Schools of 'Italianness': Language Teaching and Fascist Propaganda in 1930s Toronto

This article explores how the teaching of Italian language and culture in schools in Ontario assumed a predominant propagandistic tone during the fascist years, mostly thanks to the synergy created by consular officials and Catholic parishes in
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  Schools of ‘Italianness’: Language Teaching and Fascist Propaganda in 1930s Toronto* Matteo Brera   University of t  oronto abstr a ct: This article explores how the teaching of Italian language and culture in schools in Ontario assumed a predominant propagandistic tone during the fascist years, mostly thanks to the synergy created by consular officials and Catholic parishes in defence of the post-Concordat alliance. Focusing on the Toronto area, I will observe the peculiar propagandistic pedagogy that emerges from the lezioni  pr a tiche d’It al i a no published by Tommaso Mari (1938). Based on a ‘prac-tical’ method of instruction, Mari’s textbook essentially aims to ideolo-gize grammar and language, and is an exceptional document of the intertwining between language, pedagogy and propaganda in 1930s North America. Keywords: Catholic parishes, Fascism, Italian Schools, Ontario, Tommaso Mari. The Canadian case and, in particular, the multicultural city of Toronto, is a revealing testbed to study how fascist consular officials—with the ‘interested’ collaboration of the Catholic parishes that constituted the main social hubs of Toronto’s Little Italies in the Thirties—transformed the teaching of Italian language into a powerful means of propaganda. 1  For several years after the turn of the century, Catholic priests in Toronto had allowed the instruction of Italian within their parishes. Usually, courses were taught in the afternoon and evening to comple-ment the teaching provided by local Canadian schools. After the I  t  alIa n   Ca n  a d Ia n  a, Vol. XXXIII, (2019), 59-82  * I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to Olga Zorzi Pugliese and Franco Pierno for a number of suggestions which considerably improved this article. I would also like to thank Angelo Principe for letting me study what I believe to be the sole surviving copy of Tommaso Mari’s textbook, thus making a substantial part of this research pos-sible.  1. See at least Principe, Usanze e tradizioni religiose  18-22 and Zucchi, 38-44.  Concordat, Fascism infiltrated parochial schools and heavily contami-nated the teaching of language with propagandistic material and teach-ers who shared fascist ideals sent from Italy to spread Mussolini’s gospel (Pretelli, Salvetti). After the first Canadian Case d’Italia were  built, consular authorities also started their own language classes in the newly established hubs of political representation, where “era sempre presente il Tricolore, e accanto al crocifisso, [vi erano] sempre in [posizione d’]onore le effigi del Re e del Duce” ( C a se d’It al i a ). The apparent shared goals of fascist officials operating abroad and Catholic missionaries alike betrayed the la issez-f  a ire attitude of numer-ous members of the clergy. In the name of the superior political interest of the Church, priests often accepted the infiltration of fascist consular emissaries and political propaganda within their jurisdiction, thus allowing Mussolini’s regime to phagocytise the school system gradual-ly and inexorably, and transform it into a well-oiled propaganda machine. 2 As a result, Fascism proposed itself as the undisputed cham-pion and defender of Italianness and religion under the aegis of both the Lictor and the crucifix. This article explores how the teaching of Italian language and cul-ture in the schools in Ontario assumed a predominant propagandistic tone during the fascist years, mostly thanks to the synergy created by consular officials and Catholic parishes in defence of the post-Concordat alliance. Focusing on the Toronto area, I will observe the peculiar propagandistic pedagogy that emerges from the lezioni  pr a tiche d’It al i a no published by Tommaso Mari (1938). Mari’s ‘practical’ method of instruction essentially aims to ideologize grammar and lan-guage, and his textbook is an exceptional document of the intertwining  between language, pedagogy and propaganda in 1930s North America. Mari’s lezioni pr a tiche d’It al i a no  has not been recorded by any of the studies into fascist schoolbooks and the copy used for the present study might be the only one surviving (Ascenzi-Sani), given the confiscations and destruction of material written in Italian that followed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s raids of 1940 (Cecchetto 229-230). Following the outlawing of Italian pedagogic materials sanctioned  by the Canadian government in the aftermath of the invasion of Ethiopia, Mari, an intransigent nationalist who played a prominent role in the Italian community as the editor-in-chief of fascist periodical I  l  Bo ll ettino It al o-C a n a dese,  published a widely circulating handbook for the teaching of Italian language that under the cover of a military-like idea  M a tteo Brer a 60  2. On the ‘interested’ collaborationism of the Church, see Ceci.  of instruction apparently free of openly nationalistic and pro-fascist traits, would give teachers ample freedom to indoctrinate their pupils. A Kind of Civil Militia Abroad: Educating the Emigrant Masses According to Fascist Liturgy  In the aftermath of his ascent to power in 1922, Mussolini stressed the importance of kick-starting an unprecedented campaign for the promo-tion of Italianness ( it al i a nità ), which would lead to a larger scale attempt to politicize the new generations of Italians abroad (Pretelli 29). In order to better pursue this project, in 1925 Mussolini nominated Dino Grandi as State secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The new official was given the task to establish and reorganize Fascist associations in the colonies and soon joined forces with Piero Parini, whom Grandi put in charge of a dedicated secretariat of Fascist organizations abroad ( F a sci all ’estero ) in 1928. 3  A decisive turn toward the politicization of the Italian schools abroad occurred in 1929, when Parini took charge of the Direzione generale degli italiani all’estero e delle scuole. In 1930 Parini wrote to Grandi stating how efforts were being made to maintain alive the bond with the Motherland through the establishment of schools (Pretelli 35). Parini was a zealous and tireless official, who visited several Italian communities during his tenure at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, in his own words, his efforts were designed above all “per mantenere vivo il legame dei giovani con la madre patria attraverso la creazione di scuole” (Pretelli 35). The premises set out by Grandi and Parini in terms of what the purpose of the Italian schools abroad should be —namely, to educate a Fascist ‘new man’ freed from the relics of Liberal Italy and imbued with faith in Mussolini and the Lictor—soon found their best expression in a new ‘totalitarian pedagogy’. This aimed at forging the young generations into legions of citizen-soldiers, inspired by the hero-ics of the Great War and of squ a drismo  and enlightened by the myths of youth, greatness and the universal power of the Italian mission in the world. According to one of the many textbooks published for the Italian schools abroad, Italianness was alive anche nei più remoti e inospitali paesi del mondo ovunque ci sono ita-liani che nel nome della Patria diano l’opera del loro braccio e del loro Schools of ‘Italianness’61  3. For an overview on the Fasci italiani all’estero see at least, Pretelli 33, Franzina-Sanfilippo, Gentile, Fabiano. On the Canadian Fasci, see Principe,  I fasci in Canada .  ingegno. Ricordate che è Italia ovunque i tre colori della nostra  bandiera facciano battere i cuori e brillare negli occhi una lacrima d’amore e di orgoglio, è l’Italia ovunque, aprendo gli occhi alla luce, sotto qualsiasi cielo, un bimbo balbetti per la prima volta nella nostra  bella lingua il nome di mamma. (Bagagli 105) Clementina Bagagli’s textbook, one of the bestselling works for the education of young Italian emigrants in the Thirties, points out a key rhetorical element that marked Italian patriotism after 1929, namely the  bond between the Italian flag, language and motherhood, a symbolic triad that would be used by Mussolini’s regime to make it al i a nità  a politically relevant concept in the classroom (Isnenghi, Bellucci-Ciliberto). That idea of Italianness continued to characterize education policies uninterruptedly in Fascist Italy. After the Concordat the crucifix, the fig-ure of the pope and, more in general, popular traits of Catholic faith  became rhetorical markers of it al i a nità that were used and abused (Wolff). Exploiting of his newly acquired role as defensor fidei and the prestige that came from his recent diplomatic success, Mussolini creat-ed strong ties between Fascism and the missions abroad in the name of the preservation of the identity of the  It al ic a  gens  to be realized through a nationalistic form of education that necessarily involved the instruc-tion of Italian language and culture (Tomasi). The Landscape of Education in Toronto’s Little Italies: Before and after the Concordat  The Catholic Church never enjoyed the monopoly of earlier instruction in Ontario, since it was the Methodist ministers Nestor Cacciapuoti, Michael Basso (between 1900 and 1910) and Father Viglianti (1913-1918) who taught Italian to the first waves of immigrants in Toronto. These early efforts were followed by a “short-lived” course held between 1920 and 1923 under the aegis of the Dante Alighieri Society (Zucchi 181). The idea according to which Italian language classes were binding ele-ments for a still largely scattered and loose community must be traced  back to the foundation of the Circolo Colombo. Constituted at the  beginning of the century, presumably around 1915, the club was very closely tied to the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the first Italian parish established in Toronto in 1909. St Agnes and St Mary of the Angels followed in 1913 and 1916 (Principe, Us a nze e tr a dizioni re l igiose  20; Zucchi 160).  M a tteo Brer a 62  The Circolo Colombo stands out as an example of how patriotism and religion operated together at a cultural level from the early days of Italian immigration in Toronto. According to the Bo ll ettino It al o C a n a dese,  which reports on a social gathering that occurred in 1930, the club was founded by, among others, reverend Umberto Bonomo, a Redemptorist from Asiago who arrived in Toronto in 1915 ( B a nchetto a  P a dre Bonomo ). 4  The association was born with the intent of “bind[ing] together such men of Italian birth, or srcin professing the Catholic faith […] to keep alive among them the profession and practice of the Catholic faith and to render them ever proud of the glorious traditions of their land of birth or srcin—ITALY” ( Constitution of the Circo l o Co l ombo ).The moral and the patriotic uplifting of the members of the Circolo found in language instruction one of its key avenues, along with the promotion of “the knowledge and speaking of the Italian language and the love for the Italian art and literature” ( Constitution of the Circo l o Co l ombo ). According to the Bo ll ettino  , Father Bonomo had also established in Toronto the school of San Rocco for Italian children “che vivevano per la via, quando gran parte della colonia viveva nei pressi di Elm Street e Centre ave” ( B a nchetto a  P a dre Bonomo ). The intertwining of pastoral activities and cultural operations to incite the ‘betterment’ of literacy and patriotic customs among the Italian immigrants of Toronto grew exponentially during the years of the Great War and continued uninter-ruptedly after the advent of Fascism. Although the adverse influence of the still open Roman Question often hindered the collaboration  between priests and Italian consular officials, community affairs were usually approached in unison by state and Church, as shown by the case of reverend Bonomo. Education was possibly the field in which collaboration between Italian officials and clergymen was most effec-tive. Parishes had their own community halls, which were capable of hosting not only social events but also cultural activities, such as the teaching of Italian. At the beginning, the language classes had the goal of keeping the flame of patriotism alive in the younger generations but, with the advent of Fascism, the scope of these cultural enterprises took an ideological turn. The effects of the Lateran agreements on the strengthening of political ties between the newly upgraded vice-con-sulate, guided by Giovanni Battista Ambrosi (1929), and the Archdiocese of Toronto were manifestly represented by the joint Schools of ‘Italianness’63  4. Zucchi dates the foundation of the club between 1900-1910. However, this seems to  be a chronological incongruity.
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