Short Cuts America: il blog di Arnaldo Testi

Politica e storia degli Stati Uniti

“Italiano? Lo sapevo che non eri bianco!”


Samuele F.S. Pardini, In the Name of the Mother: Italian Americans, African Americans, and Modernity from Booker T. Washington to Bruce Springsteen (Dartmouth College Press, 2017). Di questo bel libro, con una bellissima foto di copertina, pubblico la prima pagina dell’Introduzione e l’ultimissima pagina del testo. Quello che sta nel mezzo potete leggerlo qui. Samuele, prima delle cose che è diventato dopo (è professore associato a Elon University), è stato un laureato in Lettere e filosofia dell’Università di Pisa.

One morning in the late spring of 2000 I was doing research for my doctoral dissertation at the central branch of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library in downtown Buffalo. Two African American female middle-school students were working on a project at a desk near mine. At one point, one of the girls turned toward me and politely asked if I had a pen that she could borrow, which I had and happily gave her. A few minutes went by, and the pen that I was using to jot down notes stopped working. Thankfully, I had one last pen left in my case. A few more minutes passed, and two African American boys of about the same age as the girls walked into the area of the library where the girls and I were. Those boys were on a mission. They approached the two girls, and one of them asked for, of all things, a pen. The girl who had borrowed my pen answered that neither she nor her friend had one. In fact, she told him, she was using a pen she had borrowed from me. Noting a smile on my face, the boy approached my table, leaned toward me, and asked me if he could borrow a pen. I replied that the one on my desk had just stopped working and, unfortunately, I did not have another one to lend him. He turned around, walked away and said, “It must be nice being white. I’d like to be white.” Instinctively, I thundered back, “No! It’s not, and you wouldn’t like it!” The kid stopped and walked back toward me. He had the look of someone who had been caught off guard, even disturbed by my answer. He hesitated for a second. Then, he asked me with a bullying tone, “What are you, Irish? Polish?” “Italian,” I replied. “Why, you gotta a problem with that?” He stared into my eyes speechless, stunned by my defiance. Suddenly, he flashed a big smile and told me, “I knew you weren’t white!” and walked away.

In the Name of the Mother seeks to unearth, understand, and map the reasons that led that African American kid to tell me I am not white because I am an Italian American. […]

In 2009 Springsteen performed for the first time this song [“American Land”] with the E Street Band in Southern Italy, in the city of Caserta. He was only a few miles from the coastal town of Vico Equense where his Italian grandparents came from, not far from the port of Naples where they had started their journey for the American land, dreaming, one would think, of getting to “that place where we really wanna go,” as their grandson would sing in “Born to Run” decades later. It is the area where Booker T. Washington had observed women working in the field in conditions that made him associate them with the black slaves in the South of the United States before the Civil War. In that port Fortunata Mancuso, her family, and the two girls Rita and Rosa embarked for their journey to the New World in [Emanuele Crialese’s] Nuovomondo. The same harbor is reproduced on another stage, that of the theater in New York City’s Little Italy where Vito Corleone watches the Neapolitan sceneggiata in which the lead male learns of his mother’s death back in Naples. That evening, in Caserta, Springsteen’s mother, Adele, one of the women who put the rock and roll in him, was in attendance. As the “immigrant song” ended, her son recognized all the musicians performing on the stage with him. Last “but not least,” he named his lifelong black musical partner and friend Clarence Clemons, “the biggest Italian you’ve ever seen.”



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