I must admit that letter to the editor about Dominic Saraceno’s ethnicity got my Irish up (even though my grandparents were Italian, and I am American).
Mr. Saraceno’s response stated that he changed his name in the wake of the panic caused by the 9/11 bombings, in order to relieve the severe bigotry which was damaging his professional law practice because of his Syrian name.
He is in good company. In our history, it often takes generations, maybe longer, for an ethnic group to achieve acceptance. In closeknit towns, like our fair city, acceptance might take even longer.
People of good will recognize the struggle for social and professional acceptance faced by immigrants and children of immigrants.
The Italian community of Niagara Falls doesn’t need to look too far into the past when we were the objects of prejudice.
We should appreciate the struggles others face – not despise them – for taking the soul-wrenching and in many ways humiliating action of changing one’s name to a name more socially acceptable.
We can think of Martin Sheen who changed his name from Ramon Gerardo Estevez, or Nicolas Cage / Nicolas Coppola, or John Wayne / Marion Morrison, or Danny Kaye / David Kaminsky, or Mickey Rooney / Joseph Yule, or Tony Curtis / Bernard Schwartz, or Dean Martin / Dino Crocetti, or Michael Landon / Eugene Orowitz, or Jerry Lewis / Jerome Levitch, or Alan Alda / Alphonso D’Abruzzo, or Charles Bronson / Charles Buchinski, or Tony Randall / Leonard Rosenberg, or Danny Thomas / Muzyad Yakhoob, or Murphy Pitaressi / Onofrio Pitaressi, or Bill de Blasio / Warren Wilhelm Jr.
With the outbreak of World War I, strong anti-German feeling within Britain caused sensitivity among the royal family about its German roots. Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II was the cousin of England’s King George V; the queen herself was German.
On June 19, 1917, during the third year of World War I, King George V ordered the British royal family to dispense with the use of German titles and surnames, and officially changed the surname of his own family, the decidedly Germanic “Saxe-Coburg-Gotha”, to the decidedly British “Windsor”.
It betrays a very short memory for us citizens to disparage the “newest immigrants” because they are different.
Mr. Saraceno’s father was a highly educated medical doctor, and Saraceno himself is a highly educated and accomplished attorney. Most of Niagara Falls’ own immigrant parents and grandparents came from much more humble and less educated backgrounds.
We still bristle at the thought of anti-Italian prejudice experienced by our immigrant forefathers – forced to live like sardines in the tenements of New York City; or packed tight into railroad cars so they could work on the railroads and be abused by their employers. Many of our relatives inhaled the coal dust of the mines of Pennsylvania and left Pennsylvania to work above-ground, inhaling the fumes of the chemical factories of Niagara Falls.
We change our names for many reasons: often to blend in with the dominant culture, or to avoid racial and ethnic prejudice, or to get ahead in business or entertainment.
What matters is that we are all Americans.
There was a time when no judge in Niagara Falls could be of Italian descent, because of ethnic prejudices.
Mr. Saraceno, I personally am honored that you chose to adopt an Italian name in recognition of the Italian heritage of much of the city of Niagara Falls, as well as of your own family.
It would serve our city well to benefit from your level headedness and your first-hand experience of prejudice –traits which will temper your decisions on the bench as a City Court Judge.
Please accept our apology for the bigotry expressed in the letter to the editor.
The vast majority of the citizens of Niagara Falls are better than that.
Peter de Rosa is a lifelong resident of Niagara Falls.