SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
The days of Al Capone and Lucky Luciano may be well past, but that doesn’t mean Italian-Americans aren’t still living in their shadow.
“I’m from New Jersey and Italian and that’s the first question, ‘Do you have any mob ties,’” said Capt. Kelly Caggiano, Commander’s Action Group chief. “Not everybody’s related to the mob. There are a lot of stereotypes that don’t apply to most Italian-Americans you meet.”
There are some clichés that are true she added (while using hand gestures to drive the point home), but most of them are part of what makes the culture what it is.
“We don’t do anything small, everything is a very large family gathering,” she said. “I have 30 first cousins, 15 or 20 aunts and uncles and we don’t just stop the family gatherings there. I’ve got third cousins I still see and interact with regularly. It’s just a very family oriented way of growing up.”
While the mob question is one Caggiano hopes will eventually fade, there are aspects of her Italian heritage she wants to share.
“My Italian heritage is such a huge part of who I am and how I was raised,” she said. “Out here in the Midwest, where there’s not a very large Italian population, I’d really like to share that (experience).”
She’ll have the opportunity to share that experience as part of the European contingent during the annual Diversity Day event Aug. 26. In addition to Italy, other European countries that will be represented during the event include Ireland, Germany and Poland.
“Back east, there are still a lot of European ethnic neighborhoods around,” said Capt. Matt Knox, 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron mission commander. “I want to show just that a lot of these cultures kept their identity and even though links to the old country are very, very weak, most of them still kept their national or subset ethnic identity.”
Knox plans to focus his presentation on the influence of historical events on Irish music.
“The reason the Irish moved over here in such great numbers is Ireland was a very tumultuous place from roughly 1798 all the way through the early 20th century,” he said. “The Irish have a great sense of history and there’s usually a song about each one of those events.”
While Caggiano will be preparing some Italian food to share with attendees, she wants people to come away from the event knowing the Italian culture is “more than just pasta and meatballs.”
“It’s a very rich culture, a very warm and embracing culture,” she said. “You go to anybody’s house in my family and we’ll feed you until you can’t walk anymore. We’ll make sure that you are well taken care of before you leave the house. Even if you’re just dropping something off, we’ll ask you in for food.”
Regardless of what draws people to the European contingent, Knox hopes they leave with a better understanding of the role those cultures continue to have in the U.S.
“Instead of just portraying it as simply European, (I’d like people to leave) with acknowledgement of European as not a block,” Knox said. “Each European country has a tradition of its own, its own legacy and its own influence on the American experience.”
For more information about Diversity Day, including volunteer opportunities, call 567-5854.