That would presume that you know who Pietro Di Donato was. And I will not pretend to be an expert about him at all.
Di Donato was probably the first “successful” Italian -American author although I do not think he had any successes, critical or commercial other than Christ in Concrete. I had heard neither of its author nor of the book until I had met Robert Viscusi. Dr. Viscusi is an internationally recognized expert about Italian – American literature and the one whom I talk about in my entry.
I had also heard Di Donato being interviewed on a long – forgotten local cable show after Viscusi had spoken of him and taken together I decided to read Christ in Concrete.
I confess to not remembering it very well a good 30 years later in micro, but it certainly impacted me in macro. Taken together with the interview I spoke about above all I can remember is anger, black anger, at what Di Donato perceived how the institutions both of capitalism and of the Catholic Church had inflicted on the lot of all Italian-American immigrants.
Interestingly again a pretty long time ago, I was a teacher in a gifted student program. One aspect of the program was for ninth graders to do independent studies. One student, Vincent, who I understand now is a pretty well known journalist, and I take some pride in that, was also an Italian-American. Somehow we zeroed in on Italian-American issues, especially that of Sacco and Vanzetti, as his independent study. One thing led to the other. I called my friend Dr. Viscusi who got us Pietro Di Donato’s phone number!
Vincent called him and interviewed him over the phone. When the conversation was done, Vincent volunteered about how angry this man was. He also repeated an anecdote Di Donato shared with him where Di Donato claimed to be in Boston when Sacco and Vanzetti were executed for their bombing terrorism. Di Donato recounted how the crowd cheered when the two were hung. He told Vincent how he walked across the street and joined the Communist party that day.
I will leave to others to analyze Di Donato’s literary themes and energies. A great website I came across and recommend is http://www.uvm.edu/~arosa/christconcrete.html.
What I want to elaborate on is the issue (s) of power and powerlessness that drive the anger of immigrants or sub ethnic groups and how they must suffer, or find find ways to thwart the power of those who can use it over them.
One of my grandfathers was also a concrete mason. He ended his life as the boss of his own contracting firm but spent many years I am told as a laborer for others in his early days in America.
All of my male cousins, me included, worked for him and my uncles, his sons, at one time or another. I was lucky enough to work with him in his last years in the mason supply yard he owned. He spoke great English but one of his favorite Italian words was “ma”. For some reason it never occurred to me to translate it. I just sort of knew what it meant out of context. “It is sunny today MA it will rain tomorrow.” I made money on that sale MA few will want it any more.”
The word MA in Italian means “but”. Grandpa used “but” to soften exhilaration , to dampen expectation, to be wary of the alternatives, of the THREATS out there.
It occurs to me that Grandpa’s MA was a function of conditioning of working around those with power, both in his native Calabria where he was a peasant laborer there for the rich landowners, and for the Irish and German foremen who used and abused Italian-American laborers in the Depression years.
Pietro Di Donato might have been my grandfather’s Favorite Italian if he had ever met him.
Dr. Richard Bernato