Focus on the Positive Contributions that Italians Have Made

Dear Editor:

Italian-American Heritage Month gives us an opportunity to recognize the contributions that people of Italian ancestry have made to society.

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Over the years, I have expressed disgust and outrage over the media’s constant portrayal of Italians as criminals and Mafiosi. Films, programs, performances, and printed material which stereotype Italians as violent, vicious murderers and gangsters hurt the image of all Italians and cheapen the contributions that Italians / Italian-Americans have made to enhance their communities.

Young people of Italian descent are in dire need of positive role models. While young Italian-Americans should be embracing and emulating the positive, life-affirming attributes of their countrymen who have contributed to the betterment of society, the film industry and other forms of media continuously bombard them with unscrupulous characters as role models to follow.

I 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.

Young people with Italian roots 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 / Italian Americans have made to our community.

John Di Genio

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