By Aaron Schwindt
University of Southern California
On February 11, 2009 Syracuse University was honored to host the Consul General for the US in Florence, Mary Ellen Countryman, and the Vice President of the region of Tuscany, Federico Gelli, both here for Gelli’s discussion of his recent book, La legge e il sorriso. In addition, SUF director Barbara Deiming spoke briefly on the “Seeds of Legality” program, which allows students to volunteer in the fields of Corleone, Sicily as SUF continues to share this long commitment to addressing the issue of legality.
The American youth is commonly stereotyped around the world for being both ignorant and apathetic in regards to international issues. Countless Syracuse University students who attended the February 11th lecture admitted this foreign ignorance, citing American films such as Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather as their sole source of information in regards to the Mafia. Yet, as Gelli stressed, the issue of the Mafia is far from the mere entertainment that Hollywood depicts. In reality, the Mafia, along with Italy’s other large crime organizations (the Camorra in Napoli, the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria and the Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia) have caused several “mafia wars” and helped strengthen a corrupt political system, which has plagued Italy’s culture throughout the 21st century.
Although La legge e il sorriso is not Gelli’s first and only published piece, he notes that the fight for legality is his main passion. Gelli argues that in Italy, many adults are disillusioned by the issue of legality, as they have witnessed a century of little respect for the rule of law. Many of them have watched as criminals continue to rise to power in public office and influence policy. This is partly why one of Gelli’s main goals is to energize the youth in regards to these issues, as they have comparably less pessimism than older generations. More importantly though, it is the youth that can really enact change and alter the national sentiment.
Another issue Gelli raised during his lecture was that of “otherness.” Italy currently faces a national debate in regards to immigration. This issue has lead to intense racism against non-Italian citizens and remains one issue to which SUF students can more closely relate. Nevertheless, this is the main issue that Italy will be forced to address in the near future. Hopefully, Italians will listen to the advice of Gelli and will be able to find a compromise between legality and solidarity, while also accommodating those who are different.
On the 50th Anniversary of Syracuse University in Firenze (1959-2009), the responsibility of students has never been greater. Finally, the United States has a President that the international community respects and admires. In addition, the abundance of resources made available by SUF, such as the “Seeds of Legality” program, makes it easy for students to learn and become immersed in the culture. Yet, merely becoming immersed and shedding our own ignorance is not enough. SUF students now have a larger responsibility to expand the influences of their experiences and educate friends and colleagues upon returning to the US. With this opportunity, there is no better time to help reform the image of Americans from ignorant and naive to aware and impassioned.