Wednesday, February 03, 2016


A Polish-American on Long Island writes tongue-in-cheek:
Not everyone's lucky enough to live in the Tri-State area and see the guido in his natural habitat, but never fear! Even you white bread Middle Americans can recreate an authentic gavone villa by incorporating the following:
  • 1. columns
  • 2. statues
  • 3. full wall mirrors
  • 4. paved front yard
  • 5. Mary in the half shell (or St. Anthony for you sticklers)
And the most important one:
  • 6. cream-colored rug/carpet
For bonus points you may also include: plastic couch covers, china cabinets filled with glass angels, and a Padre Pio refrigerator magnet.

Do they still wear a lot of gold necklaces and bracelets? Every time we are in Las Vegas you can always spot the guido even before they open their mouth and you can hear the accent. Yeah, pretty much. You don't see jogging outfits anymore, though.
That's a shame.
I'm not posting this to join in making fun of Italian-Americans. Sure, stereotypes exist because on average they're true, as this is, for several reasons. Impoverished southern Italian (Naples, Calabria, and Sicily) immigrants (and their children and grandchildren) newly rich, relatively speaking, but without taste or manners (so they venerate the new couch as a sign of class, thus the plastic cover). The surviving Italian dialect in the second generation and surviving Italian words among the third are southern. But of course there's more to the Italian-American stereotype, again often true: passionate (sometimes violent), speaking from the heart, enjoying life and its pleasures such as food... Interesting relationship with the church because that relationship is so old. (Been Catholic since the caesars converted, back when the Germanics and the Celts were still painting their faces blue and dancing around trees. And maybe so many of the Germanics left the church to turn Protestant because they were never fully Christianized.) They know not to worship priests because they know them so well. Sometimes the trappings of religion are just tribal/cultural markers that have lost their original meaning, or are pagan/voodoo-ey (in ways never fully Christianized: human nature). Often Italian and Italian-American religion is more home-based with devotions to favorite or lucky saints than churchy. (Not institution-builders like the Irish used to be.) Church events such as baptisms, First Communions, confirmations, weddings, and funerals become tribal identifiers and rites of passages no longer much to do with the belief and teaching of the church. Men weren't really expected to go to Mass; women went. The priesthood was sort of a respectable parking lot for homosexuals. Again, none of this is our teaching. But anyway, lots of good, loving people, either very nice or leaving you in peace. A culture of family, hierarchy, and personal and group honor. What about the Mafia? Most Italians were never in in it but of course it exists. (Not so big anymore.) You leave them alone; they leave you alone, capisce? At least there used to be omertà; men actually in it didn't brag about being in it, vs. those who might want you to think they're mobbed-up badasses. (A lot of mob-movie Italians were really Jews making fun of Italians.) Also, a lot of this is generically Latin (Hispanic) or even Mediterranean (Greek). "The accent": Northeastern American speech, particularly New York (Philadelphia sounds different!), because so many southern Italians settled there. On dumb American TV, there are only about five accents, so your working-class toughs have a New York accent even if your story is set in L.A.

What about nostalgia for the '50s? Bowling shirts (sure, it's a tribute from me; beats wearing T-shirts all the time outside of work), etc.? They have it but it's not universal. In that time of unprecedented prosperity for America, Italian-Americans moved up to the middle class and kept their culture (values, norms); they took populuxe (space-age design) to heart. So yes, and you saw pockets of resistance to the Sixties onslaught because of it. By the way, the Sixties celebrated this stuff for about five minutes, as part of warring on the old WASP America, then went back to making fun of it when they realized the church was still Catholic (Humanae Vitae and Roe v. Wade).

People think South Philly still dresses like me, with real dress fedoras (not the kids' novelty hats), but sadly that's long not been so. The only men in the city who do are blacks from the era, for church.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave comment