Articles by: Joey Skee

  • Events: Reports

    The Italian-American Political & Moral Bocce Club of Paradise's Inaugural Annual Spring Fling Dinner Dance, Gala, and Reception

    The Italian-American Political & Moral Bocce Club of Paradise*
    cordially invites you to its 
    Inaugural Annual Spring Fling Dinner Dance, Gala, and Reception**
    Friday, April 8, 2011, 6:00pm
    Union Hall
    702 Union Street

    Brooklyn, New York 11215
    (right off the corner of 5th Avenue)
    ***bocce court on the premises***
    Spring is in the air, and it’s time to move from the indoor court to the outdoor court! We have a lot of work ahead of us: sweeping and leveling the court, watering, packing, and smoothing the clay, refurbishing the sideboards and backboards, upgrading the rubber bumper, refreshening the tricolor score board, recalibrating the Bocce Cup MeasurerTM, and polishing the pallino so that we are in keeping with the Bocce Standards Association best practices for bocce courts.
    Please join us as we celebrate with our Mondo Bambini youth league, the Macaroni Rascals, who have been training diligently under the dutiful eye of our very own Dr. Mary Plaza, D.M.V. We are proud to open the FESTA with an exhibition match and are proud to see our youth, the next generation, carrying AVANTI our bocce culture and heritage.
    We are honored to honor IAP&MBCofP member Alvara Gigiriva who went on to World Renown, clinching both the Northeast Tri-State Inter-League Bocce Championship and the Super-Frustalupi Gran Premio (IBCA), and who, but for a mere 0.5 centimeters, failed to win the renowned Champion of Champions League “Pallino D’Oro” of the Americas Cup. Mrs. Gigiriva is now a retired periodontist residing in Darien, CT.
    Alvara Gigiriva, Villa Roma, Catskill, NY 1965

    In addition, we will be presenting the 2011 IAP&MBCofP Honorees Award to Vin, a longtime member, and supporting him in his relentless work to achieve his goals, which requires many hours of dedication, fueled only by Vin’s passion to fulfill a childhood dream, a dream that was realized as a young boy from the first time, when he was able to envision himself as someday being a success, from that day on, a slowly burning desire has been instilled in Vin, although he started his career much later in life, it is now evident that his childhood dream must become a reality. We would like you to join us by coming out and showing your support and appreciation for Vin and his undying efforts.

    Vin, Pursuing the Dream

    Passaic Valley Regional High School, 1985

    The IAP&MBCofP will give its coveted William Cimillo Menefreghista Carpe Diem Award to the first ten people who show up. 
    Exclusive Film Premiere

    BACI BOCCE!!!:
    How a Humble Game from Italian Mountain Villages, Coastal Towns, and Urban Borghi Traveled the Globe to Capture the Hearts and Minds of Just about Everybody

    Director Guido Anselmi, recipient of the IAP&MBCofP’s Gerardo L. Colonna and Catherine C. Balotta Grant, will be joined by Professor Vanessa Longo-Murphy of Montclair State University, who served as the film’s academic consultant, for a post-screening discussion
    The Italian-American Political & Moral Bocce Club of Paradise is dedicated to the political and moral benefits of Italian-American bocce. Established in September 2009, the IAP&MBCofP has 160 Facebook members.  Its mission is to celebrate the diversity of the nation's estimated 26 million people of Italian descent, their family members and friends, and the larger Italian diaspora world wide, and their family members and friends (but not Italians vacationing in Brazil, Thailand, or the Dominican Republic).
    Anthems and Entertainment by mezzo-soprano Bianco Castafiore, the "Milanese Nightingale," singing the aria BOCCE E BARBERA” and, from Porgy and Bess, BOCCE BOOGIE.”
    Space is limited! Reserve your ticket today!
    Age 3 and a half  & Under FREE!
    Senior discount!
    Remember the Italian-American Political & Moral Bocce Club of Paradise’s motto:
    Se ‘ng n’amma sci, sciam’nninn, se non ‘ng n’amma sci, non ‘ng’n sciam scenn.
    Organizing Committee:
    President: Cav. Rust. Enrico Conti, J.C.D., Mech.E.
    Vice-President: Veronica M. Sciuè, D.S.S.c., D.M.V.
    Secretary: KaNèesha Leilani al-Jamil-O’Neil née Yamaguchi, Esq.
    Treasurer: Chickie Santo Janni di Gianola
    President, Men’s Auxiliary: Filomena Dobbins
    Mondo Bambini Bocce League: Dr. Mary Plaza, D.M.V.
    Honorary Academic Consultant: Professor Vanessa Longo-Murphy (Montclair State University)
    For more information please contact: [email protected].
    *Not affiliated with the Italian-American Political & Moral Bocce Club of Paradise of Philadelphia.
    **Please indicate your choice of primo (Fettuccine alla crema di gamberetti e brandy or ravioli quasi tutto), secondo (chicken cutlet scarpariello or bass in padella con pomodorini), contorno (crocchette di patate e speck or melanzane al Posillipo) and dolce (bocceball tartufo or zuppa inglese all’ungherese). No vegetarian options available.

  • Op-Eds

    Rethinking 150 Years

    Not long after the formation of the Italian state in 1861, my paternal great-great-grandfather, Giuseppe Sciorra, left his mountain town of Carunchio (Chieti province) in the Abruzzi to work in Argentina. According to family memory, that crossing set in motion a century of transnational movement between Italy and the New World. 
    My great-grandfather, Enrico, came to New York to pay his father’s debts, where my grandfather, known affectionaly as Gios’, was born. The family returned to Italy, only to have my American-born grandfather come to New York (after serving in the Italian army during World War I) in desperate search for work. In turn, my father, Enrico, was born in the Bronx in 1922, but again like so many Italian emigrants, he and his family “returned” to Italy (just in time for Fascism, the Depression, and World War II), only to move back to New York as an adult in 1950, again in desperate search of work.
    I am inextricably linked to Italy. As Joseph Umberto, I bear the name of the country’s second king who was assassinated by the Italian-American anarchist Gaetano Bresci. I know intimately my zii and cugini, and we communicate regularly. And ten years ago, I “reclaimed” my Italian citizenship and that of my two children. 
    But I am the embodiment of the Italian nation’s historic failure to protect its citizens from privation and political bankruptcy. Along with the other sixty million descendants of Italian migration, the 150th anniversary of the formation of the nation state known as “Italy” is not an event to be “celebrated” uncritically. I will spend this day not waving the tricolor, but reflecting on the works of those who examined the relationship between Italian unification and Italian emigration.
    “From its beginnings, Unification was a failure around which the fiction of Italian culture was constructed.” (p. 155)
    —Pasquale Verdicchio, Bound by Distance (1997)
    “The Italian Peninsula never had any great admiration for its émigrés, however. Italy soon forgot that half its population had emigrated, and it treated its co-nationals with derision, laughing at their awkwardness.” (p. 64)
    —Franco La Cecla, Pasta and Pizza (2007)
    “Italy has not developed a clear understanding of how its history of migration has defined its national history.” (p.173)
    —Donna Gabaccia, Italy’s Many Diasporas (2000)
    “In Italian cultural history there are a number of repressed historical narratives, among them the history of Italian migration and of Italian colonialism.” (p. 21)
    —Graziella Parati, Mediterranean Crossroads (1999)
    “Italy’s massive emigration, and the political and colonialist effort to channel this population, were fundamental to Italian history.” (p. 17)
    —Mark Choate, Emigrant Nation (2008)
    My Italy is not found in the official narratives infused with the glories of Rome and the Renaissance, or in the global brand that is “Italian Style.” Instead, my Italy consists of the Italian diaspora’s laboring histories and vernacular cultures, where the notion of “Italy” was constructed, to a large degree.
    In the throes of xenophobic hysteria, Italians today are rediscovering their emigrant past as a way of buttressing the national psyche of a dynamically changing society. It is essential to our sense of identity and collective history that we explicitly link Italian emigration and contemporary immigration to Italy in our understanding of that migratory entity called Italy that emerged 150 years ago. 
    That’s what I’m celebrating.

  • Life & People

    The Secret History of Italian Americans on TV

    The 1960s television program The Man From U.N.C.L.E. recently became available on Netflix and I immediately moved the DVDs to the top of my queue. While I was a big fan of this spy show when I was kid, I had never noticed that the secret entrance to the headquarters of the international intelligence agency—“in New York City, on a street in the east 40s”—was through “Del Floria’s Tailor Shop.” After a quick search I discovered that the shop owner controlling the access was a sixty-year-old Italian immigrant named Giovanni
    Just as I was making this little find, historian Nancy Carnevale and culture studies scholar Laura Ruberto, editors of Fordham University Press’s “Critical Studies in Italian America” series, emailed the editorial board for suggestions about a proposed anthology on Italian Americans and TV. While much has been written about Italian Americans and cinema—the latest book being Mediated Ethnicity—little has been done from the perspective of the cathode ray tube. 
    Anthony Tamburri addresses this “paucity of critical studies, especially books” in his recent essay, “The History of Italian American Film and Television Studies,” attributing it to “the continued problem of minimal scholarly attention paid to Italian Americans and a lack of interest about representations of Italian Americans on television that seems to exist even among scholars in Italian American studies.” This dearth is reflected even in his article in which TV Italians play second fiddle to their celluloid counterparts, two pages to seven. 
    DVD releases and the Internet now provide access to TV programs previously unavailable, offering the possibility of a nuanced reflection. I imagine the Italian immigrant’s “ordinary tailor shop” as a metaphoric gateway to the secret history of Italian Americans on TV that warrants our scholarly attention.
    An obvious place to begin is with the notion of the stereotype and programs like the dago minstrelsy that was Life with Luigi, Renzo Cesana’s ludicrous Latin Lover in The Continental, and the mafia drama The Untouchables

    One approach would be a straight forward content analysis of various episodes, which, I believe, has yet to be done from an Italian-American angle. American Studies scholar Laura Cook Kenna takes a different approach to perceived biases in TV programming by scrutinizing the successful anti-defamation efforts against The Untouchables thus contextualizing this previously unexamined history.
    Another type of audience reception was touched upon in Herbert Gans’s The Urban Villagers, a sociological study of Italian-America slum dwellers in Boston’s West End in the 1950s. These working-class folks engaged with mass media through a strategic form of critical “detachment”:
    West Enders enjoy making fun of the media as much as they enjoy the programs. As one of my neighbors put it, “We heckle TV just like we used to heckle the freaks at the circus when we were kids.” Television commercials are sometimes watched raptly, and then bombarded with satirical comments which question exaggerated or dishonest claims and meaningless statements. West Enders do not enjoy watching satire, but they do enjoy creating their own in response to what they see. They also are sensitive to media content which allows them to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the outside world. Thus programming which praises politicians as honest, which implies that middle-class characters who talk about morality also act that way, or which suggests that businessman are more interested in community service than in profit is debunked in no uncertain terms.
    During this time period, the young Martin Scorsese was watching Italian neorealist films on New York television. Listen as he movingly describes that experience and, in particular, the reaction of his Sicilian-born grandparents. 


    Communication professor Chiara Francesca Ferrari, on the other hand, examines the transnational media flow of American programs aired on Italian television, unpacking the subsequent linguistic and cultural transformations of such endeavors.
    There are whole genres worth exploring: variety shows, game showsdomestic comedies, police procedurals, cooking showsreality shows, music videos, cartoons, commercials, and countless parodies and spoofs.

    Harvey Birdman: The Dabba Don

    Tags: Harvey Birdman: The Dabba Don

    I would be remiss if I did not mention the Calandra Institute’s ITALICS, the twenty-year-old “TV magazine” broadcast on CUNY-TV. 
    For all the obvious programs and characters, from Fonzie to Joey Tribbiani, from Pinky Tuscadero to Marie Janella Barone, little known moments from this secret history are waiting to be explored, like the 1956 teleplay “Anna Santonello” on the Kraft Television Theater or Johnny Staccato, the Greenwich Village jazz pianist/private detective played by the incomparable John Cassavetes.

    Does anyone remember Paul Gigante, the "half-black, half-Italian police detective" played by Giancarlo Esposito in the short-lived comedy Bakersfield, P.D.?

    A linguistic analysis of TV programs would be an interesting avenue to explore, using perhaps the esposide when Darrin was bewitched to speak only in Italian or this kitchen table exchange from Everyone Loves Raymond.

    Post-World War II Italian migrants, another little-studied subject, are often depicted on TV, usually in comedies.

    One might easily understand the newcomer appearing on I Love Lucy which was set in New York but Mario Vinchenti and his family arriving in Mayberry, North Carolina?!
    Scholarly studies flourished with the artistic and commercial success of The Sopranos. We are beginning to see serious consideration of subjects like race, gender, sexuality, and class emerge in the wake of the global hit Jersey Shore.
    All too often Italian-American anti-defamation activists reject the scholarly study of media, maintaining that Italian-American academics, in particular, need to “defend or promote our heritage.” Such a philistine position ends up serving not the needs of an “Italian American community” but the tenuous claims these cultural judicators make to being “ethnic leaders.”
    The actress Betty Garrett died last month and I was reminded of her role as Irene Lorenzo, neighbor and foil of the bigot Archie Bunker in the 1970s hit All in the Family. Her character and that of her husband Frank, played by Vincent Gardenia, were refreshing depictions of Italian Americans on TV. The couple was politically liberal and Roman Catholic, with the handywoman Irene working outside the home and the househusband Frank taking pleasure and pride in cooking. 

    The open-minded Irene and Frank Lorenzo make welcomed guides to lead us through Giovanni Del Floria’s passageway and into a world yet to be discovered.
    A Select Bibliography
    Regina Barreca, ed. A Sitdown With the Sopranos: Watching Italian American Culture on TV's Most Talked-About Series. (New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2002).
    Andrew Brizzolara. “The Image of Italian Americans on U.S. Television.” Italiana Americana 6.2 (1980), 160-168.
    Chiara Francesca Ferrari. Since When Is Fran Drescher Jewish?: Dubbing Stereotypes in The Nanny, The Simpsons, and The Sopranos. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011).
    Laura Cook Kenna. “Dangerous Men, Dangerous Media: Constructing Ethnicity, Race, and Media’s Impact Through the Gangster Image, 1959-2007.” Ph.D. dissertation, The George Washington University, 2007.
    Laura Cook Kenna. “Exemplary Consumer-Citizens and Protective State Stewards: How Reformers Shaped Censorship Outcomes Regarding The Untouchables.”The Velvet Light Trap, 63 (Spring 2009), 34-44.
    David Lavery, ed. This Thing of Ours: Investigating the Sopranos. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002).
    John A. Lent. “Television.” The Italian American Experience: An Encyclopedia. Salvatore J. LaGumina, Frank J. Cavaioli, Salvatore Primeggia, and Joseph A. Varacalli, ed. (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2000), 625-628.
    Robert Lichter and Linda Lichter. Italian American Characters in Television Entertainment. (West Hempstead: Order Sons of Italy in America, 1982).

    Roseanne Giannini Quinn. "Mothers, Molls, and Misogynists: Resisting Italian American Womanhood in The Sopranos." The Journal of American Culture 27.2 (June 2004), 166-174.
    Courtney Judith Ruffner. “Cultural Stereotyping in Happy Days and The Sopranos.” In Teaching Italian American Literature, Film, and Popular Culture. Edvige Giunta and Kathleen Zamboni McCormick, ed. (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2010), 231-236.
    Anthony Julian Tamburri. “A Contested Place: Italian Americans in Cinema and Television.” In Teaching Italian American Literature, Film, and Popular Culture. Edvige Giunta and Kathleen Zamboni McCormick, ed. (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2010), 209-216.
    Anthony Julian Tamburri. “The History of Italian American Film and Television Studies.” In Teaching Italian American Literature, Film, and Popular Culture. Edvige Giunta and Kathleen Zamboni McCormick, ed. (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2010), 59-69.

    Anthony Julian Tamburri. “Rock Videos as Social Narratives: Madonna’s Like a Prayer and Justify My Love Bending Rules.” In Italian/American Short Films & Videos: A Semiotic Reading. (West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2002), 55-75.

    Thanks to Laura Ruberto and Anthony Tamburri for several cited references and links, and to Rosangela Briscese for her assistance.

  • Art & Culture

    Craftsmanship Documented

    It has long been noted that Italian immigrants and their descendants excelled in various types of craftsmanship. From embroidery to stone carving, artisanal work has been a fundamental part of Italian experiences with migration and labor. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has contributed an exciting new chapter to our understanding of Italian artistry in the New World.
    The exhibition “Guitar Heroes: Legendary Craftsman from Italy to New York” (February 9-July 4, 2011) features the work of three Italian-American luthiers working in New York City and surrounding area: John D’Angelico (1905-1964); James D’Aquisto (1935-1995); and John Monteleone (1947-). Exhibit curator Jayson Kerr Dobney situates these stringed-instrument makers within “a tradition that spans hundreds of years and two continents. They are the direct descendants of the Neapolitan craftsman who came to New York in the decades around the turn of the twentieth century.” The exhibit (and accompanying publication) does an excellent job of tracing the connections between Bavaria in the fifteenth century, northern Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Naples in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and finally New York City—“a vibrant center of Italian-American culture”—in the twentieth century. 
    Archtop guitars, New Yorker models, 1958 & 1959, John D'Angelico

    The exhibition “offers an extraordinary opportunity to consider the continuity of a traditional craft and its constant adaption to meet the ever-changing needs of musicians and markets.” Perhaps the exhibit’s greatest contribution is simply resurrecting the names of Italian immigrant craftsmen of violins, mandolins, and guitars from the fading pages of history, such as:
    ·         Joseph E. Bini, guitar maker who emigrated in the 1840s from the Veneto, who worked at P. T. Baruum’s American Musuem
    ·         Angelo Mannello, from Morcone (Benevento province), arrived in 1885 and known for his ornately inlayed mandolins
    ·         Neapolitan Luigi Ricca arrived in 1886 and mentored Charles Biggio, Antonio Grauso, and A. Russo
    ·         Antonio Carlucci, who worked for the Schmidt factory in Jersey City and taught John DeJulio
    ·         Violin-maker William Pezzone
    ·         Nicola Turturro, who invented the “mandolira” and the “peanut” ukulele
    ·         Mario Maccaferri, born in 1900 in Cento (Ferrara province), designed the jazz guitar adopted by Django Reinhardt before emigrating to the Bronx where he introduced mass-produced plastics ukuleles and guitars in the 1950s-60s
    ·         Raphael Cini, born in 1905 in New York City and had a workshop at 57 Kenmare Street where his nephew John D’Angelico trained
    ·         Violin-maker Mario Frosali
    ·         Vincent DiSerio, trained in D’Angelico’s workshop
    ·         Robert Benedetto, Bronx-born (1946), self-taught guitar maker

    The exhibit and Website feature extensive audio and video components of interviews and musical performances that enhance our appreciation of this crasftmanship. On March 9th, curator Jayson Kerr Dobney will present on “The Neapolitan Instruments Makers of New York” at the Calandra Institute as part of its “Philip V. Cannistraro Seminar Series in Italian American Studies.”

    Apprentice and Master

    James D'Aquisto (left) and John D'Angelico (right)

    D'Angelico Guitars

    37 Kenmare Street, New York City ca. 1960

    Archives of the National Music Museum, The University of South Dakota

  • Life & People

    Anti-defamation, a Punch Line

    I saw Sofia Coppola’s film Somewhere last night and while I was underwhelmed (it’s no Lost in Translation), I was struck by a line of dialogue. During a press junket with foreign reporters hurling questions at the film’s main character, Johnny Marco, an anomic actor of second-rate movies, the disembodied voice of an “Italian journalist” asks, “How do you think this role represents Italian Americans?” 
    Online reviews reference this query as illustrating “the staggering inanity of film journalists.” This throwaway line is also curious because it points to the various ways anti-defamation efforts are perceived as a punch line for TV and film directors, comedians, bloggers, and others. 
    “The Sopranos” was particularly adept at critiquing anti-defamation protests by the national organizations, often before they had time to do so. 

    The agita du jour is about the fourth season of “Jersey Shore being filmed in Italy, a country whose lecherous 74-year-old Prime Minister could easily serve as the MTV reality show’s thematic godfather. (The self-proclaimed, Italian-American spokespeople are silent about the embarrassment that is Berlusconi.) In a nanosecond comes a hilarious take from Taiwan, a video animation with the increasingly de rigueur joke that is anti-defamation outrage.


    Instead of bemoaning the latest shenanigans of a bunch of Jersey guidos, we should unite and raise our collective voices to condemn Sofia Coppola’s outrageous denigration of Italian American heritage-culture-tradition-legacy-patrimony in her depiction of Johnny Marco’s culinary habits. In one revealing scene, the Italian-American actor is seen eating pasta like a gavon, slurping the dangling strands of spaghetti that stretch from his mouth to the plate below.

    Italian Americans know how to twirl spaghetti! Che vergogna, Sofia!

  • Art & Culture

    Talkin’ Hybrid Moments

    by Rosangela Briscese and Joseph Sciorra
    Any one with even passing familiarity with Italian culture can not help but consider the similarity of the Italian gestures for and against the evil eye, as well as that signifying cuckoldry, with the universal hand gesture that has come to symbolize metal music, and in turn, has simply become the ubiquitous gesture of the rock-based concert partier. 
    It comes as no surprise to many that the late Ronnie James Dio of Black Sabbath and other bands—who is credited with popularizing the “metal horns” or the “devil horns,” as the gesture is now referred to—stated that he learned the sign to ward off the malocchio from his grandmother. 

    The overt connection between popular Italian Catholicism and metal—let’s not forget that Ronald James Padavona took the Italian word for “God” as his stage name—offers an interesting vantage point for considering the varied and nuanced iterations of Italian American in a host of popular music forms—metal, punk, experimental, singer-songwriter—and their associated subcultures.
    Ethnic identity—that is, white ethnic identity—has not been the defining feature, per se, of alternative, independent, and underground musicians’ creativity. Various musical styles and their subcultures, especially punk and metal, are cherished, in part, because of their non-ethnic affiliations, a breaking away and erasing of familial and local references considered provincial, restrictive, oppressive. These art forms may well be perfect examples of what sociologist Richard Alba’s has referred to as “the twilight of ethnicity.” 
    Yet some think not.

    Steven Lee Beeber, author of Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk, states: “The shpilkes, the nervous energy of punk, is Jewish. Punk reflects the whole Jewish history of oppression and uncertainty, flight and wandering, belonging and not belonging, always being divided, being in and out, good and bad, part and apart.” Who knew? 
    But at the conference “Loud Fast Jews” held at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research last year, Chris Stein of Blondie stated explicitly, “I’d be hard pressed to think ethnicity has something to do with my music.” And yet.

    We and others could not help but notice the propensity of Italian surnames in various types of alternative, independent, and underground music. David Marchese’s 2008 posting, “Italian Rockers? Fuhgeddaboutit!” for the SPIN magazine blog, listed the likes of Frank Zappa, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, producer Steve Albini, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo, Ween’s Dean Ween aka Michael Melchiondo, Jr., and other Italian-American musicians of various stripes. We would suggest that artists performing in a variety of musical styles, from Ronnie James Dio to Vinnie Stigma of Agnostic Front, from Natalie Merchant to Ani Di Franco, from Joe Jack Talcum to Ted Leo, represent an Italian presence—sometimes veiled, sometimes overt—in the American music scene. 

    These Italian-American artists’ italianità or Italianness is articulated through surname retention, lyrics, cultivated persona, and/or performance style. They may be likened to the novelists Don DeLillo and Gilbert Sorrentino that literary scholar and Queens College professor Fred Gardaphé writes about in Italian Signs, American Streets: The Evolution of Italian American Narrative:
    While [they] rarely choose to deal with distinctly Italian American subjects, and thus are more easily read through the more mainstream American aspects of their Italian American culture, ethnicity and cultural difference underscore all of their work. These authors may have avoided or suppressed dominant ethnic traits in their attempts to transcend ethnicity, but their work contains signs of Italianità that can be connected to an underlying philosophy which is informed by their ethnicity. 
    The symposium’s title, taken from the Misfits song—the Lodi, New Jersey band with members Glenn Anzalone, and the brothers Jerry and Doyle Caiafa—allows us to explore those “hybrid moments” that momentarily reveal the looks hiding behind the scars. 


    Such a moment emerges in Natalie Merchant’s song performed with 10,000 Maniacs, “My Sister Rose”:
    Big plans are being made for my sister’s wedding day.

    We’ll have a ball at the Sons
    of Roma Hall.

    Family, friends come one and all.


    Other times, attention to a musician’s ethnic background is due to ascription. For example, a press release entitled, “So who’s Vic Ruggiero?” about the singer/songwriter’s Netherlands tour, opens with the sentence, “A 34-year Italian New Yorker (what else could you be with such a family name?).” 


    Or consider the online review of a Bouncing Souls concert which described lead singer Greg Attonito as the “Frank Sinatra of the punk scene,” because of his “calm and effortless” belting out of songs. 


    And what are we to make of Agnostic Front's first concert in Bologna, Italy, in which Vinnie Stigma—as a friend described in an email—came “on stage in full skinhead attire waving an Italian flag”?


    One of the purposes of this type of event is to engender scholarship where none or little exists. This is what we did in 2002 with the Calandra Institute’s conferences on women’s needlework and historic preservationToday’s symposium consists primarily of roundtable discussions with artists and other participants in the music world.
    We envision this event raising more questions than answers. Some ideas we hope will be addressed are:
    • What is the process by which ethnic identity is submerged, erased, or revealed?
    • The issue of place: the suburbs as an incubator for certain types of music and the punk scene as a replacement for community of the “old neighborhood.”
    • To what degree can the cultivated performers’ musical personae, especially the attitude of the front man, be considered a channeling of a Louis Prima or Frank Sinatra?  
    • What about male/macho posturing of hardcore, and the underrepresentation of women?
    • In what ways are race and whiteness articulated? What are we to make of white-power skinhead bands and that culture?
    • And than there are the “Wannabe Italians.” Yes, the Ramones, and the Rezillos, and Ross the Boss Funicello, and others. What is that all about?!

    “Italianità in a Minor Key” panel, (left to right) Vic Ruggiero (The Slackers)

    KAVES (The Lordz), moderator Antonino D’Ambrosio (La Lutta NMC), and

    Martín Perna (Antibalas). Photograph: Rosangela Briscese.

    This event has been long in the making; we first began actively working on it in M
    arch 2009. We invited a number of artists who either did not respond or were unable or uninterested in participating, such as Ani Di Franco, Natalie Merchant, Marissa Paternoster of the Screaming Females, Ted Leo, Jack Terricloth of World/Inferno Friendship Society, Guy Picciotto of Fugazi, Greg Attonito, Cliff Rigano of Storm Troopers of Death, and the brothers Bob and Jerry Casale of DEVO. We don’t see today’s symposium as the end of a conversation but just the beginning.

  • Art & Culture

    A Tourist Visits Italian in California

    This summer I spent the family vacation in California visiting relatives and a host of sites. Along the drive from San Diego to San Francisco I casually checked out examples of Italian America on the Pacific Coast. I encountered the full range of the cultural spectrum, from high to low, from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the historic to the fantastic. 

    My first notice of the Italian presence was a poster in San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood advertising “Ferragosto” with a “When in Rome” theme. The poster listed local entities such as the Little Italy Association, the Our Lady of Rosary Catholic Church, and Amici Park, signs that Italian had been historically mapped on the Californian landscape. Yet the event’s offer to “EXPERIENCE THE TRANSFORMATION OF AMICI PARK INTO THE ROMAN FORUM FOR A NIGHT” suggested a complicated and post-modern sense of Italian identification. The image of Saint Mother Cabrini advertising the punk band Kilslug at a music store offered a not too dissimilar estrangement to the complicated work of cultural identity. I never did make it to India Street, the city’s counterpart to New York’s Mulberry Street.

    Heading north along the coast, we skirted the sprawl of Los Angeles and stopped at the Getty Villa in the city’s northern Pacific Palisades area. O
    il tycoon J. Paul Getty modeled this building on the first-century Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum to house his extensive collection of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman art. Opened in 1974 on his 64-acre property, this is a wealthy elite’s—not an immigrant’s—appropriation and reconstitution of Italy in the West. I was drawn to the esquisite mosaic work found on the East Garden fountain which was a copy of one found in Pompeii

    The Getty Museum’s problematic collection history has resulted in the Italian govenment’s successful repatriation of scores of “looted” antiquities.
    I was familiar with Monterey’s rich Italian-American fishing history, so a stroll through the tourist trap that is the city’s “Old Fishermen’s Wharf” was obligatory (and a welcomed digestive after the sumptuous meal had at the Monterey Fish House). Amidst the cacophony of barking seals, I encountered statuary commemorating the Italian, and, in particular, Sicilian fishers.

    The final tap on the California tour was San Francisco, where the city’s Italian is all too evidentI couldn’t help but compare North Beach with Manhattan’s Little Italy, given its historic Italian significance, its proximity to a Chinatown, and its commodification as a tourist destination. At Mission Dolores, I came upon the nineteenth-century tomb of Francesco and Petrona Ruffino. 

    Beniamino “Benny” Bufano’s statue of St. Francis welcomed the roaming tourists with open arms to the tacky theme park that is Fishermen’s Wharf. I got a kick from riding not the city’s quintessential cable car but one of Milan’s orange trams that runs along Market Street that I remembered fondly from my stay in that northern Italian city during the 1970s. 

    I returned to California last month to participate in the conference entitled, “The Watts Towers Common Ground Initiative: Art, Migrations, Development.”  Organized by folklorist Luisa Del Giudice, the two-day event brought together American and Italian scholars, museum curators, art conservators, and community activists to explore the life and work of Sabato “Sam” Rodia and his lasting contribution to Los Angeles and world culture. 

    For me, it is this unique creation by a semi-literate, southern Italian laborer—more than A. P. Giannini’s “Bank of America” or the wineries of Napa Valley—that constitutes a testament to Italian in California and in the United States.

  • Mr. Piccolo’s Peculiar Obsession

    Those of you unfamiliar with the local machinations of Italian Americana in the provincial paese of New York City may not have noticed the ongoing vituperations of a certain Arthur Piccolo.  Since the “Guido” colloquium in January 2010, the splenetic Mr. Piccolo has been emailing jeremiadic spam and blogging vociferous missives concerning Queens College’s John D. Calandra Italian American Institute. What can account for this person’s singular fixation with the Calandra Institute?
    When I mentioned to colleagues and acquaintances that I was writing this blog post, the vast majority asked a very simple question: “Who’s Arthur Piccolo?” Indeed. I only became aware of Piccolo in recent years as I had the displeasure of receiving one of his fractious and desultory spam attacks. 
    A simple Google search reveals very little. The “About Me” section of Piccolo's blog exposes more about his inarticulate writing style than about the man himself. A quick search about the organization he claims to head, the “Bowling Green Association,” discloses even less. 
    Piccolo paints a disturbing self-portrait in an autobiographic note in the 2006 publication “My Time at Tech and Other Memories from the Class of ’66,” written for the reunion of Brooklyn Tech High School graduates. Piccolo’s excessive narrative (six pages, 27-32) is constructed around a series of plaguing issues concerning power and betrayal. The most telling from a psychological standpoint is the opening tale of being “conned by my own father and mother” to attend the boys’ high school. “And the most valuable lesson I received from that experience [is] that trusting even ones [sic] own parents is a fool’s path unless that truth is earned” (p. 27). 
    From that early incident (the whisper of “Rosebud” hauntingly reverberates), a pattern of puerile contumacy emerges. His memoir continues with accounts of a “false accusation” of plagiarism, of being jailed for months in an Air Force brig for “insubordination” and “‘administrative discipline,’” and of a series of failed political ventures, including a 2005 run for the mayoral primaries of New York City, in which the City Campaign Finance Board determined he was “‘unqualified’” for matching funds, inclusion in the mayoral debate, or listing in the voter guide. 
    Particularly unsettling is his “most notable contribution” of writing an anonymous online feature for “in the guise of an often angry Black journalist.” His paroxystic exercitations clearly know no bounds.
    Italian-American colleagues familiar with Piccolo simply wondered why I would waste my time writing about someone they had long ago dismissed as a fatuous crank whose precipitant screeds were, at best, risible.

    Yet some Italian-American politicians, businesspeople, and scholars in New York have begun to question why Piccolo is targeting the Calandra Institute at this time. A motive for his specious hectoring of the Institute and its dean, Anthony Tamburri, can be gleaned from Piccolo’s pronouncement of “my epic efforts on behalf of Dr. [Joseph] Scelsa.” His Homeric self-aggrandizement gives pause for it is a testament to a history that reveals what many believe is the master’s manipulating hand in this petty yet sordid affair.
    Those appreciative of the Calandra Institute and Dean Tamburri’s numerous achievements have suggested that in fact it is Joseph Scelsa, the former Institute director, who has been instigating Piccolo’s choleric rants. They note that the Italian American Museum under Scelsa’s presidency is floundering, not merely curatorially, as a recent Wall Street Journal article intimated, but more significantly, financially. 
    Businessman Joseph Grano commented after his book presentation at the Institute on  October 1, 2009, that he had pledged to raise $10 million for the museum on the condition that Scelsa step aside as president and allow for a bona fide board of directors. This proposal was rejected. Grano is now using his business acumen for an alternative Italian-American museum.
    It has been suggested that Scelsa is interested in denigrating Tamburri’s affability and successes, and the Calandra Institute in general, so that he can return to the taxpayer trough by having the Institute’s New York State funding diverted to the struggling museum. 
    Scelsa has wrapped the flag of “the Italian-American community” so tightly around his shoulders in the hopes of conflating the two. He is not the Italian-American community, nor does he represent the best Italian America has to offer.  He is the epitome of Machiavellianism. It is curious that he is quick to discuss the “many cases of discrimination” he claims exist within the City University of New York in a recent New York Times article, but he is silent about the law suits Italian Americans have brought against him (and CUNY) for harassment and other grievances while he was the Calandra Institute’s director. Those of us who had the tribulation of working during the Scelsa regime know him to be self-serving, mean-spirited, vindictive, and a truculent bully. That is his legacy, and for many, he will stand in perpetuity, to quote Charlotte Brontë, on a “pedestal of infamy” in an Italian American museum of the future.
    Mr. Piccolo’s peculiar obsession is not with the Calandra Institute but with Joseph Scelsa, in the obsequious service to a fallacious power. One can only hope that Piccolo’s “most valuable lesson” in trust keeps him from not straying once again down a “fool’s path.”

  • Facts & Stories

    Panto Remembered

    Sylvester Stallone is currently in talks with John Gotti, Jr. about making a film about the deceased Teflon Don.  My antidote to this unwelcomed news is not an anti-defamation rant but a simple reflection on labor activist Pete Panto, who was killed 71 years ago fighting for workers' rights and against the Mob.

    The opening chapter of Nathan Ward's recent book Dark Harbor: The War for the New York Waterfront (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, Inc.) tells the story of Panto's struggles and his murder:  

    The pier where Pietro Panto worked jutted into the brackish current of the East River just upstream from the cabled span of the Brooklyn Bridge, looking across to the ferry sheds and the bottom of Manhattan. On the afternoon of Friday, July 14th 1939 Pete Panto left the Moore-Mack pier where he served as hiring foreman at five o’clock and headed home to his rooming house near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. An affable, dark-eyed young man in work clothes and a fedora, he was wiry but strong, a black mustache above his easy smile that sometimes showed a gap in his teeth.  In his room on North Eliott Place he was shaving for a date later that evening with his fiancée, Alice Maffia, when her younger brother Michael came to the room with word that Panto had a telephone call at the corner cigar store. Panto wiped his face and made his way downstairs, but when he returned from his conversation his mood had darkened. He seemed uncharacteristically spooked as he told Michael he would be meeting “two tough mugs” or “men I don’t like” for an hour or so that night, warning “If I don’t get back by 10:00 o’clock tomorrow morning, tell the police.”


    The rest of the chapter can be read here.  Ward also maintains his own blog relating to his book.

    Who in Hollywood has the creative fortitude to make a biopic about Pete Panto, anti-mafia crusader?    

  • Op-Eds

    My Italian American Museum

    For several years now I have been buying objects on associated with Italian-American history and culture. My purchases are somewhat eclectic and my collection is by all definitions a mixed bag. I select objects relating to my research interests (a recording by Phil Brito, a religious banner, an embroidered commemorative) and my personal aesthetics (a match book cover, a 1955 cookbook). Getting a bargain and beating the bidding competition adds to the objects’ appeal. 

    I’ve also obtained a slew of photographs simply because I liked them: a mustachioed man outfitted in festa regalia; an Italian boy in a fascist uniform; a middle-aged woman with a Mona Lisa smile. I find these images beautiful in their own right. I imagine them on a book cover or as an illustration for a future article.

    But for every stunning photograph, I’ve also had to purchase numerous mundane snapshots and formal portraits of limited aesthetic worth as part of a cache of images up for bid. I’ve given them away or quietly discarded them. 

    Few of these photographs come with any contextual information and when they do it is minimal at best, e.g., “Italian Americans from Chicago and Phoenix” or “family of S. Corsale, a barber in NYC and Phillipsburg, NJ, 1910s-40s.”  The people depicted are the anonymous faces from history’s jetsam. Ultimately, these photographs pose challenging questions concerning collecting and ultimately the role of museums. 


    Objects speak to us, they tell us stories, but those narratives are not always apparent. It is we who derive the tale that an object tells. We give it voice, making it speak in an act of interpretative ventriloquism. And doing so is hard work. 

    It is one thing for an individual to accumulate objects but quite another when a museum does so. Such institutions have a responsibility not merely to collect artifacts but to enter into a conversation with them on behalf of museum-goers and the historical record. That work involves curators, scholars, and other professionals knowledgeable in the area of interest and, more importantly, museum work itself.  

    After the Calandra Institute’s 1999-2000 exhibition, “The Italians of New York,” curated by historian Philip Cannistraro at the New-York Historical Society, I was charged with soliciting people to donate the approximately 360 objects they had originally lent. The Calandra Institute did not have the staff skilled in collections management and archival processing so I successfully wrote a grant to have archivist Nancy Johnson consult with the Institute to develop a strategic plan for the archives. Her final report concluded that “formally accessioning and documenting the Calandra collection is a priority.” This recommendation involved interviewing the objects’ former owners so as to create the narrative the individual artifacts could tell future generations. The Institute’s director at the time, Joseph Scelsa, dismissed the consultant’s conclusions and ultimately ignored them. 

    In agreement with the City University of New York, the hundreds of objects collected by the Calandra Institute became the property of New York City’s Italian American Museum, an entity incubated at the Institute where it mounted its first exhibitions. (I curated three of those exhibits as part of my responsibilities at the Calandra; see the list below.)

    I have yet to visit the museum—or the five other Italian-American museums in the country (see the list below)—but a recent newspaper article states that the institution has “a frankly hodge-podge cast to the exhibits.” That is a discouraging assessment. One can not help but wonder if the objects have been encouraged to speak. If so, are their voices strong, clear, and annunciatedor a faint, garbled mummer? Is there anyone there who is receptive to truly listening and properly equipped to engage in dynamic conversation with objects?