Tuesday, August 09, 2016


We as Americans have seen these words, ‘La Famiglia' and when we do we conjure up a dark world of gangsters and crime, racketeering and extortion, and yes, even murder. The words are associated with the Mafia, a very ugly time for the pride of Italian-Americans.

But if you are an Italian-American living in Brooklyn in the 1950's, it has an all-together different meaning when you thought ‘La Familia'.

As I sat one night with Dad, watching our small screen black and white TV, an Olympic, the Brooklyn Dodgers were playing a game, and at bat was Carl Furillo, a wonderful outfielder for ‘Dem Bums" with a rifle arm who no one dared run on. Dad leaned over and said: "That's Carl Furillo, an Italian boy!" There was a stated pride in Dad's words, he was demonstrating pride to be Italian and was letting me know about.

Dad's pride awakened in me the awareness that Italian-Americans were just claiming their place in America, working the blue-collar jobs and menial tasks that needed to be done before America could step forward in the post-war world. Their struggle of overcoming language barriers, class distinction and the prejudice caused by ignorance was the very struggle to escape the cocoon of isolation every ethnic group faces. If you remember another great Brooklyn Dodger:  Jackie Robinson and the pride of Black People as they filled the stadiums to watch one of their own play, breaking down barriers, then you can understand the Italian pride. There was Joe DiMaggio who made our emergence completely recognized as an entity with his wonderful heroics on the field, and the many Italian crooners that grace the world of popular music of the time. We were making a name for ourselves in our own country! There was Primo Carnera and Rocky Marciano, as well as many others that helped build the acceptance needed to be recognized as one of America's own!

But getting back to the Mafia, the Cosa Nostra was just a dark and evil extension of the Italian mindset of ‘Family', being of our own or from the same family. If you were Italian in an American world, you were family, it didn't matter if you were Neapolitan, Sicilian or Romano, you were a brother or sister, and if you had a business, a profession or not, you almost automatically got support from your "Own kind." It was the very thing that kept immigrants together in the same neighborhoods, and who reluctantly sent their children off to fight wars, go to college or just leave the hood to find their own way as second generation Americans first.

There lived on the bottom floor in my apartment, a family that had three children. The second oldest, a boy went off to college to study, and as he would return home from his studies in NYC as an engineer, left me in awe! He was going to college, that far-away place where the highest esteem was bestowed upon one for his attendance. To the Italian-American, his status as a student filled one's heart and made it swell, he was educating himself, he would go far, just the many other "Medicanos" that filled this country.

Grandma had many visitors to her house, non-family members who knew her from her church or charitable work she performed, as well as neighbors. When they came to her kitchen, they were greeted like family, gushing out in Italian, both verbally and manually, they emoted their joy in seeing one another. They sat down without being asked, ate acceptingly, and drank coffee or a little wine, to finish off the visit, just like any family member. Are you Italian? You are family too!

Inter-marriage was an event to be adjusted to No, not for Italians, for those who were not Italian but daring enough to marry one! You were assimilated immediately, like a treasured sister or brother, you were regarded as untouchable, you had married one of us, that was our honor and we loved you for it, you were family!


Post a Comment

<< Home