Thursday, November 6, 2008

We Have Audio! What would an Italian site be without it!

I have been updating this blog sporadically, and realize the reason for the slow progress. Sound is missing!

While I can't put sound in this blog (as far as I know), I can cross reference it to my Italian Tomatoes radio show on Blog Talk Radio. Here is the link:

Now the radio show and the blog can reinforce each other in a cacophony of images and sounds.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Campaign 2008- and That Kennedy Thing (I)

American presidential elections are fascinating as much for their sociological import as their concrete political issues. So it was intriguing to watch the Kennedys, America's first explicitly ethnic dynasty, pass the torch to the first African-American presidential candidate. And that does inspire some meanderings down memory lane.

Everyone raised in the postwar Catholic neighborhoods remembers the tremendous impact of the John F. Kennedy's race in 1960. Of course, JFK was not the first Catholic candidate. That honor belongs to Al Smith, who was buried by Herbert Hoover in the 1928 landslide in which a substantial part of the electorate vented their anti-Catholic prejudices. (Mr. Smith later joked that he sent the pope a brief post-election telegram: "Unpack!"). Catholics went on to become a cornerstone of Roosevelt's New Deal coalition, with its strong ties to Irish-dominated urban political machines.

But by the 1950's, the winds of change were blowing. President Eisenhower won over large numbers of Catholic voters with his moderate brand of Republicanism. Postwar affluence was loosening the bonds that tied Catholic voters to traditional ethnic neighborhoods, and many moved out to the incredibly affordable suburbs of that era. Returning veterans did not always choose to settle in the states of their birth, either, and planted roots in shiny new communities from Florida to California. Catholics, along with Jews, began attending college in great numbers and then stormed the citadels of elite universities, hitherto a bastion of the Protestant elites, winning a recognized place for themselves there.

JFK was perfectly positioned to connect with these newly affluent, educated voters. Handsome, polished, urbane and above all rich, this charming third generation Irishman was the epitome of the American dream.

Still, there were doubts. There were lingering reservations about JFK's Catholic religion (remember that prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the Church had long rejected the American concept of freedom of religion, in theory anyway). And then there was the concern articulated by former president Harry S. Truman- "it's not the pope I'm worried about, but the pop!" And many other people worried about Joseph P. Kennedy Sr- rich as Croesus, with known isolationist tendencies, suspected anti-Semitic sentiments, whose tentacles seemed to extend into every precinct poised to release tons of ready cash.

Looking back at the election in retrospect, it seems almost quaintly consensus-driven. The two protagonists, Kennedy and Nixon, were incredibly close in policy matters compared to today's ideologically divisive politics. Both were resolute Cold Warriors. A heavily regulated system of capitalism was a given for both men. Their differences were largely stylistic- Kennedy campaigning on Change (a perennial!) and "Vigah", Nixon touting his "experience" (at 47!-one year older than Barack Obama!). Of course, the consensus would unravel as the tumultuous 1960's proceeded. Kennedy's election put an end to the "Catholic question" in American politics, probably forever. It was a great milestone in the full integration of Catholics in American life. But JFK's legacy in office, and the issues left unresolved by his tragic death, seem to exert a strange presence down to the present day.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lessons from Italian Widows- the Greatest Generation!

PAGLIA: Yeah, I mean you see these little widows- they're like eighty year olds- Italian widows running around. You know they outlive their husbands by thirty years. This is me. I wasn't married, but I'm like a widow.

GLENNDA: Yeah, I know Italian women- they would come to work, they would be in their eighties, and they'd still come to work. Every single day to work. Work, work, work.

PAGLIA: Yeah. And don't get in their way!

(Dialogue from "Vamps and Tramps", essay collection by Camille Paglia)

I never noticed it at first. Growing up third-generation in the Italian subculture, and benefiting from the emphasis Italian ladies of the second generation placed on the domestic arts, it was easy not to notice. These women were tough! Those domestic arts camoflauged the determination of the tigress in protecting their domain.

It became clearer as I moved into middle age. When my mother's generation grew older, they continued to be the glue that held families together. They coped with the increasing strains on their health. They frequently took care of THEIR ageing parents. They coped with the legendary issues of being married to Italian men. (In case anyone doubts that this is a real issue, just ask the Mrs. Giuliani- all three of them! And I say this as one who admires Rudy enormously. And the Italian men of the previous last generation could be much more of a handful.)

The secret to this extraordinary durability lies in a centered, realistic approach to life. These women had few illusions. Life is TOUGH. Things are NOT easy. My mother's generation had first hand knowledge of poverty, unemployment, scarcity, and bereavement. Unlike today's feminists, they knew instinctively that having a family involved enormous commitment. And they knew other things: holding down a job is hard, running a home is hard, being married is hard, and doing it all is triply hard. Life is about choices, and dignity is about not whining. And they were realistic about relationships. When a husband strayed, they could be angry, hurt, disappointed and even vengeful. But rarely surprised. And when a woman strayed- watch out!

It is sad to contemplate that this reality-based perspective is at risk of being lost as the generational tide recedes. It will be needed again if we face rocky times, which is most likely. The modern impulse is to reach for the comfortable security blanket of victimhood whenever things go wrong. The Italian widows of the Greatest Generation would laugh at this. It is up to their descendants who know better, however imperfectly, to make sure this perspective survives.