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Italian heritage embraced, stereotypes destroyed

Maria Famà, an award-winning Italian-American poet, shares excerpts of poetry. (Tom O'Dell / Photo Editor)

By Colleen Duncan

Despite an unusual October snowstorm and a guest speaker cancellation, the Italian Club hosted its first-ever “A Celebration of Italian-American Achievement” on Saturday, Oct. 29 in the Library Auditorium.

The event, held in honor of Italian-American Heritage Month, featured two guest speakers, tales of Italian heritage and a red, white and green cake shaped like Italy. Organizers said the afternoon was aimed at educating students and emphasizing the Italian-American experience at the College.

“The Italian culture is at a crossroads in its identity,” said Vincent Pelli, senior education major and the president of the Italian Club. “Shows such as ‘The Jersey Shore’ show us in an inaccurate and demeaning light.”

The event was not just about dispelling stereotypes, but also “to teach the past, to teach where we came from in order to have a sense of rootedness, a sense of identity. Because it’s only through the knowledge of the past that you can become real people, real citizens, real thinkers,” said Simona Wright, Italian program coordinator.

Students ventured out into the snow to attend this event for a variety of reasons.

Laura Wagner, senior Spanish major, came to the event for an Italian class she is taking, saying the event was “important for the culture, to understand and hear about other people’s experiences.”

Freshman international studies major James Geotschius felt four years of high school Italian classes were not enough to satiate his thirst for Italian heritage, and he came to the event to gain more-personal anecdotes of the journey to America and the Italian culture.

Guest speaker Maria Famà, an award-winning poet, provided just that. Reading excerpts from her four volumes of poetry, she spoke of her family’s experience and valuable life lessons. She also provided insight into aspects of the Italian lifestyle, such as “portable culture,” or the traditional Italian items that flourished in America, as portrayed in her poem “Fig Tree in the Yard.”

“By the way, all of my poems are of true stories,” Famà told the audience.

Famà also addressed the problem of stereotyping in America today.

“Italians are not looked on as honest. Of course they are, but the stereotypes prevail,” she said.

A flag cake was part of the Italian Club’s ‘A Celebration of Italian-American Achievement.’ (Tom O'Dell / Photo Editor)

As an aspiring poet, Famà dealt with her own hardships and being subjected to stereotypes. She was told, “Italians can work in factories, maybe chewing gum factories. They can’t be doctors.” As a child, this shocked her because there were doctors in her own family.

On the subject of MTV’s “The Jersey Shore”, Famà said, “That’s what they think of us. That’s what goes into people’s homes.”

The College also hosted Vincenzo Pascale at the event. Pascale was scheduled to discuss a new book, “Gli Italiani di New York,” with journalist Maurizio Molinari. However, Molinari was invited to a dinner for President Obama in Washington, D.C. and was therefore unable to make it to the College.

“Gli Italiani di New York,” a nonfiction book, features 78 Italians and Italian-Americans known for great achievements.

When asked what makes a person Italian, Pascale said, “If somebody feels Italian, if someone educated himself to be Italian, the government should not deny him Italian citizenship.”

Once the speakers were finished, the cake was cut and everyone enjoyed a taste of Italy.

“I hope the attendants enjoyed the work and are intrigued in their own heritage and their own history,” Famà said.  “Italian heritage, yes, but also, their own history.”



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