Stereotype This! Debunking Hollywood's Italian Stereotypes and Myths Stereotype This!  Debunking Hollywood's Italian Stereotypes and Myths Stereotype This! Debunking Hollywood's Italian Stereotypes and Myths
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In 2005, local Chicago PBS station WTTW-Channel 11 agreed to show a DVD highlighting the historical contributions of Italians in the Windy City. The impetus behind this project was the following Op-Ed which appeared ten years earlier in the Chicago Tribune. It was this Op-Ed, written in 1996, along with the umbrella support of the New York-based Italic Institute of America, which made the project possible, including the hiring of the filmmaker.

November 17, 1996

CHICAGO — There comes a time when cities, like people, need to put away childish things. I saw evidence of this recently as I drove past the now-defunct Capone's Chicago museum on North Clark Street. The rotund, scar-ridden face of Al Capone, which once smiled down on River North tourists, has become part of a mere empty facade, surrounded by tarp and scaffolding. Poetic justice indeed.

Whether through declining profits or its own bad taste, the failure of Capone's Chicago museum marks a significant turning point in the city's history. As a native Chicagoan, I'm delighted that the Windy City has matured enough that it rejects fake nostalgic images of its past. As a Chicagoan of Italian descent, I'm especially elated that with Capone's ominous shadow finally being lifted, the focus can shift to the thousands of Chicago Italians who genuinely lifted the City of the Big Shoulders.

While Capone was still in diapers, a Catholic nun named Frances Xavier Cabrini, later canonized as the first American saint, built schools, hospitals and orphanages, not only in Chicago but all over the world. When Capone began his ascent in the multi-ethnic underworld, a young attorney named John De Grazia founded the Justinian Society of Lawyers in 1921. When Capone made illegal millions in bootlegging, John Cuneo made legal millions in the printing trade.

Capone became a media darling after the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929. During the same decade, however, musician and labor leader James Petrillo assumed the presidency of the American Federation of Musicians; Alfonso Ianelli designed many Loop buildings with Frank Lloyd Wright; and Amabile Piguri Santacaterina began her career as one of the first female radio broadcasters.

With the advent of the Great Depression, Capone's dubious star faded quickly. Sitting in prison on tax evasion charges, his brain slowly rotting from syphilis, Capone had no inkling that jazz greats Louis Bellson and Lennie Tristano were developing their great talents; that Henry Vinci, who sold groceries from a pushcart, would create Certified Grocers Corp.; or that Mama Celeste's childhood pizza recipes would blossom nationally.

Finally, in 1947, Chicago's most infamous citizen died. That Toddlin' Town became a modern American city, second to none in such achievements as science (Enrico Fermi and Sal Luria), business (Daniel Terra and Anthony Tortoriello), politics (Congressman Frank Annunzio and Judge Nicholas Bua), and the arts (Lyric Opera maestro Bruno Bartoletti and Steppenwolf Theatre co-founder Gary Sinise). And, of course, Chicago's beloved Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was of Italian descent.

Yes, we don't have Big Al to kick around anymore. Chicago, always proud and vibrant, has finally grown up. And all Chicagoans, regardless of their ethnic background, can justifiably shout "Bravo!"

Bill dal Cerro, Italic Studies Institute

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