From the Editor, Louis Brunelli…
My mother would tell me in our dialect…che il Sioredio el scrive drit con righe storte… The Lord writes straight with crooked lines and I firmly believe that the Filo` was a work of His Providence for our people…Let me explain..
In 1999, the Lakeland School District in Westchester County eliminated Italian language education even though there were 100 more students pursuing Italian then French. Nonetheless, they kept French and eliminated Italian violating the student’s self-determination in the elective part of the school’s curriculum. As a parent of five children and a tax payer, I protested to the school board and wrote frequently in the media about the injustice. Ignored, I filed a Legal Appeal with the State of New York, a quasi law suit seeking redress for the school community. Having no legal preparation and having to combat the school district’s lawyers, I painstakingly learned the legal vocabulary, syntax and style of composing my affirmative and defensive arguments. I elevated the appeal and protest to all New York’s Italian American legislators, the Italian consulates, the Italian Ambassador, the Italian American organizations and the Italian American Lawyer’s association seeking their support and advocacy. I wrote boxes of correspondence delineating the substance of implicit discrimination effected in the Lakeland School District. Dal dire al fare, c’e` nel mezzo Il mare…Between saying and doing, there is an ocean. They were useless since they had neither the culture nor the competencies to advocate for the Italian American community. Alone, I needed to advance the rationale for school electives and demonstrate their obvious biases of the school district. In the crafting of my arguments, I had truly an awakening about the role and function of cultural literacy in the maintaining of one’s cultural awareness and identity. More than street feasts and Columbus Day parades, the presence of Italian language education in a community could indeed become an engine to foster cultural literacy…specifically in communities where there were present a plurality of Italian Americans.
More crooked lines…Governor Mario Cuomo was expediently indifferent and the organizations were distracted. Hence, I lost the appeal since I was one day late with my response for the Appeal now at its third stage. There was another possibility…a case of discrimination against Italian Americans at the City University of New York earned for the first time the legal status of a class action. I appealed to the Italian American Lawyer’s Association asking that they do a pro bono thing..for the bono of their community. I asked that they protest the Lakeland episode with its the treatment and elimination of Italian language education as a class action and to assert that its elimination over the years throughout the state hurt the self esteem of Italian Americans similar to the legal argument advanced in Brown vs. the Board of Education. They were indifferent…yet another crooked line.
Determined, I conceptualized and wrote the Lingua Nostra Project, a national initiative that would market Italian culture to the Italian American community and at the same time provide a tutorial of how to lobby their community school to install and maintain Italian language education. With the help of Madison Ave, I designed a 12 page tabloid that underscored the theme and shibboleth…It Pays to Study Italian. It also outlined the steps to take to lobby for the preferred elective…Possibly the first of those straight lines…possibly the persistence of the Gospel person who kept knocking and knocking…the activism for cultural literacy came to the attention of the Italian Consulates and Government who convened an international conference at Georgetown University where the Lingua Nostra Project was featured…Applause, promises of funding was the reaction ensued by getting disillusioned after 5 years of pursuing the Italian government to launch the project…Basta…I said and I turned to the Trentino and our people…. While my efforts with these organizations brought some notoriety and applause I got no where.
Yet, this multi year campaign achieved an important outcome. It awakened me to my true identity as an heir and creator of the Tyrol and its 1000 years of history. . I wanted to better understand and share this history and the culture and the very persona of my family, relatives, and paesani. In 1998, I appealed to the Trentino government with the insistence of a New Yorker. President Carlo Andreotti, president of the government or the Giunta, granted me an exceptional and special audience with his entire governmental congress…the Senators and the Conisglieri Provinciali. I presented the notion of the Filò …again applause and praise to be followed by no action…I pursued them for 13 years and finally the first issue of the Filò was born…reaching about 6000 households and possibly 12,000 readers.
There was yet another major obstacle, the quasi-schizoid confusing identity of the Trentino Trentini in the Trentino. What is factually historic is that our North American community were part of or linked to 1000 years of history under German or Tyrolean sovereignty. Beginning in the year 1000 and for 800 years, we were the subjects of a feudal state of the Principato of Trento ruled by a Prince Bishop. This was followed by the Hapsburg that ruled us in the Austrian Hungarian Empire who taught us to read and write starting in 1774 and for whom we fought bravely in the Tiroler Kaiserjaegger. Prior to the forced annexation to Italy, 97% of Tyrolean emigrants had already left and come to our shores with Austrian passports and asserted their Tyrolean identity distinguishing and separating themselves from the “Italians. They embraced our nation and held on and maintained their memories and their historic identity. However, back in the Province, gratuitously granted to Italy by the chicanery of President Wilson and the Allies, there ensued an intense campaign to “italianize” the population seeking to transform them by deliberately diminishing the memories of our historic identity. The Irredentists and Nationalists changed text books, street signs and whatever could be associated with the actual and factual past. This was followed by the brutality of Mussolini’s insane nationalism that persecuted our historic linguistic minorities. After the USA deliberated Italy of both Fascism and Nazism and after the USA got Italy on its feet, the historic Tyrol and its history was designated as the Trentino, a term once relegated to environs of Trento itself.
It must be remembered and repeated that what happened in the Province was their experience but not ours. We were who we were in the legitimacy of our historic and actual experience. Like the Irredentists and Fascists, the Province gratuitously assumed that we were mirror images of them as they hardly understood or recognized our differences and our heritage…and the dramatic experience of our emigration. They could not and still do not understand that we became truly a new people forged in the historic Tyrol but renewed and evolved in our embrace of our nation. In this context, the Filò was born…not to be ideological nor political but to assert our fundamental entitlement to our actual origins and heritage. In justice, it asserts that who we are is who we were…and not what the Province became through the gymnastics of its political and social development since the annexation of 1919. Even for the emigrants that emigrated after the annexation, they…their forbearers, their noni and none were still the products of “stiani:…their genuine past. Accordingly, the Filò does not hesitate to embrace the nomenclature of Tyrolean Americans. There is no hyphen between these identities. We are fundamentally Americans and this American identity permits and encourages us to embrace, maintain, and celebrate our Tyrolean identity. The Filò will hopefully continue to present, display, and teach our community about who we are by remembering who we were…