The theme of 'italianness' is very important for us of We the Italians, and, of course, for our readers: a community of people living in the U.S. who can be, depending on the case, either born in Italy, or in the States. However, the community we are talking about is even bigger, as it also includes other readers from Italy who are interested in the relationship between the two: Italy and the United States.
According to a charismatic Italian person, the idea of "italianità" (essere italiano) should be overcome, revised, in order to introduce the new, more appropriate theory of what he calls "italicità" (essere italico)'. On one hand, it is a rather interesting and innovative concept, but, on the other, it sounds a bit challenging, provocative. The charismatic thinker we are talking about is President Piero Bassetti, who we are glad to have here for our new interview.
President Bassetti, in your book "Svegliamoci Italici! Manifesto per un futuro glocal" you talk about a community of people who has overcome the concept of 'Italian(s)' and has gone over it, beyond. Please tell us something about it?
Our idea originates from the association I am President of: "Globus et Locus", which focuses on the concept of "glocal" (global+local) and "glocalization", which is mainly about the new power of technology of eliminating the idea of space and time, and which has changed the concept set during the Peace of Westphalia (1648), concerning the notion of what is national and international.
We should be aware we live in a world in which the concepts of "global" and "local" have changed. For instance, in Italy the idea of "local" exclusively refers to what happens and lives within the borders of the country: Italy. On the contrary, we think that the community of the potential "italici" is wider, and includes not only those living in Italy, but it goes much over, beyond.
In fact, as I state in my book, the "italici" are not only Italian citizens or Italians living abroad; "italici" are also those living in the Ticino (Switzerland), in Dalmatia, the Republic of San Marino, the Italian Americans and those living in North and South America, Australia; and, to go on, also the Italian-speakers, those having or not having any Italian descendant, but who decided to have an Italian lifestyle which shares the way of being Italian. We are talking about more than 250 million people: a community that transcends from the mere concept of italianness and goes beyond.
This is my idea: according to the way the world has changed, we should try to find some political strategies (like the idea of "civilization" by Huntington) in order to aggregate all the 250 million people belonging to this new idea of "italicità".
The aggregation I am talking about does not refer to the passport, the language, or the blood, but it rather refers to a sentiment, a feeling of belonging.
It is a concept which goes much beyond the Italian Republic (only united 150 years ago) and which is linked to other grandiose historical moments, such as the Roman Empire, (the) Renaissance... This whole idea lies on a common sense of belonging to a series of values and characteristics we consider typical of the "italicità".
In "Svegliamoci italici! Manifesto per un futuro glocal" I affirm that the idea beyond "italicità" consists of: "sharing values, manners, behaviors but also a way of moving, do business, eat, feel, live art, fashion, design, taste, beauty, and pleasure: a unique way of being a "community", which has shown the capability of being "Italian" and "Italic" in different circumstances, and, especially, on a global scale".
It is for this reason that I insist there are several ways of being Italic.
For instance, the Italian Americans are basically Americans with Italian origins, some of whom also have the Italian passport. But there are also some other cases in which for example a wife of an Italian-American – who usually speaks English – has a son who is half Italian and half American, and that now, as a third generation, may supposedly speak Italian. Then we can also have the friend of an Italic family who has discovered abroad an Italian way of eating (which is not the way we cook in Italy, because New York spaghetti are different than Naples spaghetti).
All these examples are described in my book. For instance, the Italian cuisine is not necessarily the same around the world: there is the Venezuelan pizza, the Indian pizza, the Italian pizza... They are all different, but they are all pizzas. In my book there is a story of a pizza, which is important for me.
I was returning from an experience at the Cornell University, and on board of the Vulcania, I was sitting with two "paisà", two Italian Americans.
When they found out I was Italian, one of the two shyly asked me: "how do you say 'pizza' in Italian?" It took me a while before I realized that in his mind 'pizza' was an American invention, and that, maybe, he did not even know it came from another country: Italy. In his mind, 'pizza' sounded "American". Well, it is true that pizzas are made in many different ways, but a pizza is a pizza. This reminds me of a day in Naples. I found some pizza makers to whom I asked: "what do you think about the pizzas made in Venezuela, which are clearly very different from yours?" "It's fine," they replied "in this way," they explained, "when the Venezuelans come here, to Naples, they realize the Neapolitan pizza is better!"
You launched the www.italicos.com website, which is dedicated to the italics speaking Spanish. How should it be translated for the English speakers?
This is a little problem, as 'italics' in English can recall the font, the writing style. However, we thought it can work anyways, as the Italics, I mean the font, has a personality, a character that the Gothic or any other style do not have. The cursive is light, rounded, and it has a good-looking sense that reminds us of our values, the ones of the Italics, I mean.
Recently, you stated that the 'Italian sounding', the phenomenon of imitating Italian products, stating they come from Italy is not being recognized as a problem, but, rather, as an advantage, an opportunity. What do you exactly mean?
It is a mere marketing strategy. If, for example, we have 10,000 Parmesans wheels, it will be much easier to then sell 2,000 Parmigiano Reggiano versions: if the market is bigger, it will be easier to affirm the quality of the product. However, in order to do so, we need to avoid frauds, which is not only a matter of the "Made in Italy". If, in fact, this was the case, "Barilla" would not be Italian, as most of the wheat used for the pasta is not even Italian.
In a speech, the President Mattarella stated: "With an effective expression, Piero Bassetti has recently defined the way we live and the way we are - along with the will to take advantage of our (good) products - as the aspiration to become "italics", basically people affected by the "Italian sounding". A great number in the world – much more than the few natives – which is thought to reach the 300 million people." Therefore, consider "Italian" (or, better, Italic) all the things recalling a sense of italianness helps the country and, of course, its image.
This phenomenon of proposing non-Italian products as such is not a problem, but, rather, an opportunity. However, this trend should be controlled, and no fraudulent symbols should be used. For this reason, we introduce a new category: instead of the "Made in Italy", the "Made by Italics", because the pizza is not only made by Italians; in Milan, for instance, it is mostly made by Egyptians or Turkish.
If we can convince people that while they are eating cheese (either Parmigiano Reggiano or Parmesan) this belongs to the Italic world, then we can also state that 300 million people are eating Italic cheese, cheese at the Italian way.
Then Charles Caleb Colton's statement "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" is true...
No doubt. Those who are contrary to imitation are those who make the original, and of course the same who get the highest revenue from their brand. However, on the structural, political, and quantitative level imitation represents the highest supporter. I usually look at the concept of Commonwealth as a source of inspiration, an idea the Americans know very well.
The relationship between the States and Italy is very strong. Since you studied and you have family in the US, what do you think of this relationship?
If you refer to the old international approach, the relationship is good, very good: because of the presence of many Italians, and hence of italiannes. The States share many cultural and historical things with Italy, many.
There are many historical data which not only refer to the Italian emigration, but also to a previous history; for instance, in Latin America we had Italians who joined Bolivar's board, and also other Italians among the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.
I also think at the "italicità" in the States now. Look at people like Cuomo or De Blasio... when I studied at Cornell University in 1951, it was not like this: many Italians from Italy did not even know where Milan, Rome or the Vatican were. Today is not like this. Apart from being in the most important decisional mechanisms of the States, here there is the highest demand of "italicità", no comparison.
I always mention Francis Ford Coppola's interview for the RAI, the Italian public television. Someone asked him: "when you do your movies, do you think that to be Italian is a merit or not?" and he replied: "yes, my last name is Coppola, my father was Italian and he transferred onto me the sensitivity of the film-maker; however I do my movies because my mother was from New York, and she taught me about Hollywood. Basically, I count for two." This idea is gradually being accepted in the States: we are something that is being added, assimilated. America can, among all, seek power, and it is for this reason that it is hungry of beauty: ours.
Some of your books were translated and are now available also in the States, what are they?
"Svegliamoci italici!" has been translated in Spanish and distributed in South America. Regarding the English version, we are working with a prestigious publishing house, which should publish in the States. Concerning my previous essays, I have some articles published in the U.S., such as "Italic Lessons", a series of interviews that appeared on the newspaper "America Oggi"; and "Italici. An Encounter with Piero Bassetti", an American version of "Italici. Il possibile futuro di una community globale", written with Niccolò D'Acquino. There are also some papers I wrote for some important conferences I held at the Catholic University of America, Washington, and other universities, especially in Philadelphia.
In 1970 you became the first President of Lombardia, leader of the Italian economy. The idea of regional belonging is important for the Italian Americans. What is your idea about the Italian regions today, 46 years after their creation?
The intuition behind being leader in a regionalized country, Italy in this case, was fair, and started what I mentioned above: in a less international world, gradually becoming glocal, the problems related to localism were and are important. In the world we live, in which we belong to more and more systems, we all need to feel part of a global and a local context, transcending from a national state.
However, I was the one who in 1975 denounced the potential failure of the regional system, as I believed - and still do - that we did not really understand what "Region" meant. They were not supposed to be a simple division of the State, but rather an intelligent vision of the many political genius loci in Italy that could then be managed in a wiser, more modern way. However, what is at risk is not the regional, but rather the institutions which are called to interpret it. Lombardy was in part safe, as it strength made it transcend from the regional institution to which is today codified.
You are also President of the Fondazione Giannino Bassetti, which works in the field of scientific innovation. What responsibility does Italy have in this area? Apart from being responsible, are we also innovators?
The scientific-technological challenge is absolutely global, and it is fundamental in this epoch. Unfortunately, today we grow and innovate irresponsibly, mostly looking at profits and incomes.
Who is in charge of the innovation today? To make an example: for the Atomic bomb we knew the responsible, it was the President of the United States. Today we are introducing new bombs, such as medicine; we are proposing something that is very advanced, and we are doing it irresponsibly.
Maybe it lies on this point the reason why in many countries they state that the Italian culture is more sensitive than others in treating problems like these: such as in loving relationships and in life.
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