Italian Heritage in New Jersey: James Gandolfini

When many people think of Americans of Italian descent, they often think we are all in the mob, or “connected.” Many movies such as The Godfather add to the stereotype. Add to that shows like Jersey Shore, Housewives of New Jersey, and The Sopranos, and well…

While many depictions in New Jersey and mob movies show a lot of things that are not true, many more good things are true. Many of us talk about wonderful memories growing up with Sunday dinners, multi-generational families, and pride in our heritage.

Enter James Gandolfini

Gandolfini played “Tony Soprano” in the famed HBO series. He was a deplorable character, yet, he was able to show a human side of this man. Tony had many of the issues we all struggle with; anxiety, temptation; a frustration with his family – his “blood family” that is. James Gandolfini played the character perfectly. He able to play a guy from Jersey because he was a guy from New Jersey.

That “New Jersey” I often speak of is an intangible characteristic those of us from this state easily understand. Born in Westwood, Gandolfini was raised in Park Ridge, New Jersey, the son of an American-born mother and an Italian-born father. He grew up with a strong pride in his heritage and visited Italy often. He was in Rome when he passed away from a heart attack in 2013 at the young age of 51. In 2014, Gandolfini was posthumously inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

While he was proud of his heritage, he worked hard to show his love for America. Gandolfini never forgot the sacrifice his father made, earning a Purple Heart in WWII, and sought to make sure that all veterans received the care and respect they deserve. In 2007, Gandolfini produced Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq, a documentary in which he interviewed injured Iraq War veterans. In 2010 he produced Wartorn: 1861–2010, which examined the impact of PTSD on soldiers and families throughout wars in U.S. history from 1861 to 2010. He also worked with the USO making meeting service members and was a spokesperson for Wounded Warrior Project.

So no, not all Americans of Italian descent are in the mob, but we all love our Italian heritage. Gandolfini showed that pride in his role of Tony Soprano, and more importantly, in his daily life.