Fairfax, VA, USA.
Sometimes I am sure that the whole thing is a plot by Catholic-raised Italian American women to take over the world. Madonna, Gaga, me. Something about our upbringing: too much garlic perhaps.
Too much Catholicism to work through growing up. Long lists of do’s
. Sins that will send you directly to hell. Hormones and body parts that question the church’s philosophies.
We can’t escape Mother Church. She is bred into our less than sinless flesh. Give me the girl and I will hand you back the woman, a member of the Altar Society, a Catholic mother for the next generation, a virgin until she is married. We can’t escape our Italian heritage. The mafia had one thing right; family is everything. Sunday gatherings and meals are important. Pasta is the truer body of Christ, drawing us together as one family; the red sauce, his blood, generously sprinkled with parmigiano.
Wanna make something
out of it?
If I am a dago,
You are a wop,
If I eat spaghetti,
You eat slop. [N1]
Sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, distant cousins and grandparents: gathered around the family table for holidays, celebrating our blood ties, our Italian heritage. Or, in my case, my Sicilian heritage.
Our noses are too big, our lips too plush, our skin too dark to be acceptable by the mainstream as other than singers and sexual objects for adolescent boys and the media stare. We know who we are.
We are a talented, defiant lot, who demand our rights even if we aren’t white enough to run for President.
Most of us are not
Mafia Princesses. But even now, most of us have heard family rumors and legends of relatives who were. I have never been under obligation to the Mafia. I have never spoken of any rumors I might have heard. Omertà runs deep in Sicily. Family is everything. Blood is forever. I am and always will be Sicilian by gene and upbringing. [N2]
A reformed catholic who makes the best of the world where she finds herself. A catholic school girl who still deals with the voices of nuns and brothers in her memory decades after they last spoke to her. Out on the edge of glory because she has no other choice.
When I was growing up, Frank Sinatra was an Italian American Role model. My uncle, a professional baseball player until World War II intervened, patterned himself after Joe DiMaggio. My grandfather, Vito Faraci, who arrived on Ellis Island in 1904, tried to enlist in the Army in World War I — he was too old. Besides, he had a family.
We have always been Americans even if we could not enter the proper country clubs or reach the upper levels of white collar America. We became performers, singers of popular tunes, and garbage collectors as the case might be.
If you look at the Hollywood films that were made about World War II after it end, Italian-American soldiers were always the comedy relief or breastful peasant women greeting American soldiers as they liberated Sicily, then Italy. We were seldom the lead actor or actress unless we were already a foreign star. Hollywood always knew our place. Eventually, Frank Sinatra would change all that with From here to Eternity
So in the meantime we took to the stage that was allowed us: Sinatra, Martin, Mancini, Iron Eyes Cody, and always Tony Bennett, the first generation born in the United States; Mineo, Scorsese, Puzo, Pacino, Cumo, Stallone, Madonna, Steven Tyler, Lisa Jain, Lupone, Lauper, Madonna, and Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, children of the second and third generations.
We were Medal of Honor winners as far back as the Civil War: Luigi Palma di Cesnola, Thomas W. Hyde, Michael Valente, John Basilone, Vito R. Bertoldo, Willibald C. Bianchi, Anthony Casamento, Ralph Cheli, Joseph J. Cicchetti, Mike Colalillo, Anthony P. Damato, Arthur F. DeFranzo, Gino J. Merli, Frank J. Petrarca, Robert M. Viale, Reginald B. Desiderio, Joseph Vittori, Lewis Albanese, Vincent R. Capodanno, Jon R. Cavaiani, Frank R. Fratellenico, Gary W. Martini, Louis R. Rocco, Humbert R. Versace, Jared C. Monti, and Salvatore Giunta.
We know who we are. Our role models have been obvious, even if sometimes they have ventured outside the law.
Perhaps it is because we are both Italian and American that we drive ourselves to greatness. Perhaps our lingering Catholicism propels us to success. Perhaps it is only because our parents and grandparents told us that, in America, we could be anything we desired.
Or it might just be our families who provided us a strong foundation to begin on. Drinking wine around the kitchen table, listening to the Giants or the A’s outside on the patio, eavesdropping on my aunts and uncles and other adults recount family stories decades old: I hear them still inside my memories.
We were born to be successful. Expected to be productive adults who contributed to the community.
My grandfather would be proud of me, I think.
We do not forget.