A Reader Asks Me About Stereotyping



Actor James Gandolfini

Dear Dr. Mautner,

Recently my social media was inundated with articles about the passing of Italian American actor James Gandolfini, most famous for his role as mob boss in the Sopranos. I can’t help but wonder why all the praise for someone who portrayed our people in such negative light? I feel badly about the death of a great actor and fellow human being, but am I wrong to feel disappointed in a public figure who used his talent to further the negative stereotype that does a disservice to us all?

Proud Italian American


Dear I-A,

Like you, my thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends and colleagues of the beloved actor James Gandolfini. There is no question he was a brilliant talent who touched many people’s lives. He will be sorely missed by his loved ones, who are no doubt now on their own journey of grief and recovery.

I also commend you on your rightful sensitivity about the issue of the pervasive negative stereotyping of Italian Americans in the media. You impress me with your ability to separate the role of Tony Soprano, from the tragic death of a fellow human being. I, too, believe that actors—especially Italian American actors—should insist on more roles that highlight the disproportionately wonderful aspects of our heritage. As Italian Americans with family members who face the consequences of others’ unfair judgment and discrimination, each of us has a personal obligation to summon up the courage and energy to respectfully contact producers, directors, actors, pizzeria owners, automobile executives, and anyone in positions of power who either actively or passively keeps the negative Italian American bias alive. We must do what we can to raise consciousness and make our distaste for this kind of damaging message known; regardless of the response, or lack of response that we receive. Just raising awareness will have an effect, even if it is long in coming.

In a report I wrote when I served as Research Director for AIDA (American Italian Defense Association), I pointed out that stereotyping is destructive and often leads to a number of consequences for those stigmatized. Unfortunately my national survey found strong evidence of a lack of unity among Italian Americans themselves when it comes to combating stereotyping and defamation; ergo in many of the mobster shows and films, you will find actors, producers and directors of Italian heritage.

The landmark research of cognitive psychologist Albert Bandura showed that television has a powerful effect in shaping cultural attitudes. Because people live mostly routine daily lives, they get the majority of their information about the world around them from mass media sources. 

 Attitudes that foster stereotyping are far from harmless, and can have a dramatic effect on one’s life; in areas such as earnings, housing, criminal involvement, health, and life satisfaction itself. Belonging to a devalued social group puts one at risk for emotional distress, because an individual is more likely to internalize negative stereotypes of themselves. Children, unfortunately, are the most vulnerable. They are the ones who watch more hours of daily television than anyone else. Approximately 50% of Americans, no matter what age group, however, get their information about Italian Americans from TV, so you are correct to be concerned about the negative media images that have an effect on your family and mine.

The best recourse to negative stereotyping is to defend what you know is right in a firm, yet courteous way. You can write a letter, make a phone call, join an Italian American organization that has an anti-bias committee, write a letter to the editor of your local paper, or even simply correct negative stereotypes when you hear them tossed around casually in your everyday life. Teach those around you about the positive aspects of our cultural heritage and the many contributions Italian Americans have made to make the United States of America as great as it is.

If you would like to hear more about this topic, please tune in to THE ITALIAN ART OF LIVING WELL  this Monday, July 1st @ 7AM when my guest will be Dr. Manny Alfano, president and founder of The Italian American ONE VOICE Coalition.  


Why Over-Reflection Can Make You Sad

Passero Solitario

“A gripping sadness pervades the great Giacomo Leopardi’s “Il Passero Solitario “(the lonely sparrow). Leopardi (1798-1837) is one of Italy’s most important historic treasures. This philosopher and poet created an extraordinary masterpiece of verbal art in describing the bittersweet similarity between his observations of the sparrow, for whom living a solitary life is instinctual, and his own life, which became painfully solitary through the loss of his health and his youth. The sparrow could continue to be happy because it had not capacity to dwell on its loneliness. Leopardi, having an exquisite mind for reflection, could not help but dwell on the sorrow he felt as his illness distanced him from nature and the world around him” (from Lemons into Limoncello: From Loss to Personal Renaissance with the Zest of Italy –HCI Books).

It is important to take time to reflect on where you have been and where you are going. This gives continuity and clarity. Reflection helps you to make sense out of your life and reach your goals .  Overdoing self-examination , however , can have just the opposite effect. It turns into self-scrutiny. Living inside of your own  head can keep us chained to our sorrows and negativity. No one is harsher on ourselves than we are.  If you want to lift your  spirits, try substituting some excess reflection time with spontaneity and action. Get involved with the  life you want to lead, don’t just analyze it.


For more insights on getting through loss and adversity, read “Lemons into Limoncello”; available wherever books are sold.

Why You Should NOT Avoid Hard Work

Pasta fatta in casa

When did this culture become so instistant on having everything come instantly and easily? Instant is a box of potato flakes,which when mixed with water turn into something that is supposed to at least look like the real thing. Easy is driving up to a fast food window and gobbling down a homogenized burger with one hand while driving home with the other.

When we expect things to come easily and instantly we become frustrated and irritated when suddenly faced with a challenge, whose resolution is neither instant nor easy. We panic, throw our hands up in defeat, and feel like we have failed, because life is just too hard.

I beg to differ. You are neither a loser, or  a quitter –just a victim of a cultural mindset that presumes that everything we desire should appear before us, without having to do anything to earn it.

Happiness can be earned through working at it.  True self-esteem is a BYPRODUCT of hard work and the feeling of self-satisfaction and accomplishment that comes with it.  Maintaining a fit and health body is also a combination of “working” out, or “working outSIDE” (on your garden, lawn, snow shoveling, etc), and good old-fashioned home cooking. This last point is worth highlighting, as home cooking is really the foundation of a vibrant physical body–and it even affects your mood!

So when did eating in and cooking at home become viewed as tasks of oppression to be avoided like the plague? My grandmother kept a second kitchen in her cellar, where she made her own sausage, breads, pasta, and braciole. On the other side of the cantina was the wine cellar. Her sons crushed grapes and poured the precious liquid into large wooden barrels. In a third part of the cellar was where she kept the fruits and vegetables which she canned from her garden. These homemade products did take  “work”, but never was it looked upon as anything other than a source of pride and accomplishment—and an investment in everyone’s good health. A by product of hard work, or “lavoro sodo”, as I mention in my book “Lemons into Limoncello: From Loss to Personal Renaissance with the Zest of Italy” (HCI) is that while you are so immersed,  your problems stay far away.

There is no need to be overwhelmed at the thought of turning the clock back to simpler (albeit more labor-intensive) times. This week, try reconnecting with just ONE task of yesteryear. You might start with this simple home-made pasta (pasta fatta in casa), from Elodia Rigante’s “Italian Immigrant Cooking”). You will be amazed at how simple it is, and how euphoric you will feel while preparing this delight, and afterwards getting all of those compliments from the people you have invited to your table to enjoy it with you.

Oh..and do invite me to dinner sometime, so I can personally be the “judge” of how it came out 🙂 Buon appetito!


Basic Pasta Dough
4 c. all-purpose flour, 1 tsp salt, 4 eggs, 1 Tblsp olive oil


Sift the flour and salt together and pile on a pastry or cutting board. Make a well in the center and place th eggs and the oil in it. Work the eggs and oil into the flour with your fingers until a firm dough is formed. knead the dough until very smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Cover the dough with a cotton cloth and let it rest for 1/2 hour. Divide the dough into 3 pieces. Roll out each piece as thin as possible on a floured board–the thinner the better. Cut into desired shapes (spaghetti, linguine, fettucine, lasagna noodles), depending on what type of pasta you intend to make.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of oil, and throw in the fresh pasta. Stir the pasta immediately to make sure it is all separated. Because it is fresh, it will tend to stick together. It will take only a few minutes to cook.

NEW:–Do catch my new advice column in The Italian Tribune! You can send me your questions here: raeleenmautner@gmail.com 

NEW:  Listen LIVE to my PREMIER of “The Italian Art of Living Well” Monday’s @ 7AM  88.7FM or live stream www.wnhu.net