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.
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It is very refreshing to see that there are still writers who are able to touch us and getting us involved in their imaginary world without offering tales of violence and sex. The Spaghetti Set is a powerful novel, written in a soft and distinct style, which will please both the Italian American reader who is looking for a story to identify with and the average American reader who is looking for intense feelings without gore or foul language. The characters are all intertwined by destiny in what seems to appear as an average Italian immigrants’ community, but just as in every social group, there are individuals who shine and rise above the crowd, while others fall in the gutter where they belong and try to slither through their lives without regard to feelings, family ties or duties. The magnificent work done by Rose Marie Boyd (don’t let the name fool you, she is full bloodied Italian) on the characters’ development shows through the fast pace of the narrative, which is more than inviting. At times you feel as part of one family or the other (this is the story of two families tied by a common bond), but you cannot ever be detached and ignore the growing pains, the elations, the sorrows, the spiritual contortions of the main characters, who by the end of the book become as part of your memories as your own uncles, aunts and cousins…
Teresa , the heroine of the story, is a young woman who becomes the joining link between these two families. She is the seed of renewal that is needed in a somewhat static society of a fictitious Little Italy, where she brings her enthusiasm, intelligence, wits and desire to succeed, allowing the love of her life Mack, the other main character, to find himself and overcome the physical impediments that made his life miserable. Through love the novel soars, but it is not only love that drives the story. The dominant instincts of life are all present and fighting for prevalence. Greed fights honesty, while lust fights purity, but underneath it all stands tall the love for the family, so strong among Americans of Italian descent, and their deep belief that work will bring success.
The author has done an outstanding job at building a fictional world that will definitely absorb the attention of the reader. There are many Italian expressions in the book and most often they will bring a smile to the readers’ lips for their simple sense of humor and their ability to recreate the characters in a credible manner. Personally, I could not put the book down without knowing how it ended, and that is what every writer should aim at: the attention of the reader.