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Examining guidos, Italian Americans and our cultural identity

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Late last year when MTV's "Jersey Shore" first aired, NIAF joined other Italian American organizations in deriding it as a missed opportunity for presenting positive portrayals of Italian Americans. Now, amid talk of filming for the show's second season, one Italian American academic is taking a closer look at the origins and implications of the term "guido."

In a video created by i-Italy.org, Fred Gardaphe, a distinguished professor at New York's John D. Calandra Institute, traces guido culture to "Saturday Night Fever," and, even earlier, to silent film legend Rudolph Valentino. Rather than reacting to the label as offensive, Gardaphe urges the broader Italian American community to examine why young people are turning to "guido culture" as a source of identity.

"Italian American culture must take responsibility for having made the guido one way or another," Gardaphe says in the five-minute spot, "whether we did it intentionally or we did it by ignoring our Italian American youth and not giving them viable alternatives.

"I can tell you that the students that I teach at Queens College and the students that I used to teach at Stony Brook University, when they took my courses in Italian American studies, they saw a variety of ways of identifying as Italian Americans," Gardaphe continues. "These kids [the cast of "Jersey Shore"] suffer from not having had that variety. I bet you none of these kids have ever been to Italy. You pick them up and bring them to Italy, and you'll see how fast that guido attitude...will change."

Despite arguing for more cultural options, Gardaphe does not believe that the term guido is by nature offensive, noting that, "In the wrong context, it can be derrogatory." He elaborates,"If someone says to me, 'Hey, you, guido,' I would take that as offensive. But if somebody says, 'Hey, I'm a guido,' Idon't think anybody should take that [as] offensive, except for maybe the kid's family if they don't like it."

Here at NIAF, one concern is that in today's media, perception is reality and that repetition of these negative stereotypes increase the perception that Italian Americans dress, speak and behave in a certain way.

What do you think?