By Joe Cannavo
The school year is coming to an end and I am asking myself these questions. In school districts that offer Italian, how many parents of Italian descent insisted that their children select Italian as an elective for the 2018-19 school year? How many students of their own free will in these districts selected Italian as their elective? Finally, how many parents of Italian descent discouraged their children from selecting an Italian elective because they feel, another language is more important?
Over the many years that my wife and I taught Italian at all grade levels, we encountered examples of all three situations referred to in the above paragraph. What angered me the most was parents who discouraged their children from selecting Italian. I even recall students coming to me upset because their parents were pushing back against their wish to study their heritage language in favor of another language the parents viewed as “more useful.” On more than one occasion, I spoke to some of these parents who while pushing their child to study the “more useful” at the same time complained about being asked “to press 1 for the alternate language to English.” Sort of hypocritical to say the least!
Fortunately this attitude occurred among only a small minority of parents. In fact, many schools have or will be having Italian in their curriculum. While this increase in the study of Italian will never bring back the numbers of Italian speakers that once existed in this country, it should at least put a halt and reverse the trend of our Italian parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents who simply ceased speaking Italian immediately or shortly after they immigrated. The reasons for this horrendous detachment from their native language were numerous and sadly much related to bigotry and hatred they experienced in the “New World.” Now finally sentiment among fourth- and fifth-generation Italian-Americans is growing to recapture the beautiful Italian language and culture that was almost lost because our Italian immigrant ancestors were, to put it simply, preoccupied with “becoming Americans” at the expense of everything else.
However, all this is in the past. Opportunities abound to learn Italian, and the younger the better. In Delaware, the Italian community has one of the most unique summer programs, La Mia Piazza, that opens the door to Italian for children 4-14 years of age. Astonishing numbers of youths are studying Italian in New Jersey, and the study of Italian has begun to increase considerably in Delaware and Chester Counties in Pennsylvania.
I hope that this editorial’s message will reach out to both parents and their children of this generation to continue the trend to push for and to encourage the study of Italian at home and at their schools. For no matter what the mass media promotes or Italian organizations do to foster this effort, the job of preserving the Italian language in this country and future of our heritage starts at home.