61. Stereotypes

I feel awash in stereotypes of my people.

Not actual Italians, but Italian-Americans.

green_book_282018_poster29On Sunday, I saw Green Book, a movie based on the true story of an Italian-American man from the Bronx who drives an African-American pianist through the Deep South for a concert tour in the early 1960s. I loved the movie, but … the driver, Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga, complete with mobster-style nickname, and his friends embody every stereotype you can think of. Vulgar, over-sexed, ready to fight, racist, Mob-connected, and always looking to stuff their faces with delicious, and unhealthy, food. The audience of mostly older women gasped with both horror and longing as Tony folds an entire pizza in half, and gives it a good chomp.

11109msmo082Likewise, looking for a diverting confection to read, I recently picked up An Italian Wife by Ann Hood. It focuses on the experience of women in one Italian-American family, in the years ranging from 1900 to the 1970s. For the most part, the women were tasteless, loud, yoked to brutish men, ignorant, always pregnant, tackily dressed and overly made-up, and consumed with their kitchen responsibilities. I’m hard-pressed to think of any representation of Italian-Americans in popular culture that didn’t go along those lines. Think Jersey Shore and Vinnie Barbarino.

Who are these people?

Certainly no one I know. I have plenty of Italian-American relatives on both sides, but none of them even vaguely resembles this. My Italian-American relatives were artists and poets and teachers and scientists. Not all had access to a college themselves, but they made sure their children did. They were always impeccably dressed, and their homes were decorated with style. Italians, remember, created an outsized portion of the great art, music, and literature of Western civilization.


It is disheartening to see my people represented as if they just walked off the set of Saturday Night Fever.

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