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Friday, January 27, 2017

BUT FOR THE WILL OF GOD, GO I


Italian-American life in the 30’s 40’s and 50’s was hard. Speaking broken English, or having a need for someone to translate English into Italian or vise verse, could often lead to embarrassment as it made one stand out in the daily flow of life. It could make one feel less than whole somehow, it could affect not only the person who needed the translations but the translator too if he/she was Italian and anyone else connected.

I can remember first hand as young as five standing by helplessly as someone would have to speak to Dad or Mom to convey an insurance policy or a phone call from some official office, a pharmacist or doctor for my grandparents. Most times to take the edge off things, many Italian-Americans went to Italian-American doctors, stayed in much of their community as possible. These men were held in great esteem, high regard and almost to the point of sainthood. “È un Ragazzo Italiano!” if he went to college or was a man in a respected position.

 Most Italian-American’s had hard blue collar jobs, working with their hands, their backs permanently bent from the labor and all they owned was their family and a song on their lips they whistled as they walked to work. Working was the highest profession, feeding your family so your children could have the tomorrow you wouldn’t.

 Growing up and realizing these conditions I developed an admiration for two people who were not my parents, but they were ‘role models’. One was a man who lived downstairs from me, we called him ‘Manduche’. He was of college age and was the son of the janitor who ran our apartment building. Manduche was attending college, he was studying to become an engineer!

“Heza smarta boy, he go to uh collegia! This was told to me as some admiring adult of Italian-Americans who was becoming proud about someone Italian-American. I would look up at him when he returned home from school each night and think: “Wow! He is smart. He goes to college!” Both his parents were immigrants, working hard and giving their children every opportunity they could afford.

 Then there was my Uncle Frank. Uncle Frank was a war hero, returning home from the European theater under General Patton, a corporal. He would tell me horrific stories about his days in the foxholes and the things he learned to do automatically, like entering a building for the first time and looking for all the back doors and windows as a precaution. Not only was he this war hero, he was also holding don a white-collar job, and working for the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a clerk, and here is the big part, going to night school to get a better education that advanced him up the ladder in his government grading! This was impressed upon me by my parents and drilled into me that the only way to lessen misery in life was to better yourself with n education. Mind you I was so young, I had no concept of high school, let alone this college thing that was so mystical, but would need to be achieved.

 The sports world was alive with Italian-American players. Joe Di Maggio, Prima Cannera, Rocky Marciano and the like. As Italian-Americans would gather at a table speaking in Italian and uttering along the line of conversation the hero: “È un Ragazzo Italiano!”

 Today, that feeling still stays with me. My cardiologist, surgeon, and even my eye doctor are Italian last names, kind of gives me a sense of deep pride and I think: “È un Ragazzo Italiano!”

 I cannot be grateful enough the uncertain journey my ancestors took to come to this wonderful country, fighting to earn a place in the fabric of their adopted country, the sacrifices they all made for me, their children who went on to better things because their parents made those sacrifices, paving the road to happiness because of their example, and so I am an American, but remember this: È un Ragazzo Italiano-Americano!




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