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Stereotypes

August 2, 2019

I have heard the whine for decades from those who have bewailed their fate of being stereotyped. I have listened, half-hearted, as this parade of the supposedly downtrodden bunch has passed by, changing in ethnicity every year or so. Boo Hoo I say!

Many, many decades ago I was born with an Italian name: Rizzi. In actual fact, my family and I are Tirolean, meaning that we are Austrian in language, culture and history. But hark, that could not be!

When I was a child, I never thought of stereotypes. I had friends who were of every imaginable color from every imaginable country and every religion. We were all simply Americans. It was only much later that I learned that some were Jews, some were Italians, some were Irish, some were Mexican and yet others were from foreign countries. What did it matter? We were all friends. Then things slowly changed.

I remember distinctly in junior high school as being referred to as “that Italian guy” by teachers and other students. What? I had no idea what they were talking about. I was Tirolean.

In high school, friends teased me as that “dumb WOP” or the “good looking dago.” What? I had no idea what they were talking about (except for the “good looking” part). I was Tirolean.

Later in college, I met a few actual, identifiable Italians and found that we had very little in common culturally, linguistically or in most other ways. (See Once Upon A Time In Northridge.) But it got me to thinking. If everyone wanted to stereotype me as Italian, why fight it? Why not play their game? What could I lose? Nobody knew where the Tirol was anyway and if they did, chances are they wouldn’t give a damn. I filed that thought away for future reference.

I let this myth go years later but it returned frequently. People I newly met asked if I liked “The Godfather.” They wanted to know what brand of olive oil I purchased (Seriously). They asked if I crossed myself before eating a Big Mac. When I became a playwright, my colleagues always felt it necessary to take me to Italian restaurants in New York and introduce me to the owners. Finally, after awhile I just accepted the Italian deal; it seemed it was good for business.

After my first marriage ended, I remember going on a date (just one time) with a young girl who said (and I quote): “Rizzi huh. Wow, you must eat a lot of spaghetti!” Again, what? I did retort that I had a few black friends and they all ate a lot of watermelon. That one went way over her head as she asked sincerely, “Really?”

When I entered the music business, I thought back to my time in college and as a playwright. What would be wrong with accepting the stereotype of “Italian.” After all, when in Rome… I formed a production company called Italia Productions with a partner who was a real Italian. We did very well in the business for many years. I am sure we were aided by the fact that people in this mafia festooned business saw us as “Italian” and wondered if maybe we were somehow “connected.” Hell, as a final act of capitulation, I even joined the Italian Anti-Defamation League at the behest of my friend Dean Martin.

The whole “Italian” thing kind of festered like an old boil. Occasionally, it would surface anew with all of the old chestnuts associated with the stereotype. Did I play stick ball as a kid? No, I was raised in Southern California and we didn’t know the meaning of the term. How come I didn’t have a darker complexion? I wasn’t Sicilian for God’s sake; I was Tirolean! Did my grandparents come over in steerage? No, actually they traveled first class by train and boat from the Tirol. Could I sing “That’s Amore” in Italian? Well, actually I could but that didn’t make me a card carrying Spaghetti Crooner, just a vocalist with a good memory for lyrics.

But then came an unusual twist. In 2003, my wife and I moved to live in Italy in a tiny village that used to be in Tirolean Austria and was the birth place of my father. The people there still identify as being Tirolean but live under the Italian government. Would that have changed the stereotyping? Of course not! It just got worse. As I learned Italian fluently, my friends and associates back in the states started wondering the same old things: Was this Goombah connected? Did he move to Italy for the same reasons as Michael Corleone? Was he the Capo di tutti fruiti? Ma, che cosa? I explained, I pleaded and I even brought maps of the Tirol back from our home in Italy and generally exhausted every channel of convincing my friends of the truth. I am Tirolean! Did it work? No! We still hear cracks in America like, “Let’s go over to the Italians house and have some wine.” (Again, seriously! It reminds me of the scenes from It’s Wonderful Life that feature Mr. Martini.)

I played the true “Italian Card” only once, I must confess. My son’s ex-wife always thought that I was connected to the mafia somehow because of my name. Why, I don’t really know; maybe she watched too many Al Pachino movies. When she and my son were separating acrimoniously and having immense problems with child custody, etc. I intervened only to offer to my son that I could give her a call or simply have a horse head appear in her bed. Neither transpired and nobody even got the joke. That is the sole instance of my “Italianess.”

So please let me state one more time, publicly and conclusively. I am NOT Italian. I am Tirolean! I have never known anyone in the mob. I don’t particularly love pasta and I am really not that fond of pizza as well. Yes, I have seen The Godfather and yes I know there is a character named Rizzi who gets whacked. No, I am not that character or any incarnation thereof. Please stop with the stereotypes or I will be forced to start a movement called TLM (Tirolean Lives Matter). 🙄

But yes, of course if you insist, you can still call me Godfather if that pleases you!😉

Das ist die Tiroler Flagge auf dem Foto.

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Read author Allen E. Rizzi’s latest books available at Amazon.com

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15 Comments
  1. I enjoyed reading this. I am originally from New York, and I liked growing up with people of different ethnic backgrounds. In the end, people are people and that is that. I do like celebrating my own ethnic background…I am an American with Swedish descent. I love celebrating with friends of many different backgrounds their favorite foods and customs. Sadly, when we stereotype people, we miss the gift of individuality. We love our friends for who they are, remarkable people who cannot be stereotyped…each one is an original. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I liked your post and smiled while reading it. Stereotypes are hard to defeat, I agree with you.
    Ma dimmi, non è bello essere italiano?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t say I relate to your experience, but I can see how annoying it must be!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Congratulations! Your blog has been included in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at
    https://thatmomentintime-crissouli.blogspot.com/2019/08/friday-fossicking-9th-august-2019.html
    Thank you, Chris

    Having been through the name calling etc. because of my foreign name, I empathise. I wish I’d known as a child that the first emigrant in my family arrived in Australia in 1791, albeit with a free passage…

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Very insightful indeed. I never thought of that way.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Robert Jusko permalink

    My mother’s grandparents came from Castlefondo and Cis. I cannot begin to tell you how much I relate to your story. How many times I have tried to tell friends about being Trentini/Tyrolian or even Nones and seeing the confused look on their face.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I loved your timeline of being Tirolean vs. being cast as an Italian. Very colorful writing! 👍🏾👍🏾👍🏾👍🏾👍🏾

    Liked by 1 person

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