Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Harmless Ethnic Slur: "Polentone"


The supposed insult, "Polentone" ("Polentoni" in plural), is aimed at people of Northern Italian descent, in an apparent attempt to remind them of their times of struggle. During the hard times of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and perhaps at other times, people relied on Polenta to survive.

Hard times such as these affected every nation in Europe, and the world, during this period. Therefore, the "insult" doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The real root of this is from poor Southern Italians, who migrated north after the second world war in the millions, and were denigrated partly due to their extreme poverty. The real reason for this bigotry was that the Italian peninsula was put together in 1860 from numerous nations. This is why Italy has always been such a regional-minded country, at least since the fall of the Roman Empire.

While this term hardly strikes me as an insult, I do recall overhearing some guy in an Italian-American Yahoo chat room, speaking on the microphone, spouting off something about "Polenta, cornmeal, yuck!" This smart alec was probably benignly speaking out of turn, but it sort've ticked me off. This was something that people needed for their very survival. I mean, how high-minded can people be? Hard times seem to be coming back to America. Who knows, maybe he will get a taste of humility.

Polenta is indeed a dish made from boiled cornmeal. I don't think I've ever heard of anyone who didn't like it, except for the joker in the chat room. Although overwhelmingly associated with Northern Italy (not Southern Italy), it is also part of the history of the whole Alpine region (Alpine German, French, and Slavic), and also west to Corsica and as far east as Rumania. I was going to put a recipe here, but it's so easy to find them online. However, I do recommend the book 'The Classic Food of Northern Italy' (Anna Del Conte; 2004).

Many times in history, various people have co-opted negative terms aimed at them. It depends. If the "intent" was so negative, maybe they wouldn't. I don't think there are any Canadians who would take offense at being called a "Canuck." There are a few other examples like this. For whatever it's worth, "Terrone" ("Terroni") refers to a Southern Italian, and "Mezzogiorno" refers to Southern Italy or the former Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. I don't think they're considered negative terms anymore.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello, I let you know that
polentone has nothing to do with the food. Once that term meant: ''retard'' or ''a-man-who-is-really-slow-in-working-his-land''. Polentone comes from ''un-po-lento(ne)'', not ''polenta-eater''. In addition, it is not true that the polenta was eaten only in north Italy! You could find the ''polenta'' (flour, salt and water) in south Italy, Greece and even in Egypt. It is the first recipe of the mediterranean history. On the contrary Padania is never existed, it is a imaginary country invented by famous politicians such as Miglio and later Bossi.

Brixia Fidelis said...

I recall someone of Sicilian descent told me about "Polentone," and I think I had read it a few places. Thanks for your contribution, which casts some doubt in my mind about that.

The Kingdom of the Lombards did exist, including Tuscany, so whatever name someone wants to attach to it is of little difference. Also, Etruscan civilization was basically from Naples to Lombardy.

Joe R0ndoni

Anonymous said...

I don't care what jerks say what about polenta, it's fabulous! I can't remember when I first had it but it was made by the woman who was to be my mother in law and, yes, she was from Nortern Italy.

It was a delight over spaghetti any time and now I make it myself and much prefer it to pasta at times. They're *all* good and they're different from eachother but polenta is fabulous and no one needs to be embarassed about eating it!!!

Brixia Fidelis said...

It's delicious!