The crucible of Italian/American families was how dedicated
you were to the clan. Italian people are clannish, not only for family, but for
Paesanos and anyone Italian in American. They hung together and fought for ech
other, when joy came they surrounded themselves with good food and music, and
when pain, suffering and death visited, they rallied as one.
When the great boxer Primo Canara fought, when Rocky
Marciano and Rocky Graziano fought, all the Italian Americans came out in
support, he was ‘one of us’, uno di noi.
The importance that Italian immigrants and their children succeeded beyond
the everyday jobs of street sweeping, household help and hard labor meant they
were being assimilated into the main stream of American life, which meant
acceptance by ‘Il Medican’!
They patronized their own, the new and young doctors,
lawyers and businesses that had an Italian name were where they went. Pride in
the fact these children of American immigrants were defying the norm, saying to
America: we can be just as American as you can! Art, design and writing
suddenly had a new level to measure itself, Italian/Americans were making a
statement, in English! To this day, when I see a doctor or lawyer, a politician,
jurist or professor, I remember those days of discrimination and a rush of
pride takes over.
My dad loved baseball and the Brooklyn Dodgers, Carl Furillo
was his favorite Dodger but, so was Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto. This
was pride in our nationality.
We as an immigrant population were suspected, feared and discriminated
against. One of the biggest discriminators or racists was Teddy Roosevelt, the
President of the United States of America, yet we respected his office! Our
problem was we were not all fair skinned, all blond, we didn’t have the ‘Made in
America’ signature. And of course worst of all: we didn’t speak English, we
were still foreigners.
My relatives were fugitives in the Fascist state of Italy,
hiding in the hills and fighting the government. When grandma and grandpa came
to America, they came with a purpose, to make a better life, and to raise a family
in pure freedom, with no needing to resort to arms.
But if you broke down the Italian/American, and looked into his/her
daily life, what you would see is America, being reborn. Teachers, doctors and
airline pilots, mathematicians, professors and clergy, politics and the media
were slowly being assimilated into the mainstream of American culture. Children
taught their parents to speak and read English, to write and to express their
opinions without fear. That so many of the Italian speaking parents demanding
that their children speak to them only in English to learn the language.
Grandma loved Caruso, Valentino and La Guardia, because they
were Making a statement to America, that they were successful and could be as
good as the Irish, German and Pole, as intelligent as the All-American that
prided himself in being born on these shores.
Today we have come a long way, Grandpa and Grandma laid the
foundation for the generations to come to be part of the American experience.
They could look back with pride that their sacrifice and the ignorance of
others made their children and grandchildren stronger, perhaps so strong that
we became part of the very fiber that America has always taken pride in.
When I think back now, of how they came to a place that didn’t
speak their language, didn’t appreciate their talents, didn’t know what quality
to family and national pride they instilled, and their courage: I want to cry
over the fact.
I am proud of America, I am proud because it afforded my
forefathers the opportunity to prove themselves and their heritage, that today
has been adopted in so many ways into the American fabric.
Thank you: grandma and grandpa, and thank you all the
grandmas and grandpas who came to America, you were perhaps the real “Greatest