The G7 interior ministers are gathering in Ischia, Italy, the Neapolitan island that is home of my ancestors and husband, Oct. 18 to 20, 2017. Reports indicate that these world leaders will be discussing counter-terrorism efforts. Specifically, they will talk about cybersecurity and combatting online recruitment on the part of terrorists.
On a Lighter Note at the G7
But what’s more interesting to someone like me, with ties to the island, is what a high-profile gig this is for the natives. Hotels, restaurants, and local politicians are rolling out the red carpet, practically literally. Ischia Porto’s mayor established a defined path to welcome G7 guests upon arrival at the port. Security is in full force. News reports indicate that schools will be closed during the height of the meetings. Journalists are beginning to arrive and take stock.
Good for a Laugh
One of the funnier reports I read comes from La Reppublica Napoli. It published a photo of a fruit stand in Ischia. Attached to the tomatoes is a sign that reads, “Nun facite guaie cu stu G7.” This more or less translates to “Don’t make a mess at this G7.” While this gives me a giggle, I think the message has two audiences actually.
For one, the fruit seller is warning natives to be gracious and responsible hosts. Having this assignment is a chance for Ischia to get some publicity. The place is beautiful, but few people outside of Italy and some other select areas (parts of Germany and Europe, Russia, Ukraine) know about it. Americans, in fact, are much more familiar with neighboring Capri.
Second, the sign is a message to protesters, who are expected to descend on the island, too. In speaking to natives, I know that’s a concern.
Italy holds the G7 presidency at the moment. In fact, it welcomed the G7’s prime ministers and presidents, including U.S. President Donald Trump, in Taormina, Sicily earlier in the year. As an outsider looking in, I can’t help but imagine that Italy is trying to flaunt the beauty of the south. The mezzogiorno as it is sometimes called is notorious for its economic challenges, crime syndicates, and political corruption.
Lately, there has been more of a trend toward undoing some of that ugliness. Some leaders want to put a spotlight on the positive aspects. Instead of calling for secession, some Italians want to show the promise of the south. Just to look at the splendid sea, lush vegetation, and rich history is to see what could be. For at least the next few days, it is Ischia’s turn to shine on the world stage. That can only be a good thing. After all, to know Ischia is to love it. Perhaps no one recognizes this as much as I do.
We have problems. You have let me down in so many ways that I’m not sure we can go on. Yet, I can’t let you go. I need you for my very survival. I studied you in high school, at the George Washington University, and on the streets of Manhattan. I put all my faith in you in the hopes that we could give voice to the people’s grievances, call out the wrong doers, shine a light on the do gooders, and level the playing field for everyone. At first, anything seemed possible as long as I was holding your hand. We were part of the fourth estate of government, a necessity to checks and balances. In high school, we railed against censorship together. In college, we had the town talking about the party culture and rape on campus long before anyone else was. Our friends there stuck it to the campus leaders when they were being shady or downright lying. After college, our words contributed to discussions about college admissions, its return on investment, and cheaters in MBA programs.
We seemed poised to keep everything in order, help people who needed it, forge stronger communities, and even protect democracy. We’d have to do it all while making money because this is capitalist America, and you’re a powerless nobody without some green. No matter how strong your message, how honest you are, or how beloved, you need cold hard cash, baby. It’s a fact, even if a disturbing one some young people would rather ignore.
Perhaps, that was our problem. Perhaps, I rested too much on our shoulders. No one can do all that and make a buck. Now, we’ve both collapsed. To be fair, I gave up on you years ago. We haven’t been together for some time now. Instead, I’ve watched you from afar, from my couch and desk chair. I’ve read your words in papers, such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, and Time magazine, and I’ve seen your programming on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News (yes, that qualifies as news nowadays). Much like a stalker girlfriend, I’m more into you now than when we were together. I consume you daily, as much as possible, and keep trying to figure out where we went wrong.
For starters, bloggers, some of whom have no professional training, have taken over. They do indeed make money. They’re not all bad. I’m trying to navigate this new world now. It’s hard and unjust. Your writing and communication skills matter far less than the number of followers you have on social media. Frankly, it never was a journalist’s job to make friends. That was kind of the point. Now, your friends – virtual or actual – is how people judge you to be good and important. Those who can say the most shocking and provocative things – regardless of whether they are true – in 140 characters or less are rewarded with riches. I’m not sure Walter Cronkite would have made it. What’s most difficult is not letting your grief and disappointment drown you, so that you stop trying to be heard about whatever topic is on your mind.
Let’s look on the bright side. As promoter of the underdog and believer in the general public, Journalism, you have to feel good about so many more people having access to our leaders and an ability to share their opinions. That’s a win, as is the ability to research people, places, and events at lightning speed. Checking the spelling of a source’s name once could take a couple days and include phone tag. Now, a Google search usually will suffice. The purveyors of you, Journalism, can work from almost anywhere and spread news of the minute (not just the day or week) in mere seconds.
But maybe you let the power get to your head, or you just didn’t know what to do with these newfound conveniences. You blew it. Now was the time you should have become stronger and better. Instead, you let other people figure out ways to do your job and make money at it. Still, they pale in comparison to you.
The guys with your name now are on cable, for example, and are fighting for ratings, social media followers, ad dollars, and attention. There is no question that all this stuff gets in the way of informing people about what they need to know. Your true love print has been dead even longer. No one is even bothering to visit the gravestone.
And your partners can’t be at all intellectual. That’s akin to being snotty and losing followers. At one of my most recent reporting jobs – where I was reporting on love and sex mind you – I received downloads that spit out the grade level of my writing. Most of the time it was at the high school or college level, even when writing things, such as “How to Talk Dirty During Sex” and “Should You Ever Lie to Your Spouse?” I was told to dumb it down for a general audience because that would improve traffic. Stories, apparently, should never go above the middle school level. It never happened. That’s really when I knew it was over. The writing, literally, was on the wall (of my home office). If it wasn’t for the fact that I have to pay bills, and I invested so much of my time, energy, and heart in you, we’d be completely through.
A tear is rolling down my cheek now. I woke up this morning to so-called reporters, in the name of objectivity, treating with kid gloves the Republican nominee for president after he essentially suggested the assassination of his opponent, heaped praise on our enemy Vladimir Putin, and labeled the first black President of the United States Barack Obama the founder of the terrorist organization ISIL. I get wanting to be fair to both sides. I do. It’s part of the training you gave us, Journalism. But you also taught us that we must check power. We must help people sniff out the naive, dangerous, or dictatorial.
Yes, go through Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, tell the world about her Pinocchio noses, condemn her and her husband for playing the insider’s game, and certainly alert us if they are breaking the law. That’s your job. But don’t act as though this rhetoric of Donald Trump’s is like any other political ploy simply because you don’t want to look like you’re taking sides. It could have grave consequences in a country rife with guns and boiling over with anger. We’ve already experienced the collective broken hearts when our great leaders have been assassinated. It wasn’t all that long ago, in fact. If it happens again, blood will be on your hands, Journalism. You are already late to this one. You should have warned the world of this danger sooner. It should have happened on day one of Trump’s campaign with the insinuation that Mexicans were rapists. This is about more than my disappointment in you. I am a mother, and I want leaders with a moral compass and dignity and diplomacy to lead my son’s future. That’s not this. Not even close, and you know it.
I want to believe, Journalism, you are going to do the right thing here. The lives of my son and everyone’s children hang in the balance. You must understand what’s happening. After all, no one knows better than you how much words really matter. Don’t let us down.
Reaching unity can begin with parents. I’ve experienced firsthand the little bit of crazy that washes over every mother and father multiple times per day. No matter the race, religion, ethnicity, or sexuality, parents have all locked themselves in the closet or bathroom with a bag of chocolates (or booze). And they’ve considered those five minutes a mini vacation, even if most of it was spent screaming into a pillow before downing a shot. I’ve been there. If you’re a parent – regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or sexuality – you’ve been there, too. Admit it.
Recently, I visited Sesame Place with with my husband and our young son. On every line in which we stood, I noticed guests of every kind with their children. There were fathers shouting at their kids to pay attention. There were mothers drying the tears of the overtired. There were parents negotiating peace treaties between warring siblings. There were tantrums and tirades, laughs and hugs. A woman in a full burka was worrying about her young daughters in hijabs because they weren’t holding onto the stroller, and she feared they would get lost. There was a black family whose youngest child was scared of going on a water slide, and his mother was trying to give him courage. There was an Indian father and son laughing about who was going to get down the slide first. A Latino family stood with teen children, who were teasing each other about the ice cream flavors they were choosing. And my husband and I were taking turns holding my son, who was complaining about his bare feet on the scalding pavement and fighting sleep to go on one more water slide. “Please, Mommy, please!”
Parenthood is a shared experience that unites us all. Whether your kid is speaking Chinese, Spanish, English, or Italian, you’ve heard, “Please, Mommy, please.” You’ve treated boo-boos and offered love amid desperate cries. You’ve broken up fights between brothers and sisters or cousins, all of which has left you scarred mentally and physically. And you’ve felt the joys of scooping up your baby and taking a whiff of that intoxicating preciousness. You know what it means for your heart to swell as your child takes first steps. You know of the separation anxiety (yours, not your kids) on those first days of school. You’ve been moved by your child in a way you never expected and can’t quite put into words.
These shared sentiments are a way to shove us all forward, a reason to reach out to your fellow man or woman. We are parents. We all want better for our kids. We have a big stake in the next generation. Raising our babies right is great motivation to build bridges between us because we all vividly know the sweet pain of parenting. We are living in the most divisive of times in politics, yet Republicans and Democrats alike can relate to one another when it comes to the kids.
“There’s something about your daughters that just breaks your heart,” President Barack Obama has said, according to the Huffington Post. “The finite amount of time you have with your children, and the joy they bring on a minute-to-minute, day-by-day basis — the idea that that’s not there all the time is something that can hit me hard sometimes.” Me too, Mr. President. Me too.
On July 25, First Lady Michelle Obama took to the stage at the 2016 Democratic National Convention and brought tears to the eyes of parents on both sides of the aisle when she delivered an eloquent and moving political speech about parenting. “That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves — and I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent, black young women — playing with their dogs on the White House lawn,” she said.
Many a tweet has suggested that if you weren’t moved by that speech, then you’re not human. And I have to agree. Her words, our country, our unfolding history is remarkable. I don’t think it’s just Democrats who could relate to the idea that we need to invest in our children and serve as role models for them. They aren’t the only ones who love America and want to make it a better place for those who come next. No one wants to leave their children in the lurch.
“If we don’t make tough decisions today our children are going to have to make much, much tougher decisions tomorrow,” has said Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Despite the bad rep his party is getting for not being inclusive, they have those who see more of America than old white men and want to better represent that to young people.
“We are a nation of communities… a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky,” has said former Republican President George H.W. Bush. Yes, we want to make those stars shine as brightly as possible. Another famous leader, this time on the Democratic side, once said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Indeed, aspiring President Hillary Clinton was as right as Bush. In fact, my own village is vast and includes an increasingly multicultural family with roots in Italy and branches all over the world. Whether I’m speaking of my relatives or friends, who may as well be relatives, or complete strangers, wherever I go, whatever I do, I see parents demanding the best for their children in ways big and small. Can’t this shared desire to give our children a brighter tomorrow be enough to bring us all together, to help us cross party lines, to help us at least try to understand those who are different from us?
I’m only but a mere cog in this world. But I need to make my whisper louder because I am a daughter, a sister, a cousin, an aunt, and most importantly a mother. And as the 2016 presidential election plays out before our eyes, I am terrified and unsure how to move forward as a parent.
There has been lots of talk about how parents can’t even allow their kids to watch the news because of the vulgarity of the candidate’s language. Well, I’m actually more concerned about the vulgarity of what’s happening than the words themselves. People cheering as protesters get beaten and thrown out of a political rally is hardly G-rated television.
Like many parents, I worry about how I’m going to raise my 4-year-old son to be a respectable, loving, decent human being in a country in which little boys can get killed by the police while playing on the playground, a grandmother and mentally ill teenager can get killed by the police at their door, we turn away refugees who are victims of the same groups terrorizing us, we shun immigrants despite the fact that most of us were in their shoes not so long ago, and men seeking to be leaders of the free world are comparing penis size on stage at a public debate. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that one of those candidates has shown little respect for women or that many of them fail to recognize the reality of climate change, the greatest threat of our time.
This is not another lament on Donald Trump, nor is it a political column. This is a plea from a mother, who is simply seeking more understanding. I don’t know who will win the election, and I’m not publicly supporting anyone for now. But I’d like to believe that common decency, empathy, and humanity are themes that can cross political lines. My goal in writing this blog is to discuss living the sweet life, and it’s never been harder to attain.
My people came to the United States from Italy in pursuit of happiness. That’s right, I haven’t forgotten that if it weren’t for one illegal immigrant, my family never would have arrived here. They wanted a better life than the one they had on a small island in Italy, that American dream replete with white picket fence. For much of my life, I felt like we were living it. Now, I’m not so sure. It makes little sense. I’m a college graduate, whereas my family members were not. My father graduated high school in the United States and many of my aunts and uncles and my grandparents never went past the fifth grade in Italy. They worked hard at factories, started their own businesses, cleaned houses, rung up cash registers, and waited tables once they arrived in America. Then, they wisely invested their money in homes and savings accounts in banks, back when that meant something. And they paid for the next generation – including me – to go to college, so we could have it easier. Common sense tells us we should have it better than they did. But we don’t. Why?
Our generation is experiencing challenges I never imagined when I dreamed of my sweet life. We faced attack on our land. We went to war again and again. Some returned greatly damaged and largely forgotten. Some of us didn’t have the luxury of returning at all. We lived through the Great Recession, which many would argue hasn’t ended for most yet. To save money, we poisoned our own people, including babies and the elderly – and haven’t even stopped now that our sins are out in the open. This happened in the United States of America in 2016! Yet, many of my own people – journalists – seem shocked and astounded that Americans are mad as hell. (Don’t get me started on how journalism and journalists have let us down.) Of course, we are angry and loud and growing impatient. There’s only so much people can take before they break.
Now, we’re trying to raise our children in the midst of this anger and fear. If I take a moment to catch my breath, what I want doesn’t seem all that unreasonable or difficult. I want my son to be able to not only survive but prosper by affording him a decent education. I want him and other Americans to have their basic needs met and that includes clean water.
I want him to have a heart full of love and to be generous with that love. I want him to feel empathy for other people, who are facing hard times. I’d like to see him give those in need a hug and a hand, and I’d like others to do the same for him when the time comes. I want him to turn the other cheek when faced with the prospect of resolving differences with violence. I want him to choose his friends based on the content of their character and not the color of their skin or the religion they practice (or don’t practice) or their culture.
In fact, I want him to celebrate our differences, which truly are the threads that unite this beautiful country. When the time comes, I want him to vote, even when the choices aren’t as great as he’d like them to be. It’s not easy to choose who should lead you, but it’s your civic duty to make a careful, thoughtful, and studied decision. Our family fought to be here, to be Americans, and he must never take that for granted. Speranza is the Italian word for hope. What I want for my son most of all is to always have speranza for a better tomorrow.