07 December 2008

Pride and Passion: Italians in America

Pride And Passion: The Italians In America…Thank You!
By Kristin Battestella
A documentary about the pivotal contributions Italians have made in America over the centuries. It’s about fricking time! I stumbled upon Pride and Passion: The Italians In America on NJN and fell in love with this historical and heart warming tale about the Italian experience in America. From intimate portraits of Italian home life to historical moments in American history, Pride and Passion is a delight for Italian Americans, young and old, and even those who aren’t blessed with a penchant for cannoli.
Tony LiBianca narrates the history of Italians in America from Amerigo Vespucci to today. Interviews with famous Italians from all walks of life-including Robert Loggia, Tommy Lasorda, Yogi Berra, Joe Paterno, and Geraldine Ferraro- highlight vintage photographs, video, and letters. From stereotyping and prejudices to Italian achievements by Guglielmo Marconi and even Madonna among other famous and behind the scenes Italians, Pride and Passion: The Italians In America harkens to the Italian Renaissance as it beautifully brings to life the Italian American experience.
Italians in America - Our ContributionLet me get one thing out of the way. Yes this PBS special is found often on the New Jersey Network station, the same station that brings us Patrizio Buanne, Tony Bennett, and plenty of other Italian programming. It’s understandable considering New Jersey’s Italian American population. We want to see programs to which we can relate. Yes, I am an Italian from New Jersey, but no, we aren’t all mobsters and double life criminals ala The Sopranos, Goodfellas, or The Godfather. Do I deny watching these fine programs? Of course not, I highly recommend them, but NJN is in a way playing into the stereotypes that Pride and Passion is fighting against.
I must, however, indulge in Pride and Passion’s exposure of famous folks who aren’t known as peeps whose names end in vowels: Bernadette Peters, Susan Sarandon, Henry Fonda, director Garry Marshall, Pat Cooper, Bobby Darin, Regis Philbin, Bruce Springsteen- and in some cases giving their real names! It’s a shame to hear of folks who had to change their names or deny their immigrant relatives to rise among America’s celebrity. Thankfully, Pride and Passion also has lovely sentiments like Tommy Lasorda saying folks like Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra made him proud to be Italian.
Folks younger than myself may not know who a lot of these quintessential Italian Americans are- Valentino, Lanza, Frank Capra-or if they do, perhaps in parody. Sinatra? You mean the guy who sings the theme on Married…With Children? Pride and Passion: The Italians in America is very bittersweet when highlighting the blending and loss of Italian tradition in America today. Actor Robert Loggia comments that his grandparents were ‘Italian Italians’, his parents were ‘Italian Americans’, he is ‘American Italian’, but his kids are simply ‘American Americans’.

Now that I myself am growing older and elder I-talian relatives are passing away, I am beginning to see that being an Italian American is, in fact, different. My husband says not everybody has a Sicilian mother cooking sausage and ‘gravy’ or the Veneto father cooking seafood in white wine. He didn’t know of such things till he met me, and he suspects that when my nieces leave their grammy’s house, they don’t say arrivederci or grazie to the plain old American kids at school. These comments puzzled me. On one hand, I don’t think I’m any different than any other kid raised in the melting pot that is the United States. Everybody eats spaghetti and goes to ristorantes and quotes The Godfather. Then again, I find it shocking and sad that there are people out there who haven’t grown up with grandparents cursing in Italian, making homemade wine, or listening to Luciano Pavarotti. Not that all American Italians know how to curse in Italian or make wine or like opera. I don’t mean it in a snotty way, but if you don’t have any such culture and heritage and appreciation, what is there?

Pride and Passion had me thinking about this past Thanksgiving at my parent’s house. The poor Polish and German sons- in-law have gotten used to ravioli, lasagna, and cannolis along side debates about using real anisette in pizzelles and which goes better with the turkey, the red or white wine? Certainly there are still others having a bit of Italian in their households, right? Are we really a thing of the past? Will we be gone in the next century just like natural red heads?

Pride and Passion: The Italians In America also makes me a little angry. If Italians have been and perhaps to lesser degree still are such an important part of American cuisine, sports, and cinema, why aren’t there more programs about Italian society? Forgive me for being rude, but we can have an incoming black president, yet we’ve never had an Italian leader of the free world. (Enter Mussolini joke here.) E! comedian Chelsea Handler can talk about Jewish clout in Hollywood on Chelsea Lately to her heart’s content, but food critics were initially angry at the Food Network for hiring Everyday Italian’s Giada De Laurentiis- the too pretty granddaughter of Dino De Laurentiis. We can’t joke about blacks and Jews but its ok to exploit Italians as hairy, gold wearing, gun toting mobsters who end every other word with an ‘a’. Ever hear the one about the Pasta diet? ‘You walk pasta the bakery…’ My eleven year old niece didn’t get it. Upon explaining it, she said, “But we don’t talk that way.”

Unfortunately, it appears the DVD of Pride and Passion: The Italians In America is only available through PBS telethons and sponsorship gifts. Additional footage and music samples accompany the disc. Internet research turns up a similar program also including Robert Loggia’s commentary; Our Contributions: Italians in America. Some of the interview footage for Pride and Passion looks fairly old as well, and the two programs may be part and parcel one and the same.

Whether you are Italian or not, cultural buffs and fans of American history will enjoy Pride and Passion. Old school folks may get quite emotional as memories of their Italian ways come back to them. Unlike that commercial where Mom has to block the mobsters for being too violent for the kids, Pride and Passion: The Italians In America is ideal for family history collectors to share with the next generation or teachers looking for educational film. Pride and Passion is worth the DVD or PBS schedule search. So put on the Connie Francis records and make like you’re a guido already!


Anonymous said...

hi there, just a line to let you know that you don't need to go to PBS to buy the DVD of this wonderful documentary, i did...
here is the link:




mary said...


Kristin Battestella said...

Thanks Mary! I have the DVD in my Netflix queue so I'll be able to see the extra footage! Thanks for stopping by!