Towards an American Terroni “Education Manifesto” – i-Italy’s role (if any)
A few years ago, I enrolled in a vocational culinary arts cooking course at the local community college. Ignoring me, I judge the average age of the twenty-two students in the class to be about twenty (i.e. a distribution of late teens and early twenties, with me an ‘outlier’) I immediately noticed that fifteen names on the class list were Italian. This did not surprise me. There are approximately two-hundred thousand Americans of Italian descent in the greater Rochester, NY area. As with Italian Americans nationally, they are mostly in ‘blue-collar’ working-class families whose children, following that socio-economic tradition, seek vocational education in the community college, trade schools and various blue-collar job training programs (I/A national census data: 70% less than bachelors degree).
As I came to know the Italian American students, I found that these fifth generation (great great grandchildren of Ellis Island generation) Italian American students had an intense sense of being Italian(indeed proud of it). However, they did not seem to know what it meant to be Italian. Like their parents they were raised in heterogeneous suburbs (third generation, grandchildren of immigrants born in the 1940’s and early 50’s, was the last urban “Little Italy” generation). While my classmatesknew they were Italian, in the absence of knowledge about what it meant to be Italian, at best all they could do was mimicked media images of Italian Americans – Ergo Guido.
Wondering about their education and what contribution it made, if any, to knowledge about Italian history and culture, I did some document research into census data and school curriculums (high school through graduate studies) – all of this with a mind towards understanding southern-Italian American youth’s sense of Italianita. Much of this “back of an envelope” type of research has been reported and discussed over the years on this blog – see a few such articles in the 'related articles' links on this page. But, the short report is as follows.
Pino Aprile, in the first four pages of his mind boggling book “Terroni”, begins twenty-three paragraphs with the phrase “I did not know” or words to that affect. This is a well-educated professional southern Italian who became overwhelmed by how little he knew about his Patria Merdionale. Growing up south of Rome, there was no oral traditions or school textbooks to inform him about the incredible history of the post-Risorgimento period.
Sadly, publications like i-Italy (the voice of Italy) and H-ITAM (the voice of Chicago) do not see, at least part of, their mission to systematically and aggressively promote the teaching and research of southern-Italian American history and culture (pre and post Ellis Island!).