The United States has long been a melting pot. Multiculturalism is a key feature that makes the country so special.
As a member of the Italian Parliament, I represent the North and Central America District in the Chamber of Deputies for Italian citizens abroad. This region includes Connecticut, which has a special place in my heart. I lived in Newtown, and I saw first hand the immense contributions Italian-Americans have made to the state and its culture.
That’s why I was appalled to see a recent advertisement from the Connecticut Citizen’s Action Group (CCAG) that uses ethnic tropes about Italian-Americans to advance a political agenda.
In the advertisement, they name Connecticut based healthcare companies Anthem, Cigna, CVSHealth, Tufts/Havard Pilgrim and United Healthcare as “Connecticut’s Five Families.” It is an obvious and shameful attempt to equate these health insurance companies and their leaders to members of organized crime.
The Commission for Social Justice® the anti-defamation branch of the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America (OSDIA) have already written directly to CCAG to ask them to take down these advertisements and put an end to CCAG’s negative stereotyping of Italian- Americans in their advertisements.
Italian and Italian-Americans have long been subjected to organized crime stereotypes. Hollywood has played a key role in advancing this depiction, as some of the most popular movies and television shows in entertainment history have centered on these tropes.
These attacks by CCAG could not come at a worse time:
- October is Italian-American Heritage Month, which recognizes the contributions and achievements of Italian Americans in Connecticut and across the country.
- In Hartford, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art has just opened the first exhibition solely dedicated to Italian women artists (“By Her Hand: Artemisia Gentileschi and Women Artists in Italy, 1500–1800”) which explores how women succeeded in the male-dominated art world of the time and celebrates the vital contributions of women to the history of art in Italy through rarely seen works, recent scholarship, and introductions to virtually unknown artists. Many works are being shown publicly for the first time or are making their U.S. debut.
- Gov. Ned Lamont recently named the members of the “Connecticut Hate Crimes Advisory Council,” which was created by a recently adopted state law to coordinate programs that increase community awareness and reporting of hate crimes and to combat such crimes.
Instead of celebrating these wonderful events, and working with Connecticut leaders to stop hateful demagoguery, we are now faced with more anti Italian-American ethnical stereotyping by the CCAG’s continuing caricaturing of hard working Italian-Americans.
No one should ever have to face being maligned and attacked for being who they are, and it is wrong for CCAG to target people because of their heritage and country of ancestors birth. Just as no one should targeted because of the color of their skin, the religion they practice, the person they love, their country of birth, or any other personal attributes that identify who they are, so too should no Italian-Americans be targeted
Italians have not always been welcomed in the United States. Like many other immigrant groups who came to America with a dream to have a better life, being the newcomers has not always been easy. Italians have been subjected to widespread prejudice and discrimination in the past.
It is disappointing that in today’s cultural climate that CCAG would purposefully choose to create these ads and advance this discriminatory imagery – especially when two of the presidents and CEOs of these companies are of Italian-American heritage.
Regardless of one’s opinions on health insurance, insurance policy or insurance companies, there is absolutely no excuse to use culturally insensitive and defamatory imagery to advance a message. In reality, these advertisements are misleading and do nothing but perpetuate historic myths that have hurt Italian-Americans for decades.
The Italian culture is one that is deeply embedded in the fabric of Connecticut. From music to food to initiatives with global impact, Italian-Americans have a proud history of cultural influence in the state.
The United States has made tremendous progress in eliminating negative ethnic stereotypes – not just those associated with Italians but for all ethnic groups. To maintain this positive progress requires the continued condemnation of negative ethnic stereotypes.
Connecticut Citizen’s Action Group has an obligation to take down their advertisements from their website and social media channels immediately. They should also issue an apology to the leaders and employees of these companies and the Italian-American community.
Let’s honor and celebrate the cultures that have helped make Connecticut such a special place. And reject the use of negative stereotypes to advance a political objective.
Fucsia Fitzgerald Nissoli represents Italian citizens living abroad in North and Central America in the Italian Parliament Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati).