Your gateway to everything Italian/Italian-American in California

Monday, November 13, 2023

I am not Italian

 

 

I am not an Italian. I am a proud, patriotic American. I was born and raised in the United States, I look at the world from an American perspective, and I am a product of American culture, in particular its pop culture. Admittedly, my lifestyle, my belief system, both politically and religiously, my taste in movies, TV shows, music, food, clothes, and so on... were all shaped by American mass culture, that is pop culture, than any customs and traditions my parents and grandparents had. Sure, we ate pasta on the Holidays along with traditional "American" foods (see my articles "Thanksgiving, Italian-American Style" and "Ideas On How To Celebrate An Italian American Christmas" here), sure, my older relatives would speak a foreign language when they didn't want me and my siblings to know what they were talking about, -in this case the language was Italian, - and yes, our last names ended in vowels as compared to my "fellow" White American classmates who had names like Smith, Brown, and Johnson. We had our own religious traditions too, but they weren't really anything ethnic, just Catholic customs that most other Catholics shared. So why is the focus of this website specifically Italian history and culture in California? Why do I even care about it?


Though I came from a thoroughly de-raciated, very stereotypical assimilated White American background with few vestiges of Italian culture, I attended culturally and racially diverse schools. In these schools both on the playground and in a classroom setting as part of a study course, I was forced to reckon with my racial and cultural background. Not satisfied with just being "White," and therefore no different from the Smiths and Johnsons, when I finally recognized my family's Italian background, no matter how faded it now was, I not only became proud of it, but I wanted to know more about it.... 


Being forced to think about my family's history and race got me researching both. I always knew we were of Italian descent, but I never recognized the significance of that, and it was never a major part of my everyday life. I was only around anything that could be called "Italian" when I was around my grandparents, and even that wasn't a lot. Everything else about Italians I only knew from Hollywood, and Hollywood hasn't always been kind to us. As I learned about the history of Italian immigrants in the United States in general, living in California as I was, I started focusing more on that region of the country regarding them, and after doing so, I became very angry.


Angry because I was cheated! So much rich history, fascinating stories and customs, that wasn't taught in schools. The largest mass lynching in American history wasn't in my school text books, for example. And everything we were told about Italians- the Roman Empire, the Italian renaissance, so on... I looked at as an outsider... I never knew that we were learning about my very own ancestors. Unlike my black, Hispanic and Asian friends who have whole chapters dedicated to their heritages in America and can identify with the characters in those chapters by the very fact that they are identified as Hispanic, Black and Asian. But no one ever called me "Italian" or "Italian American." Why is an American with black skin called "African American" even though they were never in Africa and may know nothing about African culture? But when I call myself "Italian American" or "European American" I get laughed at?


But I digress.... the point is I fell in love with my family's Italian history and customs, even if we don't practice them much if at all anymore, and dedicated my life to preserving, celebrating, and promoting them. I no longer call myself "Italian," or "Italian-American," or even "American-Italian." Because my everyday lifestyle does not reflect anything "Italian," but was formed and created by American pop culture. I AM AN AMERICAN. Who has a love for history and culture, for learning about other nations and cultures, so why not start with the nation and culture of my ancestors, Italy? I am an American.... of Italian descent thanks to my ancestors, and an American who loves all things Italian (but second to my love of America.) And this website and blog focuses on Italians in California because I happen to live in that American state.

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