by Domenic Amara
SPECIAL TO EASTBOSTON.COM
The following was the keynote speech by Domenic Amara at the Pirandello Lyceum’s I Migliori awards dinner at Spinelli’s in Peabody on April 1, 2023. Dr. Amara is a longtime East Boston resident, educator and currently serves as President of the Pirandello Lyceum and the Italian American Alliance.
One hundred and eighty years ago, primarily from southern Italy, Italians came to America in large numbers. Most were unskilled but they helped build America’s then booming industrial economy. Most were men leaving a semi-feudal Italian South that held little opportunity for them. You may not realize it, but nearly half went back.
Today’s Italian American community is descended from those who decided to remain in America…and the process of assimilation began.
Now, each immigrant group had their own strategies for survival. For Italians it rested on family, work and “paesani” – a kind of extended family of friends – all in a matrix of a value system uniquely theirs. It was that structure that allowed them to gain a foothold in America.
However, it was not easy. They were often marginalized, branded as enemy aliens, interred in camps, and lynched. Even in the 1950’s and 1960’s they still encountered negative stereotypes. Today, although the decedents of the first Italian immigrants are established and successful and their heritage celebrated there is still that ember of disrespect – even contempt – in some quarters, for Italian Americans, and the representations that reflect the added value they have brought to America. It’s not always visible, but I think the events of the last few years more than suggests that it’s still there.
Italian -Americans have clearly assimilated into this country. It was what our parents believed was necessary for survival and success, even advocating abandoning the Italian language. They were wise enough, however, to pass on their history and their heritage in all its forms, including the values of family, work, and respect.
With each passing generation we notice that our history, heritage and the lessons of those who came before us being diluted. – or lost altogether. And, that brings me to my point. We shouldn’t let that happen. If we do, those who come after us will be the worse for it. The Italian American experience in America, to borrow a phrase from Norman Podhoretz, was a “brutal bargain” where our ancestors lost something in order to gain something.
I believe it’s time for us to consciously decide to stop losing!
I suggest we can stop losing by being consciously aware of where we are and where we are going as a community. We do it by making a concerted effort of sharing and preserving our stories for the next generation with our families and our friends. We can do it by not passively accepting insults to our heritage. And, we can do it by coming together in community, as we witness here tonight.
The Pirandello Lyceum this evening hosts this community that honors examples of the strength of our heritage and why it should not be lost. It’s just one of many trying to preserve our heritage: the Dante Alighieri Society, the Sons and Daughters of Italy, the Knights of Columbus, National Federation of Italian Organizations, the Dames of Malta, the North End Historical Society, Augusta Boston, and the Italian American Alliance – and so many more social and religious organizations and all in the immediate area. Any one of them would welcome your participation. I plead with you to seek them out.
That’s my message for the evening. Again, I welcome our esteemed honorees. They are clear examples of what it is to be an Italian American.