WASHINGTON – A New Jersey congresswoman, the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, wants the House of Representatives to denounce the cable television series The Sopranos for "unfair stereotyping."
"The Sopranos are not a typical Italian-American family," Rep. Marge Roukema, R-Ridgewood, wrote in a "Dear Colleague" letter circulating on Capitol Hill.
She is asking other lawmakers to sign onto a resolution she is drafting that will praise Italian-Americans for their civic contributions and criticize movies and television shows that portray them as gangsters.
"People stop me in the grocery store, objecting to (The Sopranos)," Roukema said Tuesday. "I decided this has gotten to be so discriminatory and stereotypical of Italian-Americans as mobsters, and denigrating women and families, that I thought I have to speak out."
Now in its third season, the HBO series focuses on fictional mob boss Tony Soprano and his dual struggles heading a suburban New Jersey family and an organized crime family.
Roukema said she will introduce her resolution within the next two weeks. Congressional resolutions are statements of opinion and, even if passed, do not carry the weight of law.
Roukema, the longest-serving woman in Congress, was born Marge Scafati. Her married name, Roukema, is Dutch.
Roukema has been working with, among other groups, the National Italian American Foundation, which is chaired by a former New Jersey congressman, Democrat Frank Guarini.
The Washington-based foundation reported in February that Italian-Americans have constituted less than 6 percent of the fugitives on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Most Wanted List over the past 50 years.
Guarini said the group's findings showed "that programs like The Sopranos, which present Italian-Americans as undereducated people who are either criminals or in blue-collar jobs, bear no resemblance to the average Italian-American who is a law-abiding citizen working in a white-collar position."
Roukema will be the latest in a line of officials to weigh in on The Sopranos.
Last year, officials in Essex County, N.J., denied the show a permit to film scenes on county-owned property. Though the county cited safety concerns, County Executive James W. Treffinger said he would never grant a permit for "a profit-making enterprise which depicts an ethnic group in stereotypical fashion."
Organizers of last year's Columbus Day parade in New York City refused Sopranos-related floats. William Paterson University withdrew permission for the show to film on campus after receiving protests from a professor scheduled to lecture about negative Italian-American images.
Last month, the American Italian Defense Association sued Time Warner Entertainment Co. under the "individual dignity" clause of the Illinois Constitution, charging the program wrongly portrays most of the ethnic group as mobsters.
Rather than money, the group wants a jury to declare that the show offends the dignity of Italian-Americans.
Responding to the lawsuit, HBO said it is "very proud of The Sopranos. We're hardly alone in our assessment that the show is an extraordinary artistic achievement."