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OSIA Endorses HR 2442

OSIA Denounces "Wrongful Misrepresentation" of Italian Americans

National Executive Director Testifies Before House Judiciary Committee on
"Wartime Violations of Italian American Civil Liberties Act"

Contact: Diane E. Crespy, (202) 547-2900

Washington, D.C., Oct. 26, 1999 - The Order Sons of Italy in America® (OSIA) criticized the continuous defamation of Italian Americans in film and on television today when OSIA National Executive Director Dr. Philip Piccigallo appeared before the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the House Judiciary Committee to testify on behalf of OSIA's endorsement of H.R. 2442, the Wartime Violations of Italian American Civil Liberties Act, which calls on the president and the U.S. government to acknowledge the violation of Italian Americans' basic human rights during World War II.

"We have here a clear case of wrongful misrepresentation, and it is offensive to all Italian Americans," Piccigallo said during the hearing, held in the Rayburn House Office Building, referring to the story of Italian Americans during World War II that is neither included in history books or taught in schools. Piccigallo added that, despite his doctorate in American history and his two published books covering this period of time, he had been unaware of the forced evacuation and other violations.

During World War II more than 600,000 Italian Americans were moved to internment camps or forced to remain within five miles of their home; subjected to curfews; lost their jobs; had radios, flashlights, and other everyday items confiscated; put on trial; and treated as a threat to national security despite the lack of any evidence indicating they were involved in espionage.

"Similarly, today, we deal with a seemingly ever expanding reality of wrongful misrepresentation of Italian Americans in the form of continuous stereotyping and defamation by the American entertainment industry," Piccigallo continued. "This past July, the New York Times wrote that 'Italian Americans are the Stereotype Hollywood Can't Refuse,' and certainly the Times is correct. Instances of such stereotyping and defamation are everywhere in our present society, and we ar constantly beseiged by complaints and reports from OSIA members and other Italian Americans. These and other wrongful isrepresentations hurt, impede, stigmatize, damage reputations and obstruct opportunities. Perhaps more than any other, this is the compelling reason to enact HR 2442."

Piccigallo added, "[OSIA does not necessarily believe] there is heroism or nobility in victimization. Heroism and nobility are to be found, however, in truth and in rescuing an important series of events from historical oblivion. This is a major reason why [this bill] is so significant."

Piccigallo's testimony emphasized the role that OSIA has played in bringing this dark period of history to light. For many years OSIA has supported the effort, with a traveling exhibit called "Una Storia Segreta," "A Secret Story," that was put together in the early 1990s by OSIA members from California. OSIA has also provided financial backing, sponsoring the trip of OSIA members Rose Scudero, Joe Ardent, and Lawrence DiStasi to Washington, D.C., in July to take part in a press conference held by Reps. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the sponsors of H.R. 2442, in House Majority Leader Dick Armey's (R-Texas) office.

"I am not Italian, but I have a profound admiration for their contributions to our country," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) said prior to hearing testimony. "...The truth has to be told ... this is only the beginning." After the testimony, Hyde said he would do what he could to see that the testimonials are given to schools and writers across the country so "the light can shine in."

OSIA member Rose Scudero was a child in Pittsburgh, Calif., when she, her mother, and her sisters were removed from their home and relocated. She recounted the story to the committee, explaining the fear and uncertainty she felt; she even gave some of her possessions away to friends because she did not know if she would ever be back.

Lazio and Engel opened up the hearing with testimony explaining their decision to create the bill. "We owe it to the Italian-American community, especially those who endured these abuses, to recognize the injustices of the past. Documentation and education about the suffering of all groups of Americans who face persecution is important in order to ensure that no group's civil liberties are ever violated again," Engel said.

Others present to testify were Doris L. Pinza, wife of the late opera singer Ezio Pinza who was arrested because of his alien status, and ironically after his release sang the Star Spangled Banner during a welcoming home ceremony for Gens. Patton and Doolittle; Colonel Angelo de Guttadauro, whose father was served an Expulsion Order, lost his job and forced to move away from his family; Domenick DiMaggio, brother of the late Joe DiMaggio, whose parents were declared enemy aliens while he was in the U.S. Navy; Lawrence Di Stasi, historian and project director of "Una Storia Segreta;" Anthony E. La Piana, representative of the National Italian American Council; and Matthew DiDomenico Sr., executive vice president of the National Italian American Foundation.

Founded in 1905, OSIA is the largest organization representing the nation's 26 million Italian Americans, with 550,000 members across the country. OSIA and its anti-defamation arm, the Commission for Social Justice® (CSJ), have long been champions of the fight against prejudice and negative stereotyping that continually plague Americans of Italian descent.