This book reminds me of our museums. It’s eye-popping, educational, and fun—all at the same time. No question about it, truth is stranger than fiction.”
– Jimmy Pattison
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!
There are many reasons Italians have lived with Non-Italian names over the years. Marriage was often the cause; mother, but not father, being Italian was another. The desire to avoid discrimination or achieve social acceptance are just two others.
Among the most interesting scenarios are the cases of co-opting—which is defined as “Taking into a group (for a faction, movement or culture). To absorb, assimilate, take over, appropriate.”
A few examples of the fine art of co-opting. The famous ‘English’ explorer, John Cabot, was Italian. The greatest ‘Spanish’ Dancer of all time, Jose Greco, was Italian. And believe it or not, Iron Eyes Cody, the ‘American Indian’ made famous by the classic anti-litter campaign of the seventies (where the single tear ran down his face), was also Italian. These Italians have not only been appropriated, over the years the perpetrators, pursuing their own agendas, have used every shameful device known to man to hide the fact that these superstars are Italian.
The French have been the masters at co-opting. The infamous ‘French’ Emperor shown on the cover, Napolean Bonaparte, was Italian. And then there is this incredible trifecta (to use a racetrack term). The quintessential ‘French’ song, ‘La Vie En Rose,’ was written by an Italian, Luigi Gugliemi, using his French name R. S. Luiguy; the quintessential ‘French’ chanteuse, Edith Piaf, who wrote the French lyrics to ‘La Vie En Rose’ and made it her signature song, was Italian on her mother’s side (Piaf’s real name was Edith Giovanna Gassion); and to top it off, Edith Piaf’s prodigy, and lover, the quintessential ‘French’ actor, Yves Montand, was Italian (his real name was Ivo Livi). There are numerous other examples in the book—the French even co-opted the world’s oldest continuously operating restaurant, which is located in Paris.
But one shouldn’t get too angry with the French. Part of the fun of CLOSET ITALIANS is that the book helps the world understand the real meaning of the French expression ‘corriger la fortuna,’ which means, more or less, ‘to correct one’s circumstances through denial of the past.”