TORONTO - The Italian Canadian community continues to pay a heavy price for errors of the past. The missed opportunities, the weaknesses and the uncertainties of a short-sighted Self-Declared Leadership have characterized their cultural patrimony, one that is not known for its growth and development but for its stagnation and, oftentimes, regression.
This is the essence of the response by Tony Nardi, a well-known dramatist, director, and writer to the challenge hurled at the community via an FB posting by Corrado Paina, director at the ICCO.
And, if at times the diagnosis of the state of health of the community occasionally coincides with that of the director of the Italian Canadian Chamber of Commerce Ontario, it is in the identification of root causes and the venues for solutions to follow that place the two in diametrically different camps.
“I share - writes Nardi - some of Corrado’s sentiments but mainly with respect to the descriptive, to the criticism of the so-called community, to what is lacking”.
However, he notes that first there has to be an examination of conscience and accepting of responsibility.
“The lack of short- and long-term initiatives over the years by flagship community organizations and their ’leaders’, in particular the National Congress of Italian Canadians, The Columbus Centre, Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association, the Italian Chamber of Commerce of Ontario, etc., and the many smaller organizations who purportedly act and speak on behalf of the community, the collective, has been a tragic reality since I first came to this city in 1982 ”
Even the Media has its share of blame. ”Telelatino, CHIN, Corriere Canadese, and Channel 47 in Toronto, Omni Television”.
Among the many problems identified by Nardi is the debilitating, virtually total, absence of an investment in the past directed toward cultural, artistic endeavours – the creative; youth.
“The community heavyweight organizations have always favoured self-glorifying picnics and baroque shindigs over serious discussion on culture and fostering the innate and latent talents of the many community members, especially the young”.
Its time the community came to grips with its rural and rustic origins, insists Nardi; the community should acknowledge its rather populist background.
“As we know, historically, Italian Canadians hail from a mainly working class, peasant background”.
He offers that this goes a long way to understanding why “words like “vision” and “collective urgency” are not stemming from the mouths and hearts of the majority of Italian Canadians, but a small minority, as the one he is seeking to amass to take on the task of archiving the community’s history and prescribing its future.”
At this juncture, Nardi and Paina part company. “He’s my concern when I read “The Memory group” and “The Legacy group” (aptly Orwellian)… whose memory? Whose legacy? Who dictates which part of history qualifies as history worthy of the archive (and museumization) and which should be forgotten?”
“ I would feel better in a Mussolini regime, where the objective is clear, than in this morass of generic, battle-cry statements and plans, “where the Italian community plays the role of protagonist, founder, but also midwife”, he adds, as if for emphasis.
In other words, why trust in a group of community leaders who have so far distinguished themselves with their abysmal failure to write, promote the history of the community and to guide it towards a future?
Who are these Leaders? Who chose them as our spokespersons? Nardi asks if we are not running the risk of mystifying the past, a type voluntary acceptance of cultural serfdom.
Nardi admonishes in citing Orwell. “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
The community needs an alternative project to the one being proposed in order to extricate itself from this muck – one less elitists and more responsive to the realities of the Italian-Canadian experience. What we need is ideas, not buildings.
Here is his proposal. “The way to ensure that control of the Memory and Legacy do not fall into the hands of a few, is to start an Italian Canadian arts and science council, no strings attached, to make sure that all Italian Canadian artists and scholars who fall between the institutional cracks of Canadian public funding, get all the support they need for any creative - or research project - they wish to undertake, and let that naturally speak for the whole community as opposed to dramaturging and forcing a collective narrative for posterity.”