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Ethnic Stereotyping: Going, Going, Gone
Why It Was Okay To Laugh At Little Immigrant Luigi Bosco In The 1940s, But Not So Today
Continued from page 1
by Cookie Curci
There was an unspoken difference between us, and them, one that we Italian American kids always felt- and were always aware of. We were Italian, they were Americans. Of course we were Americans too, born in this county and so were our parents before us, but our grandparents spoke with a heavy accent and held on tightly to Old World ways... and to some extent so did we. Media's TV and radio families shopped at the A&P while our mom's and grandmas purchased their vegetables from the vegetable man who came by once a day in his old beat up truck with the funny awning. And many, including Grandpa, kept their own chicken coup in the back yard for their poultry supply.
On Thanksgiving holidays the media showed American families sitting down to dine on a huge turkey. When Christmas Eve came around the American family dined on a huge ham or turkey. The Italian American family feasted on these foods as well, but we also had antipasto, lasagna, focaccia, ricotta pie, meatballs, salad, garlic toast and wine.
There are few things in this world that instantly connect people to each other and form a bond like laughter. It's a universal feeling that requires no interpretation. I think that's why my family, especially my grandparents, listened and laughed each week to Life with Luigi. The important thing was we were laughing with Luigi and his family not at them. The humor helped us forget for a time our every day problems and gave us some superiority over our common woes and calamities.
I remember how we laughed at the Marx brothers, especially Chico, with his funny Italian accent. Chico's familiar accent was, to us, a replica of our own nonna and papa's accent that also spoke broken English. We loved "Luigi" and his radio family for the same reason, because of the similarities. He too had a large family just as we did. And just like Nonna and Nonno he spoke with a heavy Italian accent. And just like Nonna and Papa he was working hard to attain his American citizenship.
But, later, as time passed and we Italian American's established ourselves in the professional and business world ethnic humor became less funny, turning to sarcasm, and a montage of put downs and poor taste ethnic jokes. And suddenly what we once laughed at had now evolved into derogatory ethnic smears. I'll never forget the first time I heard one of those ethnic "put-down" jokes. I was 17 years old and someone at school came up to me and asked, "How many Pallbearers it took to bury an Italian?" I said, "Nine, of course". The girl snickered and said, "No, no, silly. It only takes two. They bury them in garbage cans"!
My grandfather had just passed away that week, and at that moment all I could think of was all the years of hard work and tenacious dedication he had put into his life and family and the love and respect we felt for him. The pain of that tasteless, so called, "joke" has remained with me all these years. Yes, I am American, but I still feel a strong sense of my Italian heritage. Call it culture, call it roots… I'm not sure what it is, but it's a part of me and who I am.
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