The Sopranos, baldly
Some Italian Americans disapprove of The Sopranos because in their view the TV series gives a false picture of persons of Italian heritage in this country. From what I can tell this is not the case. Much of the appeal of the show rests on the fact that it portrays all too accurately the criminal behavior that continues to flourish among a segment of the Italian American community.
A cliché heard endlessly nowadays is that this country was built upon the labors of immigrants. While this statement discounts the contributions of native Americans, it is basically true. What is questionable is the unspoken second premise, namely that the contributions of all immigrant groups are equal.
For one thing, immigrants participate in our society in different ways. Here in New York City Koreans dominate the mom and pop stores, especially those that offer fresh produce. South Asians have increasingly taken over as news agents and stationers. As often as not, today’s pizza makers are Albanians and Kosovars. Having largely abandoned the pizza parlors, Italians continue to dominate the construction trades. This industry, long a byword for corruption, interfaces with the mob.
If a point system had been instituted for immigrants in the 19th century the ancestors of today’s US Mafia would not have been admitted. With a point system we would still have had such productive immigrants as A.P. Giannini, founder of the Bank of America, and Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Both had roots in northern Italy. To be sure, we would still have to put up with Mr. Justice Antonin Scalia, whose father was a college professor. No system is perfect.
To many these comments about Italian Americans must seem off-the-wall. For one thing, it is deeply un-PC to criticize any ethnic group as such. With one exception, they are all just wonderful. The exception is WASPs; they are fair game. Be it noted that I am not a WASP; my DNA shows that my ethnic roots trace back to the Emerald Isle. For a later piece I reserve some well merited criticisms of Irish Americans. Let me just mention four, though: alcoholism; anti-intellectualism; clericalism; and, to a significant degree, support for the IRA terrorists. Let the chips fall where they may.
Then there is the halo effect of such figures as Leonardo, Michelangelo, Monteverdi, and Galileo. However, these people lived a long time ago, and made their homes in north-central Italy. A more appropriate comparison might be with Silvio Berlusconi.
There are immigrants and immigrants. Good immigrants are surely to be found in every ethnic group--but not in the same proportion. Hosting a flood of the wrong sort, from whatever country, produces an overall deficit, not an asset.
Labels: Sopranos ethnicity