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OPINION

A note from Italy to America

Be patient with us, I wrote back. I promise that the national heart of America is larger and more constant than any transient and sinister sub-group that is louder at the moment.

“We saw people inside the Capitol who should have been stopped at 100 meters from that place,” my friend Anna wrote in her email. “We can’t believe nobody stopped them!”
“We saw people inside the Capitol who should have been stopped at 100 meters from that place,” my friend Anna wrote in her email. “We can’t believe nobody stopped them!”John Minchillo/Associated Press

Through my parents’ deep Italian immigrant roots, I grew proud of my heritage. I hold dual US-Italian citizenship, studied at the University of Florence, am fluent in Italian, and have been fortunate enough to travel to Italy often — as a speaker, a leisure traveler, and to visit family and friends I text and call regularly.

But when the occasion demands a thoughtful spill about heartfelt issues, we write.

Though English is my mother tongue, Italian can be more expressive. I have watched professors of literature in Italy argue for days about which Italian word is uniquely perfect in a certain instance, and I have heard sanitation workers recite Dante or sing Puccini at dawn.

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I was not surprised, therefore, when my friend Anna brought me to tears in a recent email sent during America’s upheaval.

Washington D.C. — for many Italians, the “shining city on a hill” — is now occupied by more US troops than we have in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Anna observed that the deadly US Capitol attack by a pro-Trump mob that started all this “seemed from this distance more disconcerting than 9/11. Sadly, damage to the USA’s image will take years to restore. We saw people inside the Capitol who should have been stopped at 100 meters from that place. We can’t believe nobody stopped them!”

Then, in typical Italian fashion, she reached for classic literature for verification.

Even King Lear expresses tenderness about his child, left dead because of Lear’s madness. But from Trump — nothing!”

She added, “We (Italians) feel betrayed and impoverished. From the other side of the Atlantic, we are terrified.”

Then, in a heart-wrenching larger font: “We are Americans today!”

Weeping from her profound disappointment that nonetheless could not diminish her loyalty to the America she has always loved, I replied:

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“I know there is little we can do to erase the terrible images of this time from the global memory of those who — for centuries — have viewed our country with hope and admiration.”

I felt ashamed thinking about how my Italian friends speak about America with so much respect, awe, and deep affection. In Italy’s South — where more Italians have American ties — the passion of their immigrant loved ones who came here to labor, survive, and thrive still beats in the hearts of those left behind to struggle in idyllic cities and towns, chasing the elusive economic dream realized by many Italians in Milan or Turin to the North.

“Under President Biden, the healing will begin,” I promised, “and will give us the eventual opportunity to regain the respect of global neighbors who see America now as failed and disgraced. But the American people you have always admired are, overwhelmingly, strong and good, as you have witnessed over time.

Giacomo Leopardi wrote about America as a ‘young’ country. Be patient with us: I promise that the national heart of America is larger and more constant than any transient and sinister sub-group that is louder at the moment.

“America has always been quick to stand with you, through wars and floods, earthquakes, and other crises. Standing together is what people do when they admire and love each other. So thank you for being with us now in what is probably our saddest national moment.”

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Finally, I wiped my eyes and hit “send,” watching my e-mail, along with my and so many others’ thoughts and prayers, fly into the cyberspace we used to call “heaven,” hoping God was logged in, and that Italy’s support would help all of us.

Mary Ann Sorrentino is a freelance columnist.