Today we pause to remember a great Italian American who made the ultimate sacrifice in his personal and professional quest for social justice. Although he was assassinated 100 years ago, he still symbolizes the very best of Italian ideals. The life of Lt. Joseph Petrosino has more than historical relevance because those principles for which he fought are principles that we should observe as Italian Americans in 2009.
As the National Executive Director of the National Italian American Foundation, I am keenly aware of the survival of negative and unfair ethnic stereotypes of Italian Americans. Too many journalists still feel comfortable in drawing associations between Italian Americans and organized crime. They overlook our strengths as an ethnic group that still cherishes a strong family structure, deep religious conviction and a passion for doing what is right.
That is why it is so important that we recall the story of Lt. Petrosino. That is why it is so important that we recognize modern-day Lt. Petrosino’s who dedicate their lives to sustaining a society that is characterized by its respect for the law. We can all take great pride in those Italian Americans in law enforcement, the legal profession and the bench who carry out their responsibilities with dignity, fairness and passion.
Just in the last few months, the Italian American community has responded quickly and strongly to ethnic slurs on two national cable systems, to advertisements by a major cell phone company and a national restaurant chain. Our objections to their unfair stereotypes of Italian Americans have been met largely with indifference.
In a recent letter to one of our detractors, I pointed out that we all work very hard to identify and showcase outstanding Italian Americans who are wonderful role models for today’s young people. We have to believe that those who feel comfortable in attacking our heritage have not yet come to understand the contributions of Italian Americans to this nation.
They don’t understand the modern-day achievements of Italy and Italian Americans in science, technology, medicine and commerce. They haven’t taken the time to discover that Italian Americans have risen to the highest levels of American business and professions through hard work, intelligence and ethical conduct.
So, Lt. Petrosino’s life may have more meaning today than ever. And, as we leave this wonderful ceremony, let us take with us a resolve to tell the true story of Italian Americans at every opportunity. In a world and nation in crisis, the principles by which Lt. Petrosino lived survive among all of us. Let us all tell his story – and ours – at a time when so many are looking for a beacon that does not flicker.
(Pictured from top down : James di Santis, NIAF's National Executive Director; Hon. Francis Allegra, Ronald Cimino, Francesco Isgro, James Di Santis; participants at the ceremony) (Photos by Erika Madrigal)