This letter invites you to join a fledgling organization known as BACIO. Bacio is the Italian word for “kiss” but its acronym stands for Bridgeport Area Cultural Italian Organization. It was founded in 2003 with a mission of preserving, enhancing and fostering our Italian roots, culture, heritage and traditions. It was conceived as a significant effort to preserve our heritage by learning what our heritage is; what was involved in the day to day living of our parents and grandparents; what were the customs of their day for celebrating the great feast days, what were the foods, what was their world like.
I have struggled to try to put into words a clarion call to all of Italian ancestry to take measures to preserve the very best of our heritage and to pass it on as best we can to the next generation. I could not find the words to inspire you and to move you to action. So I did the next best thing: I am including in this letter the Epilogue of the book “The Proud Italians” written by Carl A. Pescosolido. After you read it I will add a little of what BACIO is all about.
“We might well ask what this world would he like if it were not for the contributions of Italy and her children. Take away the Italian elements of our society, and what is left? It would he im possible to speculate. Not only have the Italians contributed more than their share to the fabric of our society, they are central to its very composition. From the dawn of Western Civilization, Italy has provided leadership, organization, brilliance and inspiration to every society she has come in contact with. Without the influence of Italy, the only certain thing about our world is that it would be an immeasurably poorer place. What, for instance, could be expected from a world which never benefited from the tremendous presence of the Roman Empire? The Romans not only conquered Europe, they civilized it. They brought running water, monuments, schools and libraries into the virtual jungles of primitive European society. They intro duced the concepts of city planning, organized governments, standardized coinage and established laws to backward, tribal groups. Great Roman thinkers and writers expanded the limits of the human mind while great Roman generals and statesmen extended the scope of the Empire itself. The Romans brought peace, order and learning to the entire western world and laid the foundations for all of the many different societies which would later spring up in ancient Roman lands. The Roman influence lived on after the end of the Roman Empire in many different ways. Perhaps the most important exten sion or the Empire was the Christianizing of Europe. Without the Romans, who is to say what the state of religion would he in today’s world? Without the conversion of Constantine, we might not be living in a Christian world at all. After three hundred years of fighting against Christianity, the Romans finally embraced it in such a way as to ensure its success everywhere. Ten million people were subjects of Rome when Christianity was declared the official state religion. Ten million people were then required by law to declare themselves Christians. From that moment forward, our world was formed by Christian thinking.
While the teachings of Christ might well have prevailed even without the help of the Romans, it was the Roman Empire which gave Christianity its organization. Without the Romans, not only would Christianity have had to fight its way into many different cultures, it would have had to do so without a universal language that everybody could understand, and without an underlying structure. Christianity marched across Europe on the roads built by Rome, both literally and figuratively. Not only did the Roman Empire make it easier for Christianity to dominate Europe, Rome itself became the center of the Christian world. The city became a holy city, and pilgrims from near and far came to Italy for religious enlightenment. Even though Italy itself was politically fragmented during the Middle Ages, Rome remained the most important city in Europe. Although the Roman Empire and Christianity are two great gifts from Italy, the third gift. the Rinascimento, was perhaps the greatest of all. The Rinascimento combined the enlightenment and learning of the Romans, the spirituality of the Christians and the natural joyous creativity of Italy to produce one of the most fruit ful, artistic and exciting periods in human history. The great painters, sculptors. architects and writers of the Rinascimento have never been equalled or even challenged. During the Rinascimento, Italy brought forth more intellectual, artistic and creative giants than any country ever has before or since. Not only did Rinasci mento Italy give us a tremendous number of geniuses, the Italian humanist movement inspired people from other countries and showed the whole western world new ways of seeing.
The advances of the Rinascimento were not limited to the worlds of art and literature. Italian universities taught astronomy, mathematics, law and medicine to students from every Western country. Such great men as Galileo brought about revolutions in the world of science, while such brave explorers as Columbus set out westward to discover new continents. Columbus is such a towering figure in our history that other countries, such as Spain, have tried to claim him for their own, hut the fact remains that Columbus was an Italian born in Genoa. Although other European countries sponsored most of the explorations of the New World, Italian navigators were at the helm of practically every major American exploration. Even the head of England’s first great expedition, John Cabot, was really an Italian. We all should know him by his real name: Giovanni Cabotto. The great advances of the Rinascimento ensured that Italy remained the most highly cultured and civilized place in Europe even though the country itself was dominated by foreign powers and torn by war. Well into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Italy was the land of inspiration for countless people: riot just artists, writers and architects, but scientists, politicians and law makers. Many other European countries owe Italian culture a great debt. France, for instance, developed her highly cultivated and refined society under the influence of Italian born leaders such as Caterina dei Medici. England, as we know it today, was shaped by Italian ideas and images brought back with the luggage of the Grand Tourists. Even the English countryside was remade in the image of Italy.
Where would we be without the Italians? What would the quality of life be without their countless contributions? Nowhere, perhaps, would we feel the loss as deeply as in the world of music. It was an Italian, Guido d’ Arezzo, who invented the musical scale which made it possible for music to be recorded precisely, and from that point on, the art of musical composition soared to heights never before attained. Italy gave us as many great composers as she gave us artists, and Italy’s music brought new inspiration to composers from all of the countries of Europe. Not only did Italy give us some of the greatest musicians of all time, she also gave us almost all of our most important musical instruments. Imagine a symphony without violins, cellos, and pianos and you will begin to see how poor the musical world would be without the Italian contribution. Now take away the great Italian musical forms, such as the opera, and the great Italian composers such as Verdi and the great Italian performers such as Caruso and Pavarotti. Without the Italian influence, who can say whether we would even have any classical music at all?
We Americans should be particularly proud of the Italian roots of our country. America was discovered by Italians, explored by Italians, and in a large part built by Italians. … For three thousand years, Italy has been the cultural leader of the western world, and she is not about to stop now.
Over the centuries millions of words have been written about Italy. Every aspect of Italian culture has been explored and analyzed, every facet of Italian politics and history has been examined and critiqued, every beautiful landscape and building has been described and praised. The one thing lacking in all of the books that I have ever read or seen is a true perspective on the greatness of Italy’s contribution to our world from the beginnings of history up to the present day. Students of art, music or literature may learn about Italy’s leadership in their fields without realizing that Italy’s influence has also extended into practically every other aspect of their lives. I even know lawyers who will quote legal terms in Latin without taking account of the fact that it was the Romans who gave them their legal principles as well as their legal vocabulary. This lack of perspective on Italy is what prompted me to add these few thousand words to the millions upon millions which already exist praising the great achievements of the Italian people.
Why is having a better perspective on Italy so important? It is not simply so that those of us who have Italian ancestry can be proud of our heritage, nor is it so that people who do not have Italian roots will treat those of us who do with respect and reverence. Learning about our past is the key to understanding our present and controlling our future. One of Rome’s greatest writers and orators, Marcus Tullius Cicero, put it best when he said ‘not to know what happened before we were born is to remain perpetually a child, for what is the worth of human life unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history? ”.
BACIO has tried to do its part in carrying on our roots. We have Italian language classes, a wine making class, a “Divine Comedy” discussion group, an event a month involving an Italian movie and a lecture in alternate months. We put on a spring concert in 2004 and we are putting on a Christmas concert on December 11, 2005. We are staging the first CARNEVALE in February 2006. We just did a Connecticut premiere showing of the Hollywood movie “Uncle Nino” starring Joe Mantegna, Ann Archer and Pierrino Mascarino who appeared in the Bridgeport area promoting the movie and answering questions and signing photos of himself. We hope to bring this movie back in the spring of 2006. We also sponsor a truly home-style dinner in October which we call “Big Night” after the movie of the same name.
We have plans to bring from Italy cultural events that portray the kinds of happenings that were part of Italy since Renaissance days. We plan to get into cooking classes. We plan to sponsor trips to Italy. We plan to offer as many things as possible that help fulfill our mission.
I know this has been a long letter. I hope you are inspired to join us. The dues are only $60.00 a year for a family living under one roof. For the first year at least you will become a member of NIAF (National Italian American Foundation) – a benefit of your BACIO membership.
Every organization has two kinds of members: those who choose to further the aims of the organization by taking an active role in its doings, and those who appreciate and support the organization by being a dues paying member. We need both kinds. My hope is to have every Italian, Italian-American, and American-Italian join us so that we can fulfill the mission above stated.
Please do not put this letter and the application aside. Fill out the card and mail it in today. Too many good intentions go by the wayside with the lapse of time. If you need answers, please call me. I so look forward to enrolling you in BACIO. By the way wouldn’t a membership in BACIO for your child, parent, grandparent, friend be a great stocking gift for Christmas?
Very truly yours,
Leonard S. Paoletta