Sempre, Rudi

How do you honor and pay respect to a great scholar who in his work set an example for many younger researchers but was also a warm and personal friend? Bruno Ramirez, who knew Rudolph J. Vecoli so well and spent many hours with him, paid homage to his friend in a moving short documentary after he learned about the latter’s incurable illness. So many things might have been said about Rudi’s great accomplishments, like building the Immigration History Research Center into a formidable, renowned, and recognized archives and research institution that now hosts the largest manuscript and print collection on selected groups of the so-called “new immigration” from the 1880s through World War I. He might have focused on Rudi’s international renown and network, as well as the triumph of relocating the archives in the “cavern.” Certainly these accomplishments show up as a sub-text. But much more important is the personal story: Rudolph Vecoli’s openness toward other people, his inclination of sharing his experiences with them, his rootedness in Italian traditions and therefore enjoyment of Italian cuisine. Rudi and Bruno apparently have the best time of their lives while preparing the dishes – and of course conversing in the only acceptable language in the process, i.e. in Italian. Thus despite the knowledge of impending death this film manages to exude an air of positive commitment to life and its joys. But we also get at least a glimpse at Rudolph Vecoli’s political commitment. I remember when talking to him years ago he proudly referred to the Italian anarchist tradition. In the American context this translated in the last years and months of his life into opposition to the war in Iraq and to support of Barack Obama’s candidacy.
Friends and colleagues who attended the event afterwards shared their own memories and experiences in a moving and emotional evening.
H. Keil

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