Monday, September 22, 2008

We Are Who We Are

Pride and Passion - a program from PBS - wonderfully nostalgic (to me anyway) that could have been taking a page/write a book about my family. The Italian traditions (holidays with relatives bursting out of the rooms of the house along with the gastronomic overabundance of carbo-rich foods and pastries) and familial roles (momma nona rules, aunts, uncles, cousins) but also the shared sentiments of both my grandparents and parents about being the 'immigrant family' - thus, the lowest in the societal order. I'm the 'American with an Italian ancestry' that was described in this piece. My grandparents were the 'Italian-Americans', and my parents were the 'American-Italians', first generation U. S. born. Both were eager to improve the world of their children and were willing to endure, sometimes with denegration, ridicule for their seemingly foreign ways. But their strong family bonds and vibrant culture sustained them. And that survivorship was passed to the newer generations.

Even though their reason for leaving their homeland was the sense of new opportunity, the risks they faced still seem daunting to me. The North End of Boston in the '60s is the closest I will get to understanding my parents' lives growing up as immigrant children in the early part of this century. My mom's family shared a three-bedroom flat with 10 siblings and one bathroom on Snowhill Street - directly across from the Copps Hill Burial Ground, where my cousins and I played tag. My dad was one of 7 boys in a three-bedroom flat on Prince Street. I couldn't stand 10 years of sharing a room with one sister.

But, the desire to understand these older times is one of the reasons I enjoy the small Italian towns. One day I hope to venture on my own to Avellino, to walk the streets of my ancestors, to whet this passion for connecting, understanding, immersion.

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