Being Italian-American: Fuhgeddaboudit

By Maria Russo

By Salon Staff
Published August 28, 2000 7:14PM (EDT)

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Growing up Italian-American in suburban Connecticut, I couldn't understand why my tribe was portrayed as a bunch of one-note urban peasants. It didn't reflect the lives of our family and friends, and it made us angry. To this day, my father still refuses to watch "The Godfather."

Then I moved to the North End of Boston, an Italian-American enclave where I found plenty of neighbors straight out of central casting: the long-suffering mothers, the big-haired and bitter wives, the steroidal men hurling racial insults at my friend. I was stunned, disappointed, confused. Why had I spent so much time convincing my Waspy friends that this stuff on TV wasn't true? I tried cultural relativism: "It's just internalized class hatred"/"It's simply a different form of expression"/"I'm too assimilated to understand." Finally, I settled with, "Hell, at least the neighborhood is safe."

If, as Russo contends, "the ultimate success of Italian-American culture will be its disappearance," then perhaps that sickly strain of xenophobia, violence and shrunken expectations can finally be put to rest. But this is what is lost for me: the image of my grandfather, bending over his tomato plants; the smell of pesto in my grandmother's kitchen; and the gentle, gentle people who populated my growing-up years and were so proud to send me up and out into the world, knowing that I might never be able to fully come back.

-- Amy Traverso

I find Maria Russo's article both insulting and gloomy. To say that our culture is dying is absurd. She just has to visit any Italian home during holidays to see that the traditions are still celebrated. My children are learning these traditions and are anxious to keep these family times sacred. I also find it sad that Russo believes that Italian-Americans are not educating their children. My husband and I work hard to make certain that our children will excel and become productive citizens. Has she never read a who's who of American business? It is populated with many names ending in vowels. I think Russo ought to spend more time trying to celebrate the Italian-American community instead of trying to bury it!

-- Angela Farina

Salon Staff

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