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Chris Cuomo was right to be offended: 'Godfather’-related smears are the heart of anti-Italian bigotry

2019-08-14

A slur on an entire people. (Paramount Pictures/Photofest)

Kudos to Chris Cuomo for excoriating the card-carrying bigot who called the CNN anchor “Fredo,” a fictional character in “The Godfather.”

Whether the epithet is “Guido,” “Goomba,” “Guinea,” “Wop,” “Dago” or “Fredo,” this is offal we must refuse.

Anti-Italian intolerance is real. And such slurs are as hurtful as the odious N-word. Moreover, Cuomo’s righteous indignation has nothing to do with MAGA conservatives or Green New Deal liberals.

Indeed, Sean Hannity, the Fox News anchor, came to Cuomo’s defense: “Imho Chris Cuomo has zero to apologize for. He deserves the apology.”

Rather, the issue is bigotry — and America’s persecution of one of its most storied ethnicities.

Though the Founding Fathers looked to the Roman Republic in crafting the U.S. Constitution; though Italian navigators were at the forefront of the Age of Exploration; though modern science, capitalism and the Renaissance originated in Italy; though Enrico Fermi was the father of the Atomic Age, the scions of Italy have long endured mass lynchings, internments and widespread discrimination in their journey to America.

In his landmark book “Vendetta,” Prof. Richard Gambino states that between 1870 and 1940, “Italians were second only to blacks in numbers of lynch victims.” And this murderous spree spanned such states as Colorado, Mississippi, Illinois, North Carolina and Florida.

In a missive to his sister regarding the 1891 massacre of Italians in New Orleans, Theodore Roosevelt wrote: “Monday we dined at the Camerons; various dago diplomats were present, all much wrought up by the lynching of the Italians in New Orleans. Personally I think it rather a good thing, and said so.”

After Dec. 7, 1941, as the result of FDR’s executive order, some 600,000 Italian Americans were labeled “enemy aliens.” On both coasts, Italian-American homes and businesses were confiscated; newspapers ceased publishing; and draconian curfews were established. Fishermen were not permitted to sail their boats and earn a livelihood.

In California, 10,000 were evacuated from coastal areas and sites near power plants, dams and military installations. Another 257 Italians were shipped to internment camps for up to two years.

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) continues to perpetuate the belief that organized crime is strictly the province of an ethnicity comedian Bill Maher has called a bunch of “My-Cousin-Vinny guineas.”

Mario Cuomo — Chris Cuomo’s father — who was No. 1 in his class at St. John’s University Law School, was denied entry into several Wall Street law firms due to the inconvenient vowel at the end of his surname.

“The Godfather” reinforced and perpetuated a blood libel, engendering the schadenfreude that permits society’s only socially acceptable stereotype.

In bringing Mario Puzo’s apocryphal potboiler to the silver screen, Francis Ford Coppola institutionalized anti-Italian intolerance. As a result, Italian Americans are now identified as a congenitally corrupt clan of criminal Neanderthals. (According to the FBI, however, the number of Italian Americans involved in organized crime remains in the microscopic neighborhood of .00782%.)

Truth be told, “The Godfather” has been as toxic to Italo-Americans as “The Birth of A Nation” was to African Americans.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal some three decades ago, Alexander Cockburn decried “the childish mumbo jumbo about blood oaths, Sicilian brotherhoods and the like” that permeated the media, the courts and law enforcement officials steeped in cinematic Mafia lore.

Though their lineage includes the likes of Caesar Augustus, Galileo Galilei, Ferdinand Pecora, Riccardo Giacconi, Carolyn Porco and Samantha Cristoforetti, the scions of Italy are still treated as a vile underclass.

The scions of Italy are CEOs, governors, U.S. Supreme Court justices, secretaries of state, Nobel Prize-winning physicists, generals, astronauts and entrepreneurs. The Sicilian-born Luca Parmitano is the commander of the International Space Station.

And an Italian American is next in the presidential line of succession after Vice President Mike Pence: Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi.

In an era that quite rightly deplores misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, anti-Asian intolerance, Islamophobia, and anti-Hispanic bigotry, it’s surely time to leave the anti-Italian bigotry and embrace the patrimony of Filippo Mazzei: “All men are created equal.”

Iaconis is chairman of the Italic Institute of America.