I am a proud Italian-American

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I am a proud Italian-American.

Some people tell me that there is no room in America for hyphenated Americans, repeating a phrase first used by Teddy Roosevelt but he was wrong. Although I have long been an admirer of the 26th President of the United State, even the greatest among us get it wrong at times. Concerning American diversity, President Roosevelt was very wrong. In fact, in 1891 New Orleans when they lynched 11 Italian-Americans this future president said: “It was a rather good thing.” Perhaps it is best, therefore, to not take him as our guide as for whom American has room. I am one of those hyphenated Americans. So…

I am a proud Italian-American.

I am proud of my ancestors stretching back to ancient times. Of course, there is always talk of the Romans but there are many Italians whose influence has shaped the world. If any one city were to be given credit of birthing the Renaissance it would be Florence. If any one man were to be given credit as being the father of that child it would be Lorenzo Medici. Long a leader in art, science, and philosophy what would these disciplines be today absent the Italian contribution. Consider the world of poetry, beyond Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch. Was not the sonnet perfected in the Sicilian School? The Italian contribution to Western culture is lauded so frequently, that these things have become a cliché. Despite this repetition, they are a source of pride. So…

I am a proud Italian-American.

I am proud of Italian leaders who embodied the values of both Italy and the United States. I am proud of men such as Giuseppe Garibaldi who ardently believed in equality between the races as well as equality between the sexes. When Garibaldi was offered by Lincoln a commission in the Union army he made his acceptance contingent on making the emancipation of slaves central to the conflict which Lincoln declined. I am proud of Clorinda Menguzzato who, after being tortured for days by the Nazis, said: “when I can no longer bear your torture, I will sever my tongue with my teeth so as not to speak.” That is Italian. So…

I am a proud Italian-American.

I am proud of those who history has taken no note or will soon forget. I am proud to be the descendant of the contadini, Italian peasants, who stood strong while enduring so much. The steel of the Italian people was tempered in a forge of oppression by the aristocracy, foreign powers, and the Catholic church. The culture that rose from this oven was one of resilience, strength, and independence. So…

I am a proud Italian-American.

I am proud of my grandparents as well as the other men and women of their generation who left behind all that they knew, who ventured into a land unfamiliar and unwelcoming, who risked it all for a better life for themselves and their children. These were people who with calloused hands cut the meat for American tables in packinghouses, sewed the clothes that covered American backs and backsides in sweatshops, and built Gotham whose pointed spires poked through the clouds and pricked the seats of the gods. It was a people who did not know rest, who gave all so that we, their children, could have all. So…

I am a proud Italian-American.

I am also proud of the United States of America, to be a citizen of this country. I am grateful that the Fates chose this place for me to born and raised. I am proud of America because what binds us together as Americans is not some land defined by borders on a map or some religious belief that excludes others or some royalty supposedly endowed with authority from on high. What binds us is a set of beliefs defined in The Constitution. It is a belief that we are all equal and equally free, free to pursue the dreams you choose to pursue, free to think what thoughts you choose to think, free to express those thoughts in whatever manner you choose to express them, free live your life as you see fit. It is a nation that believes if you hold these same values you are one of us. So…

I am a proud Italian-American.

I am proud of this country because I know of no other land where you are as much a part of this nation as those who were born here if you ascribe to the beliefs I described above. It is a land that greeted my immigrant grandparents who were nobodies in the minds of some, that greeted tens of thousands of supposed nobodies with the words “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” It is an America where my family was able to build a prosperous and fulfilled life, an exceptional nation in the history of humanity. So…

I am a proud Italian-American.

I have been blessed. I have inherited two great cultures; one by blood, one by belief. With all due respect to those who object, I am a hyphenated American. For those of you with families that have originated in Italia, let us stand shoulder-to-shoulder hand-in-hand and say with a clear voice…

I am a proud Italian-American.

 

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