Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ethnoanalysis- Do Barese Women Rule With an Iron Fist?

One of my very good friends went to medical school at the University of Bologna. He had to study Italian to matriculate, and became quite fluent in that language. He became engaged, and eventually married, the sister of another American studying there, who was of Italian descent.

One day Brian came to our house and started dishing with my grandmother, who grew up in Torino. Naturally, my grandmother loved conversing in her native tongue. When she asked where his fiancee's family was from, he replied "Bari", a city on the southeastern side of the Italian peninsula. My grandmother exclaimed: "Barese women! - They rule with an iron fist!"

Native Italian she might have been, but my grandmother was so American in this response. You see, she slotted poor Martha into a construct, the same way that our contemporary Anglos pigeonhole ethnicities into broader constructs like "Hispanic" and "Asian" and "Slavic". Naturally, the regional stereotypes of my grandmother's youth would not fit the reality of a third generation American decades removed from her parents' point of origin in the Old Country.

Likewise, the convenient categories adopted by the media whenever the subject of ethnicity comes up do not conform to the complex, ever-evolving reality. Always consider this whenever an ethnic angle surfaces in the press.

Oh, I almost forgot. Brian and Martha have been married just about 30 years now. I have not seen any evidence of an iron fist. But an iron nudge- maybe!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Debate 08- Why not a Roman Holiday?

As we head into the presidential campaign of 2008, the political classes will start their ritualistic dance as they negotiate the details of venue and format. Could I suggest Rome? There is a very intriguing device there called the Bocca Della Verita (Mouth of Truth). Most probably a drain cover surviving from ancient times, legend has it that you can test someone's truthfulness by having him (or her!) insert a hand into the mouth of the figure. Liars get a well-deserved nip! Think what THAT could do to foster full disclosure in our political process. (Of course, legend also has it that the reputation of La Bocca della Verita was enhanced over time by its caretakers, who were known to place a scorpion inside the mouth to, er, help things along.)