If there’s a silver lining to a pandemic, it’s that it forces people to pause, take a breath and perhaps truly listen to each other.
This definitely should be the case with respect to the annual “Is-he-a-saint-or-a-sinner?” rancor triggered by Columbus Day.
So how about a different approach? Let’s consider instead how the achievements of Italians and Italian American weave so fully through the quilt of American culture that their threads are nearly invisible.
Imagine a typical “American” day, post-pandemic ...
BRRing! Your alarm clock radio goes off. (Guglielmo Marconi perfected wireless transmission.) You turn on the lights. (The three-way light bulb was invented by Alessandro Dandini.)
As you take a shower (plumbing was a concept perfected by the classical Romans), you hear a few great old songs coming from the “classics” station on your radio: “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” (written by Salvatore Guaragna, aka Harry Warren); “Moon River” (Henry Mancini); and Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” (by jazz man Louis Prima).
At the breakfast table, you wouldn’t mind an espresso, but you’re in a rush so you flip on your Mr. Coffee. (Vince Marotta invented the “Mr. Coffee” machine, popularized by its spokesman, baseball great Joe DiMaggio.) Your throat’s a bit scratchy, so you pop a lozenge. (The cough drop was created by Vincent R. Ciccone.)
As you sprint to your car, you nearly trip over a Radio Flyer Red Wagon left in the driveway. (Antonio Pasin invented the Radio Flyer in 1927.) You hop into your Chrysler Jeep (CEO Lee Iacocca saved the company from bankruptcy in the 1980s) and turn your radio on again.
You hear the news that a white supremacist group plans a march. (In 1945, Judge Michael Musmanno presided over the Nuremberg Trials which brought actual Nazis to justice.) You hear that another woman has just been elected to higher office. (In 1974, Ella Grasso of Connecticut became the first woman governor elected in her own right.)
As you pass a shopping mall (Ohio businessmen William Cafaro and Edward DeBartolo Sr. were pioneers of the concept), you see a Barnes & Noble (built by Leonard Riggio into the nation’s largest upscale bookstore). This reminds you that you’d like to pick up a couple of books by two of your favorite novelists, crime writer Ed McBain (Salvatore Lombardo) and historical biographer Frances Winwar (Francesca Vinciguerra).
The last time you were in a bookstore, you bought a tabletop reproduction of the Lincoln Memorial statue in Washington, which was carved by the Piccirilli brothers in 1922.
At work, you pound away at your computer. (Frank Sordello created the electronic tachometer that is fundamental to the operation of computer disk drives.)
Lunch arrives. You’re thinking Subway (founded by Fred DeLuca) or McDonald’s (the Big Mac was invented by franchisee Jim Delligatti). But you opt for a salad with broccoli (courtesy of the Broccoli family of Italy) and peanuts (Amadeo Obici founded Planters). For dessert, it’s an ice cream cone (Italo Marcioni patented the ice cream cone in New York in 1903).
You tell yourself you can work off the extra calories at your health club (an institution initiated by the Romans via their famous baths; also, Charles Atlas, the father of modern fitness, was born Angelo Siciliano).
As you drive home, you stop by an ATM. (Banking was codified in Renaissance Italy; also, A.P. Giannini founded Bank of America).
The moon begins to rise. (Dr. Rocco Petrone headed NASA at the time of the 1969 moon landing.) A plane streaks by. (In 1973, Bonnie Tiburzi became the first woman to pilot an American commercial plane.)
Back at home, after dinner, you balance your checkbook. (Renaissance Italian Luca Pacioli invented double-entry bookkeeping). On C-Span, droning in the background, Congress debates a bill (America’s Founding Fathers borrowed the idea of a Senate from the Romans).
You click to Turner Classic Movies and watch “Psycho.” (George Tomasini edited five of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest films: “Rear Window,” “Vertigo,” “North by Northwest,” “Psycho” and “The Birds.” His skills were crucial to “Psycho’s’” shower scene.)”
You turn off the TV, climb into bed and feel grateful that you live in a flawed but great nation, the United States of America (named for explorer Amerigo Vespucci). You drift off to sleep thinking about your schedule for the next week (Pope Gregorio created the modern calendar in 1582).
BRRing! The alarm rings again. Sun’s up. And another typical “American” day begins.
Bill Dal Cerro is senior analyst for the Italic Institute of America, Chicago Office.
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