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  • How Can You Undo Stereotypes about Italians?
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    MARCH 28, 2004 - Lately, all anyone can talk about is the mafia - the fictional Sopranos on television, real-life Joseph "Big Joey" Massino, the Bonanno crime family capo who was the subject of a feature story in Time last week because he could get the death penalty for his corruption and accusations that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has worked with the mafia in the past. Frankly, I think the true-life bad guys give us Italians (in the Motherland and abroad) a worse name than the brilliant performances by James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) and his pals on HBO. Regardless of which is worse, I thought it would be more productive to reflect on the many ways you can undo stereotypes or misperceptions about our culture:

    Educate people. Tell those who think you are in the mafia simply because your last name ends in a vowel that you are a descendent of Italians, keepers of the Roman Empire, creators of the Renaissance, founders of pizza. Remind them that you have never committed murder, extortion or tax evasion, nor do you inflict bodily harm on those who might owe you money or just plain dislike you. Finally, make sure that all of this is true and that you are a law-abiding citizen with a desire to better herself. Tell them that you prefer to model yourself after the greats in Italy - from Michelangelo to Roberto Baggio. Who can argue with that kind of history?

    Invite the skeptics to dinner. This is an opportunity to show people a real Italian family that overflows with food and love, not the mob variety of "family." One stop at the Di Meglio house and people just wish that they were Italian, too. No one can resist Zia Maria's lasagne, Zia Concettina's bawdy humor, Papà's Bolognese sauce or Nonno Rocco's stories of the Old World. Most Italian families are warm, giving and full of lovable characters. I bet yours is no different than mine.

    Live la dolce vita - for real! The world seems fascinated by Italian people's desire to enjoy the simplicities of life - a good meal, a glass of perfectly aged wine, the company of old friends. Ultimately, living a sweet life will make you less cranky. As a result, you will be a better person and other people will love you for it. And if you stay on the straight-and-narrow (in other words, no goombah affiliations), your very existence will cancel out a person's negative perception of Italians.

    Take the ignorant folks to Italy. If all else fails, a trip to the Boot is in order. I don't think any person with the slightest bit of heart could ignore the beauty found from sun-drenched Sicily all the way up to the Tuscan hillside. There, they will also meet the good people of Italy. We serve as reminders that most Italians are wise guys - but not that kind of wise guy!

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