is simply a collection of more or less “Italian” eating places and emporia.

     

    Frank Rizzo Mural
    Philadelphia
    , 2002

     

    The ethnic composition of
    Philadelphia
    ’s Bella Vista neighborhood has been ethnically mixed and changing for almost a century and a half. Italian Americans comprise the one European group that stayed in large numbers after Irish Catholics, and Russian Jews moved away. Yet the neighborhood is still described in tourist brochures as a “Little Italy.” In the same sense Black, Chinese, Jewish, Korean, Lebanese, South Asian, Vietnamese and other merchants bring their ethnic foods and other products to sell at the famous Ninth Street “Italian Market”. In 2002, Philly’s Italian political icon, two-term Mayor, Frank Rizzo (1920-91) was still watching over the neighborhood in a mural by Diane Keller.

     

     

     

    Al Pacino as Don Michael Corleone, The Godfather III, 1990,
    Baltimore, 2003

     


    Baltimore
    ’s Little Italy can be found just east of the city’s Inner Harbor Area and boasts that it is one of the city's busiest restaurant districts. The photo below was taken in one of its most well-known eateries, but Al Pacino’s familiar face is frequently plastered on the walls of Little Italy bistros. As in other urban enclaves, Italians moved into the area during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even though most other groups left, the neighborhood is still home to a significant Italian community in a “hot” local housing market.

     

     

     

    Gift shop in The Hill,
    St. Louis, 2002.

     

              When I visited “The Hill” in 2002 I knew that the area was settled in the early 1900s by Italian immigrants and that some of its residents carry on traditions in this neighborhood which is a short distance from a rather unimpressive downtown. I also knew that baseball personalities Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola had once lived there. Having visited similar sites, I was not surprised to find fire hydrants painted in the Italian tricolore and gift shops which sold products like those displayed in the photo above.

     

     

     


    North Beach,
    San Francisco, 2001.

     

            At the late 19th century the space near Fisherman’s Wharf was known as “
    Italy Harbor” as Italians, originally crammed into the steep sides of the bay side of Telegraph Hill overflowed into the valley and formed the
    North Beach “Italian Colony.” A hundred years later little is left of the illustrious maritime community near the wharves at the base of Columbus Avenue other than numerous “Italian” restaurants.

     Note: Some of my photo galleries on Little Italies in The Bronx, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New Haven can be found at: www.brooklynsoc.org on the right had side of the page.

    Reference

    Rudolph J. Vecoli, “Are Italian Americans Just White Folks?,” in Jerome Krase and Frank Sorrentino (eds), The Review of Italian American Studies. Lanham, Maryland:
    Lexington Books 2000: 75-88.

  • Op-Eds

    Losing in Translation


               

    Unlike most third-generation hyphenated-Americans, who are barely monolingual, I am not fluent in many other languages as well; Italian being only the best of a large collection of them. At 7 AM every weekday morning I stroll down the street to “Dizzies Finer Diner” where I read all the
    New York City
    daily newspapers, placing them carefully back in the rack when I am finished. So when, last Thursday (December 13, 2007), I perused Ian Fisher’s “In a Funk, Italy Sings an Aria of Disappointment” in The New York Times I was more than a bit amused. His opening paragraph set the tone for the next two-thousand-five-hundred words: “All the world loves
    Italy because it is old but still glamorous. Because it eats and drinks well but is rarely fat or drunk,” (devoutly to be wished?)… “But these days, for all the outside adoration and all of its innate strengths,
    Italy
    seems not to love itself.” The funk was “--summed up in a recent poll: Italians, despite their claim to have mastered the art of living, say they are the least happy people in
    Western Europe.” Even
    Rome
    ’s mayor, Walter Veltroni, was quoted as saying something Jimmy Carter might have said better --“There is more fear than hope.” Because not understanding Italian, Italians, and
    Italy
    is not unusual in even the most exulted of American journals, I thought nothing more of it. After all, to be Italian is to be as was my Sicilian-American mother, pessimistic. That is until later that day.

    My usual Thursday evening habit is making dinner for my wife, three daughters, occasionally their spouses, and always my grandchildren. After dinner, while they go upstairs to visit my wife’s ninety-something parents it gets marvelously quieter. So, I put in my hearing aid and watch-listen to the evening news in a few of my bad languages. For the first ten minutes of RAI’s evening news program, a long list of important persons seemed to be much less amused than I was about Ian’s funky article. They sounded as though they were insulted, but then again perhaps it was I, and not The Times that misunderstood Italians.

    On weekends, Dizzies opens late for brunch so I go to Jimmie’s to get the papers (Newsday and Nowy Dziennik on Saturday and The New York Times and La Repubblica/Oggi on Sunday). Then I cross the street to Connecticut Muffin for coffee and quality reading time. There was nothing about
    Italy
    (Wloch) in Nowy Dziennik that I noticed. However, on the front page of La Repubblica, left bottom corner I found La Polemica. There, Vittorio Zucconi wrote something cleverish about America “seeing itself in the mirror of Italy” which segued on page nine to what looked like “sinking dollar, weak economy, and ghosts of “fatto in
    America
    .” Vittorio’s first paragraph was an even worse mirror image of
    America than Ian’s was of Italia, as well as more sarcastic. There was also a word there for which I couldn’t find another, “mucillagine” but I assume it wasn’t nice. Facetiously he concluded with, “
    Courage, America, keep your head up and don’t listen to newspapers and polls.”

    Knowing that there will be some out there who will claim that either Fisher and/or The Times, is biased against things Italian, I searched the Times website archive for Ian Fisher’s 2007 articles on Italy and found in order: Romanian Premier Tries to Calm Italy After a Killing; Italy Struggles Under Truck Strike; 701 Planned Expulsions And 141 Arrests in Security Sweeps;  Migrants Drown Off Sicily; 6 More With C.I.A. Sought in Kidnapping; For Italy’s Premier, Endurance Pays Off, for Now; Italian President Visits Pope; Germany: Denial From Suspect in Italy, and  Italy: U.S. Will Not Hand Over C.I. A. Suspects. Minus the calcio, not much different from La Repubblica. At least it’s better than when a previous Times correspondent on Italy, Allessandra Stanley, seemed to think that reporting about the Vatican was the same as reporting about
    Italy
    .

    I can’t end this linguistic excursion without a note about Oggi, where I found an interesting piece on the recent establishment of a Fiorello LaGuardia Day in
    New York City
    . Among the usual suspects at such events (ex-NYC Mayor Ed “I” Koch and current NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg), were La Guardia impersonator Tony Lo Bianco,  LaGuardia’s great-granddaughter Katherine, and Gay Talese. Talese when asked replied that the contemporary figure, he thought most like LaGuardia was Rudolph Giuliani. Katherine Gabriela LaGuardia D’Addario seemed to me to demure as she offered that among the presidential candidates, Barak Obama might be a “little” like him. Perhaps it’s the African connection. Were I asked, in Italian, for a political comparison for Rudy it would be with Silvio Berlusconi (minus the cosmetic surgery of course). If the question were asked in American, it would be Hillary Rodham, vis-à-vis married men fooling around while in public office. Then again my American is not perfect either.

     

  • Facts & Stories

    Nancy Pelosi for President and other Proposals


    The other day I was perusing one of four New York city dailies (I can't remember which or don't wish to reveal which) and came across an unusually less than accurate and reasonably inarticulate column (so it might have been the New York Post) in which there was a sycophantic droolathon about Rudy Giuliani (definitely the Post) and his fitness for filling the shoes of "W" which in my humble opinion is relatively easy to do.



    In the piece, a well-misinformed official of a major national Italian American group was quoted as an expert on Italian American voters who it seems are a more or less sleeping giant which could be aroused by "The Rude One" (my nickname for Himself when he mayored us in NYC). In fact he incredibly said about Giuliani's chances that: "Still, this is the first time Italian-Americans have had a national candidate to support."



    Wow! This Italian American expert guy never heard of Geraldine Ferraro, who was an actual candidate of the Democratic Party for Vice President as the running mate of Walter Mondale in 1984. I thought to myself, how is this possible? Because she is an Italian American? Because she is bright? Because she is (excuse the word) articulate? Because she is beautiful? Because she is a Democrat? Because she is liberal? Which of these traits, or combination thereof, makes her so unremarkable?



    Which brings me back to Nancy Pelosi; Italian American, bright, beautiful, articulately liberal Democrat who has the courage to go head to head with both enemies and friends to do the best for her country. For example the head of the Executive Branch told her, the titular head of one half of the Legislative Branch, that she shouldn't go to Syria and she told him where he ought to go. As we know, "W" has trouble remembering the intricacies, and even the obvious, of the US Constitution at times. Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House of Representatives doesn't have similar problems in recognizing the limits of her power.



    If I weren't already married to a similarly endowed woman, I'd be chasing her all over the place. Since I can't propose marriage, I will simply propose Nancy Pelosi for President. Seriously though, wouldn't she make a great "first"? Nancy for President campaign contributions (preferably in cash) can be sent to me starting immediately, and don't tell my wife.

     

     

  • Life & People

    What’s Italian, Who’s Italian American, What's in a name?


    As part of the 2004 American Cummunity Survey, the report shows that since the year 2000 about 1,093,880 more people identified themselves as "Italian American" to the researchers. The I-A total has risen to 16,817,286.  Taking intermarriage into account and the reluctance of some to identify themselves as Italian American or anything else other than just plain American, it can be estimated that  the number of people in the United States with at least one Italian grandparent is around 26 million.

    * * *

     During the "Alito for Supreme Court Campaign," as editor of an Italian American Internet site, I was bombarded with appeals by Italian American organizations but didn’t feel the urge in the slightest join the crowd.

    With a name like "Krase," I am frequently asked why I am interested in the group to which, they assume, I don't belong. Even my dear old friend, Jerre Mangione insisted on referring to me as “Jerre.” "What's Italian?" Fred Gardaphe says it is things like omerta, and bella figure. An Agnelli Foundation study found Italians value family, neighborhood, community, and domestic life. They are realistic and pragmatic. Can we say that people who share these values are Italian American and those who don't are not?

    The field of Italian American Studies emerged during "Rise of the UnMeltable Ethnics" and was viewed as a hostile reaction to Black nationalism and Afro‑American cultural revival. As a “working class style”, Italian American ethnic consciousness is still seen merely as "defensive,” “symbolic” and not "authentic." However, in the 1990 and 2000 Censuses over 16,000,000 said they were Italian American. Perhaps Italian Americans also defy logic.

    Even though Italian Americans are well integrated, they are still distinct. Other than by self-identifica­tion, how is membership in an ethnic group determined? Who should define? Despite disunity Italian Americans are united by shared images about who "they" are. And, stereotypes to the contrary, they are extremely diverse and are neither  monolithic nor cohesive. Many have more in common with non‑Italian Americans than with each other.


    A hundred years ago Italian Americans were simply Italian "Foreign‑born." Nationality and race were virtually synonymous, so Italians were also a “racial” group. By the 1940s the Census Bureau added "Foreign Stock" category of persons with at least one foreign‑born parent. After World War II ethnic groups were more seen as cultural, and less as genetic groups. The 1980 Census asked a sample of the population to identify themselves ethni­cally. In 1990 this was included in the full enumeration and as a large sample in 2000. In this way ethnicity, moved from a genetic to a symbolic term. For each definition we have different Italian Americans. Note also that "born in Italy" is a misleading concept as "cultural Italians" come from many other places. While the number of Italian immigrants and foreign-born Italians has decreased, the definition of who is Italian American has been expanding. I think it should continue to expand.

    Ethnic Identity matters. I have been Director of the Brooklyn College Italian American Center, American Italian Historical Association President, and American Italian Coalition of Organizations of New York City Founding Member. In every case my ethnic "fitness" for the role was challenged. When I ran for President of the AIHA, one of my well-meaning friends put Jerry "Cangelosi" Krase on the ballot, as a way of enhancing my candidacy. I won by a whisker to someone with an Italian name.

    We Italian Americans, Krases included, are an extremely varied lot. We are proud of every drop of us, yet much of what we do would not be seen by others as "Italian American" accomplishments. My oldest daughter Kristin Krase was the VP of her senior class at Vassar; is an Educational Psychologist, and mother of Spencer Rocco and Leander Jerome Letizia. Her marvelous children are seen as Italian American but she is not. Karen Krase (now Delgado), was a scholar athlete at Manhattanville College and is an accomplished Pediatric Occupational Therapist. She, and my beautiful nieta Isabella, will certainly become role models for Latinos, but regrettably not for Italian Americans. Finally Kathryn Krase, a Cornell graduate, has a MSW and a JD and is on staff at Fordham University. She married a Cahill. Whether Krase or Cahill she is beyond the Italian Pale. My wife, Dr. Suzanne Nicoletti is a hospital administrator as well as an Adjunct Associate Professor. Until she hyphenated the “Krase” most people thought she was Jewish. All Krases can trace their roots to Sicily, and Campania. But they also have Russyn-Carpathian, Polish, Slovak, Czechoslovak, Croatian, Yugoslavian, Austrian, and Galician roots. By narrowly defining Italian Americans we ignore the contributions of tens of millions who trace their roots to Italy.

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