While the Italian and Sicilian Mafias do exist in the United States, Gambino insists they are not any larger or more involved in crime than any other ethnic group. Author Joe Feagin quotes Gambino on the Mafia and crime rates among Italian-Americans. "To put the matter simply, there is no evidence that current Italian-American crime rates are higher than those of other major ethnic groups. With far less than 1% of Italian-Americans falling into the 'gangster' category, the ludicrousness of that stereotype is evident. Crime in the United States, organized or otherwise, remains a multi-ethnic phenomenon" (Feagin 115)
In the past few years the Mafioso rivals the cowboy as the chief figure in American folklore, and the Mafia rivals the old American frontier as a resource for popular entertainment. The problems presented by the image of a monolithic, criminal Italian subculture called the Mafia, among the most severe and persistent difficulties which Italian-Americans have had to face, now overshadow all other obstacles to Italian-Americans in overcoming their predicament in the United States (Gambino 274).
Gambino sees this stereotype, made so popular in "The Godfather," by Mario Puzo, as a serious slander on all Italian-Americans. Sadly, most Americans seem to think this is the only occupation for the head of any Italian or Sicilian family. While the stereotype is lingering, Gambino tries hard to dispel it, and show that the Italian love of family does not always translate into a Mafia-style family; in fact, the percentage of Mafia families among Italian-Americans is very small. His straightforward comments about this stereotype and its origins can do a lot to dispel the "Mafia myth," and make people more aware of the danger and unfairness of using stereotypes to identify any ethnic group.
Does Gambino succeed in his goal of changing the perceptions of Americans about Italian-Americans? In a word, yes. His book has become a "Bible" on ethnic history and relations, and is often quoted by scholars and reviewers. He has given and intimate and personal account of what it is like to be an Italian-American in the U.S., and how these immigrants can mold to their new surroundings, while holding on to their very special culture and traditions. He sees the opportunities in the United States as varied and growing all the time.
While he sees the loss of some extremely important Italian traditions, such as keeping close with the entire extended families, he sees many Italian traditions cherished and handed down from generation to generation, such as family recipes, holiday celebrations, and family histories.
Finally, Gambino hopes that Italian-Americans can create and contribute vibrantly to the culture of the U.S. He says, "...revitalization of Italian-American traditions and the contribution in a new form to an enriched American culture" (Gambino 327).
The Author believes "The creative ethnicist uses 'his ethnic background as a point of departure for growth rather than as proof of his worth,' and 'gains insight into himself that gives a sense of meaningful, realistic self-control of one's life.' Gambino calls for an 'educated ethnic awareness that will provide the creative ethnicist with identity, energy and direction'" (Gardaphu 198). Gambino's work is a fresh and appealing look into the lives of Italian-Americans, and should be a must read for anyone wanting to learn more about these interesting immigrants.
Feagin, Joe R. Racial and Ethnic Relations. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1978.
Gardaphu, Fred L. Italian Signs, American Streets: The Evolution of Italian-American Narrative. Durham, NC: Duke University Press,…