IT and US: We the Italian Americans
- WTI Magazine #97 Nov 18, 2017
Growing up as an Italian-American in New York during the early 1950s was at times a challenging experience. First of all, WHO are we and WHY do we act out our life’s drama as we do? Ponder the fact that there may be unwritten rules and norms, handed down to us from native Italians, which when confronted by the American scene dictate Italian American behavior.
This inheritance insures a very human and refreshing exuberance. Although a generalization, Italians are lively, restless and notoriously undisciplined while being totally enjoyable. They do well unsupervised and not accompanied by direction or structure. They are masters at improvisation. Their chaos is strangely controlled and in their disorder there seems to be an unexplainable order. Plan B is the mantra they live by. From this matrix the Italian American personality evolved. This is the ethos we spring from and use to confront the realism of life in the USA, although not always successfully but many times spectacularly.
Those brought up in a traditional Italian household with a possible bi-lingual environment may develop a pronounced split personality. One half is identified by historic traditional Italian norms while the other half is a creature of the contemporary Anglo American way of life. This often gives rise to eternal conflict between the two personas. Although generally friendly, the Italian model often times is infused with cleverness, agility and quick wits in interpersonal relations. While the Anglo American model can be replete with openness, amicability and a great sense of fair play. Which is the authentic self? Both! It can be very vexing.
There is a perceived ongoing dilemma and loss of identity for many Italian Americans. For many there is little left of the original culture of our forefathers. Many do not speak Italian, or eat Italian or vaguely know the history that in a sense launched the western world as we know it today. The entire issue of WHO we are as a people has been discounted as we live our lives in the USA not Italia.
WHAT to do? One can consider that societal completeness can be found in the percentage of our heritage that we can retain and/or augment which would result in the reduction of discounting of ourselves as a people and of our culture.
“Esse Quam Videri”, is a Latin phrase meaning “To be rather than to seem”. An attempt could be made to become familiar with the Italian language. In today’s world and because of the computer age there are easy ways to begin the transformation. There are many social clubs, Italian TV, and groups that are Italian oriented. There are programs available to track one’s heritage. If you have not done so already, take a trip to Italy. With a few Italian phrases and some knowledge of our shared history you will begin to feel more inclusive and perhaps more Italian. Balancing the percentage and increasing the knowledge of things Italian is tremendously satisfying.
As Italian migration worldwide is in the many millions, the Italian government has created a program to acquire Italian citizenship. There is criteria based on the principle of Jures Sanguinis or on blood lines. A guide can be found for potential applicants on the Italian Embassy’s web site. Imagine the great satisfaction of showing your Italian Passport to the Customs at Leonardo Da Vinci Airport in Rome. Benvenuti!
Over the past more than one hundred years, the millions of Italians migrating to America have had a great success. It was America through her enormous largess that we have a story to tell. Put simply, America did so much for so many and for so long. Italy provided us with our true identity as Italian Americans. We need only grasp the opportunity and be proud to be of both cultures.
Much of the above narrative has been borrowed from my book entitled “The Scattered Italians”.