By Joseph T. Cannavo
Since the first time back in 1964 when I wrote an article for the now-defunct Philadelphia I-A Exclusive and without warning was thrown behind the mic of Philadelphia’s 1950s and ’60s multi-cultural radio station and on to eventually becoming a teacher of Italian, there hasn’t been a day when I haven’t in some way attempted to keep our rich heritage alive and vibrant. What a blessing to be able to say that!
The Delaware Valley’s Italian-American community has been my second family and many wonderful people have supported
me in my endeavors and in my personal life. They read my stories, listened to me on the radio and my students would tell me how happy they were that I was part of a movement to bring Italian to their schools’ curriculum.
I’m going to miss much of it, but the time has come to put it all behind me and to have time and freedom to pursue my hobbies and interests including, traveling, fishing, model railroading and hanging out with family and friends.
My career was challenging and rewarding. I did my best and I was well rewarded in kind by the wonderful friends, colleagues and supporters I met along the way. I was privileged to be part of a team which achieved success that we can all be proud of.
In closing, I want to lastly remind my readers and the Italian-American community-at-large that keeping our rich heritage and ancestral language alive and vibrant has been a task that I shared with many wonderful and dedicated people. We’ve come a long way
in casting off the negative image associated with us and the stigma of being “the enemy” in World War II.
There has been a resurgence of the Italian press and radio in the region, many schools and universities have added Italian to their curriculum, and there are more local Italian festivals being held now than ever before. Where we have failed is in our inability to keep today’s generation involved and interested. Yes, they may study Italian, if it is available at their school, or go to an Italian festival just to eat and go on rides, but it stops there. Italian-American organizations, both local and national, constantly lament how memberships are dwindling and festival organizers complain that there are never enough volunteers to help organize these events or to staff festival booths. Nonetheless they continue to give away free money in the form of scholarships to students of Italian ancestry without any caveat that includes giving something back to ensure that the recipients in return take an active role in some way by becoming members of the many Italian fraternal and social organizations that raise these funds.
Over the years these organizations and the Italian-American mass media have paved the way for Italian Americans to be where we are today and for our culture and heritage to be shared with numerous non-Italos. If this Italian culture and heritage renaissance is to continue, the organizations and its leaders need to look carefully at ways to use the scholarship programs as a means not to just give today’s Italian-American youth an avenue to future personal success, but as a tool to awaken them to realize they are the future of Italian culture and heritage who have the responsibility of keeping these values alive and vibrant in this country and passing it along to their children and grandchildren.
I’ve no doubt that this stance may be offensive to some, “but the truth hurts.” Unless we send a clear and strong message that just being an Italian-American or making a promise to study Italian during one’s time in college is not enough to earn an Italian-based scholarship, by the year 2050, Americans of Italian descent will go back to the days when Italian Americans changed their last names — no longer to hide their identity in order to get ahead like they did in the 20th century, but because they will see no significance to have a last name ending in a vowel or be interested anymore in being descendants
of a people that once gave the world one
of its richest and most colorful cultures.
I wish that I could name all those wonderful and numerous individuals and organizations who nurtured me and to those I had the honor of working with over the years. It would take volumes to do so. Four people who I do want to mention are no longer with me today. My grandmother Maria D’Amore who raised me with a rich and loving admiration of my Italian roots, Ralph Borrelli who gave me the first break in the radio business, John J. Palumbo, who gave me my start in Italian-American journalism, and finally Anne M. Baccari, my high school Italian teacher and close friend for many, many years.
Finally, I must take a moment to give credit to the real person who is responsible for my successes and to whom the Italian-American community owes much of the credit, my non-Italian wife Jeanne. When I first met her, it was during a time when Italian Americans showed little or no interest in our rich culture and heritage and rebuked me for being overzealous. I decided to detach myself from my interest in my heritage. I can safely say without reservation that it was Jeanne who turned me back around and made it clear that our children would be raised with much Italian pride and would learn to speak Italian as did she. It didn’t stop there. Jeanne went on to become an Italian citizen, the first non-Italian to become president of AATI Delaware County Chapter, and currently is the secretary of DIAEA. For this reason and many, many other reasons, I love her dearly.
Now I am looking forward to my retirement, but perhaps there might be many and varied times that will force me out of my new comfort zone.
Yet at the same time, as I look back, I see a time well spent, a time with few regrets … a happy time!
My thanks to you — one and all. IAH