Scorsese, Lombardi, and La Guardia are just a few Italian Americans in an exquisitely illustrated new book celebrating 500 years of Italian-U.S. history, that was discussed at the Library of Congress on Oct. 30.
"Explorers Emigrants Citizens: A Visual History of the Italian American Experience from the Collections of the Library of Congress" has 500 images including photographs, maps, posters, and letters from collections at the Library, co-publisher with Anniversary Books.
For a video of the gorgeous book, click here.
Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese ("The Departed", "Goodfellas", "Mean Streets") wrote the foreword to "Explorers Emigrants Citizens", although his films focus on, well, an infamous image of Italian Americans.
Scorsese wrote, "For me, Little Italy (N.Y.) will always be home." He notes, "...when I decided to leave our world behind, it was very painful...I knew that I wanted to show the world I came from in (my) films. I needed to see it from my own vantage point, at my own proper distance."
The producer-director-screenwriter adds, "This book brings back so much to me, about the way we lived and the values we shared, and about the texture of life...It also widens my perspective,and gives me a rich sense of Italian American life...and it does a beautiful job of commemorating a way of life that is now almost gone."
The book focuses on the famous and the lesser-known Italian Americans who deserve fame, or at least recognition. They include:
- Sports stars Vince Lombardi, head coach for the Washington Redskins after the Green Bay Packers; Joe DiMaggio; Yogi Berra; many more.
- N.Y. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, who reformed and revitalized the city during the Depression and World War Two. La Guardia, who identified more as an Italian than as a Jew, had a Jewish mother and Catholic father.
- Filmmakers from Frank Capra ("It's A Wonderful Life") to Francis Ford Coppola ("The Godfather"), and film stars like Lou Costello of Abbott and Costello -- who was on first?
- Giacomo Beltrami, who reached the source of the Mississippi River in 1823.
- Joe Petrosino, the first Italian American police officer to be killed while fighting organized crime.
- The Piccirilli Brothers, who carved the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, much of the Library of Congress; the lions in front of the New York Public Library; and many other monuments in America.
- "Signorita Galetti and her troupe of the world's greatest performing monkeys"...
Photographs by Lewis Hine and others show Italians living in the slums of eastern U.S. cities, or working in fields and mines of rural America. Carlo Gentile photographed southwestern Native Americans in the 1870s -- one of the first people to photograph the American West. Athos Casarini was a futurist painter and illustrator for "Harper's Weekly".
"Explorers Emigrants Citizens" was discussed and signed by its co-authors:
- Linda Barrett Osborne, a fourth-generation Italian American, has written several books on American history. Her prior book is "Miles to Go for Freedom: Segregation and Civil Rights in the Jim Crow Years."
- Paolo Battaglia is an Italian author of illustrated history books including "New York In & Out", a photographic journey to the city in 1912, and "Frammenti di Guerra", a photographic history of World War II in northern Italy.
- Mario B. Mignone, a professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, is the founder and director of the Center for Italian Studies. He also co-founded the Association of Italian American Educators.
Another Italy-related book talk was held at the Library on Oct. 28, when "The Most Tenacious of Minorities: The Jews of Italy" (Academic Studies Press) was discussed and signed by Professor Sara Reguer, chair of the department of Judaic Studies, Brooklyn College, City University of New York.
Jews arrived in Rome more than 2,000 years ago, and the Jewish communities of Italy have retained their identity throughout the millennia, despite religious persecution, ghetto-ization, and the Holocaust.
A selection of rare, ancient Hebrew books from Italy -- the first country to publish them -- was displayed at the Oct. 28 event in the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room:
- A 1477 "Commentary to Psalms" by David Kimhi, printed by M. Joseph, N.H. Mordecai, and H. Montero, believed to be in Bologna. It was opened to the printers' six-line poem praising the beauty of their printed words "gleaming like sapphires in the eyes of all who see them." The Library had an exhibit "Words Like Sapphires" Oct. 2012-Apr. 2013, with several books created before and immediately after the printing press was invented in 1501, including one of the earliest printed editions of any portion of the Bible.
- A 1489 "Duties of the Heart" by Behai ben Joseph ibn Paquda, printed by Joseph Ashkenazi in Naples.
- A 1519 book printed by Gershom Soncino, perhaps the greatest of the early printers. This "Midrash on the Five Biblical Scrolls", a "first edition of one of the great classics of rabbinic literature, is a fine example of his pioneering work," the Library explained.
- A 1553 book by Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon) "Guide for the Perplexed", printed by Tobias Foa and Daniel ben Cornelius Adelkind in Sabbioneta. The beautiful title page, representing Minerva and Mars, was designed by Francesco Minizio Calvo in Rome in 1523.
- A 1594 book "Turn from Evil: A Dialogue about Gambling" by Leone Modena, printed by Giovanni di Gara in Venice. Rabbi, author, composer, and poet, Modena was "one of the most renowned Jewish figures of his day," the Library noted. The book "bears testimony to Modena's obsession with gambling and the grief it brought him."
- An exquisitely illustrated wedding contract ("Ketubbah") from 1805 in Ancona, a noted center of ketubbah production.
The small exhibit was a gem.
For more info: "Explorers Emigrants Citizens: A Visual History of the Italian American Experience from the Collections of the Library of Congress", Wednesday, Oct. 30, noon, free, Library of Congress, James Madison Building, Montpelier Room, Sixth floor, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E, Washington, D.C. The Books & Beyond discussion and signing is co-sponsored by the Library's Center for the Book and the Library’s Publishing Office. "The Most Tenacious of Minorities: The Jews of Italy", Monday, Oct. 28, noon, free, Thomas Jefferson Building, African and Middle Eastern Division Reading Room, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E., Washington D.C.