Authentic Italian Culture in America
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The Authentic Italian Culture Debate

ilcircolo1“Non ho capito, che cosa vuole, Signora?” (I don’t understand, Ma’am, what is it that you want?”)

My Italian-American dinner companion, fresh off the plane from the Midwest, repeated her request using her best (fake) Italian accent. “Parm-Uh-John-O, por favor.”

The waitress visibly recoiled once she caught the gist of the request. The tone of her voice rose, “Questi sono funghi porcini, freschissimi e molto delicati. Sicuramente non si deve coprire il loro sapore con il parmigiano. Sarebbe un peccato mortale!”

They both looked at me to translate, and more importantly, to diffuse the escalating conflict.

You see, a plate of pasta with fresh, seasonal, delicate, mushrooms should NEVER be covered up with strong Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. In rural Molise, where we were, it’s an offense against God and country. Not to mention the chef.

This week our group of expats, COSÌ, is joining forces with Italy Roundtable for a combined post about “authenticity” as it relates to our individual experiences with Italy. The theme was left intentionally vague so that each of us may interpret it as we wish. For my part, I’d like to ponder what it means to be Italian-American, and if that designation can be called “authentic.”

Under the Floridian Sun

The timing of this post is particularly relevant for me. About a month ago, I had the privilege of attending “Italian Week” in Palm Beach, in my home state of Florida. The event was sponsored by Il Circolo, the local Italian-American society that promotes the preservation of Italian culture in South Florida.ilcircolo

The society was started in 1976 by Reverend Nicholas Maestrini who, upon arriving at his assigned post in Palm Beach, noticed that there was a total lack of awareness of Italian culture in the area. So what did he do?  He literally looked up all the people in the Palm Beach phone book with an Italian last name and invited them to dinner.  Thus started his cultural society.

This was not my first encounter with the group; I first met them back in 2009 when I was studying Italian Literature at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Their name kept popping up around various Italian events in the area, and I soon came to realize the scope of their activities, and the importance of their contributions.

Besides having a genuine affection for authentic Italian Culture, these folks put their time, efforts, and yes, their money where their hearts are. If it weren’t for their work, it is likely that university programs such as the one at F.A.U. would cease to exist. These “niche” college programs with exceptional faculty and in-depth curriculums (but low enrollment) simply cannot function without private contributions in today’s academic environment. Organizations like Il Circolo are the only thing that stands in the way of universities eliminating these programs outright. If that isn’t authentic, I don’t know what is.

ilcircolo2You hear this debate all the time about whether Italian-American culture has anything to do with the Italian culture of Italy. Well, here’s my take on it: While they are not exactly the same thing, they come from the same place in the heart. The core values are perfectly aligned, even if the vocabulary and recipes and music and other traditions are sometimes disassociated from one another. The important stuff: family, the dinner table, and knowing where you came from…those sentiments are exactly the same.

In July, I spent a few days in New York City and I wrote a post about Little Italy, and how it has slowly lost its Italian character. I suggested that the Old World Italians that first inhabited those immigrant neighborhoods would actually be happy for the Chinese that are now living there. For one thing, it means that their children and grandchildren have moved out—moved out of the inner city and into the American Dream. Little Italy was always meant to be a transitional place between the Old World and the New, and not the final destination of their collective journey.

And so their children did move on and became entrepreneurs, professionals, politicians, and community leaders. But when they gained prosperity, yes, they also lost a bit of so-called “authenticity.” Which is just what their immigrant ancestors would have wanted.

 

Un caffè americano, per favore

CaptureCoffeeWe do the best we can to preserve what’s authentic, and adapt the rest to make up the difference. During Italian Week, I also met Adriano Cerasaro who, along with his wife Kate and partner Iain, own Rabbit Coffee Roasting Company in nearby Riviera Beach. Adriano is from Rome and he’s a self-proclaimed coffee appassionato. What he and his partner have done is to combine the highest quality international coffee beans with the Italian style of roasting coffee to produce an original product that is the best of both worlds.

Their coffee can make a mean cup of espresso, but more commonly in the States, it’s used for caffè Americano. In fact, they have found great success in selling their Cold Brew—an iced coffee concentrate from Guatemalan beans that creates a refreshing beverage particularly appealing under the hot Florida sun. This is true to the Italian-American spirit: use Old World knowledge and local ingredients to create something unique that borrows from the best of both worlds. You can really taste the difference in their small batch production, especially when compared side-by-side against the Big name in American coffee—you know who I mean.

Italian or American?

Anyone who is an honest student of Italian-American culture knows that there are some pretty huge gaps between the Italy experienced by Italians today, and the culture that our ancestors created in the U.S. a century ago. Italian-Americans use “Italian” words that are often an amalgam of Neapolitan/Calabrian/Sicilian dialect and the immigrant English that their grandparents spoke. Many cook “Sunday Gravy” in their homes instead of ragù. And some like to flash the Gucci accessories that their Italian grandparents would have seen as a sinful waste of money (not to mention an invitation for the malocchio).

So in the end, maybe this debate about “authenticity” is much ado about nothing. It all depends on where you are, as it relates to both time and location. If your feelings and intentions are genuine, then in my mind, they are also authentic.

Just don’t ask the waitress to put parmigiano on your plate of mushroom pasta. There are some indiscretions that just can’t be defended in any culture.

So here are the rest of the posts from the alliance of expat in Italy bloggers:

  1. Jessica – Where is this “authentic Italy” everyone’s looking for? / http://italyexplained.com/italy-roundtable-authenticity/
  2. Gloria – The odd woman out’s view on “authentic Italy”/ http://www.athomeintuscany.org/2015/03/18/the-odd-woman-outs-view-on-authentic-italy
  3. Rebecca – Italy Roundtable: Finocchi Rifatti al Pomodoro
  4. Alexandra – Art and Travel: the authenticity of seeing art in person
  5. Melanie – Everything is Authentic
  6. Kate – On being authenticated / http://www.katebailward.com/drivinglikeamaniac/2015/03/on-being-authenticated/
  7. Michelle – Living Authentically: How Italy Forced the Issue / http://bleedingespresso.com/2015/03/living-authentically-how-italy-forced-the-issue.html
  8. By Georgette of Girl in Florence: ‘Real or Fake? Shop Smart in Italy’ 
  9. By Pete of Englishman in Italy – “How Authentic an Italian are you?”
  10. By Andrea of Sex, Lies and Nutella: “How to be an authentic Italian (in 9 simple steps)”
  11. From Married to Italy, The fear of the fake: What “authenticity” means to a foreigner in a strange land
  12. By Misty of Surviving in Italy: What does it mean to be authentically Italian?
  13. Rochelle of The Unwilling Expat: Leading an Authentic Life in Sicily
  14. Gina of The Florence Diaries: Searching for the Real Italy

Sharing is Caring!
Rick
 

Living in the Caput Mundi and trying to decipher Italian culture for the English speaking world.

  • What I want to know is what part of Molise you were in, what other parts of Molise you have explored and have you walked on the trattori? Just researching for an upcoming trip.

  • […] County. I’ve participated in a few of their events in the past, including  last year’s Palm Beach Italian Week, which I wrote about several months ago. Their contributions to the preservation of Italian culture […]

  • Kara says:

    Oh how I miss visiting Italy. I took a food tour with my family with this company: foodtoursofnaples.com. So much fun, and the food was incredible. So much authentic pizza, fish, pasta, and really drool-worthy desserts… Yum

  • Joseph says:

    Rick! I have a post request (if you do that kind of thing) I’m in the market for a new bicycle. I want an Italian one… I feel like there is a lot of history with Italian bikes… do you have any recommendations?

    • Rick says:

      Hi Joseph! I’m not really a bike enthusiast, but you’re right, the sport of bike racing is much more popular in Italy than in the US. So most Italian brands that you hear about are high-end racing bikes. In fact, there’s one that has STOLEN my last name! http://www.zullo-bike.com/

  • Thomas says:

    At an Italian-American restaurant I ordered bruschetta — pronouncing it bru-skay-ta. Whereupon, the undiplomatic waiter berated me for my pronunciation and scornfully provided bru-shetta as the proper pronunciation. I defended my position with a few well-earned credentials. Wait staff skills notwithstanding, he adamantly refused my lesson and continued to rely upon how everyone else in these parts pronounces it. Maybe he was right after all. Language and recipes devolve at the same rate in Italian-American restaurants. He got an authentic Italian tip that night.

    • Rick says:

      Ha! Well, even if he was “right” by local standards, the rudeness was uncalled for….and quite deserving of the Italian-sized tip. Bravo!!!

  • Rick, I’m new to your site, but I AM LOVING IT! Thank you because as an Italian-American I am so very intrigued to the point of complete distraction with the debate in my mind about being Italian descent. I’m 56 years old and I’m finally understanding more about what that means and how that has influenced my life. Will be reading and commenting more going forward. Thanks again.

  • […] By Pete of Englishman in Italy – How Authentic an Italian are you? By Rick of Rick’s Rome: The Authentic Italian Culture Debate By Andrea of Intercourse, Lies and Nutella: How to be an authentic Italian (in 9 simple steps) From […]

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  • I really liked the notion of fluidity & adaptability with what makes something authentic.

    • Rick says:

      Thanks Jessica, yes, over time we have to reevaluate and adapt our criteria. Indeed, what was once authentic can even become a hackneyed parody of itself. Italy has plenty of those examples, too…

  • […] By Pete of Englishman in Italy – How Authentic an Italian are you? By Rick of Rick’s Rome: The Authentic Italian Culture Debate By Andrea of Intercourse, Lies and Nutella: How to be an authentic Italian (in 9 simple steps) From […]

  • […] By Pete of Englishman in Italy – How Authentic an Italian are you? By Rick of Rick’s Rome: The Authentic Italian Culture Debate By Andrea of Sex, Lies and Nutella: How to be an authentic Italian (in 9 simple steps) From Married […]

  • Fantastic post Rick, I really like how you tackled this topic. “So in the end, maybe this debate about “authenticity” is much ado about nothing. It all depends on where you are, as it relates to both time and location. If your feelings and intentions are genuine, then in my mind, they are also authentic.” I think you are spot on in saying this, who are we to judge what is authentic? I think us as Americans, who seek and long to attach to our grandparent’s cultures, like the simple traditions, even if it means no cheese on seafood or mushrooms but I also think we have to be flexible. I sort of nod and smile when people give me ‘the rules’ but then go ahead and sneak a little parmigiano on anyway when no one is watching 😉

  • […]  Rick (Rick’s Rome): The Authentic Italian Culture Debate […]

  • […] By Rick of Rickzullo.com Authentic Italian Culture […]

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  • […] Rick’s Rome – The Authentic Italian Culture Debate […]

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  • Paul Hierholzer says:

    All of your observations and insights are much appreciated. Rick’s comment is worth repeating “Italian-Americans remain more connected to their “roots” than any other ethnic group in the U.S.” I’m only half Italian via my mother; my father was German and Irish. I connect virtually 100% with the Italian part–been there 6 or 7 times, dug up my mother’s/my roots, met my second cousins, obtained dual citizenship (for no practical purpose), learned much of the language (again for no practical purpose), etc. It’s hard to explain why we do these things. “I think we’re all trying to figure that out because…”
    My German and Irish heritage simply don’t mean that much to me–something I feel guilty about with regard to my dead father and his/my forebears–keep meaning to honor him the way I honored my mother but just can’t find the inspiration. By the way, an interesting topic here might concern us “half breeds” by our mothers–we who have non-Italian last names. When I tell people I’m Italian they look at me funny. The paradox is that having an Italian mother, I feel, is much more Italian than having an Italian father, if you know what I mean, and I’m sure you do.

    • sabine atwell says:

      I appreciate everyone’s contribution, being a sort of an immigrant for love from Germany in 1965, but I think in some of the comments I read much romanticism and nostalgia. The many millions of Italians who came to the US between 1880-1920 and who also came to Germany in the 60ies came from poverty stricken backgrounds, from rural societies with few choices, little opportunity but to work the land in the poorest parts of Italy. See the recent PBS program ” The Italian Americans”. They came through Ellis Island , without speaking English and had to start over and did in what we today would call ghettos, the slums of the lower East side in NY , and other cities. There was nothing romantic about their life there nor in these neighborhoods as other Italians did not emigrate. They were not the very poorest but they were also not well to do. They got sick in steerage coming here . This country gave them a new start, choices and opportunities they never had there- and the mezzogiorno still exists today!
      I celebrate celebrate their transitions into becoming Americans, keeping bits and pieces of their culture as we all do and acquire useful new ones…The good old days there for them never really existed and so they voted with their feet as do many now from other parts of the world…..

      • Paul Hierholzer says:

        Sabine you are absolutely correct, except I think it is ALL romanticism and nostalgia–and that’s wonderful! I have no misconceptions about the lives of my grandparents. I know they were awful–particularly my grandfather’s. He was disowned by his father–a well to do Italian aristocrat–for having left the seminary. I think it was doubly difficult for him because he didn’t know manual labor as a child and had no work skills. He was educated. He came here because he was disowned. He didn’t feel connected with the other Italian immigrants, which must have made his dealing with his own Italian American identity crisis that much more difficult. He never really “made it” in America. He eventually became an alcoholic, and died separated again from his family, but this time here in America. It’s a tragic tale. Much of what happened to him informed my mother’s life, and so mine and my siblings. Much of what happened to him needed to be “undone” by us. I think I connect so strongly with my Italian part because of that. I mourn on a regular basis for him–having come from a culture where family is at the center of the world, and having lost both of his families. Yes–it is romantic and nostalgic, and that’s wonderful.

        • sabine atwell says:

          Yes, and the ” never really making it in America ” is also part of that story. The dislocation these brave people/immigrants must have experienced, landing there in Ellis Island, being poked and probed for diseases with labels around their necks after a long and tiresome journey. Many died in steerage on those sailing ships in the early days.
          I watched the PBS program the other night ” The Italian Americans”. We have many friends in Monterey/CA. We call them the Monterey Italians. We enjoy the festival of Santa Rosalia here and our church, San Carlos. It is largely an Italian-American parish, tolerant, friendly and welcoming to all of us liberal Catholics.. We go back to Rome ever so often as I was an exchange student there in Junior HS in the early 60ies with a beautiful Roman family and my husband studied there for four years. Nothing is ever lost!

          • Paul Hierholzer says:

            Praise God for us liberal Catholics!

          • Thomas says:

            I was given a window of understanding in the PBS program when it depicted how Italian Catholic immigrants worshiped in a different style from the Irish who had come before. It related how the saint’s statue, and the annual festival that revered it, was foreign to the Irish. The solution was to have a basement church where the Italians could worship and their saint could be displayed. It seems a bit non-inclusive and insensitive for our times, but the Irish were there first and possibly helped finance the building of the church decades before. This story gave me pause since in the Catholic church I attended as a boy in a predominantly Italian-American community in Boston had a basement church. Before the Italians settled there, many Irish called East Boston home. I always thought it was for over-capacity crowds of worshipers. But this church was built in the 1870s long before the Italian wave of immigration. Now I have to ask a few more questions to understand whether this was another accommodation of sorts. It also begs the question as to how much one immigrant group suffered bigotry by other immigrants that came earlier. All of these observations are very rich.

            • Rick says:

              Great observations, Thomas. Yes, I also enjoyed that series on PBS…very informative. As far as the bigotry, I think it’s been proven that human nature makes us fearful and suspicious of “the others.” Which can justify the feelings, perhaps, but not the actions. Of course, with the Irish, the language wasn’t “as big” of an issue (although I’m sure accents, Gaelic, dialects played a part) so assimilation might have been a bit easier for them. They were closer to Anglo culture, even if their religion was Catholic.

            • sabine atwell says:

              Yes, I think the Irish and the Italians competed fiercely for jobs in Eastern cities until they became assimilated. later and competed with the general population. We see that now all over again here in CA. We have an Argentinian friend who tired to get a job in the fields here just to make a point. He applied in various big agricultural companies and never got the job. The jobs all go to Mexicans… not even people from Honduras or other central American countries. The analogy is not perfect,,,,but it makes sense that newcomers who are the most motivated compete with others. The Irish had sort of a language advantage. The two groups prior to Title VII competed fiercely on the police force in NY, Boston and other big Eastern cities.
              In CA there were few Irish and many Italians who controlled the fishing trade. It is now all Vietnamese and some Korean. Our many local ‘Italians” have become doctors, violinists and there is rarely a person who has a working class job among these folks now….

    • Thomas says:

      Yes, an Italian mother makes a difference. My father was protestant and from very poor West Virginia. While in the Navy during WW2, his ship visited Boston and a romance was born. My mother tried to live in WV, but ultimately would have no part of it. So my dutiful father came to my mother’s close-knit, Italian American community of East Boston. That church I spoke about in an earlier post sent a priest to ‘save’ my mother for her blasphemy by virtue of marrying a protestant. My father, whose first name was Clint, got along famously with my Italian grandmother and he was taught to make one hell of a ‘gravy’ (spaghetti sauce). She called him Clinto. Now I am the only family member still living in the old neighborhood — on the same street only a block from where I grew up and three blocks from where my grandparents lived. Now after 35 years living in the same house, my home is on the market as I prepare to make my new home in Puglia. After 100 years, I, as a dual citizen, am completing the immigration/emigration circle! I only wish my grandparents knew of my journey.

  • […] Rick – The Authentic Italian Culture Debate […]

  • Wynne says:

    When it comes to eating in Italy, I figure that the chef will include anything he feels is necessary for the dish at hand. If it’s not offered (in the case Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese), it’s not necessary. Especially in the case of a pasta dish served with fish – sacrilege!

  • Thomas says:

    I have had to observe and listen very closely in about 14 trips to Italy over the years to learn what is the essence of being Italian in our modern times. I found it embarrassing at first how ignorant I was. Being an Italian-American, I finally realized the warp of time had influenced my cultural evolution through an un-natural selection process. You see, my grandparents were brought to America (Boston) by their parents in 1906. By the time I was an adult, all I knew about Italy was through a foggy lens of poverty, limited prospects for women, the toils of inhabiting a new land (the U.S.), the depression, the cultural foundations that built our Little Italys. My great-grandparents were virtually unknown to me and my grandparents, having come over as teenagers, talked little of the homeland. My grandfather never became naturalized, gaining him the distinction of “enemy alien” during WW2. There was no yearning to return to Italy. The relatives living in the ancestral town of Ariano, Irpino (AV- Campania) were out of touch and there were no family reunions on either side of the pond. In fact half the family emigrated in another direction — to Argentina.

    All during this slow process of disconnect through the decades, I was NOT getting the memos that would tell me how much Italy had changed in the intervening years. I also knew nothing about how the building blocks of society are built in this order: family, commune/province, region, country. Country even today sometimes seems like a new and somewhat alien concept — a testament to the enduring power of campanilismo. I learned that my grandmother’s recipe for pasta fagioli (Neapolitan dialect: pasta fazul) — which I enjoy to this day as some sort of intergenerational rite of passage — is made all over Italy with recipes that run the full gamut. This dish exists everywhere in Italy today, but it could hardly rate as a national dish given that regional influences usually trump national ones. So, my vision of Italy as an Italian-American was hopelessly distorted.

    Add to this, the US media’s fascination and further distortions of the Italian culture from the Godfather franchise to badda-bing to the devolution of Italian cuisine. The rage today is for a restaurant to lay claim to the ‘authentic’ Neapolitan pizza. I’ve eaten the real thing in Naples and I’m still searching for a pizza that comes close in America. Simple, healthful recipes from the old country are now being made with an excess of unhealthy ingredients, complicating the recipes and giving the impression that there is something inherently unwholesome about Italian cuisine. When I went back to the source, I learned the wonders and simplicity of Italian cooking. That’s what I cook today.

    Sometimes we Italian-Americans visit Italy for the first time without these lessons and we expect Italians to fall all over us. We make assumptions about the US standard of living and how that must certainly be better than Italy’s. Maybe it is for some, but not for me. Some go into culture shock because the Italy of our grandparents no longer exists. We forget that as our families snared the American dream, we reinvented ourselves. We realize our successes and contributions while we lament the disassociation. We have evolved on a separate island of time with unique characteristics distinct from the original.

    So, what gets preserved? Is it our love of food? Our love of the arts? Our emotional make-up. The bond with family. I don’t know really; I’m still trying to figure it out.

    • Rick says:

      I think we’re all trying to figure that out because, despite all the very accurate things that you mention, Italian-Americans remain more connected to their “roots” than any other ethnic group in the U.S. So there’s definitely something there…but putting our finger on it can be a bit elusive.
      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments.
      Rick

      • I agree Rick, we definitely seem to remain more connected, and that is definitely a positive. However, reading the comments and the truly American experience of transition and assimilation I can’t help but be sad. Sad for us all, sad for immigrants new and old. Rather than maintaining our culture, we adapt and lose that very important piece that makes us who and what we are to become “true” Americans…whatever that means.

    • Daviduccio says:

      I concur with Thomas’s remarks, perhaps because our family backgrounds are similar, but I think more because we both realize that there are two parts to the assimilation process: There is the natural metamorphosis as the generations progress from our immigrant ancestors to our current daily concerns. The second part of the equaltion, which many Italo-Americans ignore or fail to realize, is that our grandparent’s Italian culture was frozen 100 years ago when they left Italy. Once they lost connections to the motherland they lost interaction with the changing culture of Italy, which has endured two world wars and moved from monarchy to dictatorship to a modern if imperfect republic. In this sense the Italo-American culture is analogous to the Amish or Hasidim, frozen in time. We Italo-Americans take pride in our roots, as well we should, but I find most Italo-Americans have a greater appreciation for the accomplishments of Americans of Italian descent than for the accomplishments of actual Italians. That and nonna’s meatballs. And the thing about Americans, regardless of our backgrounds, is that we are all looking to make connections, whether it is high school or university affiliations, sports affiliations or ethnicity. We can call ourselves Italo-Americans but we can’t call ourselves Italian unless we make the effort to assimilate with the Italy and Italians of today.

  • sabine atwell says:

    It is in a way an old American story. By the third generation, most immigrants are assimilated and may keep bits and pieces of their original culture, but in a very different way. I find it harder and harder to discover a real authentic Italian restaurant in the bay area as Italian immigration long since has stopped for the most part ….my neighbors are Italian-Americans and proud of it but have never been there ( 4th generation), do not speak the language and have “intermarried ” with anglos. In a way success as Little Italy and all of the other – towns are meant to be transitional places.

    • Rick says:

      Yep, I agree. But even recently emigrated Italians can’t maintain something as fundamental as the food traditions, at least not in a restaurant environment. The expectations of the diners have become so programmed to expect chicken parm, that any restaurant that doesn’t serve it would certainly go out of business. I’ve seen it time and time again…sooner or later, they adapt or close their doors.

      • sabine atwell says:

        Exactly what I was told by several restaurant owners. Real Italian food is so much lighter that what we get here and so much simpler and more fresh…the portions are so much smaller, thankfully…they have to adapt or close….I guess that is true for all foods that are imported to the US. I have had much better Italian food in Germany to which Italians emigrated in the 60ies and 70ies in large numbers. Many who stayed opened restaurants, great ones…

    • Thomas says:

      Three generations may be one important test of how long it takes to lose connections (unless one is driven to preserve them). My cousin AL (we’re both in our 60s) and I had met for the very first time when he visited Boston recently. His father, like my mother, was a first generation American. Al’s father was a child prodigy when it came to music. His talents did not go unrecognized during the big band era. His writing (String of Pearls, Begin the Beguine) and his gift for musical arrangements did not go unnoticed. He worked first with Artie Shaw and then Glen Miller for many years. He was often credited for the Glenn Miller sound as much as Glenn Miller was! When GM died, he conducted the orchestra for a year. Later, he had his own band. This Gennorusso Graziano became known as Jerry Gray. He’s mentioned in the movie, The Glenn Miller Story. Early in his life Jerry Gray left his Boston home for Hollywood to make his fortune. My cousin was born in California and the process of the Italian influence became less and less. During Al’s visit, I realized that my cousin’s experiences were not my own and although he knew the family had their beginnings in East Boston and that his father was an Italian-American, the Italian effect became remote and diluted. He seemed less Italian to me. In fact, when I told my cousin that I could make ‘pasta fazul’, he was befuddled. He asked me what that was because his father would affectionately call him pasta fazul. At least one broken link was mended.

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  • Pecora Nera says:

    I asked Mrs Sensible why they always smile or snigger when I attempt to use my limited Italian. because you sound like Stan from Laurel and Hardy. Brill just absolutely Brilliant I thought.

    • Rick says:

      Ha, ha, ha. That’s great, but maybe she was referring to the “dubbed” version of Stan, in which case it might almost be a complement.

  • Well said tstaffaroni. Italoamericani often fail to recognize the difference especially when traveling to Italia. They haven’t been reading Rick’s blog!

  • tstaffaroni says:

    Another good topic for COSI to tackle. The Italian-American experience is definitely rooted in the culture of Italy and what being Italian is all about, but with each passing generation it seems to have assimilated more and more and evolved into a more American culture with some bits and pieces of Italian thrown in. It’s a mix of the two and we Italian-Americans need to recognize the differences and accept them for the unique American experience, but also we need to truly discover the trueness of our Italian culture and heritage, something lost in the US. I will be attending an Italian festival this weekend in Phoenix and I will be happy to report back just what “culture” is being celebrated.

    • Rick says:

      I look forward to hearing about your experience. Too often, I’ve been disappointed at those types of festivals, where the only thing Italian are the last names. Instead of something approximating genuine cuisine, I see funnel cakes, arepas, Philly cheesesteaks. The music is more Frank Sinatra than anything from Italy. Etc. I hope that your experience is better…let us know!!!

      • Elvira Brody says:

        I feel the same as you do, Rick. I was born and raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Back then, it was a close-knit Italian enclave and the home of the annual feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. There were games and music, Frank Sinatra and Italian singers whose names I did not recognize as a young girl and, of course, sausage and peppers, zeppoles and calzones. But the highlight was the procession of the three-ton, 80-foot lily-covered statue honoring the Virgin Mary and St. Paulinus.It was lifted by dozens of mens of all ages, and was an honor to be one of the 130 chosen to do so. But, a few years ago, i returned to the feast with my family, and while the lifting of the “Giglio”, which is the name given to the statue, still brings tears to my eyes, the rest of the feast was a disappointment, less Italian than I remember; just like any street fair in New York City. That being said, tstaffaroni makes a valid point; assimilation brings changes. My own grandmother was born in Williamsburg in the early 1900’s and was instructed by her father, who was born in Italy, to speak only English. He felt that they were” American’s now.” As a result, my grandmother spoke almost no Italian, and when she married my grandfather, who was born in Italy, but came to Brooklyn as a child, they spoke almost exclusively English, By the time I was born, while we still felt and considered ourselves Italian, none of us spoke any Italian. It was pretty much the same for all of our friends and neighbors, who were almost all from the South of Italy. The grandparents spoke Italian- sometimes exclusively-,the parents spoke a few words, and the third generation spoke almost no Italian at all. But, even though we spoke very little Italian, we still felt very strongly about our culture and traditions. Sunday’s were filled with the smell of “gravy” from every home. We celebrated our patron saint’s feast days and every holiday we shared some special food made from a recipe brought over from Italy along with other prized possessions. I still make these special foods today, with my daughter, and the cooking process never fails to bring back wonderful memories.And to Thomas, your history sound much like mine; my grandfather was brought to America from Campania in 1906 at age 9, with his mother. His father, who had come over first, stopped in Argentina. (Unfortunately, I know nothing about my great-grandfather.) But I think many think many things are preserved; love of family, food and music. It is up to us to be sure to pass on what we feel is important to us, and do our best to let people know that certain media stereotypes are just, and not in any way a true representation of authentic Italian culture.

        • Rick says:

          Hi Elvira, yes, your story sounds like so many others along the Italian immigrant journey. While we all feel nostalgic for things lost, we should take comfort in knowing that our grandparents and great-parents would be very proud to see how far we’ve all come. Ciao!

      • tstaffaroni says:

        Believe it or not Rick, it was actually a pretty decent, somewhat authentic Italian festival. There were singing and dancing groups from Italy present, true Italian music and for the most part authentic food. No funnel cakes, cheesesteaks, etc. I did see meatballs, but no alfredo. I was happy with the turnout, the food and the wine.

        • Rick says:

          Wow, that DOES sound good. Hard to find, really. Nothing wrong with meatballs! As long as they’re served after the pasta course and not on top of it!! Thanks for reporting….

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