By Jeanne Outlaw-Cannavo
This month, Italian-Americans will celebrate Italian heritage month. In recent years it has often been overshadowed by the fact that October has also become a month that is shared by other ethnic communities as their heritage month. In recent years there has also been controversy surrounding the political correctness of Columbus Day.
While I am not Italian by origin, I am Italian by citizenship and proud that I raised my children to honor their Italian ancestry and heritage. I have been lovingly “adopted” as an Italian by the people I lived and worked with in Italy and most welcomed by the Italian community here in the Delaware Valley.
I taught Italian for many years and was
very involved in Italian-American community events, and as such I learned and shared a great deal about Italian culture and history. However, it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to live and work in Italy for many years that I fully recognized the
great achievements of Italians and later their descendants who spread out across the world. The great contributions of Italian inventors, architects and artists have given Italy the honor of having the highest number of cultural sites in the world as recognized by UNESCO. Every village can proudly claim the accomplishments of an honored son or daughter and will boast a treasured architectural gem, art and sculpture and unique traditions that have been passed down for generations.
Each city is a trove of history where around every corner and right under your feet the buildings, fountains and statues tell a story of highly intelligent and creative people who gave to Italy, and later the world, the beauty and the benefit of art, science, literature and knowledge which greatly improved not only their lives but the lives of those who would later migrate to Italy and across the globe.
Who can deny the splendor of the works of Michelangelo, Rafaela, Titian, Caravaggio and numerous other artists? Who cannot marvel at the intricacies of massive statues carved from a single block of marble which show the flowing folds of a Roman woman’s gown or the curls on her head? Who would not delight at a fanciful fountain that one comes upon suddenly upon turning a corner? The plots and intrigues which coursed across the centuries as many tribes fought for control of the rich lands of Italy and the Roman Empire certainly did not stop the spirit of the Italian people as they created inventions which would benefit all mankind; art and music that would awe and soothe the souls of all who experienced them and structures which still stand as a testament to their ingenuity.
As we look to celebrating Italian heritage, I urge you to take a moment to reflect on your heritage. Over the years I have heard many first- and second-generation Italian-Americans express regret that their parents and grandparents discouraged them from learning Italian and showing Italian pride. Today there are third- and fourth-generation Italian-Americans who want to reverse that trend by learning Italian and reconnecting to their ancestral heritage. I entreat all of our readers to encourage this new generation to continue this trend and hope that Italian culture will be preserved in this country for all future generations to enjoy and be proud of.
In closing, I would like to recognize just a few of the great Italians and Italian-Americans whose accomplishments have benefitted us all. Let us thank them for what they have given us!
• Alessandro Volta: A pioneer in the study of electricity and inventor of the first battery.
• Salving D’Amato: Inventor of the first wearable eyeglasses.
• Santorio Santorio: A Venetian who invented the first recorded thermometer.
• Vincent R. Ciccone: Inventor of the cough drop.
• Charles Joseph Bonaparte: Founder of the FBI and credited with building the U.S. Navy into one of the strongest in the world.
• William Paca and Caesar Rodney: Two of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence.
• Filippo Mazzei: He suggested the words “All men are created equal” to Thomas Jefferson when Jefferson was penning the Declaration of Independence. Mazzei’s original words were “All men are by nature equally free and independent.”
For a more extensive list please visit the site www.niaf.org/research/contribution.asp.
(Jeanne-Outlaw Cannavo is a longtime advocate for teaching Italian in our public school system. She started Italian language studies and was a former teacher of Italian in the Logan Township (New Jersey) School District. She served as president of the Delaware Valley Chapter of the American Association of Teachers of Italian from 2002 to 2006 and currently serves as the secretary of the Delaware Italian-American Education Association. In 2006, Jeanne moved to Italy where she taught English in various schools in the Lazio region and traveled extensively to learn as much as possible about Italy, its language and its culture. She returned to the U.S. in 2011 and has since worked closely with other family members to promote and preserve Italian language and culture in the region.) IAH