American Italian Historical Association and the other Florida
On a brilliantly sunny day about an hour away from a very famous Mouse, Writers and Professors representing such varied fields as history, sociology, political science, film, technology, and the arts converged on Tampa Bay in Florida. From Universities and colleges they came, from places like the University of Venice, University of Illinois/Chicago, Buffalo State College, University of Central Florida, University of Texas, New York City College, University of Padua and the University of Miami, to name a few of the institutions of higher learning, these accomplished educators and writers came to share their research and present their findings and theories with their colleagues in the beautifully appointed Marriott Waterside Hotel on the Ybor Channel near the Hillsborough River on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida.
As the excited conversations flowed, many with a touch of Italian, this voice from the Midwest strolled along the Tampa Riverwalk admiring the docked ships and private boats and turned into the lobby entrance. The voice of Milwaukee was to be heard in this illustrious gathering and I was the lucky guy who would give it that Midwest twang flavor. I was to be a presenter in the category of Creative Writing. Roughly translated that means that my work was not that of academic research. Rather it was a literary piece in the form of a novel titled: The Stone Cutter Genius. It’s true that my book is based on authentic historical evidence based on the life of the Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo Buonarroti, whose great contributions to world culture includes The Giant David statue in Florence, Italy, the painted story of Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican and the Pieta sculpture of Mary holding the lifeless body of her son, Jesus, now in St. Peter’s in Rome. But it is a work of fiction and thus uses literary license to bring a legend widely believed by Michelangelo and the people of his day into the 21st Century.
I pressed the number “3” on the elevator’s panel and ascended to the meeting room level where I was to conduct my presentation. I was introduced as the representative from the Italian Community Center of Milwaukee whose latest novel depicts the research and findings held in common, by all the presenters. That thread which united me to the others was that of “How Italian Culture contributed to World Civilization.” In particular, how the Italians who immigrated to America shared their history, faith and culture and eventually were affected by world wide events and of those taking place in the United States as they became involved in American politics, the arts, education, business and industry, ethnic identification or lack thereof, and of course literary works.
Soon laughter could be heard as George Guida of New York City College of Technology addressed a reading from author Louisa Calio’s book revolving around Humorous Happenings while Traveling in Italy. In another room, music from the film “Saturday Night Fever” filtered through the walls as the topic of “Masculinity, Sexuality and Ethnicity” was addressed by Alan Gravano of Marshall University and Stelios Christodoulou of the University of Kent who used the elements from the Hollywood movie featuring John Travolta.
On a more serious note, presentations were conducted by Tommaso Caiazza of the University of Venice on the effects of World War II on Italian Americans in San Francisco who along with the Japanese Americans were sent to camps away from coastal areas until the conclusion of the war. Then there was the topic of Italians in Politics and the role of ethnicity in voting among Italian Americans presented by Judith Pistacchio Bessette of the Order of the Sons of Italy/Boston Chapter and Laurie Buonanno of Buffalo State College and Michael Buonanno of State College of Florida. And another voice from the Midwest, Dominic Candeloro of Chicago as he along with Fred Gardaphe’ of Queens College, actor Chickie Farella, scholarly contributors Vincent Romano and Ernesto Milani and Gary Mormino of the University of South Florida Reconstructed Italians in Chicago.
In between these presentations many of us boarded the Trolley at the Greco Station across from the hotel and rolled along the channel area to YBOR City, a Historic Landmark District within Tampa which was once the heart of Immigrant populations and still houses The Italian Club of Tampa which we got to tour. As we made our way down its picturesque streets lined with clubs, restaurants, boutiques and shops reflecting the Spanish and Italian Latin Quarter of the city, I began to think of Milwaukee’s Italian Community Center nestled in the Historic Third Ward. Wouldn’t it be plausible to bring these fine minds and cordial professionals to the Midwest where the largest national celebration of Italian Culture in the United States is celebrated each July at Festa Italiana? Before I answered my own question, we had arrived at a brick building with the huge white columns. On the window was inscribed: L’UNIONE ITALIANA (Italian Club). I was amused to find it decked out with Halloween décor in the Sicilian Donkey Cart in the Lobby and spider webbing down the railing around the statue of the Holy Family leading into the banquet area. “Now that’s a true blend of American and Italian Culture,” I mused. After a tasty lunch at Carmine’s which bustled with locals and we Out of Towners, off to the Trolley stop next to a wonderfully updated area containing movie theaters, shops, and restaurants opening onto a piazza like area. Arrivederci YBOR until we meet again.
Teri Ann Bengiveno (Las Positas College) was soon introducing the topic of “Italians Across America.” JoAnne Ruvoi of the University of California/Los Angeles introduced a group of poets who read from their body of poems and Michael Eula of El Camino College was doing the same with his presenters on the topic of “Post-War Italian Americans.” They addressed issues ranging from parenting to “Becoming American” to the 1950’s Italians and the media. And there I was, a former History teacher and now a writer of Historical Fiction soaking in the research and findings of this stellar gathering and toying with the idea that once my screenplay adaptation of my book was concluded and the sequel to “The Stone Cutter Genius” finished that perhaps it’s time to get a little political, that is Italian style and research a topic which I lightly touched upon in my book. That is how the House of Savoy who provided Italy with its Kings after the Unification in 1861 was exiled after a 1946 election which resulted in the abolishing of the Monarchy after Italy, as an ally of Nazi Germany under the leadership of Mussolini, was defeated in World War II. Exactly how legal was that election and did the House of Savoy get a fair shake, to use an American political expression. But that is another topic for another day.
Now it’s time to say Molte Grazie to George Guida, President of the American Italian Historical Association, who invited me to participate in their conference. Ciao Tampa, you provided us with more than sunshine. You gave us living History, beautiful surroundings, placid waters on the Bay and memories to bring back to Milwaukee and the Midwest.
(Arthur Cola is a veteran educator of 35 years and the author of three novels:Papa and the Leprechaun King, The Shamrock Crown (Legend of Excalibur) and The Stone Cutter Genius as well as three screenplays based on his books. His Christmas themed book for children is titled: Papa and the Gingerbread Man.Make him your Friend on Facebook. Visit his Blog site: www.arthurcolalegendarytales.wordpress.com. Web site: www.arthurcolalegendarytales.com and email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Order his books at www.amazon.com/arthurcola and get details on Tours of Ireland, Britain or Italy based on his books by contacting: email@example.com ).