In the raucous race for governor of New York this year between Andrew M. Cuomo and Carl P. Paladino, an unexpected debate is mesmerizing the Italian-American community and increasingly spilling out into public view: Is the contest shattering long-held ethnic stereotypes or reinforcing them?
The tension has recast a milestone election for the state’s largest ethnic group, which has spent decades battling for political might.
But the two men are starkly different in how they view and express their Italian identity.
Mr. Cuomo, the Democrat who is the state’s attorney general, prides himself on transcending the image of the unpolished, old-country Italian, and credits his father, Mario M. Cuomo, the former governor of New York, for debunking many of those stereotypes. ...
By contrast, Mr. Paladino, a Republican real estate developer from Buffalo, seems to relish his reputation as an undiluted, street-smart, up-by-the-bootstraps Italian.
He travels to Italy up to a dozen times a year. He sometimes lapses into Italian. And he developed a habit of greeting associates, Italian-style, with a kiss on the cheek.
The quiet, cautious Italians get less publicity, of course, but remembering them helps you understand things like why the Italian World Cup soccer team is traditionally among the least flashy. They would be extremely satisfied getting out of the first round with a 1-0 win followed by two nil-nil draws.
Henry Kissinger, a close student of stereotypes, cited the more boring Suspicious Peasant version in his 1986 article on how World Cup teams reflect national character:
The Italian style reflects the national conviction, forged by the vicissitudes of an ancient history, that the grim struggle for survival must be based on a careful husbanding of energy for the main task. It presupposes a correct assessment of the opponent's character, paired with an unostentatious and matter-of-fact perseverance that obscures many intricate levels on which the competition takes place. . ... But once the Italian team has imposed its pattern, it can play some of the most effective, even beautiful soccer in the world -- though it will never waste energy simply on looking good.