“We Weren’t Always White”

“We Weren’t Always White”




by Tiziano Thomas Dossena, “FRA NOI” magazine, 2012

This book is a marvelous opus which deserves to be recognized for its innovative approach to the topic of Anti-Italianism.  As William J. Connell affirms, “The essays in this volume were written… with the idea of looking very hard at the experiences Italian Americans have had with issues of discrimination and stereotyping.” And it does so with a command of the subject that reflects the deep experience and knowledge of the various contributors. 

Fred Gardaphé writes: “Whether they like it or not, Italian Americans cannot escape the fact that they weren’t always white.” It is a powerful statement and it merits some pondering upon it. The volume presents the opportunity to involve ourselves in our recent past history and discover the truth behind our integration within the American system, because knowing the truth can only help us understand, respect even more our progenitors and at the same prevent such horrible events from ever recurring.

These and many other keen observations are abundant throughout the book, along with many statistics and facts offered with fervor and extreme correctness. The result is brilliant and undeniably it challenges us to think, reconsider our beliefs and knowledge of our heritage, and reevaluate our reactions and our way of life. It is a book of revelations for most of us.

There is a wonderful essay by Peter Vellon about our “colored” past, when Italians were defined by many Americans (and most often by government agents) as “between white men and negroes”, prone to crime and disease, harder to assimilate, less literate and less desirable than Northern Europeans, and lynching was frequently used to keep them under control. Peter R. D’Agostino offers a very interesting insight on the manipulations of the Italians in America by the Roman Catholic Church, while Elizabeth G. Messina proposes a study of the sociopolitical and historical contexts which triggered the stigmatization of Italian immigrants. Her ability to demonstrate beyond refute the misuse of statistical data is remarkable. She ushers us in a world where a renowned American researcher in 1922 may impudently state that Italian immigrants were so “depraved they hardly belong to our species”, imbeciles with primitive brain structures, “scarcely superior to that of the ox.” It is not only intriguing to read this essay, but also a bit troubling for the blatant inhumaneness that emerges. Let’s not forget that our own president Theodore Roosevelt had declared, a few years earlier, that there is “no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American”.

LindaAnn  Loschiavo proposes a profound and vibrant analysis of the structures that allow other ethnic groups and minorities to achieve a more consequential place in our society by valuing and rewarding their writers and artists. The study also points out shortcomings by our own Italian American organizations and the reasons that may be prompting them. Loschiavo, though, does not only criticize these organizations lack of interest in the development of ‘our own’ creative minds in the Arts, but she also offers real answers, easy and straightforward, and we hope that someone “out there” is listening to her clear and applicable solutions to this self-inflicted failure.

This book will undeniably challenge the reader to reflect upon, evaluate and  find a connection to the significant and compelling topics that the essayists dared to focus on.