on December 1, 2002
This is a dangerous book. Because, with the excuse of explaining the situation of Italian-Americans and their past failure to fully integrate in the American society, it sneaks in pseudo-justifications of the infamous so-called "via vecchia", the "ancient way". A set of outmoded modalities, which is in large part responsible for having prevented Italian-Americans to contributing to the country they belong to, the United States. And which has often made them the laughing stock of other minorities, for their pagan rites molded into a corruption of Catholicism, such as when the statue of the Madonna gets covered with dollar bills. Or for their worship, of too many, of society scum like Al Capone and Joe Bonanno, instead of putting, on their banner, all those great Italian-Americans who have really contributed to their adopted country. Such as founding father Filippo Mazzei, scientists like Antonio Meucci and Enrico Fermi, musicians like Salvatore Massaro and Johnny Guarneri, activists like Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, writers like Gregory Corso and Diane DePrima. Instead of letting people grow disgusted with restaurant names like Benito I and Benito II!
There is practically nothing that can be saved from this book. Its history is a set of uncorrelated events, mostly erroneous or misinterpreted. The quotes in Italian are often misspelled or mistranslated. The descriptions of other communities is based on execrable stereotypes (for Jews) and are often outright racist (for Blacks).
But the top of the nonsense is reached with its emphasis on blood: "Italian ethnicity comes with the blood, if not through it" (p.375). Now, I have seen the blood of Italian-Americans and I can testify, scientifically, that it does not look any different from that of, say, Chinese or Senegalese. With his reliance of "blood", Gambino - apparently a frustrated college professor - indicates that he lives in a fantasy world similar to that of Germany in the 1930's. I suppose that his book would probably be forbidden in most European countries, which have laws against advocacy of racism and slander.
So, no hope for Italian-Americans? Quite the contrary. Gambino & co. may just learn from the examples of other Italian communities outside of Italy. Southern Switzerland, for instance, threw away its via vecchia almost two centuries ago and contributed to the government several Federal Councillors, such as Stefano Franscini, from the beginning of the Swiss Confederation in 1848 - beating the US where, with the exception of an Irish Catholic, all presidents have been White Anglo Saxon Protestants. In the "Repubblica e Cantone Ticino" the official language is Italian: schools, laws, courts, radio, tv, road signs, equipment instructions, all everyday-life activities are in Italian, like everything else. The same applies to the four valleys of Mesolcina, Calanca, Bregaglia and Poschiavo, which are proudly Italian speaking, though located in the Grisons, German/Romantsch country. Just pick up a Swiss money bill and you will see that it is written, among others, in Italian, like every Swiss document, from passport and driver's license to government statistics and web pages, because Italian is a National Language.
So, forget about blood. The answer lies in an old Italian song of the Grisons: "popoli ci affratella l'italica favella". Namely, it is the Italian language that creates our brotherhood of people. And not the via vecchia, and the glorification of the criminal deeds of the Gambino family.