Major Companies Snub Italian American Heritage and Culture Month

In October of 1989, President George H.W. Bush issued the first-ever proclamation in recognition of Italian American Heritage and Culture Month. From that point forward, October would be a month to celebrate the enumerable contributions and accomplishments of Americans of Italian descent. This specific month of the year was selected as it coincides with the observance of Columbus Day, a federal holiday many Italian Americans see as an opportunity to celebrate their heritage.

However, major corporations, government agencies, and even the President of the United States do not usually celebrate accordingly. Every year, these institutions inevitably inundate the American public with official statements in recognition of a variety of heritage months, including Black History Month, Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month, and National Native American Heritage Month, to name a few. Yet, Italian American Heritage Month never seems to make the cut.

Let’s use Hulu as a case study to examine this phenomenon:

Each year, Hulu takes the time to honor certain ethnic groups via social media, but their efforts to acknowledge the culture being celebrated do not stop there. Using Hispanic Heritage Month as an example, the platform took the time to aggregate content that features Hispanic actors, stories, and language into an easily accessible location on their service for users to enjoy. In the past, the streaming giant also held a two-day concert in Los Angeles and conducted informational interviews with Latinx creators to highlight the unique perspectives of this community as part of their “Acentos Bienvenidos’ campaign.

Another ethnic group the company has deemed worthy of celebration is Asian Americans. Not only did Hulu declare that Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month should be celebrated all year long in 2019, but they also donated at least $177,900 to API non-profits last year alone, in addition to creating a lengthy thread on Twitter detailing all the movies, shows, and icons that people can watch to honor their roots.

Hulu clearly goes out of its way to support these communities when the designated month comes each year. However, they choose to not do the same for Italian Americans in October. But why?

In the current media landscape where the idea of representation has become such a focal point, I would think that telling authentic stories about Italian and Italian American culture would be a priority for streaming services, given the utter lack of positive portrayals that exist in films and television as well as the overwhelming number of negative portrayals that perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

In a study conducted by the Italic Studies Institute between 1996 to 2001, it was found that 846 out of 1220 movies observed had negatively portrayed Americans of Italian ancestry, with nearly 300 of those films featuring Italians as criminals. 

This trend has undoubtedly influenced the opinions that people harbor about Italians. Ben Lawson, the chair of the Italian Studies and Film Studies Departments at Purdue University, conducted a survey to explore the effects of mafia movies and television shows on the image of Italian Americans. For the survey question that asked respondents to “Name three things that come to mind when thinking of Italian-Americans,” those with Italian-American ethnicity replied with answers like: “good food, intelligent, charming, easy to get along with, good-looking, and cultured,” while some of the most popular answers among the non-Italian-Americans respondents included: “Mafia, greedy, sneaky, violence, whacking, guns,” and even the ethnic slur “Dago.” This accentuates the need for major corporations to recognize the achievements and impacts of Italians on American culture.

This current state of affairs could make some wonder: Have Italian Americans not contributed enough to this country to warrant the same level of effort and commitment to uplifting our culture? 

In the early part of our nation’s history, Italian immigrants were often relegated to the least-desirable, lowest-paying jobs in society that required manual labor. As a consequence, Italians contributed significantly to the infrastructure of America, playing a key role in the construction of streets, railroads, subways, bridges, and skyscrapers that still capture the eyes of citizens and visitors to this country alike. Western Culture itself was brought to the Americas by an Italian navigator when Christopher Columbus landed in the West Indies in 1492. He represents the first immigrant to the New World and personifies the American Dream that many Italians became obsessed with pursuing in the 1800s and 1900s as they searched for opportunities to improve their lives. If that somehow isn’t enough, another Italian named Filippo Mazzei is credited with inspiring the phrase “All men are created equal” from the Declaration of Independence. America itself was even named after an Italian explorer named Amerigo Vespucci. It is impossible to discuss the foundations upon which the United States was built without paying homage to the influence of great Italians along the way.

Have Italian Americans not sacrificed enough to receive the same treatment as other ethnic groups?

As the largest ethnic group in the US armed forces during World War Two, anywhere between 750,000 to 1.5 million brave souls were willing to put their lives on the line for a country that had simultaneously declared them “enemy aliens.” This resulted in a variety of restrictions for as many as 600,000 individuals of Italian descent that spanned anywhere from curfews, the seizure of property, and even their relocation to interment camps in some cases. Italians were also lynched at the second highest rate of any other ethnic group in America. Yet, in some way, the injustices tolerated by our ancestors do not culminate in nearly the same level of support and appreciation that other groups receive.

As October comes to a close, keep a close eye on your favorite brands to see how they choose to celebrate Italian American Heritage Month, or if they follow suit with the vast majority of other large companies that choose to ignore the contributions of Italians altogether. Be intentional with the brands you choose to support, as the only way this trend will change is if Italian Americans make it clear that we too deserve a seat at the table.

All cultures deserve to be celebrated and have their stories told. Major corporations shouldn’t pick and choose which ethnicities are worthy of celebration, as it acts to undermine the whole purpose of heritage months in the first place.


  1. I don’t think we need a heritage month. We used to be so fierce and now we’re acting like f*cking snowflakes…

    1. I’ve been thinking of this issue for a while now. It bothers me too. I’m glad you wrote an article about it. We should come together to write a public statement or have a conversation with companies like Hulu.

    2. In 2020 in South Philadelphia, the Christopher Columbus Statue, which had been up for over 40 years, was enclosed in a wooden box because it was “offensive” to some people!
      The statue still remains entombed. What about Italian-Americans who are offended?

  2. It’s very true. In my opinion, it is because we are not bothered by stereotypes. All other ethnic groups cry loudly about their oppression and challenges and we remain silent and persevere.
    Thank you for bringing this important topic to the surface.

    1. As an Italian American, I don’t think we need a month to celebrate our heritage because if you are anything like me you are celebrating your culture daily. For that matter, I don’t think any ethnic group needs a month to celebrate their cultures either. All I would like to see is acknowledgment of the contributions Italian’s and Italian Americans have made to this great nation. Instead of trying to tarnish reputations like you see with slanderous claims against Columbus or even the omission of people like Mazzei from history books. I feel the country should at least do a better job educating the populous on the great contributions made by Italian Americans as well as the hardships and sacrifice Italian Americans had to undergo to assimilate and become accepted into society in America. That is not to say we should complain and portray ourselves as victims or demand anything in return for the injustices Italians may have faced throughout American history. All I ask is for Italians to be made present in the story of America because at the moment it feels like we have been omitted or in the process of being erased.

    2. We have chosen to rise above what our ancestors endured. Many other ethnic groups choose to wallow in and demand reparations or respect. We just earn it with action.

  3. Columbus Day will always be our day no matter what and i don’t need a shirt to proclaim my heritage.

  4. Thank you for writing the article. I believe that there are a few differences that I must point out in the comparison of the groups you mentioned. Asian-American, African-American and Hispanic or Latino/a American and Native American heritage months may be recognized differently because these are seen as minority groups in the United Stated. All of these groups have also yet to overcome many of the challenges we have because of the insincerity of the US government when it came to treaties, laws post slavery like Jim Crow, internment camps for Asians living America during WWII that leads to the prejudices we see by our leaders today, and the continued demonization of those living in Mexico, Latin and South America who come to the US for the same reasons our families did – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    At one point in time, Italian immigrants and Italian-Americans were seen as a “Mediterranean” European as opposed to a Nordic or White European. It was even on forms in the 1920’s and 30’s to identify Italians as “different.” It wasn’t until the 1950’s and 60’s, after WWII that assimilation was on the rise. By that point you had the Baby Boomers being born and growing up as Americans. There was push to NOT speak Italian. The was a concerted effort to move from labor to professional fields through the public education system and you had to assimilate to be accepted in corporate America.This was my mother’s generation.

    The kids born to those Baby Boomers embraced our heritage and wondered why we didn’t speak our native tongue. The world got smaller in the 80’s and 90’s through free-market trade and schools began to offer Italian as a language especially in places like New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California and Illinois. Although prejudices still existed in the American South, and you would know if you were ever pulled over by a state trooper and asked, “are you I-talian son?” it was the duality of Italians being portrayed in American society. Movies like Goodfellas gave us a birds eye view into Sunday dinner and what family looked like while in real life Giuliani was prosecuting those that really lived like those portrayed in the movies.

    Today, Italian-Americans are fully assimilated into America – at every level. We are also now considered “white” and not something else. Not a minority. We are prevalent in politics, arts, law, food and beverage and budding entrepreneurs. So I hope this shed some light on as to why companies celebrate us (whish is nice to be recognized), but don’t feel the need to make overt gestures to the “majority.”

    We are now American insiders. We are not the outsiders we once were. Our culture has permeated America for better or worse. And although I will never forget that they changed our names, excluded us in their process, were racist to us because of our olive skin, were afraid of our religion and how we practiced it, in the end, America accepted us and we accepted America.

  5. I’ve been educating people who I work with, most didn’t even know October was Italian heritage month. They just thought it was Breast cancer awareness.

  6. Excellent statement by Mr. Foley but I want to comment after the last line: “We are now American insiders. We are not the outsiders we once were. Our culture has permeated America for better or worse. And although I will never forget that they changed our names, excluded us in their process, were racist to us because of our olive skin, were afraid of our religion and how we practiced it, in the end, America accepted us and we accepted America.”

    My comment: We are NOT accepted by America. We may have assimilated as a group but it’s clear by how Hollywood and the media view us (as mobsters, buffoons, bigots, bimbos and all-around “bad people”) that we are NOT accorded the same respect as other European groups which have also long assimilated (Irish, German, even Polish).

    Please check out the statistics of the Italic Institute of America’s “Film Research Project,” which was updated in 2015 (the 2001 one is an older study): http://www.italic.org

    Click on the menu, “Research Library.”

    Finally–and it pains me to say this–but part of the reason that Italians still get the Rodney Dangerfield treatment (‘no respect’) is that too many Italian Americans themselves have no self-respect. Many of us willingly embrace mafia lore or are, indeed, snowflakes when it comes to calling out famous actors who keep perpetuating it because their own greed blots out any ethnic pride. Note: Robert De Niro has FINALLY been condemned by many Italian Americans—not because of his constant defaming of his own people but because he insulted former President Trump!


    (Incidentally: DeNiro is only 1/4 Italian. Does he similarly defame his Irish, German, Dutch, and English backgrounds?).

    Even Hardcore Italians sells merchandise which promotes the “mob” image or which reinforces the notion that Italian Americans are morons with no class (for example,
    a Hardcore T-Shirt which reads, “Fuck You is How Italians Say Hello.” Really?)

    Hardcore should be selling T-shirts with pics of people like Mazzei, Joe DiMaggio, Ella Grasso, the 1950 U.S. soccer team (which beat mighty Great Britain, with many U.S. players who were from the “Little Italy” area of St. Louis, MO). Educate! Educate!

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