Wednesday, January 28

Not cool to be Italian?



When I was a kid, it wasn't cool to be Italian. In fact, I have emotional scars from the experience (read on for those details). But as an adult, thankfully it's different. Nowadays being Italian has some cachet. 

Have you ever asked someone "Are you Italian?"
The response is almost always one of the following:
-100%. All italian 
-half
-a quarter

It's never just "yes." It's never "a little."  People will tell you, proudly, how much Italian is in their blood. If it's less than a quarter, they might even round it up to a quarter.  I know people who won't even acknowledge the other half of their heritage. 
-"I'm Italian."
-"But your name is O'Brien."
-"Whatever. I'm Italian."

If they are Italian, they'll tell you the regions their families are from. All of them. 
-"I'm half Abruzzese, a quarter Napolitano and a quarter Calabrese."
-"My Mom's side is from Puglia and Basilicata, my dad's side is right off the boat from Calabria. A little town right at the tip of the boot. They used to wave to the Sicilians they were so close to Sicily." 
"Actually, I'm Sicilian. (This is another topic but trust me, don't attempt to engage a Sicilian in a discussion about 
why they say Sicilian not Italian.)
Myself? I'm Siciliana, Calabrese, Abruzzese and Basilicata. :)

If they aren't 100% FBI (that's Full Blooded Italian, a term you know if you are one), they will scramble to tell you their lineage. It's fantastic!
-"I'm a quarter. My mom's dad was born in Rome, but I was raised with all the traditions."
-"My dad's grandfather's mom came here from Piedmont. We always relate most to that side of the family."
"My mom is Irish and my dad is German but my step-dad is half Italian so you know, I'm kinda Italian."
"Not actually Italian but I married one."

I love that one especially. How do you not love someone who embraces their spouse's heritage? And let's face it, especially if an Italian mother is involved, that's a lot of heritage to embrace! The food, the um, strong opinions, the protectiveness, the hand gestures and noise level at dinner- if you haven't been around Italians all your life and you go to a big family dinner, buckle up!

It's like everyone wants to acknowledge their Italianness- (And who can blame them? Being Italian is awesome.) It's like being Italian is a very elite club with special benefits and everyone feels compelled to prove their bloodline. Sometimes it's almost like people with only a little bit of Italianness want FBIs or others to recognize them as paisans. "Accept me! Accept me into the club!" Can't fault anyone for that. I mean, it IS like a club (a very, very COOL, delicious club!) but all people proud to have Italian blood are members. In fact, if you just love Italians, we'll give you a membership card. We're like that. 

Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco (an FBI) made a joke that Italians will say they're "a hundred percent Italian. Head to toe." And anyone who is part Italian says "Yeah, I'm half Italian and half embarrassed." Nothing to be embarrassed about, everyone should be proud of their roots, but I have yet to meet anyone prouder of their heritage than an Italian-American. This pride is important to me because as a kid who moved from an all Italian neighborhood in South Philly to what my family called "Medagon town" nearby in Delaware County, PA, my Italianness was not embraced. I endured taunts of "dago," "wop," and "greaseball," through 9th grade. My name, my skin color, my nose and worst of all, my smelly Thursday leftover meatball sandwiches (thanks, Ma!) brought me undue attention. (I'd name the kid who was most relentless in doing this but I don't want to give him the satisfaction.) 

So, yeah! You wanna be Italian? Come on in!  

Share your thoughts. 

2 comments:

Haute Kippy said...

I love your Blog! I'm also an Italian-American Philly Girl! 1/2 Italian (Abruzzese and Sicillian and.. Irish-English, meh.) Born in Upper Darby and lived on Elfreth's Alley in historic #109 as a small child! I wear my mothers Italian Horn and Mano Cortuna daily. Just wanted to say I loved reading that entry as well. Now I know where my most beloved charm necklace comes from! Thanks for sharing parts of our culture and heritage! I love it!

Sigi Me said...

I just saw this comment- so sorry! I used to teach at Upper Darby HS and I wear my late father's horn every day. Thanks for your kind words!

-Claudia