Arts and Culture / Talking Italy
Arts and Culture / Talking Italy
Let’s pretend that neither the authors of this article, nor any of its readers have any Italian heritage. What good reasons are there for taking the time to study Italian?
The student of a language other than English learns to understand speakers of the target language – in this case Italian – as members of a society apart from American society, with its unique contributions and attributes. Italian is the 4th most commonly studied language in American universities, and the numbers of students learning Italian increases each year.
When our non-Italian-American friends and relatives think of Italians in the USA , what images arise? Perhaps a strong sense of family, wonderful music, outstanding cuisine? Are we still struggling with the inaccurate and devastating association with organized crime? Is there a stigma attached to being Italian?
Experience has demonstrated that the teaching of the Italian language, especially in the pre-adolescent and adolescent years leading to college (i.e., Middle School and High School years), is the key to changing the public’s perception of Italian and Italian-American culture. Our own research in language learning over the past ten years indicates that foreign language learning is indeed the most effective way to understanding the culture and character of a country.
The Advanced Placement Program (AP) in Italian that is offered by the College Board in high schools nationally provides a chance for students to earn college credit for their study of the Italian language. Through the AP Program in Italian, students can fully appreciate idiomatic expressions, the nuances, and the significance of the spoken and written Italian language. By studying the history of Italy , and its many contributions to the world, American high school students develop a sense of admiration and appreciation for Italy , and Italians. The student can deepen that understanding of Italian language and culture with further study in college.
How do we contradict the media’s negative and degrading images of Italians and Italian-Americans? The most powerful and effective way is by learning the beautiful and expressive Italian language, reading Dante, Petrarca, Boccaccio, as well as more contemporary Italian poets and authors, including Luigi Pirandello, Carlo Levi, Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa, Leonardo Sciascia, Filippo Marinetti, Benedetto Croce, Dario Fo, Umberto Eco and many others.
Could there be music without the contributions of the Italians? Certainly the experience of opera as we know it would be impossible without the monumental contributions of Verdi, Puccini, Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini, and many other composers. Italy’s famous opera singers, including Caruso, Pavarotti, Licia Albanese, Mirella Freni, Renata Scotto, Rosa Ponselle, as well as contemporary luminaries such as Marcello Giordani, Salvatore Licitra, Cecilia Bartoli, and so many others. Contemporary Italian musicians have offered their gifts as well, with the songs of Andrea Bocelli, Eros Ramazzotti, Zucchero, Massimo Ranieri, and other exciting performers.
There are countless, memorable contributions in the area of art from Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo to Modigliani and Giorgio de Chirico and others, and architecture, from Brunelleschi and Palladio to Renzo Piano and Paolo Soleri and beyond.
Italian scientists ranging from the ancient Romans, to Luigi Galvani (hence, “galvanize”), and Alessandro Volta (hence, “voltage”) to Nobel Prize winners including Golgi, Marconi, Fermi, Segre’, Levi-Montalcini, Giacconi, Capecchi, and many others, have significantly enhanced scientific knowledge and progress. Maria Montessori, the first woman physician to graduate from the University of Rome La Sapienza Medical School, created a methodology of education for young children that is recognized globally.
Italian cuisine is another significant contribution. We are fortunate to have the gracious Laura Maioglio of historic Barbetta Restaurant, the ebullient Tony and Marisa May at San Domenico Restaurant with its outstanding chef, Odette Fada, the gregarious Sirio Maccioni of Le Cirque, the dynamic Chef Michael Cetrulo of Piano Due, as well as the talented Lidia Mattichio Bastianich, Giada De Laurentiis, Mario Batali, and of course, Rachel Ray, and others who are some of the “superstars” of Italian cuisine in the USA.
Italian fashion designers, including Armani, Benetton, Ferragamo, Fendi, Loro Piana, Missoni, Prada, Valentino,Versace, Vittadini, and hosts of others, are global leaders in style and quality. Italian jewelry designs by Buccellati, Bulgari, Roberto Coin, Damiani, Manfredi, and many more, shine in the finest stores globally.
The essence of what it means to be an Italian lies in the permanence and relevance of the vast Italian contributions to American society, and the global community. The Italian language connects us, as Americans, to that extraordinary heritage.
When we travel to Italy , we are humbled to hear well-wishers exclaim, “We are immensely grateful to the Cuomo family for creating such a positive image of Italian-Americans!”
Our response to these sincere and generous Italians is, “We are eternally grateful to the Italians for offering us an exquisite language and a culture so rich and beneficial to the entire world.”
* Matilda Raffa Cuomo is the Former First Lady of New York State, Chair of the Committee to Establish the AP Program in Italian, and Founder and Chair of MentoringUSA/ITALIA.
* Margaret I. Cuomo, M.D., is a member of the Committee to Establish the AP Program in Italian, a member of Princeton University’s Advisory Council for the Department of French and Italian, Chair of Lago del Bosco, the Italian Language Village, and a member of the National Advisory Board of Concordia Language Villages.