Thursday, February 5, 2009

Dago-fabulous

I just read this article in AdAge about the Verizon Wireless commercial featuring Italian American stereotypes, and I've been seeing more and more like it lately. I've been trying for some time (like, 18 drafts worth) to iterate how I feel about this sort of thing. It's not easy. I'm not really sure how these stereotypes affect me. For the most part, I don't feel like they do, and I don't feel like I identify with them other than "oh, some people on the outskirts of my family are a bit like that, maybe." Also, I have little issue with people assuming I could have them killed at my whim.

But then again, I do get some things here and there. "You must be crazy/have a bad temper" is a big one. I was once told that I didn't "seem Italian" by some dude from Indiana, which was kind of shocking (I told him I left my gondola and dancing monkey at home)- but then again, he was from Indiana. I've been told I'm "white," "ethnic white," "mediterannean" and "not white, Italian" by various people. At the same time, I am the recipient of white privilege more often than not. Race, darlings, is a social construction.

The stereotype of (younger) Italian women as vamps and femme fatales is something I have both benefited from and been negatively affected by. As a result, I am cautious when dating men who are more "officially white in a midwestern sort of way," because I've had a lot of issues with those types making assumptions about me based on my ethnicity, or seeing me as somehow less important than girls who are non-ethnically white.

Truth be told, however, I think that "The Godfather" and movies like it actually helped the Italian American community more than anything. People forget- hell, I forget- that when Italians first came here, we were not exactly welcome. The largest lynching in history was of 11 Italians in New Orleans, not to mention Sacco and Vanzetti, and internment camps in WWII. After The Godfather came out... they didn't really fuck with us so much, did they? Not to mention the fact that well, weird as it sounds, it made us look really cool. It made being Italian something people would want to be if they could, rather than something they looked down upon. It didn't, like so many other portrayals, make us look buffoonish and ignorant (well, except for Fredo)- but rather extremely perceptive and intelligent- if a bit calculating.

I tend to laugh a bit at Olive Garden commercials and the like, but I don't totally fault people for thinking that the Italian American concept of family is an aspirational one. It's one of the things I think is kind of awesome about us.

We tend to participate in our own stereotyping more than other ethnicities do, but a lot of that is because, despite the whole American "melting pot" thing, we've held onto our ethnic heritage and customs pretty tightly. Which is pretty cool, for the most part.

3 comments:

Aspasia said...

"People forget- hell, I forget- that when Italians first came here, we were not exactly welcome. The largest lynching in history was of 11 Italians in New Orleans"

Yeah. When Italians first arrived in New Orleans, they found a lot of cultural and more than a few physical similarities with the French Creole mulattoes down there (my folks). A lot of intermarrying went on (many Creole families have some Italian heritage as a result) Likewise, when the Anglo North Americans bought Louisiana they hated both groups similarly because neither were "white" enough or "other" enough and were WAY TOO CATHOLIC. Then, eventually Italians were accepted (barely) as white and the French Creole mulattoes were put on the black side of the equation despite the fact that they looked more European than anything.

'Tever. I can go on for days about this. Oh, and this, "Also, I have little issue with people assuming I could have them killed at my whim." I don't know if you have heard of Renegade Evolution (she's on Blogger too under that name) but she's Russian and has had those same problems with folks.

Miss Robyn said...

I thought we talked about Ren when we first met, no? I think she's all sorts of fabulous.

Aspasia said...

Oh maybe we did! I was all alcoholed by then. Yup. I made up a new word.