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Arizona Ethnic Studies Bill And Then Some...

Arizona Ethnic Studies Bill And Then Some...

Anthony Julian Tamburri (May 16, 2010)
Cittadini di Trattinopoli...

I wrote about one thing on the Calandra Institute list-serve (the Arizona Ethnic Studies Bill), and, among the many responses, people spoke to another issue, as you can see below. Ben venga! I thought this might be a better forum in which to continue that discussion that was spontaneously born.

I also believe that we still live willy nilly in that ever-so, never-mentioned world of Hyphenville, as I wrote in an essay more than twenty years ago that was, for that time, courageously published by Guernica Editions.


Last week I sent out an email on the Calandra Institute list-serve criticizing the recent Arizona law that prohibits classes dealing with ethnicity according to the perceptions of those in power, we can only assume. In that email, I made a “smart-aleck” (some might categorize) reference to a previous law passed “three weeks” prior in Arizona (Arizona Senate Bill 1070), which provides for any “lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency of a country, city, town, or other political subdivision of this state where reasonable suspicion exists (emphasis added) that the person as an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States” (Arizona Senate Bill 1070, Sec. 2, Article 8, B). What I did not address in my original email below is the issue of illegal/undocumented immigration/border-crossing, which is, in fact, what most responses addressed in reaction to my email.


As was apparent in the plethora of comments articulated by many about this law nation-wide, the phrase “reasonable suspicion exists” is simply too vague. “Reasonable suspicion,” as many have stated, may very well include skin hue and accent. That said, “reasonable suspicion,” in the minds of some, may include, to be sure, an Hispanic (and/or foreign) sounding name or surname. Further still, this may also extend to dress, be it style, cut, or colors. Hence, one has at his/her disposal a series of “reasonabl[y] suspicio[us]” criteria either to abuse or for which to yell foul.


This is the part of that bill to which I parenthetically referred.  Indeed, I continue to contend, this bill can readily lead to that which—contrary to the feelings that some articulated in response to my email (see below)—is no different from what Italian immigrants experienced at the beginning of the twentieth century here in the United States, as the following two “cartoons” demonstrate.



My original email is as follows, with the various comments (I have withheld identity when signed) of those who reacted. I shall address the education bill at another time. I thought it timely, instead, to address that which I did not discuss but came up nevertheless in the reactions/responses of those who did write. I have also refrained from commenting on their remarks. We may very well address them in another forum that would be open to all. They raise some significant issues that we in the Italian/American community need to address.


On Thu, May 13, 2010 at 12:22 PM, I wrote:


While one might “rationalize” (NOT condone) certain consequences of the Smith Act of 1940, which, in 1941, ultimately designated citizens of Germany, Italy, and Japan “enemy aliens” in this country (my grandmother being one of them), the more recent bill passed and signed into law yesterday in Arizona is ever so complexing, especially in this global world, in 2010. Indeed, given that this comes on the heels of another Arizona bill of three weeks ago, one might sarcastically muse, what’s in the water out there…

As stated in the LA Times, the bill basically “bans schools from teaching classes designed for students of a particular ethnic group.” Arizona’s State Supt. of Public Instruction, Tom Horne, sees the bill as targeting Chicano and/or Mexican-American studies programs in the Tucson school district.

Why should we care, beyond, of course, the general issues of human decency? Many of us in Italian-American studies, at various levels and to varied degrees, have and continue to campaign for Italian and Italian-American courses to be part of the curricula in the public school districts in which we live, as well as at the college/university level. Such a bill, as the one Arizona Gov. Brewer has signed, would disallow such campaigns. Such a bill, in retrospect, would have disallowed the momentous Italian-American curriculum that was spearheaded in the 1980s by then First Lady Matilda Cuomo (Italian Americans-Looking Back-Moving Forward, published by the New York State Education Department in 1992), as well as the equally impressive New Jersey Italian and Italian American Heritage Commission’s curriculum (K-12) that is currently being used in numerous school districts across the Hudson.

We will have more to say about this in the coming days. Stay tuned to this list-serve, Italics2.0, and


Alla riscossa,

Anthony Julian Tamburri, Ph.D.

Professor and Dean


The comments sent, to date, are:


Sunday, May 16


Yes but we came here legally and past brethren stood on a line in Ellis Island to be accepted into the USA and were registered and inoculated. Also we must remember we didn't create such a threat to the USA as terrorists do today as they illegally enter south of the border. Please don't compare the Italian-American experience to all other nationalities.




Friday, May 14


Dear Dr. Tamburri,

The law in arizona just mirrors the federal law and is an enforcement law.  We must be the only country in the world that does not control its borders.  Did you know going into Mexico illegally is punishable by 2 years in prison?  If you are a repeat offender, then you are sentenced to 10 years.  Did you know that Cubans refugees attempting to reach our shores but end up in Mexico are beaten and sent back to Cuba?

With the crimes occuring in AZ (and across the country), I don't blame them for doing something about it.  Did your grandmother sneak into this country illegally?  My parents came in the 60s and had to jump through hoops to get here.  The point is they came here legally and were documented. Why should that change in this "global" world?  Shouldn't we know who is coming and going across our borders?  Perhaps, it would stem some of the drug flow across our borders and reduce the kidnappings, etc.  With all due respect, you should open your eyes to what is going on around you.

I understand your point on the ethnic studies and agree with you 100% but you should not lump these bills together since they are completely different.

Thank you for your time.





Friday, May 14


Prof. Riscossa,

What ever happened to the cause for AP Italian language in the US? threatened with discontinuation, wasn't it?

I lobbied and continue to lobby for the ITALIAN RESOURCES IN ITALY, to pay or supplement those precious few throughout the USA interested in mastering Italian (anch'io lungo tanti anni), alla French Aliance system. But haven't heard a word.

Any updates very important to me.




Thursday, May 13


I stand with you on this. I think the bill signed by Gov. Brewer is xenophobia at its worst in modern times.




Thursday, May 13


Arizona bans ethnic studies courses. We were wondering when you would come out on something like this, on whose side you would be on and how you would try to substantiate any position.

Well, now we all know.

You came out anti-USA and you have NO CLUE of what you are saying, PLUS you cite the L.A. Times???  Have you lost your mind?

If you try to spin anti-USA yarns and propaganda, we assure you that more than 70% of "US" (Italian-Americans, with my parents from Italy, near Firenze) will be against you (and, ironically, our families in Italy will be on our side...or do you not know what is happening there?). 

Arizona basically should a page from the REAL Italians.

So should you.




Thursday, May 13

Dear Administrator,.
         What Country Do we live in???  Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Mexico, etc etc etc.

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. of Italian Parents, that is  First Generation

American Italians.  Only those that are Italian Nationals can be called Italian Americans.

I am not, nor will ever be, ashamed of my Families Cultural Background.  I am AMERICAN of ITALIAN DESCENT.  When you go to live in another country you would have to learn the language of that country.

The USA never stopped anyone from learning another language.

I was born in 1950, but even I know there was alot to be fearful of in 1940.  If all the countries the immigrants came from was so great, why did they leave them?!?!

All the early immigrants that did not speak English, were more than willing to learn.  So learning another language in the USA should go back to being up to the Individual.

As far as ARIZONA is concerned I AM PROUD that one of the STATES in the USA is trying to do something the FEDERAL Government has been failing to do.  

UNITED WE STAND divided WE FALL.   This is something the Generation that lived in 1940

UNDERSTOOD.  So as a former New Yorker and a resentful resident of California, I totally disagree with any State in the USA boycotting another one.  For all the Flaws of the USA, I would rather be in this country than any other.  HOW ABOUT YOU & YOUR FACULTY?

We don't need a bunch of modern day Poncho Villa's coming across the Border with AK47's.

Yours Truly,

A concerned citizen  of the USA




Thursday, May 13


Having grown up in the 40s, one of the most stupid things was that German and Italian were no longer taught in public schools (Italian rarely was anyway).  Not to mention that these are languages of culture and needed for any serious research; when we are at war wouldn't it behoove us to know the language of the other combatants?!

Now any non-Anglo person and his/her culture is deemed undesirable/illegal and no-one is to learn anything about them in Arizona.  Same absolute stupidity!  Who dreams this stuff up and where will it end? Boycott Arizona and any businesses that support such nonsense until they come to their senses!

Thank you for taking a public stand against it.




Thursday, May 13


Dear Dean and Professor,

We are not in agreement with the attached e mail you sent us. Many are aware of the serious problems in our western States.

Your passion is great but it would be nice to hear some solutions instead of bad historical comparisons, inaccurate statements and attacks.




Thursday, May 13


Salve a tutti,

il conto alla rovescia appena iniziato! Un conto alla rovescia che porterà all'impoverimento della specie umana se altri stati (per quanto riguarda gli U.S.) o altre nazioni prenderanno provvedimenti. La societa che regredisce porta sempre a conflitti insanabili, che trovano soluzioni nei macro tempi, ma che sono sempre deleteri per chi le subisce senza avere dei mezzi opponenti.

Auguriamoci che prevalga la cultura, la fermezza della parola e della ragione, del dialogo.

Auguri a tutti noi!

Greetings from Bologna (Italy).




Thursday, May 13


Not to mention that current US Secty of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano was the 21st Gov. of Arizona [2003-2009] and the third female gov. and was the first woman to win re-election...among her big planks is Immigrant Rights...



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Great job! It is shameful

Great job! It is shameful how little most Italian Americans know of their histories - their family's history as well as the community's history, not to mention American history or immigration history. Nothing irritates me more than the Italian American (such as those whose letters you quote) who talks of Ellis Island and coming here legally 80 or 90 years ago. Really? What does that mean, legal and illegal in context? 1910 v. 2010? It's apples and oranges. Coming here legally in 1910 or even 1920 meant little more than buying a ticket and showing up. There were no applications, no visas, no passports, no quotas... if you could buy a ticket, you came. You passed through customs (quite easily, in most cases) and you were in. (If you were an Italian immigrant in 1910 once you were in, you probably didn't ever become a citizen and you didn't ever learn English. You probably worked heard, raised a family, and kept to yourself. ) How can one compare that with the piles of red tape and hoops now? What is particularly ironic about these Italian Americans is that do not realize their ancestors were the disgusting, unwashed, dangerous masses that prompted the xenophobia and national quota laws of the 1920s. In sum, the Italian immigrants of 1910 - legal or illegal - share more in common with Mexican immigrants - legal or illegal - in 1910 than any other immigrant group in American history. The fact that most IA can't see that is reveals their own laziness and inability to scratch the surface of their own history.

sciorra's picture

Bravo, Anthony!

It is obvious that those who wrote in response to your original email have but a vague understanding of American history in general and Italian-American history in particular (Italian immigrants were not accepted when they arrived, they were viewed as a threat, they were seen as terrorists, etc.). Their comments are a testament for the continued need for ethnic studies in the United States. Thank you for being both a public intellectual and a progressive Italian-American voice. Joseph