The Italian Educational & Cultural Center (IECC) – Casa Colombo has undertaken a valuable project to profile a half dozen or so notable Italians / Italian-Americans who have made a significant contribution to Jersey City. Such an effort is long overdue. Young Italian people are in dire need of positive role models.
Over the years, we have expressed our disgust and outrage over the media’s constant portrayal of Italians as criminals and Mafiosi. Frankly speaking, films, programs, performances, various works of “art(?)”, and printed material which stereotype Italians as violent, vicious murderers, and gangsters hurt the image of all Italians and cheapen the contributions that Italians have made to enhance their communities.
While young Italian-Americans should be embracing and emulating the positive, life-affirming attributes of their great countrymen, of their “paisani,” the film industry and other forms of media continuously bombard them with unscrupulous characters as role models to emulate.
It is a crying shame; but, we would wager that most young Italian-Americans within Hudson County have no idea who Dr. Michael Conti, Louis T. Scialli, or Monsignor Santora were. However, sadly, they’ll be able to tell you – with a bizarre sense of pride no less – all about the infamous careers and nefarious acts of people like Alphonse Capone, Carlo Gambino, John Gotti, Joseph Bonnano, Vito Genovese, and other noted underworld figures of Italian descent.
We are sick and tired of the asinine “Al Capone” stereotyping. That said, The IECC has given us a unique, worthwhile opportunity to highlight the good deeds that Italians have accomplished for the betterment of our community.
Young Italian-Americans should focus on the good deeds that local Italian-Americans have accomplished. For example, people like Dr. Michael Conti, a humanitarian and philanthropist who practiced medicine from his office on Fourth Street for half a century; Lucy DeStefano, an “educator’s educator” who served the Jersey City School district (namely, P.S. Number Five) for some 50 years; Tom “The Turk” Favia, the legendary basketball coach who brought championships to James J. Ferris High School; Louis T. Scialli, who transformed the Jersey City Education Association from a mere local union to a world class labor organization; and Monsignor Gerard Santora, the “Priest of all Priests” who was the Pastor of Holy Rosary for some 30 years, dating back to the start of World War II in Europe, Holy Rosary Church prospered during his tenure as pastor.
Forget about the gangsters and fictional characters from a Mario Puzo novel or screenplay. Those characters are the overstated, over-emphasized minority. Focus on the positive contributions that Italians have made to our community.
John Di Genio and Albert J. Cupo