The main staircase of the Royal Palace of Naples, one of the four residences near Naples used by the Bourbon Kings during their rule of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (1730-1860). The others were the palaces of Caserta, Capodimonte overlooking Naples, and the third Portici, on the slopes of Vesuvius.
As an Italian-American, today is a day where we are supposed to reminisce about our “shared” heritage, and look upon the old tri-colored flag with gratitude and pride. Our great hero Cristoforo Columbo, an Italian after all, made a brave decision to venture where no man has gone before, risk sailing off the end of the earth, and majestically discovered a new world; one that would graciously open its arms to us, his descendants, four hundred years later. Thanks to him we have this great land we now call home. We also share his wonderful background and culture which we have morphed in our own New World kind of way, that makes us unique, and uniquely Italian American. Grazie!
Grazie for nothing is more like it.
I’m not going to speak on the atrocities Columbus carried out against the Native Americans discovered America before him. I’m not going to talk about the overwhelming evidence that just about proves that Columbus was in fact a Spanish Converso (secret Jew) whose family was exiled from Spain to Genoa by an increasingly hostile environment in the Spanish Kingdoms. I’m not even going to mention the FACT that Columbus wasn’t the first European to arrive in the New World, and that he was beaten to it by Scandinavians almost 500 years earlier. I’m going to talk about how the place Columbus came from, Genoa, in the Italian North West was not only nothing like the place most Italian-Americans descend from, and it even participated in what could be described liberally as genocide, and conservatively as repression, of the very place our ancestors fled from a hundred years ago. I’m going to talk about how over four million Italian-Americans incorrectly look to the descendants of their ancestors oppressors as their own ethnic cultural icons. Dolce and Gabanna, Prada, Brioni, Armani, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Ferragamo, Maserati, Peroni, and Birra Moretti are all examples of brands many Italian-Americans turn to when they want to purchase the idea of a homeland long in their pasts. Dishes like roasted lamb osso bucco, polenta, and carbonara are the culinary step up from the peasant foods most of us grew up on in the minds of Italian-Americans, and they should be washed down with the finest Barolos and Grappo if you are a “real” Italian. If only those Italian-Americans knew how unreal these things are. They are as much a part of our collective past as Democracy is to the countries in the Middle East. Only we don’t know it, yet.
Who are we anyway? Why, we’re Terroni of course!
Most of us in the United States today, approximately 75% of Italian-Americans, decend from Southern Italy, the rural regions south and east of Rome which endured insufferable poverty during the last decades of the 19th Century. There is no doubt that before 1860 many of these places, be them cultural and learning metropoli like Napoli or beautifully scenic, working rural areas like San Fele, Basilicata, were in fact thriving. It was only until after 1865, when Garibaldi’s Red Shirts (at the behest of the British Empire) forcefully invaded what was the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, murdered its justly defiant people and suppressed the masses desires at the time of the unification vote, that these people began their suffering at the hands of those who financed Garibaldi’s charge, the Northern Savoys, and indirectly, their Protestant British creditors.
The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, under the rule of the Bourbon Family was functioning in the black, unlike their northern neighbors. While Savoy’s countless wars on the mainland depleted their coffers, the ones in the south were filled with about 443 million golden lire at the time of “Italian” unification. Compare that to the second largest of the Italian Kingdoms before unification, the Papal State at 90 million, and you wouldn’t be thought of as a terroni if you asked, “well, where did it all go to force the mass exodus of Southern Italians like me?” It went right into the hands of the Savoys, who were crowned new rulers of a unified Italy by Garibaldi in 1865, who in turn paid the British their debt owed to them. Those debts that the Northern Kingdoms, specifically the Savoys, had accrued in fighting countless imperialistic wars in the first half of the 19th century had put them in a position of default, until the Southern coffers were robbed.
Not only were the people of the South stripped of their wealth and left to die, but they were also brainwashed into thinking that for the next hundred and fifty years they were in fact the inferior ones, the ones who kept Italy (meaning the north of course) from becoming a world player, the problem. Even when fascism took over and launched more unsuccessful imperialist campaigns in the late 1800’s in the Balkans and North Africa and again in the years leading up to the second World War, it was always a Southern Problem that needed fixing at home. When intellectuals like Carlo Levi challenged the fascist regime, they were exiled TO THE SOUTH. Text books taught children that the real Italian culture was that of Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Savoy, and Florentine thinkers all the while erasing the names of Southern Italian heroes who bravely fought against the collusion of the Church, the British and the Savoy backed Red Shirts. The great men of finance who helped the Due Sicilie reach the heights that they did, the creative geniuses who designed some of the worlds oldest metropolises and formed some of the best and earliest Universities in Europe were cast to the pyre never to be heard from again. Is it any wonder then that we as its exiled masses look to false heroes and claim them as our own? Not only do Italian Americans have a language and an ocean separating themselves from the truth, but they also have a people, who for a hundred and fifty years have been lied to, keeping them from their own truth, a more vibrant and successful past than that which is presented today.
Parla Italiano. GABISH!
We are also not only different because we are oppressed, but we are different linguistically and culturally. Linguistically, as you can see in this link (http://toncxjo.tripod.com/sanfelese.html) our language in the South was very different to the language being taught today up and down the peninsula as “Italian”. Pronunciation, spelling, and even entire words are different, and although the foundations and grammar of the language is similar, so are the foundations of Spanish and Portuguese, yet we differentiate between those two, and not with the Italian (geographically speaking) variations.
When we think Italian culture, one thing pops into everyone’s head, food. Our Southern foods tend to be based in olive oil, a plentiful resource throughout the Mediterranean and a more healthy alternative to the Northern butter and creme based cuisine. Our wines, also on the dry side, include Montepulciano, Aglianico (from a Greek grape first planted in the South during Byzantine times), and Primitivo (the European twin to the trendy and expensive California Red Zinfandel). Northern Barolo, Chianti, and Brunellos may be more pricey, but don’t let that fool you to think they are better. Remember, the North is still the Industrial and Economic stronghold its been since the South was robbed, literally, of that position in 1865, and seeing that the Northern Elite have the money, it only makes sense that the market place prices would reflect that. The North also shares with Central Europe and Britain a capitalist, Protestant work ethic which places value more in the success of a business and work, than time spent with family. As mentioned in my last post, Neapolitans are renowned for taking long lunches and longer holidays so they can enjoy that time with their families, and this fact is twisted to show Southerners as lazy and apathetic, when in fact nothing could be farther from the truth. Its that Mediterranean lifestyle that made the Due Sicilie as successful as it was, without a focus on what we “need” materialistically, leading to less money being spent and more time with our loved ones, something money can’t buy.
So who are our heroes?
All in all, when I think of Columbus Day, and I think of who my Italian heroes are, I think of two people: Leonardo and Vito Dondiego, my great grandfather and great great grandfather respectively. As their last name may suggest, being of Spanish descent, they had some sort of connection to the ruling Bourbons of the Due Sicilie. Whether that connection was created out of esteem held for their national heroes, or whether they in fact were part of the Bourbon system that helped the South become a great European center in the 18th and 19th Centuries is not important. What is, is the fact that these people lived that success and they had it stripped from them by the oppressive and murderous forces of Northern greed.
Leonardo was the first in my family to arrive on these shores and he worked hard to help foster a better life for his children, their children, me, and my children. For that, I call him a hero. Vito, the last of my family to remain, died fighting for his dream. He refused to give up on that dream that he had to live in a free Due Sicilie once again, and even though he died before his dream became true, a new generation of Southern Italian is there to fight his fight, and bring his truth, the truth, to the table, so that perhaps it can be this generation or the next, that brings the true South out of the darkness, back into the light, for all to see. The next generation can show the world our true heritage, just as the truths of Columbus and his “accomplishments” have been illuminated by thinkers and historians today. At that rate, we only have 350 more years to go. So until then, ciao, and happy Italian-American Day!
Luisa of Naples and Sicily (27 July 1773 – 19 September 1802), was a Neapolitan and Sicilian princess. She was born at the Royal Palace in Naples. Her father was the future King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and her mother, born Maria Carolina of Austria, was a sister of Marie Antoinette. She was one of eighteen children, seven of whom survived into adulthood.
On 15 August 1790, she married her double first cousin, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. The wedding ceremony took place in Florence, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany which her husband had ruled since the beginning of the year. Her husband ruled the Grand Duchy till 1801, when he was forced by Napoleon to make way for the Kingdom of Etruria.
Luisa died in childbirth the next year at the Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna; the princess is buried in the Imperial Crypt with her stillborn son in her arms.
#Neapolitan Mail’s stamp. (Bollo della Posta Napoletana, Grana 2).
Note the horse on the left, symbol of the Neapolitan provinces (all the continental part of what was then the Kingdom of the two Sicilies) and the triskele on the right, symbol of Sicily and the Sicilian provinces, the rest of the Kingdom. At the bottom of these two symbols, we see three fleurs-de-lis, heraldic symbol of the House of Bourbons.
From a styleforum.net post about how ethnicity dictates how, or how we don’t, dress:
Gladhands, I’m going to quote you here (in response to a post regarding how African American Zoot Suits, aka Steve Harvey Suits, are something many black Americans deem being well dressed, while other more conservative black Americans avoid them) because what you have to say rings true for me as well, except as an Italian-American instead of an African American.
The guido subculture has been something thats been shunned since its inception (the first generations of Italian-Americans who did their best to “Americanize” their immigrant parents customs) and its something I consciously try to avoid when I dress, whether its casual, street wear, or CBD (Conservative Business Dress)-or as CBD as I get. I like you, however, have realized that there is some important cultural significance to this “guido” culture, that as much as they try to disconnect from the old country, that ties directly into the lives their ancestors lived and the reasons those men and women LEFT Italy in their own diaspora. I’ve concluded that this subculture in fact should be embraced by Italian Americans because our culture is also disappearing, faster than you can say “manigut”. In fact, the topic, not necessarily from a sartorial perspective, will be a pet project of mine that a few SFers and the many Italian American friends I have will be helping me formulate through the sharing of their experiences.
Back to the sartorial, well sort of. My great grandparents came to NY over 120 years ago and when they did, they did everything they could to “become American”, even if it was at the expense of their own culture. This included dressing American, speaking American, and eating American. They became avid NY Giant fans (baseball) and spent much of their little leisure time at the Polo Grounds faking American accents in the cavernous grandstands. Another aspect of the “change-over” was the disassociation with the Roman Catholic/Latin Church. Although still believers on Sunday, much like the conversos and marranos of Spain during the Inquisition, they stayed far away from it during the week. This is evident today with the millions of “lapsed” Catholics that are out there.
The easiest way they could replace their own culture with an American one however, was to adopt a WASP wardrobe, or strive to dress like those blue blooded Americans who were now migrating outside of city centers and into the lush and green suburbs of Long Island, Westchester, New Jersey and Connecticut. The guidos who stayed, who could easily be identified through their accents and clothes, whether its The Situation on Jersey Shore today, or Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever 35 years ago, were clearly Italian Americans, clearly urban and clearly Catholic (gold chains with crucifixes or even worse, a St. Anthony medal). Italians who came here wanted nothing to do with a religion that was viewed as archaic and un-American by those suburban blue bloods, and the easiest way to do that in everyday ife was through dress and speech. Even Italian names began to change once in America (my great grandfather went from DonDiego to Bell, and first names became Anglicized, Sebastiano became Steven, Vincenzo became Jimmy). It also probably didn’t help the situation that Church officials top to bottom across the South (formerly the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies) were implicit in the brutal oppression that Garibaldi and his cronies laid on the people there in the 1860s. But thats for another blog post…
We as a Protestant-American society look upon people like Mike The Situation with disgust. Abercrombie & Fitch (Can you find any two names more Wonder Bread than those?) even began paying him NOT to wear their clothes, imagine if they made that same offer to an African American reality tv star today? They wouldn’t, because African Americans are not as big a threat to the Protestant American ethos as Roman Catholics. I, however, see someone like Mike and Snookie as holding onto more of their identity, albeit changed over the years, more than most of the Italian Americans who know little of where they come from and instead turn to their Northern oppressors as heros and icons of their culture, which in my mind is the biggest falsehood in Italian American identity. Most of us hail from the South, where we spoke a different language-I wont even call it a dialect. I argue it was as different as Spanish and Portuguese, and aside from linguistics, had a very different culture and way of life.
That different way of life was a polar opposite to the Protestant American Capitalist work ethic and caused the same type of problems within our subculture that we are now seeing in Greece, another Mediterranean culture with whom Southern Italians have much in common, on a global scale. While the rest of the civilized world looks at the protesting young Greeks as lazy, entitled, and slobbish, I choose a different lens to view them through. I’ll share with you this last story of my Neapolitan family: the Nunziatas came here in 1900, and during the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s they owned a scrap metal business. When the Second World War started they could have made millions, but instead chose to work and get just enough scrap so that they could shut down shop and spend the rest of the day at the beach, or lounging around with their family. At first glance, and most of my own family feels this way today, they would seem lazy and undesirable with a questionable work ethic. But if you look deeper, it was just their way of showing what held more value in their lives. Rather than working all day, and making a ton of money for future generations, they valued the time they had on this earth with their family then, in their present (they were very close), and to them, that was worth more than the dollar bills that could have lined their pockets and bought them expensive wardrobes.
Some will say, with their Protestant American Work Ethic branded on their consciousness and unconscious, that these folks were lazy, entitled bums, just like many are calling the young Greeks today. I argue, that this philosophy, which frustrates a great many Western Capitalist visitors when they go to places like Naples and the Greek Islands (shops closing for the entire month of August, 2 and a half hour lunch breaks, opening at 11, closing at 4), is neither lazy nor entitled, but simply has value placed on other things aside from money and work, a completely different, and perhaps Catholic value system. Its why the Nunziatas were usually in a pair of trousers and “wife beater” guido undershirts all the time. Because it was the time and people they got to enjoy life with, rather than the “stuff” that we’ve been brainwashed to “need” by our capitalist system that was most meaningful.
Most Italian American try to distance themselves from that culture today, and one way is through how they dress, by consciously avoiding the very style (life and sartorial) that was once the very foundation of who they were, or weren’t. I think the guidos maybe on to something. being a father of two, there’s nothing more in life that I enjoy more than spending each second that i do with my children. While I slave away at a job I don’t enjoy every day, I start to look at things through Snookie and Mike the Situation’s lenses, and I’m starting to think that they may be onto something that is plenty deeper than GT and L.
Italian unification in 1860 brought together a number of States which had all (with the exception of two) abolished punishment for private, non-commercial and homosexual acts between consenting adults as a result of the Napoleonic Code.
One of the two exceptions had been the Kingdom of Sardinia which punished homosexual acts between men (although not women) under articles 420–425 of the penal code promulgated in 1859 by Victor Emmanuel II.
With the unification, the former Kingdom of Sardinia extended its own criminalizing legislation to the rest of the newly born Kingdom of Italy. However, this legislation did not apply to the former Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, taking into account the “particular characteristics of those that lived in the south”.
me: not understanding what victor emmanuel is trying to get at