By John M. Viola
New York is my home state. It is a state with a large and well-developed Italian American population and, of course, an important role in the history of our community in the United States. So it should come as no surprise that in its impending gubernatorial election we see Italian American candidates on both sides of the aisle (a repeat of the election four years ago, which also saw two Italian Americans running against one another).
Last Monday, the Republican candidate, Rob Astorino, compared incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the Anti-Corruption Moreland Commission to the actions of a Mafia boss, going as far as quoting from “The Godfather” about offers that can’t be refused. Obviously, every major Italian American group in the country has reacted with shock and disappointment to candidate Astorino’s flippant use of such tired and detrimental anti-Italian stereotypes. And, of course, the leadership of the National Italian American Foundation is of no different opinion.
However, I would like to take the conversation a step further and point out that this is not just about the perpetuation of stereotypes, but about a lack of unity and civility in how members of the Italian American community deal with one another and our shared identity. I would be hard pressed to find an example of another ethnic group that would sling stereotypical barbs at one another in a local community board election, let alone a race of such exposure and importance. But, in the Italian American community, we are often our own worst enemies. NIAF is a non-partisan organization, so it is not for me or any of us to comment on policy or party. But, as the leading organization in the Italian American community, I can say, if nothing else, we need Italian American leaders of civility and respect for one another and our own community.
Many of us often look at the state of our ethnicity here in America and shake our heads at why it is so difficult for us to make major strides. The sad truth is that for as much progress as we have already made, it has often been the internal lack of respect and consideration for one another, and popular perceptions about us that has set us backwards in our struggle for full appreciation in this great country of ours.
There is always the question of how far our efforts towards anti-defamation really go in effecting negative misconceptions of the Italian American community. The results really are hard to measure. But, what can be said for sure is that when those members of our own community who are seeking roles of leadership and high profile so carelessly use and perpetuate these disgusting myths, it does very little to help us, and indeed sets us back far further than anyone from outside our own ethnic group could!
Shame on you, Mr. Astorino, not just for the shameless use of a cheap cliché, but for the disgraceful example you are setting for young Italian Americans…the future leaders of our community and our nation.