Jewish World Review Oct. 17, 2002 / 11 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Jerry Della Femina

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Consumer Reports

Bloomberg for Honorary Italian of the Year | "We're very sorry, Denzel Washington, but there is no way you can march in the Martin Luther King Day Parade. Your behavior in Training Day was disgusting. Allowing you to march in the parade would tell the world that all African-American police officers are corrupt."

"No, Ralph Fiennes, of course you cannot march in the Steuben Day Parade. Did you think we would forget that you played a Nazi in Schindler's List. There is no way that German-Americans want to be associated with Nazi Germany."

"Don't even think about marching in the St. Patrick's Day Parade, Mr. Jack Nicholson. We saw you playing a corrupt union leader in Hoffa and there is no way we can have anything that smacks of corruption associated with Irish-Americans. We sort of liked the way you tormented that gay young man in As Good As It Gets, and considered you as Grand Marshal since we forbid gays from marching in our parade, but then someone remembered you played a homicidal maniac in The Shining and, frankly, we can't have you splitting one of your fellow parade members' heads open with an axe during the parade."

I guess I had better invoke the new Italian Miranda Act. I know I have the right to remain silent, but as a good Italian American, I refuse to.

I grew up on West 7th Street in Brooklyn. The language of the neighborhood was Italian. The newspaper my grandfather read was Il Progresso. The radio station was WOV, the Italian language radio station. When I first went to school the teacher, Mrs. Coleman, said, "Good morning, children." Thirty-five kids answered, "Good morning"; I answered, "Boun giorno." The next thing I knew I was in a class for retarded children. I excelled in that class and won my way back into regular kindergarten where I fell behind again because of my inability to move in a proper circle when we played "Ring Around the Rosy."

The Mafia controlled my neighborhood and I got to see a lot of them in action. Yes, they were all Italian. The Mafia was a closed Italian club in my neighborhood. Instead of rooting for Costello, Profacci, Anastasia, Lucese, and Gambino, me and millions of other Italians chose to root for Rizzuto, Berra, Branca, DiMaggio, and Marciano.

Like 99.9% of Italians, I grew up honest. I proudly watched Italians making incredible progress in every area.

Italians are running more companies then ever before. Our great Governor is half-Italian and proud of it. The best Mayor in New York's history and a future President is Italian. We head up corporations. We have more than our fair share of sports heroes. We have doctors, professors, scientists -- you name it. We're as good as any other ethnic group; not better, as good as. This is America. We're all equal. You can be better but it's not about where your parents were born, it's about how you act and work to achieve success.

And in the words of one Mafia leader in reply to a society lady who was horrified at how much violence there was, he said, "Ma'am, we only kill each other."

I thought of his words and I felt ashamed of the tiny minority of my follow Italians the other day when they barred two actors from "The Sopranos" from the Columbus Day Parade. We do only kill each other.

To begin with, "The Sopranos" is the best thing that happened to television and Italians. The show is wonderful. The gangsters are not gangsters, they are just actors playing gangsters. No one that I work with or know thinks that honest Italians Americans are that way.

I watch the show with my family. I don't think my kids are going to become gangsters because they watch a movie or a television show depicting gangsters. There is no better writing than on "The Sopranos." There is no better show anywhere.

So, along come some wannabes and a couple of professional Italians -- Columbus Citizens Foundation President Larry Auriana and a Councilman named Tony Avella -- and they go to court to keep actor Dominic Chianese and actress Lorraine Bracco out of the parade because they appear in "The Sopranos."

I was so proud of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's reaction to tell the parade Nazis where they can shove their marching orders.

Bloomberg invited these actors to march because he wanted to honor their acting talent. Honoring artistic talent -- that's very Italian. Bloomberg stuck by them and chose not to march when they were turned away which is a great example of loyalty -- that's also very Italian. Bloomberg was smart enough to know the difference between an actor and a gangster -- that's smart and, I like to think, that's very Italian.

Bloomberg sat in a nice restaurant on Arthur Avenue and enjoyed great food instead of marching his ass off in a parade led by a bunch of know-nothings who spend their Sunday nights watching the junk of prime-time TV instead of a great, well-written show that is not about Italian-Americans but about the human condition.

Now that I think about it, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a better Italian than those people who used the Columbus Day Parade as their small-minded soapbox.

Michael Bloomberg is my choice as Honorary Italian of the Year. Now, if I can just get him to start smoking those stinky DiNoble Italian cigars.

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JWR contributor Jerry Della Femina was recently named by Advertising Age as one of the 100 Most Influential Advertising People of the Century. He's perhaps the most sought-after advertising expert in the country, there is no network, no publication and no organization on which, in which, or before which Mr. Della Femina has not appeared. He is also the author of two books, From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor (a best-seller), and An Italian Grows in Brooklyn (a non-seller). Comment by clicking here.


© 2002, Jerry Della Femina