Looking beyond “The Godfather”: Italians in America


Students can take the trolley to Little Italy and immerse themselves in the culture.

Students can take the trolley to Little Italy and immerse themselves in the culture.

The University of San Diego is known for its active educational programs relating to foreign language and diverse ethnicities. The programs aim to highlight unique perspectives on varying customs and global societies.

One of the most distinctive of these studies at USD is the Italian program, lead by Department Chair Loredana Di Martino. Di Martino works closely with Italian academics in the San Diego community to expand the cultural awareness of students participating in the program. Throughout the year, various guest speakers are invited to USD to address students and faculty specifically about Italian culture and its impact on American society.

On Sept. 24, the university hosted UCSD professor and Italian immigrant, Pasquale Verdicchio. Verdicchio teaches Italian and comparative literature, focusing on characteristics relating to cultural indifference and understanding through forms of poetry, essays, translations and novels.

He spoke about the representation of Italian and Italian-North American identities through the utilization of film and literature in popular culture. Verdicchio emphasized prominent Italian-inspired movies, ranging from “Pinocchio” to “The Godfather,” which have an immense influence on the overall perception of Italians and the “Mafioso” culture in America. Verdicchio believes these films are grossly inaccurate in representing Italians.

“[These films] show the characterization of Italians in the worst possible manner,” Verdicchio said.

He then discussed various ethnic stereotypes and how we as a community can create an overall dissolution of these generalizations through increased understanding of Italian ideals.

The event was highly praised by USD students and faculty, including associate professor of economics, Alan Gin. Gin is widely known for his research and studies of public finance, urban transportation and the economy within the San Diego community, but understands the importance of Verdicchio’s message for students.

“It helps in terms of dealing with diversity in the United States and shows the social forces that affect communities in the San Diego region,” Gin said.

At USD, clubs and organizations are specifically organized to help gain a broader understanding of global cultures. The Italian Culture and Language Organization, ICLO, gives students on campus the opportunity to learn more about Italian customs and creates a connection with international, Italian-speaking students. The organization works with the overhead department to host off-campus events and well-known speakers.

On Nov. 9, the Italian studies department is holding an event specifically for first-year students participating in the Intersections LLC, during which they will have the chance to take a historic and contemporary tour of the Little Italy neighborhood of San Diego.

For USD students not in the LLC, but who are still interested in Italian culture as it relates to film, the San Diego Symphony will be performing, “The Godfather LIVE,” in Spring 2015. This exclusive, one-night performance takes place on April 25, 2015 and will bring Coppola’s film to concert halls for the first time.

USD boasts a large amount of international students, who come from distinct cultural backgrounds.

Lia Fior, a freshman at USD, has lived in both the United States and Italy, but had the majority of her schooling overseas.
“It was a great experience for me,” Fior said. “I was fully immersed in the Italian language and culture, so it created a more profound sense of global inclusivity.”

She is also enrolled in several Italian cultural and language classes and is thoroughly enjoying her involvement in the department so far.

However, one doesn’t need to be Italian or even take Italian to enjoy events and talks like the one given by Verdicchio. USD offers an incredible array of opportunities to immerse oneself in the Italian culture or any of the many cultures represented here on campus.