08/09/2014 04:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Very Italian Mayor: Bill De Blasio


photo courtesy of Carlo Hermann/Controluce

When I was in Italy last month, visiting my family and friends in Cava de' Tirreni and in my beloved Naples, I had a chance to talk to them about the hugely publicized visit of Mr. Bill De Blasio in my home country. For days (not surprising to me), I saw my region, Campania, one of the areas most affected by the economic crisis that is hitting the country so hard, putting on its "best dress" to welcome a man who is the Mayor of New York, a city where most of the people who joined in the "standing ovation" to Mayor De Blasio, would never, ever live. And, to be fair, it is important to add that Mr. De Blasio would have never been elected in Italy because of his "diverse" family. That diversity is, however, something I very much appreciate. Being the aunt of a "black" boy, I know even better than most how racist we can be in Italy. Not that other countries are not, but in Italy the attitude is to deny the existence of racism and the result is that no one tries to fix a problem that is not even acknowledged by the majority. The short experience of Cecile Kyenge in the government and the "complex" relationship we have always had with the soccer player Mario Balotelli, demonstrate the truth about this more than everything else can do.

So in Campania, a region whose treasures like Naples, Pompei, the Amalfi Coast, Capri, Procida, Ischia, and the "Cilento", could give us a rich economy, but where the corrupt government (the Camorra - the local Mafia) and the philosophy of accepting the situation the way it is, meaning that "nothing can be done to change things", have created such a desperate situation (51 percent of young people are unemployed), all those pompous celebrations for a foreign Mayor should sound inappropriate. I know, they were "celebrating" the "Italian brother", who accomplished the American Dream and became successful and made Italy proud abroad. I know. This is what Italians say to justify a pride that we would not even show to a judge fighting the Mafia, risking his/her own life.


Photo courtesy of Carlo Hermann/Contoluce

Celebrating Mr. De Blasio was, though, a way to celebrate the greatness of Italy. But my question is: which one? How can we celebrate a man, Mr De Blasio, who became a Mayor because he grew up in New York City, a place where diversity is in their DNA and where people can realize the American Dream because everybody (or almost everybody) has a chance to pursue happiness? Do we Italians know that in New York and in the United States they have - most of the time - a chance to get a job or to achieve their goal based "only" on their skills and not on the fact that "they are a friend of a friend"? In Italy, meritocracy is basically nonexistent and if you don't have powerful connections you'll likely end up among the 51 percent of the unemployed. So in Italy, Mr. De Blasio, with his "humble" origins and the "diversity" of his family, wouldn't have been able to achieve anything. Or close to anything.

This is why, yesterday, I read with such disappointment that Chiara and Dante De Blasio are starting "unpaid" internships with the City of New York. They will join their mom, Chirlane McCray, who is already working there. So for a month all the De Blasio family will be reunited, working together. The Mayor had to obtain a waiver for this from the NYC Conflicts of Interest Board. The waiver was necessary because he was using his "position for the advantage of his children," and working at City Hall "confers prestige as well as experience that is not widely available and that many would regard as valuable".

I do understand that the two kids have experience and they are not being paid but "why"? Why does the Mayor need to make City Hall a "family business?" I would have preferred a paid intern chosen only for his/her skill and not for his/her last name. This is so "Italian" and this is so far away from the fairness and greatness that this city shows every single day. I do appreciate the love and the consideration that Mr. De Blasio has toward his Italian heritage, but he is the Mayor of New York, a place where his own family arrived to pursue the American Dream. As a resident here, I expect that he will conduct himself with respect for the rules of the place where American Dreams are possible. Nothing less.