I could have SWORN I had a photo of myself as a little kid rocking my “1/2 Italian is Better Than None” t-shirt, but I couldn’t find it!
I’m only half Italian, and I’m third generation, and I was raised in Southern California instead of Back East, which means I make a really good lasagna but would be totally laughed out of the room if I tried to relate to real Italian-Americans. For one thing, I don’t speak Italian. For another thing, did I mention SoCal? Because Goodfellas did not take place at the beach, brah.
(I can make jokes about Goodfellas because my mom grew up around there.)
Alas, my poor children will only have a meager quarter of Mediterranean DNA, which means they’ll probably tan even worse than I do and nobody will mistakenly assume they’re white Mexican. The near-black hair and hints of future cuddly nonna face are the only things I’ve got going for me.
Here are some of the tiny scraps of culture you absorb when you’re basically a white kid but you have lots of distant relatives with names like Antonello and you went to Catholic school through kindergarten.
You get the food, thank God. Most cultures revolve heavily around their food but Italians revolve heavily around their food. There’s a reason that when you google “Italian chef” you get a regrettable sea of pizza and mustaches.
But you guys, there’s so much more than pizza dough. You get cannoli and cassatini, you get calzones and chicken cacciatore. You don’t really understand why somebody would put butter on their pasta when olive oil clearly exists, and when you say you’re making cookies at Christmastime you MAKE SOME SERIOUS MOTHER-EFFEN COOKIES AT CHRISTMASTIME. Even though you don’t know the language, you know enough to curl your lip and yell, “Skeevatz!” when you bite into a lasagna and get a mouthful of hamburger meat. You get to drink wine at holidays when you’re a young teen, and you force it down even though it tastes gross because 1) heehee you’re drinking alcohol, and 2) your nonna will make fun of you otherwise.
In addition to skeevatz you know a confusing mishmash of words that are sometimes Italian and sometimes just slang from New York (and you’re never certain which are which), but in any case bruta and stunad regularly creep into family conversations, and when something is giving you agita you’re tempted to sigh, Ah Jesu.
Oh, and you’re not superstitious, but it doesn’t hurt to make the sign of the cross or the sign of the horns once in a while… just in case.
You know that what happens in the family stays in the family. You know that your siblings will always have your back and you’ll always have theirs, because you all have to be there for each other when your mother is dead. It is super confusing and sad to you when people genuinely don’t like their siblings, so you welcome them into the fold. Seriously, you barely know your friends’ families growing up, but they know every one of your relatives by name and might even hang out at your house without you.
You weren’t even raised Catholic but you somehow absorbed that Catholic guilt anyway. The vaguest promise is practically a blood oath, and once you have kids… hoo boy, you’re basically never going out again.
And finally, it takes a lot to get on your bad side, but once somebody is there… man, you can hold a grudge for life. You’re not proud of this. In fact, you could even say it fills you with guilt. But what are you supposed to do? THEY DISRESPECTED YOU!! Or worse… your mother. D: