It is essentially American to assimilate the influences of its myriad foreign-born communities and traditions while nonetheless individuating them. And one could say that Italian culture is “one of a kind” and not readily integrated. Italianità in America has mostly resisted over-adaptation and watered-down versions of itself, creating an almost amorous symbiosis between the two.
Looking back on the last century especially, containing and cataloging the influences, subtle and gross, from the “boot” becomes increasingly difficult. At what point, to take a banal example, did espresso cease to be exclusively Italian? Beyond food, cars and fashion, which are the most mainstream catch-alls of things Italian, architectural, cinematic, literate, and artistic influences abound. Our theme is about ubiquity, the persistence of imagery and style that originate from a distinctively Mediterranean source. I recall a line by Shakespeare, who wove the ideal of Italy and its magical effect in several of his plays. This taken from a dialogue in King Richard II, whose ears prefer to hear “Report of fashions in proud Italy / Whose manners still our tardy-apish nation / Limps after in base imitation.”1
It is exciting to witness what transpires as Italian culture is noted and applauded during this year honoring its very presence in America. The collective understanding of what is best about Italy can surely have its own far-reaching effect – primarily back to its origin where optimism and pride might infuse a new generation of potential inventors, scholars and designers.
1. William Shakespeare. King Richard II, Act Two, Scene One, line 21.