Italians have it rough in these United States. Jokes about garlic, work habits and waxing the mustache line run rampant. These are perhaps acceptable, but cracks about mob ties? That’s over the line for Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier.
Planning Commissioner Hishashi Sugaya is on Alioto-Pier’s hit list after he made a joke at the Nov. 18 Planning Commission hearing. When discussing whether to allow a North Beach restaurant to play amplified opera music, Sugaya cracked, “I’m supportive but I was kind of waiting for my brown paper envelopes to come from the Sicilians, but I never got anything, so, you know, I may vote against it.” (Opera singing at the restaurant, Colosseo, was approved.)
This is personal for Alioto-Pier: Our city’s Sicilian supervisor is the granddaughter of former Mayor Joseph Lawrence Alioto, who was accused of mob ties in 1969 (and who successfully sued LOOK magazine for slander afterward, putting the mag/rag out of business).
It’s also personal for the opera singer in question. “It’s comments like these that perpetuate the negative aspects of a culture that has a great and rich heritage,” San Francisco resident Gianni Ingargiola wrote in a Nov. 29 letter to Planning Director John Rahaim. “Many Sicilians have risked their lives, with some even losing their lives, to get past this [negative] image.”
Sugaya has yet to respond, according to an aide for Michela Alioto-Pier. Efforts to reach him Tuesday were not immediately successful.
Alioto-Pier called Sugaya’s words “offensive to all Italian-Americans” and demanded an apology Tuesday.
“This was a sitting city commissioner who said this,” she said. “Even in jest, we cannot tolerate comments like this.”
Irish jokes, French jokes and Canadian jokes may still be told with impunity, mostly because those cultures don’t boast of scary-looking men in expensive suits (we kid, we kid! But that’s why we don’t tell Russian jokes.)