header i-Italy

Articles by: Tom Verso

  • Facts & Stories

    Italian Americans by the Numbers: Age, Gender & Generations

    Series Preface


    This blog series “Italian Americans by the Numbers” presents demographic data about Italian Americans based on the US Census Departments “2005-2007 American Community Survey (ACS)”.  The ACS collects and produces population and housing information every year instead of every ten years.  The 2005-2007 ACS three-year estimates are based on data collected between January 2005 and December 2007.”


    For a more detailed introduction to the ACS, please see the first article in this series “Italian Americans by the Numbers - Comparative ethnic population totals and percentages” located at

    ·       i-Italy.org – Bloggers– “South of Rome West of Ellis Island”

    ·      or click on the link in this article


    If there are any questions comments or requests for particular information, please place them in the comments section below or write to me directly at [email protected]. 





    Below are tables and charts describing the following:


         I.     Numbers and percentages of Americans and Italian Americans in various  Age and Gender cohorts, and comparisons of percentages of Italian Americans in each cohort with the American population as a whole. 

      II.     “Child and old age dependency ratios”.  

    III.     Based on the ACS age cohorts, I present an ‘approximate’ division of the Italian American population into generations.





    I. Age and Gender Table below shows:


    A.  Population Totals

    ·     “Total American Population” – At the top of the chart, highlighted in green, Column B / Row 5 (i.e. 298,757,310)

    ·     “Italian American Population” - Column C / Row 5  (i.e. 17,765,915)



    B. Age/Gender Cohorts

    Starting with Row # 10, each row represents an ‘Age’ and/or ‘Gender’ cohort (group).  Column B identifies the cohort, columns C, D and F provides the information (row 8 column headings) about each cohort.  Thus, for example,


    ·      Row 13 presents information about the cohort of people “Under 5 years”. 

    ·      Column C tells us that 6.9% of the “Total American population” is in that cohort (i.e. 6.9% of all Americans are under the age of 5). 

    ·      Column D tells us that 7.3 % of the “Italian American” population falls into that cohort (i.e. 7.3 % of Italian Americans are under the age of 5)

    ·      Column F tells us ‘how many’ Italian Americans are under the age of 5.  This number is calculated by multiplying the % number in column D by the total number of Italian Americans in Column C / Row 3. Thus:  7.3% * 17,765,915 = 1,296,912 Italian Americans are under 5 years of age.


    C. Median Ages and corresponding population numbers are presented in Rows 57-58, and explanatory note in rows 60-65.


    Points to consider about Age, Gender & Median Age


    In Row 50-53 is “NOTE” drawing attention to the similarities between percentages in the Italian American population and the American population as a whole  (i.e. similarities in % numbers in Columns C &D), and Median Age.  In percentage terms, there does not seem (to me) to be a significant difference between Italian Americans and the American population as a whole.  As this series progresses, I will direct the readers attention to such percentage comparisons in terms of Education, Family Structure, etc. 


    If there are not significant quantitative differences between Italian Americans and the American population as a whole, then the question arises: “What does it mean to be an Italian American?  This is a question about culture and may not be quantifiable.


    II. AGE dependency ratios:


    There are three Age Dependency Ratios:


    • Child dependency ratio

    “A measure derived by dividing the population ‘under 18 years’ by the ‘18 to 64 years’ population and multiplying by 100. (American Community Survey and Population Estimates Program)”


    • Old age dependency ratio

    “A measure derived by dividing the population ‘65 years and over’ by the ‘18 to 64 years’ population and multiplying by 100. (American Community Survey and Population Estimates Program)”


    • Combined Age dependency ratio

    “A measure derived by dividing the combined ‘under 18 years’ and ‘65 years and over’ by the ‘18-64 years’ population and multiplying by 100. (American Community Survey and Population Estimates Program)”


    The Age Dependency Ratio Table below reports these three ratios.


    Column A list the relevant “Age Cohort”. 

    Column B list the ‘total number of American’ in the cohort. 

    Column C list the ‘total number Italian Americans’ in the cohort.


    Row #5 (highlighted in green) shows the Child Dependence ratio for “Total American Population” (column B) and “Italian American” population (column C).  It is computed by dividing the number in Row 4 (“under 18 years”) by the number in Row 2 (“18 to 64 years) and multiplying the result by 100.  Thus, for example the “Child Dependence ratio for Italian Americans is 4,788,413 / 11,010,766 * 100 = 43.5%


    Row #8 (highlighted in blue) shows the Old Age Dependence ratio for “Total American Population” (column B) and “Italian American” population (column C).  It is computed by dividing the number in Row 7 (“65 years and over”) by the number in Row 2 (“18 to 64 years) and multiplying the result by 100.  Thus, for example the “Old Age Dependence ratio” for Italian Americans is 1,966,736 / 11,010,766 * 100 = 17.9%


    Row #11 (highlighted in tan) shows the Total Dependence ratio for “Total American Population” (column B) and “Italian American” population (column C).  It is computed by adding ‘under 18’ and ‘65 and over’, dividing the total by ‘18 to 64’ and multiplying the result by 100.  Thus, for example the “Total Dependence ratio for Italian Americans is 4,788,413 + 1966,736 / 11,010,766 * 100 = 61.4%




    Generation is one of the most important concepts in cultural studies and the most difficult to define.  Culture evolution is measured by inter-generational behavior change.  In pre-industrial agricultural societies the change is slow at best. Behaviorally, each succeeding generation closely resembles the previous.


    In industrial societies, generational change is rapid; a generation is often very different from the prior generation.  In the current post-industrial ‘Information Age’, change is intra-generational, i.e. change happens ‘within’ a generation.


    There is no absolute definition of what constitutes a generation.  Different demographic researchers, depending upon the society being studied, will develop what social scientist call “operational definitions” to suit their research needs.


    It is important to distinguish between familial and cultural generations. A familial generation is defined as the average time between a mother's first offspring and her daughter's first offspring. Currently, the familial generation length in the United States is 25.2 years.


    Cultural generation refers to the cohort of people whose youth was shaped by a particular set of events and trends. Late 20th and early 21st cultural generations are shorter than familial generations.  The following table exemplifies the two types of generations:


    Italian American Generations


    The table below is a subjective division of Italian American generations based on an approximate 20-year familiar model.  ACS data does not break age cohorts into five-year groupings making a 25-year generation division impossible.  However, historians use 20-year ‘rule of thumb’ generation groups when the exact data is not available.


    I also assume based on personal experience in a relatively large and representative Italian American community in Rochester, NY, and my readings about Italian American history that the 2nd generation of Italian Americans (i.e. the children of the circa 1900 immigrants are in the 75 years and old category.  I use 2010 as the current year to calculate “Birth Years” and 19 year intervals to define the 3rd and 4th generations; 16 years for the 5th because that’s the way the data is presented; and the 6th the residual ages.



    Column A lists the “Age Cohorts” as presented in the ACS data and in the “Age & Gender Table” above.  Column B is the percentage of the Italian American population that falls into the respective cohorts.  Column C is the # of Italian Americans in the cohort (i.e. % in Column B times 17,765,915). 


    Columns D and E form the basis of the generation classifications.  For example, Row 16 & 17 represents the 3rd generation.  The 3rd Generation begins with births in the year 1936 (i.e. 2010 – 74) and ends with births in the year 1955 (i.e. 2010-55).




    The generational structure in this table can be graphically represented as follows.

    Again, the above analysis and classification is not meant to be an ‘exact model’ of the generational structure of the Italian American community.  The great historian and methodologist Marc Bloch posits that the essence of “The Historian’s Craft” is the ability to reconstruct societies based on incomplete and inaccurate documents.  Accordingly, this analysis is an historiographic exercise a la Bloch.  





  • Op-Eds

    The Devil and Dr. Paglia

     Art and Reality


    From the beginning of the 19th thru the early 20th century, German scholarship in quantitative and qualitative terms was analogous to the prodigious output of art in the Italian “Quattrocento”.  It was a truly remarkable era of historical writing by the likes of Ranke, Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Niebuhr, Meyer, Zeller, Jaeger, etc.  It’s hardly possible to list all the brilliant scholars and a bibliography of the works they produced in that century and a half.  This extraordinary scholarship was the result of a highly efficient education system that integrated the pre-university gymnasium schools with the universities. 


    Interestingly, to my mind, throughout this golden era of teaching and scholarship, a reoccurring theme in German literature, music and film was the Faustian tragedy.  Repeatedly, in many different plots and scenarios, German artist presented us with teachers and scholars frustrated with the academic life, diabolically lured out of academia into the world at large, resulting in intellectual and/or physical demise.  For example, at the very onset of this golden era of German scholarship, in 1808, Goethe wrote “Faust”.  At the end of the era, in 1947, Thomas Mann published his novel “Doctor Faustus".  In between, Heine (“Der Doktor Faust”), Heinrich Mann (“Professor Unrat), Mahler (Symphony No. 8) and Hesse (“Magister Ludi”) developed the Faustian theme in literature and symphony.  The theme also entered the world of German pop culture with Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s 1926 film “Faust”, and immortalized in the 1930 Jonas Sternberg film “The Blue Angel”, staring the incomparable Marline Dietrich.


    At least since Plato the perennial question in Western aesthetics has to do with reality and art. Some, like Plato, think artists distort reality, while others argue that artists, responding to their muse, present subliminal realities.  In the context of this aesthetic dichotomy, one wonders what the German artists are telling us about the world of academia and the life of teachers and scholars – if anything.  Were the artist distorting reality just to entertain us, or were they describing a veiled reality of academia and academicians?


    To my mind, the Faustian metaphor is one way to understand the reality of Camille Puglia’s career.  Like Faust she is a brilliant scholar who has been lured away from research into the world of pop culture and entertainment.  Faust traveled to the royal courts of Europe entertaining the nobility with his magic.  Paglia travels to the universities entertaining the literati with her wit.  Two thousand came to her talk (show) at world renowned M.I.T.


    Born to be a scholar


    Early in life, Camelli Paglia showed a passion for research and academic inclinations.  She wrote:


    “In high school, I was notorious for my Amelia Earhart obsession.  The newspaper actually reported this.  For three years I did this Amelia Earhart research.  The biographer of Amelia Earhart told me I had done more research in the primary sources than he had!  I spent every Saturday in the bowels of the public library going through all these materials, old magazines and newspapers…”


    Think about it…a high school teenager spending Saturdays in the library by her own volition.  If one takes a random sample of high school teenagers, what is the probability of finding one who spends weekends in the library doing original research with source documents?  I should think that the probability is close to zero.  In short, she was a very unique child with a passion for research.


    After high school, she went to Harper College graduating Valedictorian with A’s in all her course except for one B.  She went on to Yale Graduate School and for her last graduate seminar, before receiving a Master Degree, she wrote a 160-page paper entitled "Male and Female in Virginia Woolf”.  The renown scholar Harold Bloom became her mentor guiding her doctorial dissertation.  Indeed, she did not ask him to be her mentor; he solicited her for the privilege. The respected academic publishing house Yale University Press published her dissertation as the now famous, though I suspect seldom read, Sexual Persona.


    Sexual Persona is a masterful work of scholarship (673 pages; 810 footnotes; 18 page index) which seeks, in Paglia’s words: “…to demonstrate the unity and continuity of Western Culture from antiquity to the end of the nineteenth century.” To that end, the factual base is enormous and the conceptual constructs such as ‘androgyny’ and ‘paganism’ effectively bring diverse works of art to a classification system and a unified theory of Western culture.  In the introduction, Paglia projected a second volume of Sexual Persona that would bring  “modern popular culture – cinema, television, sports, rock music” under the aegis of her unifying theory of Western cultural.


    With the publication of Sexual Persona Camilla Paglia was in the process of transcending historic scholarship and art criticism.  She was on the cusp of philosophy.  One hundred percent Italian by nature and nurture, she was to my mind following and near entering into dialogue with great Italian philosophers of culture like Croce and Eco.  Sadly, she did not rise to philosophy.  Rather, she dropped into pop culture.


    Faustian temptation


    Dr. Paglia writes: “It all began in March 1990, one month after the uneventful release of Sexual Personae by Yale University Press”  - “ALL” denoting a major change in life style and work.  The devil (metaphorically speaking – of course) entered Paglia’s life in the form of a “stranger”; scholastically she has not been the same since.  She writes: “I received a letter from a stranger, a professor of classics and editor of a scholarly journal Arion.  He asked if I would review two new classics books in gay studies by authors I had never heard of…”


    Paglia’s mentor Harold Bloom, acting the role of the ‘good angel’ or Greek chorus, tried to dissuade the protagonist from the project.  She writes: “…to the disapproval of my great mentor, Harold Bloom, who felt I should be concentrating on my own career and getting Volume Two (Sexual Persona) ready for publication.”  But, the temptation was too strong.  She began work on the Arion essay.


    The difference between the scholarly character of Sexual Persona and the Arion article “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders…”(see “Sex, Art, and American Culture”) is stunning. There is no semblance of the mature critical scholarship in the Arion article of which Paglia is obviously capable.  Instead, it is filled with ad hominem arguments, insults, sweeping generalizations, etc.  It is emotional to point of hysterical.


    Critical scholarship (i.e. the critique of a scholarly work) is sedate (i.e. deliberate, composed, and dignified).  It is done one proposition at a time.  ‘Empirical propositions’ judged to be false, ‘inferential propositions’ judged to be fallacious and ‘theoretical (causal) propositions’ judged unverifiable are demonstrated to be so each in its turn.  Facts and logic are the only criteria for evaluation. There is no place for references to personalities (i.e. qualities, traits, character or behavior peculiar to a specific writer) or ideologies.


    For example, when Fr. Joseph Owens (parish priest turned scholar) effectively challenged the great German philologist Werner Jaeger’s interpretation of Aristotle, in the whole of Owen’s book (“Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics”) there is not one reference to Jaeger per se, only the words that Jaeger wrote.  Fr. Owens characterized his approach to critical scholarship as “… a ‘listening’ attitude [which] may at times involve tedious reading…but seems to be the only method that offers any acceptable promise…”


    Sexual Persona Vol 2 was never written.  Instead of describing, explaining and incorporating 20th century pop culture with the rest of Western culture, as she had planned and Bloom was encouraging, Paglia polished her act and became a pop culture persona.


    The Devil’s Ploy


    Pop culture stars come and go.  Paglia’s appeal was her outrageousness.  She built her pop culture act on outrageous attacks on the feminist movement, opinions about date rape, the ad hominem denigration of scholars, etc.   But, that type of thing “gets old”.  It becomes clichéd.


    Madonna’s longevity in pop culture is predicated on her ability to keep reinventing herself; to keep bringing forth new “personas”.  Paglia’s persona is fixed.  When she appeared for six minutes on the Bill Maher show, she was introduced as “one of the most provocative intellectuals”. 


    In show business, for an act to be successful, it must live up to its billing.  It must give the audience what they expect.  Accordingly, Paglia once introduced as “provocative” must in fact be “provocative.”  And, she was!  But, the best she could come up with was saying she liked the TV program “The Bachelorettes” which she thinks “is edited wonderfully” and “is a great escapist fantasy.”  True to her billing as provocative, the host, other panelist and audience went wild about a “scholar” and “feminist” finding value in a show that a male panelist characterized as “objectifying women.”


    When Maher asked her about Michael Jackson, who at the time was involved with a child sex scandal, her response was as much about her as Jackson.  She said: “He is a victim of fame...” Jackson and Paglia, like all Faustian characters, are victims of fame.  Fame is the devil’s ploy and they succumb.


    Faust’s Redemption – “Break, Blow, Burn”


    In Goethe’s version of the Faust legend, Faust realizes the errors of his misbegotten ways and finds redemption.  Dr. Paglia’s most recent book suggests that she is tiring of ‘the Devil’s road show.' “Break, Blow, Burn” is not a scholarly work, but it is a pedagogical gem.  In her words: “This book is intended for a general audience…I have tried to write concise commentaries on poetry that illuminate the text but also give pleasure in themselves as pieces of writing.”


    For all her ‘antics’, Dr. Paglia never lost sight of teaching.  Whenever she speaks, whatever she writes, she always comments about education.  She pays homage to her the great teacher in her life Milton Kessler (see “Sex, Art…”).  The course that she co-developed and taught with Lily Yeh “East and West” is brilliant (ibid).  What I wouldn’t have given to have this course and “Break, Blow, Burn” offered to me when I was in school!


    Perhaps the publication of “Break, Blow, Burn” is the step back into scholarship.  In an interview about the book she said:


    “My agent wanted me to do a big splashy book on politics…I have done all those attacks on post-structuralism in Arion and junk-bond corporations and corporate raiders in the early ‘90s, now I want to go directly to the general readers and also to young people…”


    The problem is, as stated, her “attacks on post-structuralism”, etc. were verbal ad hominens.  Still, to my mind, are needed more rigorously scholarly (a la Owens) critiques of those theories, which she is uniquely capable of writing.


    Clive James in  New York Times summed it up nicely:


    “Paglia by now should be famous enough to start throttling back on some of the stuff she is famous for. She might make a start with bitchery…The media want snide remarks from her …But writers capable of developing a nuanced position over the length of an essay should not be tempted into believing that they can sum it up in a sound bite.”


    Dr. Paglia is brilliant.  Her encyclopedic knowledge of art, literature and history is nothing less than amazing to me.  She has proved that she is capable of epistemologically rigorous research and writing.  Hopefully, she will return.  She has much to offer academia, and pop culture has more than enough Vaudeville acts.


    Italian Americana


    Finally, let me say as an Italian American; census department statistics demonstrate beyond a doubt that we have precious few PhDs in the humanities.  Dr. Paglia’s four grandparents and mother are ‘off the boat.’  She is proud of her Italian heritage, she brags about her Italian heritage, she explains her behavior in terms of her Italian heritage. In turn, I agree with Clive James who wrote: “…the Italians, should be proud of her parentage…”


    We should be proud of her. She is one of the brightest lights in that small constellation of Italian American humanist.  My only criticism (disappointment) is that, to my mind, she has not remotely reach the degree of luminosity of which she is capable.


  • Facts & Stories

    Italian Americans by the Numbers – Where We Live.



    This is the second report in my blog series "Italian Americans by the Numbers".  This series presents demographic data about Italian Americans based on the US Census Department's “2005-2007 American Community Survey (ACS)”.  The ACS collects and produces population and housing information every year instead of every ten years.  The 2005-2007 ACS three-year estimates are based on data collected between January 2005 and December 2007.”


    The ACS subdivides national data into geographic Regions, Divisions, States, Metropolitan Areas and Counties.  Data on “Ancestry” (i.e. national origin; e.g. Italy) is available for each geographic category.  This second series’ report provides the data about Italian Americans for the Regions, Divisions, States and Metropolitan Areas.  I can make specific County level data available upon personal request.


    Below, there is a Census Department map of the Regions, Divisions and States.  Followed by tables showing the ‘total number of Americans’, ‘total number of Italian Americans’ and ‘percentage of Italian Americans’ living in each state, division, region and metropolitan areas.


    For a more detailed introduction to the ACS, please see the first article in this series “Italian Americans by the Numbers - Comparative ethnic population totals and percentages” located at

    ·       i-Italy.org – Bloggers – “South of Rome West of Ellis Island”.


    If there are any questions comments or requests for particular information, please place in the blog’s comments section or write to me directly at [email protected]. 


    Most especially, if anyone notices any errors, please advise me!  The process of moving data from the ACS online database files into Excel; aggregating and computating within Excel, moving Excel data to Word; converting Word and Excel files to picture files which are then uploaded into i-Italy has the potential of introducing errors at each step.  I have checked and rechecked what you see below many times.  Nevertheless, if one sees a mistake or thinks there might be a mistake, I would appreciate it if you would bring it to my attention.  Thank you.



    Note: as was shown in the first report, the ACS data shows the total American population is 298,757,310; the total Italian American population is 17,757,310; and the percentage of Italian Americans is 5.95 (i.e. 17,757,310 / 298,757,310 * 100)


    Map of Census Regions and Divisions

    State Populations alphabetical order



    State Population ordered by Total Italian Population




    Metropolitan Statistical Area



    “A metropolitan statistical area is a geographic delineation, or list of geographic components at a particular point in time, is referred to as its ‘definition.’ Metropolitan areas are defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and are the result of the application of published standards to Census Bureau data. The standards for defining the areas are reviewed and revised once every ten years, prior to each decennial census. Generally, the areas are redefined using the most recent set of standards following each decennial census. Between censuses, the definitions are updated annually to reflect the most recent Census Bureau population estimates.

    (note: For Metro areas with less than 20,000 Italian Americans numbers are not reported by the ACS.)



    Metropolitan Statistical Areas

    (sorted alphabetically)




    Metropolitan Statistical Areas
    (sorted by Italian population)



  • Facts & Stories

    Italian Americans by the Numbers – Comparative Ethnic Population Totals & Percentages



    Virtually everyone knows that the US Census Bureau conducts a census every ten years and is currently preparing for the 2010 census.  Few people know the Census Bureau gathers scientific survey data about the US population annually called the American Community Survey (ACS).


    The American Community Survey (ACS) is a nationwide scientific survey designed to provide a fresh look at how the population is changing between the decade censuses. The ACS collects and produces population and housing information every year instead of every ten years. This data is published online as “The American Community Survey (ACS)” at the Bureau’s website www.census.gov/acs/www/.


    Recently, ACS published data summarizing the years 2005-2007, based on data collected between January 2005 and December 2007.

    Part of the data collected is about “Ancestry [ethnic] Groups”.  The individuals selected in the survey’s random sample are asked: “What is your ancestry or ethnic origin (For example Italian, Polish, Korean, etc)?” Aggregating the answers to these questions provides descriptive statistical characteristics for each ethnic group. 


    I have downloaded the data on “Americans of Italian Descent”.  Needless to say there is an enormous about of data (hundreds of spreadsheet lines) for each ethnic group.  Accordingly, I will make it available here in my blog on a ‘ piecemeal’ basis, in a series of articles under the general title “Italian Americans by the Numbers.” 


    In turn, each blog article under that general title will have a sub-title indicating the specific characteristic(s) being described in that particular article.  Thus, for example, a blog title “Italian Americans by the Numbers – Education Attainment and Enrollment” will provide the ACS data on Italian American education.


    In addition to ‘descriptive statistics’ of Italian Americans, I will provide ‘comparative statistics’ comparing Italian Americans to the total national population and, when of some interest, other ethnic groups.  For example, the number of Italian Americans as a percentage of the whole population are compare the numbers and percentages of other ethnic groups such as German Americans, Irish…etc.


    The data will be presented in a tabular/quantitative format complemented at times with charts and graphic representations of the data.  I will also write narrative summary/discussion paragraphs.  The numbers are interesting in themselves.  But, for those with a social scientific bent, they are just a beginning.  The numbers constitute the ‘observations’ that are the beginning of scientific enquires.  More importantly, they are the basis for 'theory' development/verification.  For example, what do the education numbers (observations) imply (theory) about Italian American attitudes about education, the future of Italian Americans in the professions, etc.


    If anyone has any questions about the ACS statistics, you may place them in the comment section and I’ll respond as best I can.  While I have a quantitative bent, I don’t have much formal education in social statistics.  If anyone wants to collaborate on improving the presentation and making the data more widely available to the Italian American community, needless to say, I would enjoy working with them.


    The Numbers


    Below are the total US population, the number of Americans who identified themselves in each respective ethnic group, and the percent of the total population each group represents.  For example, the total American population is 298,757,310.  The total number of Americans who identified themselves on the ACS survey questioner as of German origin is 50, 496,077.  Thus, 16.9% of the total American population is reported to be of German origin (i.e. 50,496,007 / 298,757,310 * 100 = 16.9%)


      Total population German Irish English Italian
    Total population 298,757,310 50,496,077 35,962,429 28,201,273 17,765,915
    % of total   16.9 12.0 9.4 5.9
      Total population Polish French Swedish Greek
    Total population 298,757,310 9,995,099 9,645,900 4,358,455 1,358,832
    % of total   3.3 3.2 1.5 0.5




    What to my mind was surprising and interesting about these numbers is that the German American population was almost three times as large as the Italian American, the Irish twice as large and the English outnumber Italians by close to ten million.  These numbers interest me because my personal experience and readings suggest that Italian Americans have a much higher sense of ethnic consciousness than the Germans and English.  For example, the “Yahoo Italian American Directory” lists 18 Italian American organizations.  Whereas the “Yahoo German American Directory” list 4 organization and there is no English Directory. 


    Also, my personal experiences and reading suggest that Irish Americans, similar to Italian Americans, have a high sense of ethnic consciousness and pride in their national origin, and the “Yahoo Irish American Directory” listing of 15 organizations supports this. 


    In short, the ACS population numbers/percentages are factual information.  What they imply about the aggregate ethnic consciousness and behavior of the respective groups is speculative and would entail sociological research to be conclusive. 

    Nevertheless, anecdotal personal experiences and reading is not to be ignored and thought of as ‘mere speculation.’  Anecdotes are the basis of hypothesis formation in science.  The anecdotes lead me to wonder why Italian consciousness is so pervasive in the country as a whole given the relatively small number of Americans of Italian descent? 

    As I see it: the first step in science is observations; the second, wonder; the third, hypothesis formation explaining the observations; the forth, research (more observations) to prove or disprove the hypothesis. 

  • Op-Eds

    “Art for Art's Sake” vs. Italian Art, Craft and Engineering: Brunelleschi, Nervi and Gomorra’s Dressmaker

     “Art for Art’s Sake”


    In the latter part of the 19th century, a philosophy of aesthetics knows as “art for art’s sake” became prominent in Euro-American culture.  This philosophy argues that “true art” should be divorced from moral and/or utilitarian functions.  Art should not serve the needs of religions or states, it must be “released from the tyranny of meaning and purpose.”  Further, art should be divorced from craftsmanship.


    For example, Oscar Wilde, a very prominent advocate of this philosophy, writes in an 1891 essay “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”:


    “The beauty of a work of art has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want.  The moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman…a tradesman.  He has no further claim to be considered as an artist.” 


    This philosophy is predicated on the ‘bohemian’ concept of an artist working isolated and alone in his studio alienated and separated from bourgeois values.  The artist is in a quest for some absolute ‘beauty’ that s/he alone is the judge; and, ‘beauty’ is independent of craft, purposeful utility and meaning.


    The evolution of the idea that art should be devoid of meaning and purpose, and disconnected from craft was taken to the extreme in the post-WW II art movement “Abstract Expressionism.”  This art movement is characterized by the complete lack of meaning and more importantly, a la Wilde, the complete absence of craftsmanship. The work of these artists is characterized by accident and chance.  A quintessential example is Jackson Pollack’s “Drip Painting” technique.


    However, the concept of “art of art’s sake” was not limited to schools of art such as Abstract Expressionism that explicitly embraced, articulated and promoted the concept.  The concept generally permeated the art culture and was tacit in other, not so obvious, “art of art’s sake” fields such as architecture.  For example, the renowned 20th century Italian architect/engineer Pier Luigi Nervi observed:


    “In the best architectural magazines…it is not rare to see projects that would be impossible to build described and analyzed aesthetically.  Of what value is an architectural idea that cannot become a reality?”  Nervi challenges the notion that art is independent of craft and utility.


    The bohemian notion that art is or should be independent of moral and/or utilitarian functions, is divorced from craftsmanship, and has nothing to do with what other people want differentiates “art for art’s sake’ aesthetics from the history of European art generally and Italian art most particularly.


    “Art for art’s sake” – So Not Italian!


    All the great art of Italy down to the present day has utilitarian functions, is the product of brilliant craftsmanship, engineering and, most importantly, Italian art is always created for other people.  The Italian artist is anything but an isolated bohemian in a quest for personal beauty.  S/he is the quintessential bourgeois businessperson competing with other artist for the opportunity to create things for customers for a profit.


    Without master craftsmanship there would be no Italian art. Brunelleschi and Donatello were master goldsmiths.  Michelangelo was apprenticed to the painter Domenico Ghirlandaio.  Virtually all the great Italian artist started as craft apprentices/students.  They mastered their crafts before they created their art and they sold their art to the highest bidder. Similarly, today architects like Nervi and fashion designer like Giorgio Armani combine master craftpersonship with creative ideas to profitably produce utilitarian works of magnificent art.


    Brunelleschi’s Dome


    Of the many phenomenal artistic accomplishments of the 15th century Italian artist Filippo Brunelleschi, none was greater than the Duomo of Florence, an amazingly magnificent beautiful structure that draws millions of visitors a year from all over the globe.  While the tourist and art historians’ marvel at its aesthetic beauty, few appreciate that the Duomo is the result of the incredible engineering mind of Brunelleschi and phenomenal craftsmanship of the masons who executed his design.  


    Five hundred years before engineers would use the mathematical equations of Newtonian physics to analyze and predict the stability of large structures, Brunelleschi used intuition and imagination to determine the structural components and construction techniques needed to build the cathedral dome of Santa Maria del Fiore.  There are more than four million bricks in the Duomo.  They were laid a herringbone pattern without centering or formwork to guide the curvilinear shape of the dome.  A bricklayer by trade – trust me - this is truly amazing brickwork. Of course, the Duomo has utilitarian function and served the needs of both the state and religion.  Brunelleschi competed passionately for the contract to build the dome and the profit he would make from it.


    Engineering, craft, utility and profitability all came together to make the idea of the Duomo a reality.  Absent any of those components and it would not (indeed, could not) have been built. The absence of any, and the Duomo would have remained a picture on piece of paper – ‘art for art’s sake!’



    Pier Luigi Nervi


    In the twentieth century, a modern day Brunelleschi, architect/engineer Pier Luigi Nervi elevated the building crafts to art.  Biographer Ada Louise Huxtable eloquently summarized his work:


    “Today, the quality of Nervi’s work stands alone, in the truly great tradition of Italian design. Nor is it odd that this tradition, based largely on an elegant array of magnificent palaces and churches, should turn to factories, hangars, warehouses and exposition halls.  It is in these buildings that we find the current frontiers of design, and the most significant structural and esthetic advances of our age.


    The master of large-scale concrete vaulting in the twentieth century, Pier Luigi Nervi, made a technical examination of Santa Maria del Fiore in the 1930’s before developing the techniques he used in structures such as the Vatican audience hall and the Palazzo dello Sport in Rome.


    The importance of building ‘craft’ in bringing art to fruition was noted by Nervi.  He said:


    “A designer must know how skillful are the contracting firms who will execute the design. Many times I refuse to accept commissions for the design of large structures in countries …I was not familiar in order to avoid running the risk of designing shapes and structures which might prove impossible to build.”


    In short, no craft – no building - no art.


    Like his progenitors, Nervi designed and built buildings that met the utilitarian needs of his customers, were profitable for his construction company and were aesthetically acclaimed.


    Gormorra’s Dressmaker


    The plot of the movie Gormorra was a pathetic cliché about inherently bad people doing bad things to inherently good people – like the old black-hat white-hat cowboy movies- completely devoid of the complex sociological and political economic causes of crime.  Thus, dressmakers are exploited by the System-Camorra; not by the System-International Capitalism, not by the Chinese merchants who profitably sold their cloth to the Italians, and not the dress merchants who profitably sell the dresses to Hollywood movie stars.  Essentially the film is nothing more than a classic “shoot’em-up” “bang-bang” car chase movie that the film industry churns out by the scores each year – albeit with pretensions to being high moral literature.  But, I digress. 


    Again, because the plot was a cliché, I found myself focusing more on the cinematic spectacles and nuances of the characters than the story line.  The filmmaker went to great lengths to depict Italians as unsanitary people living in unsanitary apartment buildings.  Does organized crime make people unsanitary?  In the heyday of the American Mafia, ‘Little Italy’ was not a dirty place.   Nevertheless, no matter how negative filmmakers try to depict Italians, the inherent magnificence of Italian culture always defeats their pejoratives.


    For example, the architecture of the unsanitary apartment buildings was intriguing.  They were  high-density apartment buildings, but they were designed in such a way that each apartment opens to a mall like ‘open-air’ ‘natural-light’ walkway giving each apartment a personal quality. The pyramid style on one side of the buildings contributed to an aesthetic quality, and made possible a public open area for the resident’s children to have a play area without having to go down and out onto the streets. In short, an Italian designed apartment building combined utility and aesthetics, and is nothing like the prison architecture high-rise apartment buildings one so often sees in American cities.


    But, it is the character of the master dressmaker Pasquale that one sees those qualities that has made Italy synonymous with great art.  He is depicted as being exploited by the Cammora.  But, ignoring the moralizing and concentrating on Pasquale’s work behavior, once again you see the unity of Italian craft, utility, productivity and art.  Pasquale is a designer, craftsman and shop manager.  He is given the near impossible task of meeting a quantitative and qualitative production deadline.  Like Brunelleschi and Nervi he has to design the product and manage the production profitably.  He designs the dresses and manages the workers making the dresses. A master craftsman, he picks up a dress being made by a seamstress and examines the minutia of the seams – he demands perfection in each small detail.  A master manager, he keeps all his workers on track and on time.  A master designer, his dresses receive international acclaim.  Again, design, craft, utility, and profitability are the necessary conditions of his art – of Italian art.


    In sum: 


    Existential Psychologist R.D Lang posited: “All identities require an Other: some other with whom self-identity is actualized.”
 And, University of Naples Professor Gabriella Gribaudi writes: “An identity is the product of a comparison.”  Similarly, the identity, nature, essence of Italian art can be better understood when juxtaposed and compared with its ‘Other’ – “Art for art’s sake.”

  • Op-Eds

    Camille Paglia’s Androgyny Aesthetics - Why Italian Americans Love the Sopranos

    In 1991 Camille Paglia published “Sexual Personae”, which is essentially her Yale dissertation done under the aegis of the eminent scholar Harold Bloom.  The book, in her words: “…surveys literature and art from antiquity to the end of the nineteenth century.”  “Sexual Personae”, while not written in the typical academic style, is a scholarly work combining a thesis substantiated with factually documented research.  Specifically, her thesis is “to demonstrate the unity and continuity of western culture”, for which she provides voluminous supporting data and interpretations.  For example, ‘androgyny’ is one of many features appearing throughout the history of Western art and literature, thereby giving “unity and continuity” to Western culture.

    Art, Culture & Social Science

    Paglia is not simply an art historian and commentator. She is a philosopher and social scientist.  In the manner of science: based on observable detailed descriptions of art, she makes logical inferences about the culture (social values) of the art producing society.

    Art forms are not seen solely as aesthetic values.  Art is also seen as a manifestation of social values.  From observable aesthetic characteristics, inferences are made about the subliminal (non-observable) social values.

    For example, given the androgynous representation of Athena, Paglia wants to know what those representations tell us about the culture of Athens. She writes: “We must explain why the armed Athena prevailed in Athens…What does Athena’s androgyny mean [to the Athenians]?” Essentially, one of the questions “Sexual Persona” asks and answers: What do the androgynous features of Western art mean to the people of Western Culture?

    Androgyny and Art

    Androgyny in its simplest definition is: “The mixing of masculine and feminine characteristics… an androgynous person does not fit cleanly into the typical masculine and feminine gender identities of their society.”  However, as Paglia demonstrates with incredible (painful) detail, the nature of the “mixing” and the types of “identities” varies profoundly throughout the history of Western art, and the values of Western societies (she argues) vary in tandem with the various androgynous representations.

    For example, in Ancient Greece, androgynous Athena is represented in distinct male or female forms.   Sometimes the goddess appears as a female and sometimes a male.  “In the Iliad, Athena appears four times as a male, and six times in her own form.”  In the Odyssey, “She appears eight times as a male, twice as a human girl, six times as herself.” Also in the Odyssey, she transforms herself in front of Odysseus from a “young shepherd [into] a women, tall, beautiful, and accomplished…her sexual duality is also expressed by her masculine armour.”

    Alternatively, during the Renaissance, androgynous art shows a “mixing of masculine and feminine characteristics” in the same form.  The beautiful boy is “repeated in a thousand forms in Italian painting and sculpture, he is the ultimate symbol of Renaissance art”; quintessentially exemplified by Donatello’s David.  “David has long feminine locks of hair, tangled with ribbons, a splendidly raffish wreathed hat...[and] exquisitely etched leather buskins.”  More generally, “Donatello’s youths are always sexually ambiguous.”

    Androgynous Art and Culture

    However, as noted, Paglia is not content with simply describing the evolution of androgynous images in Western art.  She seeks to demonstrate how those images are associated with social values of the times. 

    For example, she writes: “I propose the answer to Athena’s androgyny…Athena appears in many disguises and crosses sexual borderlines [because] she symbolizes the resourceful, adaptive mind, the ability to invent, plan, conspire, cope and survive”; all social values that were fundamental to Greek culture.  In short, Paglia argues: the social values of ancient Greek society were expressed in Greek art in the form of androgynous Athena.

    Similarly, Renaissance androgynous “beautiful boy” art correlates with social values of the time such as courtly manners.  Paglia writes: “Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier which had enormous influence all over Europe, set standards of taste for dress and deportment.  The courtier is…an androgyny: he has ‘special sweetness,’ a ‘grace’ and ‘beauty’.  By making speech and movement seem effortless, they disguise or efface masculine action. The woman is central to the Book of the Courtier.”

    Androgyny and TV Crime Shows

    As noted above, “Sexual Persona” does not deal with twentieth century art and culture.  However, because the work is philosophical and scientific, it has generality.  Her concepts and methods can be extrapolated and used to analyze contemporary pop and lowbrow art, in an effort to understand the values of society today.  For example, TV crime shows clearly manifest “mix-androgynous” characters; i.e. masculinized women and feminized men are prominent in such programs.

    Mix-androgynous lead characters can be seen on virtually all the major TV crime shows.  The women FBI agents, CSI investigators and detectives have ‘big hair’, puffy lips, bright eyes, painted faces and fashion model bodies; they wear tank-top shirts showing cleavage, high heels and tight paints outlining their backsides.

    Mixed with these quintessential famine characteristics are equally quintessential masculine traits: they have deep raspy voices, talk in ‘tough guy’ street idiom, guns ostentatiously on their hips, expert practitioners of marshal arts, lead SWAT team charges into shooting barrages, drink beer out of a bottle and ‘throw back’ shots of alcohol in predominately men’s ‘cop bars’.
    CSI Miami” Calleigh Duquesne                      CSI” Catherine Willows

    See for example shows and characters such as: “Numbers” Nikki Betancourt and Liz Warner; “Without a Trace” Samantha Spade and Elena Delgado; “CSI” Catherine Willows (above right); “CSI New York” Stella Bonasera; “CSI Miami” Calleigh Duquesne (above left) and Natalia Boa Vista; “Criminal Minds” Emily Prentiss; “In Plain Sight” May Shannon.

    On the same programs are equally mix-androgynous male characters who are soft spoken gentlemen manifesting no powerful male characteristic such as muscles, hairy chest, (unlike the women) never wear tank top-shirts, guns are hidden by suit jackets; in short, like Castiglione’s courtiers they have ‘grace’, ‘beauty’ and a complete absence of machismo a la Clint Eastwood. 


    See for example shows and characters: “Numbers” Charlie Eppes (above left) and Larry Fleinhardt; “Without a Trace” Martin Fitzgerald (above right) and Danny Taylor; “CSI” Gil Grissom and Greg Sanders; “CSI-New York” Don Flack and Sheldon Hawkes; “CSI-Miami” Horatio Caine and Eric Delko; “Criminal Minds” Aaron Hotchner and Spencer Reid; “In Plain Sight” Marshall Man.

    What do the ubiquitous mix-androgynous characters on TV crime shows imNumbers” Charlie Eppesply about our culture?  One theory is that these lowbrow art forms are a refection of prevailing feminist philosophy in our society.  Paglia has pejoratively characterized contemporary feminism as: “men must be like women and women can be whatever they like.  Androgyny is a cancellation of male concentration and projection.”  Clearly, the above list of shows can be accurately described as depicting “cancellation of male concentration and projection” and women being “whatever they like”.

    The Sopranos   No androgynies here - total “male concentration and projection”

    Categorically juxtaposed to the above TV crime shows is The Sopranos. There is nothing remotely androgynous about the characters on this program.  All the characters are quintessential and unequivocally male or female.  The men (like the women in crime shows) wear tank-top shits showing muscular bodies and hairy chest.  They are tough looking, acting and talking.  They are manifestations of total “male concentration and projection.”  Similarly, the ‘women are women’, totally feminine showing virtually no male characteristics.

    Why Italian Americans love the Sopranos“Without a Trace” Martin Fitzgerald

    One of the most vexing questions that have been discussed on ad infinitum is why the ostensively negative portrayal of Italian Americans in The Sopranos series is popular with Italian Americans.  Once again, Paglia points to a theory.  She writes: “Androgyny [understood] as cancellation of male concentration and projection [prevails with] bourgeois academics and writers in college English departments [but] cuts no ice at the corner garage. Male concentration and projection are visible everywhere in the aggressive energy of the streets.”

    To my mind, the complaining about the Sopranos has come largely from the Italian American literati.  The Italian Americans at the “corner garage” and “on the street” love the program because they see the fundamental cornerstone of their culture depicted in the ‘men are men’ and ‘women are women’ images.  These male and female role models are the historic ones going back to southern Italy and Sicily.  Contemporary American culture is redefining those role models.  But, Italian Americans (70% who are not college graduates) are not impressed with the highbrow “bourgeois academic” culture of the literati.  They still are of the ancient southern Italian/Sicilian peasant mindset, and they see and appreciate those ancient values portrayed in the Sopranos’ characters.

    In sum: Anthony Tamburri in his 2003 Melus article “Beyond ‘Pizza and ‘Nonna’…” argued: “I do believe that we have come late to theoretical issues as part of our analytical arsenal [necessary] if we are to … travel beyond the confines of Italian America.”

    Camille Paglia is a mighty Italian American thinker who has provided us with “theoretical issues” and  “analytical arsenal” that allows us to “travel beyond the confines of Italian America.”   She has provided us with a theoretical concepts and research methods to analyze our own art and culture and place it in the context of the broader contemporary American culture and historic Western culture.

  • Op-Eds

    Towards an Italian American Curriculum - Lampedusa’s “The Leopard” is a Pedagogical Gold Mine

    At Italian American scholarly shows,

    Outside Cassandra forebodes:

    “Where did Italian American students go?”

    The literati think the pizzels a bit brittle,

    And laugh at Chicken Little.


    Italian Americans and college education


    According to U.S. Census data, in the year 2004 there were 12.1 million Americans of Italian descent 18 years of age or older, and 1.1 million Italian Americans were enrolled in college at any level.  Given that high school graduation age is generally about 18, we can say 9% (1.1 / 12.1 * 100) of Italian Americans 18 years or older were in college in 2004.  Also, 70% had an education level of less than a bachelor’s degree  (see Calandra website for this census data: http://qcpages.qc.cuny.edu/calandra/research/pdf/pressrelcensus.pdf)



    Call me Chicken Little if you will, but I think those numbers imply a crisis in Italian American culture.   I don’t understand why Italian American literati are not having conferences and mobilizing a movement to deal with this ‘crisis’. They seem preoccupied with any number of social issues except the education of our children.  For example, consider the number of articles that have appeared in i-Italy.org on the issues of Catholic sexuality,  Italy’s crime and Italy’s politics.  Then compare those numbers with the number of articles dealing with the education of Italian Americans.


    Education and employment


    If nothing else, the low numbers of college educated implies that in the coming years and decades, our presents in the professions (medicine, law, education, etc) will be negligible.  Further, given that the professions represent the highest paying jobs, it seems reasonable to expect that our standard of living will decrease. The only work available to us will be low paying jobs not requiring higher education. This much, we can be certain.


    Education and culture


    What is not known, and perhaps more importantly (“money isn’t everything”), is how the lack of higher education will affect Italian American culture.  Historically, ours is an impoverished illiterate peasant culture where history and values were passed on from one generation to the next by family instruction and community experience.  Formal education was not a necessary condition for cultural preservation. However, in a technological mass media society, a major, if not the major, cultural input comes from mass media (TV, movies, ipods, etc.).  Accordingly, without higher education, which opens cultural alternatives to mass media and teaches critical thinking skills necessary to critique mass media, the culturalization of our people will essentially be left largely to non- (indeed anti-) Italian American mass media producers. 


    Further, the correlates of higher education are such that few of our people will know Ciardi’s poetry, or Paglia’s philosophy, or Sanmartino’s “Veiled Christ”, or Scotto’s operatics, or…, etc.  The culture of Italian Americana will likely be a very shallow mass media culture; in no way approaching the magnificence’s of the mother country.


    Essentially, the problem is two fold with possibly one solution.  First, Italian Americans are not learning their history and culture. Second, they are not motivated to go to college. The solution, it seems to me, is to develop and implement an Italian American curriculum.  Such a curriculum, by definition, will teach students their history and culture.  Also, it MAY (hopefully) instill a pride in their culture and love of letters that will motivate them to study and go on to college and graduate school.  How can we affect an Italian American curriculum?


    Curriculums and Lessons


    A curriculum consists of a set of individual lessons.  The curriculum for world history, for example, consists of a set of individual lessons about specific events and societies (e.g. lesson(s) on the French Revolution, lesson(s) on the Reformation, etc).  Similarly, literature curriculums are a set of lessons about the literature of various periods and societies (e.g. lesson(s) on Elizabethan literature, lesson(s) on American Romantics(s), etc).


    Accordingly, it would not be unreasonable to expect that SOME lessons be inserted into those curriculums about Italian history (e.g. Risorgimento), Italian American history (e.g. urban village life), and literature (e.g. Verga, di Donato).


    Also, in most high school history and literature curriculums there are requirements for independent studies.  In history courses students pick a topic for a research paper.  Similarly, in literature courses students pick books to read and report on.  Again, it is reasonable to expect that Italian American students would have the option, indeed be encouraged, to select independent study topics from Italian and Italian American history and literature.


    Literati and Methods of Curriculum Changes


    Such reasonable expectations for curriculum changes will remain just that (expectations), unless Italian American literati, community leaders and politicians aggressively promote such curriculum modifications.  But, the impetus must come from the literati. 


    At the college level, the literati have the power to affect change through their professional organizations, and in the case of Italian American notables (e.g. emeritus professors) through their personal prestige. 


    In the public schools, governments largely dictate school curriculums. Accordingly, Italian American politicians are the basis of change. However, politicians are not teachers and scholars.  They are dependent upon the literati to guide them about the content of recommended curriculum changes.


    For example, on January 31, 2008 Anthony Portantino introduced in the California State Assembly the “The Italian American Education Bill” which states:  “This bill, encourages schools to include in their instruction the role and contribution of Italian Americans and require the State Board of Education to include the role and contribution of Italian Americans in the curriculum frameworks in the social sciences... (Coauthors: Assembly Members Galgiani and Plescia, Senator Perata)”


    This is the type of political action that is needed to bring about curriculum changes in pubic schools. However, the curriculum recommendations must go beyond simple list of and biographical notes about “Rich and Famous” Italians and Italian Americans.  The lessons in the history and literature curriculums must be substantive in-depth studies of the history and culture of our people.  Italian American teachers and scholars must provide politicians with the substance for recommended curriculum changes. 


    Illustration of Italian American curriculum change


    Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel  “The Leopard” is a pedagogical gold mine of Italian history and culture instructional material for high school through graduate school. 


    At the high school level, “The Leopard” lends itself to teaching basic concepts of literature. It is written in a very readable idiom and the plot is basically linear and not difficult to follow. The novel is an excellent vehicle for teaching all the concepts required of most high school literature curriculums: theme, plot, figurative language, protagonist, narrator, point of view, etc.


    At the same time, by reading “The Leopard”, students will get exposed to one of the most important events in world history and the most important event in modern Italian and Italian American history – the Risorgimento!  They will be presented with the 19th century feudal class character of Sicily, the politics of northern vs. southern Italy, and the culture (e.g. the religion, dinners, Balls, etc.).  In short, after reading the novel, Italian American students will know something about the characters, events and culture that brought their families to America and formed the basis of Italian American culture.


    While the novel lends itself to high school education, it has enough depth for teaching undergraduate and graduate literature.  The novel can be used to teach the concepts of subplots and time shifts, delve more deeply into the figurative language, the psychology of the characters, the great debates between the various schools of literary criticism (e.g. neo-realism, neo-avantgarde, etc.) used to critique novel, the Nietzschian philosophic paradox “everything must change so Sicily can remain the same”, etc. 


    Of course, the proverbial ‘icing on the cake’: Luchino Visconti made “The Leopard” into an incredible movie, which won the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.  The scenes of 19th Century Sicily, the dynamics between the aristocrat, merchant and peasant, the costuming, food, etc. all lend themselves to instructing Italian American students about their heritage.


    The sum, the study of “The Leopard” meets all instructional goals and objectives from high school to graduate school.  At the same time it will help Italian American students answer the question: “What does it mean to be Italian?”




    Needless to say, “The Leopard” is only one such book that can be introduced into the literature and history curriculums at all levels of education.  Each would at minimum teach Italian American students their history.  Hopefully, such lessons would motivate students to study the Italian language and pursue higher education.


    All of these types of Italian consciousness raising lessons can be implemented without any major revolutionary changes in the goals, objectives and curriculums of any school district or college history and literature departments. The curriculums like Sicily, as the Leopard observes, “can change and remain the same”.


    However, no changes can happen unless Italian American literati develop curriculum recommendations and lobby politicians, community leaders and department heads to implement the changes.  Italian American literati must decide: Is it Cassandra or Chicken Little admonishing outside their convention halls, and how will they respond?  They have a heavy responsibility – indeed!



  • Life & People

    Camille Paglia: A Crown Jewel of Italian Americana Languishes in the Shadow of the Sopranos

    Camille Paglia first penetrated my consciousness through a televised  panel discussion about various women’s social, work and political issues. I soon became bored with the din of politically correct clichés.  I began puttering around barely conscious of the television background noise.


    Suddenly, I became aware of a hyper energetic voice speaking with such rapidity, for a second, I thought of my Army automatic weapons training.  I stopped what I was doing and turned to the television: “who is that lady?”  It wasn’t simply her fast-talking that interested me.  Rather, the ideas were coming to her with such rapidity it seemed that her mouth couldn’t keep up with her mind.  She was ranging over a 4,000 year history of Western art and culture pulling up anecdotes and analogies to illustrate her points, with a few dollops from Asia. 


    Her recursive parenthetical phasing was incredible.  She would start with a subject, then a parenthetical phase to the subject, then a second parenthetical phase to the first, and so on.  I swear she had sentences four or five parentheticals deep and then she would work herself back to the subject.  What an incredibly spontaneous mind!


    Then they flashed her name on the screen “Paglia”; and I started to laugh.  An Italian - wouldn’t you know?  Passion and art are as much apart of Italian culture as salt and pepper are to food…” Later that day I was in the library looking for her books. 


    Camille Paglia is 100% Italian by nature and nurture.  Her mother was from Ceccanon, Italy and her father of Italian descent. She dedicated her first book (“Sexual Personae”) to her grandmothers and aunt: Vincenaz Colapietro, Alfonsina Paglia and Lenora Antonelli.  Unlike John Ciardi who took great offense when called an Italian American poet, Paglia is very conscious and proud of her Italian heritage. She often refers to her Italianess.  For example, in her 1991 M.I.T. lecture she referred to her Italianess four times.  In a 1995 Charlie Rose interview, her explanation of why she was fired from Bennington College: “I’m Italian and don’t do well in institutions


    Although Paglia’s mother was an immigrant, Camille was born in 1947, which places her solidly in the demographic cohort “baby boomers” and, the subset of that cohort, 3rd generation Italian Americans, i.e. the grandchildren of the pre-WW I immigrants.  The 2nd generation did not pass on the Italian language, history and little of the culture (save nuances such as family dinners) to their children, with one very significant exception – the concept of womanhood.  The girls of the 3rd generation were raised with the ancient Catholic values of their southern Italian ancestors.  Specifically, no sex before marriage, no artificial birth control after marriage, and homosexuality? – Oh my god! Don’t even think about it! 


    Virtually all of Paglia’s life and professional writing stand against these ancient feminine sexual mores.  For example, the lesbian component of her bisexualism manifested itself early in life. During the summers, she went to a Catholic camp that she characterized as “ a prelesbian heaven. It was just so romantic. I had mad crushes on all the counselors." While in high school, she began in depth research on Amelia Earhart and read Simone de Beauvoir's “The Second Sex”. Thus, by the time she entered college in 1964 she was well disposed to deal with sexuality.  She had the will and extraordinary intellect to channel that disposition into tour de force scholarship.


    She entered college at a time when Italian/Catholic sexual values were to become severely challenged by society. The 1960s saw the onset of major movements for social change: civil rights for Black Folks, women’s liberation, sexual freedom, academic freedom, etc. Many of those issues have been largely resolved or are in their denouement.  African Americans have attained de jure all the rights they were denied in the Jim Crow era through the 1950s; similarly women.  Although, for both groups there is de facto still significant “miles to go before we sleep”.  Nevertheless, the trajectory of change is in a positive direction and the mass protests and great polarizing debates have largely passed.


    However, there is one factor of social change that began in the sixties that is still the basis of significant conflict – sexuality.  Issues having to do with abortion, various gay related issues (marriage, military), contraception, etc. are still heatedly debated and cause of public protestations.  For example, recent articles here in i-Italy.org have been very critical of Catholic theological principles and teachings having to do with sex related issues (e.g. the celebration of the virulent anti-Catholic Sabina Guzzanti).


    Paglia has made major contribution to these discussions and debates.  However, she is differentiated from the protesting masses by her scholarship.  She’s not “just another pretty face” walking a picket line.  An “ubermensch” (a la Nietzsche: one who overcomes the herd perspective and creates a new world view), she is a giant intellectual with an unbounded passion for philosophy, art and history.  The combination of these passions (rights of women, philosophy, art and history) makes for prodigious intellectual output. 


    Most amazing to me, is the unique combination of ‘breadth’ and ‘depth’ of her scholarship.  She covers the history of Western Art from ancient Egypt down to Madonna.  However, she doesn’t simply write in sweeping generalizations about this or that period such as one reads in many art histories.  Paglia is more than an art historian.  She is a philosopher.  She writes: “Sexual Personae seeks to demonstrate the unity and continuity of western culture…” In an effort to find that philosophic unity, she delves into the minutia of individual works.  For example in her discussion of Renaissance art she draws the reader's attention to a ‘feather’ on the boot of Donatello’s David:  “The feathery wing of Goliath’s helmet…like an escaping thought, climbs ticklishly up the inside of David’s thigh.”


    Sadly, all the philosophical and aesthetic works of Camille Paglia, a very proud to be of Italian descent American, are of little value to the vast majority of the Italian Americans.  All her genius and energy can make no contribution to the development of Italian American culture because, frankly, she is too intellectual for our people.  Intellectual!  Not intelligent!  She is not too intelligent for our people.  We have the intelligence, but we chose not to apply it to higher education – especially in the humanities.  That, to my mind, is our tragedy.  Italian culture is in essence humanistic and we essentially reject our culture – indeed, our Being.


    All cultures are a mix of ‘high and low brow’.  “Highbrow” understood as being intellectual, “Lowbrow” as un- or even anti-intellectual. Robust cultures, are a healthy mixture of high and lowbrow.  Early 20th century Jews manifested genius in the sciences and in Vaudeville ‘shtick’. However, the low levels of Italian Americans going to college are reducing our culture to a disproportionate lowbrow.  We don’t, indeed can’t, read intellectually challenging Italian American writers like Camille Paglia (or Fante or Ciardi or DeLillo, etc).  Instead we anxiously await the next Scorsese movie or Sopranos season.  Ideally, we would do both: read Paglia, and enjoy the Italian Vaudeville of Scorsese and the Sopranos. 


    Paglia eloquently expressed this ideal on a Charlie Rose show.  She said, “I’m Italian, I’m a working class intellectual.”  Similarly, she tells her students: “I’m a product of the Italian culture and in the Italian cultural tradition…there are great artist. If you are a product of Italian culture you respect that artistic tradition…Art is not elitist in Italian culture; a peasant in the field of Italy knows the great artist, operas, tenors, etc. in Italian history.” 


    Tragically, Camille Paglia a teacher, philosopher, social reformer is an Italian American Hecuba who languishes alone in Italian America - unknown and unknowable to her people.



  • Op-Eds

    Why They Came – Italy’s Shame

    You load them onto ships like mined ore, harvested grain.

    You profit from their hard earned remittances.

    You offer citizenship now to their progeny.

    Forget about it!

    You owe an apology!


    Emigration – abstract causes


    In a recent Calandra Institute presentation, "Emigrant Nation: The Making of Italy Abroad" (http://www1.cuny.edu/portal_ur/news/radio/podcast/lecture_196.mp3), Professor Mark Choate discussed some history of the late 19th/early 20th century Italian migration; “the largest emigration from any country in recorded history.”


    As with many Italian emigration histories, Prof.  Choate talks about the causes of the emigration in terms of sociological abstractions such as “pushing and pulling factors”. Immigrants were “pushed” away from Italy by demographic and agricultural “factors” and “pulled” by transportation and employment “factors”. He says:


    “Italy’s agricultural economy was not able to support the high population on the peninsula…that’s the push factor.  The pull factor was easy transportation and opportunities abroad.  This is really an economic migration because workers could earn three times as much in the US as Italy.”


    Similarly, Prof. Elizabeth Cometti (“Trends in Italian Emigration”, The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 4, (Dec., 1958), pp. 820-834) writes:


    “RARELY DO PEOPLE emigrate from choice, least of all the Italians, passionately in love as they are with everything in their country, from its landscape to its cuisine…Behind their departure from Italy…the act of emigration…[was] almost like a simple reflex action or obedience to an inexorable behest."


    Both of these presentations, like many other scholarly and popular writings, create the illusion that the people of southern Italy, like lemmings, spontaneously began to move across the ocean.  The causes of the emigration are represented in abstract terms of “push/pull factors” and “inexorable behest [force].”


    Abstract ‘factor’ or ‘force’ analysis depersonalizes history and removes moral responsibility.  Factors and forces are neither morally good nor evil.  Like natural forces of gravity and electromagnetism studied in physics, they simply ‘are’; and the job of the scholar is to identify them and explain how they ‘cause’ the events of history to unfold as they did.


    Many of the histories of post Risorgimento pre-Fascist Italy are written from this abstract impersonal amoral perspective. Whereas the histories of Fascist Italy are often very personal and very moral: all evils (real and imagined - there are no goods) are ‘caused’ by Mussolini and his Fascist operatives.  Impersonal forces/factors are not seen to affect the political economy of Fascist Italy.  Only Mussolini!


    While the histories of Mussolini’s Italy, written from the Western liberal democracy perspective, are often biased by ideological presumptions (“History is written by the victors”), their moral historiographic assumptions are more valid than the amoral factor/force histories of pre-Fascist Italy. 


    In reality there are no impersonal or depersonalized social factors/forces.  Historic events are always the results of individual actions.  And, individual actions, to the extent that they affect other individuals, always have moral implications. 


    To understand the causes of Italian emigration in human/moral terms, it is important to understand that Italian emigration was a form of labor export commerce.   In fact, the Italian government acted to facilitate the enrichment the Italy’s northern industrial class by exporting the commodity - ‘southern Italian labor’. 


    Interestingly, indeed ironically, Choate, Cometti and other historians of Italian emigration, provide the explicit documented facts describing the de facto and de jure commoditization of southern Italian labor.  Yet they do not develop that causal hypothesis.  Rather, they write, metaphorically of ‘force’ and ‘factor’ causes of emigration.  Perhaps, as academicians, they function within an ideological milieu.


    Emigration as labor export commerce


    One can find no better-documented example of the Italian government’s conceptualization of southern Italian labor as an export commodity than the following from Cometti’s article:


    “Late in 1922 [after the US stopped accepting Italian immigrants], Commissioner General of Emigration Giuseppe De Michelis made a futile journey to the United States to plead for a realistic immigration policy … Let the United States indicate periodically how many workers were wanted: manual laborers, miners, mechanics, carpenters, domestics, farm hands, bricklayers, and others he proposed, and Italy, through its unique and specialized emigration service, would supply them.” 


    Clearly, De Michelis and the constituency he represented saw the Italian workers as commodities that could be, his word, “supplied” i.e. exported at will.  Clearly, he did not see migration as a ‘reaction’ to impersonal factors/forces.  Rather, the so-called “migration” was in fact exportation; a government controlled phenomenon. 


    Further, the role of the government, in the mischaracterized “migration”, is clearly indicated when he refers to Italy’s “unique and specialized emigration service”.  Specifically, he was referring to a series of law, regulations and bureaucratic structures dating back to 1888 created with a mind to facilitate the export of southern Italian labor.  Especially, in 1901 with the creation of the Commissariat of Emigration to unify and increase the efficiency migration services.


    Also in 1901, Prof. Choate notes:


    “The Bank of Naples was organized by the government to efficiently process money order remittances coming from Italians aboard so Italy could use the money to bolster its own economic development as Italy was seeking to become an Industrial country.   Usually countries have to borrow a lot of money to invest in their economic plan to build factories, and buy machine and equipment.  This lowers their currency and causes counter productive inflation.”


    Prof. Choate continues: “With the remittances from the immigrants, Italian currency is stable through out this growth period during this economic growth spurt before WW I 1900-1914 when Italy changed from an agriculture to and industrial economy.  Remittances during this period counted for one forth of Italy’s balance of payments and Italy did not suffer the negative effect of inflation with growth.”


    Similarly, Booker T. Washington, the renowned American educator and founder of Tuskegee Institute, after extensive travel in Italy and studying Italian labor in 1910 wrote:  Italian emigrants abroad contribute to their mother country a sum estimated at between five and six million dollars annually.”  Converted into today’s dollar value, five and six million 1910 dollars represented and enormous about of money coming from people who worked in sweatshops and lived in one-bedroom coldwater flats.


    In sum, the above are just a couple of examples from a preponderance of documentary evidence demonstrating that officials in the Italian government, during the great migration, were essentially representing the interest of northern industrialist by exporting southern Italians as a labor commodity in order to finance the industrial development of northern Italy.


    Professors Choate, Cometti and many other emigration historians have done a fantastic job in finding source documents and providing in great detail factual descriptions of emigration phenomena.  However, to my mind, they need to reconsider their historiographic narrative.  They need to discuss the causes of emigration in real human moral terms rather than abstract concepts like agricultural, demographic and technological forces and factors.


    Further, if Americans of Italian descent are going to have a robust and ongoing culture, then that culture must be based on the reality of our history, not illusionary “nostalgic recall”.  Currently we are largely ignorant of the origins of our culture.  We have no idea how the decisions in Milan and Rome affected the people “south of the Garigliano”, and how those decisions gave rise to the great migration and the birth of Italian American culture.


  • Op-Eds

    To Educate Italian American Children…or NOT??

    Americans of Italian descent are not highly educated people.  This fact is well document by the “2004 U.S. Census Bureau - American Community Survey” statistics posted on the City University of New York - Calandra Institute web site.

    In 2004, out of a total population of 10.5 million Americans, who identified themselves as of Italian origin and were 25 years of age or older, 69% have an education equivalence of less than a bachelor’s degree.  Only 20% had attained a bachelor’s degree and 11 % had education beyond a bachelor’s.


    Further, projecting the future: only 1.1 million Italian Americans of any age in 2004 were enrolled in college or graduate school.  Thus, we cannot expect Italian Americans to have a significant impact on American society in any areas that presuppose an education beyond high school.  Absolutely not as teachers!


    In as much as a Masters degree is necessary to teach in public schools and a PhD in colleges and universities, the question arises as to who is going to teach Italian American children?  Certainly, not Italian American teachers!  With only 11% having a degree higher than bachelors, at best 11% of Italian Americans can teach in public schools.  Eliminating those with degrees in law, medicine, engineering, etc., far less than 11% are available for teaching at any level.


    Further, the absence of Italian American teachers is correlated with the dearth of Italian cultural curriculum being taught.  For example, in the New York State Secondary Social Studies Global Studies curriculum, one is hard pressed to find anything about Italy other than the three traditional touchstones (Rome, Renaissance and Mussolini).  Needless to say, other European countries are covered in depth (England, France, Germany, Russia, etc.).  Similarly, Asian and African countries figure prominently in the curriculum. Further, there is virtually nothing about Italians in America except a mention in the immigration unit.


    A similarly absence of Italian culture can be seen in the English literature curriculum:


    Of approximately 150 listed books recommended for reading in English Literature grades 9-12, there is only one book by an author with an Italian name; Lawrence Ferlinghetti (pardon my cynicism- but he never knew his Italian father, his mother was of Sephardic French /Portuguese heritage; he was raised in France till he was five years old; French as his first language and he earned a doctoral degree at the Sorbonne in Paris – hardly your typical Italian).  In short, virtually the whole recommend reading list for New York secondary English literature students is devoid of Italianita.


    A similar void in Italian America cultural education can be seen at the Community College in Monroe County New York; a county in which 140,000 (20% of population) is classified as Italian descendent in the 2000 Census.


    Consistent with national education statistics, 58% of the Italian American residents over the age of 25 attain a high school diploma or higher, but less than a bachelor’s degree.  Education ‘higher than high school’ but ‘less than bachelors’ implies that a significant percentage of Monroe County Italian American students attend the Community College. 


    The cultural education of students of Italian descent at Monroe Community College is nonexistent.  The following is taken from the college’s on line course descriptions.


    History courses (not including various American):

    -  (Three) African American

    - Jewish/Holocaust

    - Asian

    - (Two) Russian

    - China & Japan

    - East Asia

    - Women’s


    Literature courses (ethnic):


    - Holocaust – (one dedicated course and a significant part of another survey course)

    - (Two) British

    - Black

    - Minorities (Native American, Latino, Asia, African American)

    - Shakespeare

    - Drama  (no Italian dramatist listed)

    - Poetry: (no Italian poets listed)


    In short, there are no Italian or Italian American history or literature courses offered at a community college in a county with 140,000 Americans of Italian descent (20% of population).


    The final affront to Italian American students comes in the form of a culinary course offered by Monroe Community College.  This is a vocational training course meant to prepare students to work in restaurant kitchens.  A French chef uses a French culinary text to teach French culinary concepts and techniques. 


    The book and the teacher present gross misrepresentations of food history.  For example, they say: “Marie Careme (1884-1833) wrote the first really systematic account of cooking principles, recipes, and menu making.”  There is no mention of “Opera On Right Pleasure and Good Health” written by Bartolomeo Scappi circa 1500 and is called by food historian Bill Buford, “Europe’s first international cookbook best-seller (still on sale, even in paperback)”.  Nor is there any mention of the numerous other Italian cookbooks written long before Marie was born. Nor is there any mention of the fact that the fountainhead of French cooking was in the kitchens of the Italian chefs Catherine de Medici brought with her to France when she married the French king.


    In Monroe County, there are approximately 20,000 French-Americans and virtually no French restaurants.  There are 140,000 Italian Americans and literally thousands of Italian eateries of all types: pizzerias, family ‘trattorias’, national chain Italian restaurants,  and high-end ‘restorantes’.  Yet, Italian American student’s only option at the county community college is a French cooking course.  “Go figure!”


    In sum, there can be no culture if there is no education about the culture.  There can be no Italian American culture if there is no education about the Italian American culture. One thing for sure: Italian American cultural education is not happening in public schools. 


    It seems to me that Italian American literati, community leaders and politicians have two education issues to address:


    1 How do we explain the low level of education attainment of the Italian American people and what can be done to improve the education of our children.


    2. Are we content to let the public school system send Italian American culture into oblivion.