Italian Immigrants, Mussolini, and a TV Show
“I don’t remember having to explain to Italians that our problem wasn’t with them, but with Mussolini!”
~Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), The West Wing
In my humble opinion, The West Wing is quite possibly one of the best written shows in American television history. I loved the smart dialogue, the “behind the scenes” view of government process, and the characters. I know they worked hard to make the show authentic while remaining solid entertainment.
During many holiday weekends, channels often run show marathons as an easy way to deal with lapses of original content. The West Wing has been on HLN the last few days, so I was excited at the chance to watch a few episodes at night while doing work around the house.
Then I heard the above quote. To say I was disappointed is putting it mildly.
The Toby character was referring to the issue with Mussolini during World War II and how he seemed to think it didn’t affect the millions of Italian immigrants living in the United States.
Actually, he couldn’t be more wrong.
A simple Internet search would’ve directed the writer of that specific line of dialogue to Executive Order 9066 and Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526, and 2527. That EO and those proclamations actually did make the Italian immigrants the problem. Those items made being Italian, German, and Japanese pretty much against the law. Posters went up announcing the languages of those three ethnic groups were the “enemy’s languages.” Want ads included the line “Italians need not apply.” Those items are exactly why my great-grandmother, as well as countless others, were forced to register as enemies of the state. And when her family moved just a few blocks over in Newark, it triggered an investigation of an elderly, illiterate woman. You see, she couldn’t become a citizen because she couldn’t read.
So yes, Toby (and whomever wrote that line), the country collectively, led by President Franklin Roosevelt, did make every day Italian immigrants the problem.