In response to recent criticism from professional friends and city neighbors of the San Diego Symphony’s “The Godfather Live” event on April 24, we feel compelled to share Convivio’s position:
We empathize with the sentiments that have been expressed. Many community members assert that any “celebration” of the Mafia stereotype reflects poorly on Italian Americans. Some viewpoints have urged that the event be cancelled and our support withdrawn. But this suggestion, often framed as an imperative, raises serious concerns.
Others in our community choose different lenses through which to view Italian American cultural identity. Moreover, the apparent perceptions about the origin and planning of the event, the intentions of the event organizers, and the reactions to the event are elements that should be explored further—without a rush to judgment.
We support the San Diego Symphony and are happy it continues to raise vital funds for its important programs. We look forward to further opportunities to partner with the San Diego Symphony on more programs highlighting the broad and rich artistic contributions that Italian Americans have made to American culture.
Given our organization’s mission, vision, and values, Convivio will be organizing an event (coming soon) around the appropriation of Italian culture so that our community can have an open and useful conversation—not a debate—about these relevant issues. Many viewpoints exist, and this is a time that calls for reflection and deliberation rather than reaction and ethnic defensiveness, in order to work even more harmoniously as a community—and further educate others in San Diego about our vibrant and special culture.
In our view, the issue is initially about the Mafia party and event. Upon further scrutiny, it is also about the Italian American experience writ large, in both historical and contemporary contexts. Because Convivio is devoted to providing opportunities for dialogue around how our truest values and rituals continue to enrich American culture, we intend to conduct a forum in which these relevant issues can be explored. Questions should address the degree to which negative depictions of Italian Americans continue to persist; the effects of these images on people of Italian descent; the goals of protests (as a mechanism for response); and why, arguably, there has not been more of a focus (as a collective) on fostering alternative images of Italian Americans. What we propose is to consider this issue in a broader context. Overall, what does this current dynamic mean in the larger context of Italian Americana today?
The word Convivio itself conveys our commitment to dialogue, and so we invite the San Diego community to consider that space be offered to other viewpoints. That is a key priority for our organization, in addition to promoting positive Italian-cultural programming in San Diego, of course. Indeed, an obvious example is the Convivio Communitas Award for Leadership launched this year (and the celebration of our inaugural recipient, Joe Panetta, CEO of Biocom). We see this as an important initiative for the Italian community of San Diego, one that promotes the great elements and individuals in our local academic, business, and civic communities.
Ultimately, Convivio, through its mission, promotes all the great aspects of Italian culture, establishing many innovations that have been lacking or absent in San Diego regarding Italian culture and heritage. Our commitment is to continue to do this important work while also emphasizing the cultivation of fellowship and dialogue.
Convivio cultivates community and fellowship while celebrating all things Italian, advancing Italian cultural identity through education, community engagement, and innovative programming. For more information, please visit www.conviviosociety.org.
Bravo, Convivio, for your dedication to engaging diverse perspectives in the deeper issues underlying what may at first blush seem a technical problem to be swiftly addressed, but in fact reflects adaptive issues with broader implications for individuals, organizations, communities and society. I look forward to expanding my understanding and perspective through this forthcoming conversation.