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The Joys of Italian Living

August 10, 2011

I used to think that, if given the chance, I would change my heritage to something a little more American. I wanted the glassy blue eyes, the freckle explosion stretching across my cheeks, the not-so-brown, not-so-blond wispy hair that could be flipped back with one hand and still maintain perfection. I wanted the innate athleticism that comes with being a poster-child USA baby. I wanted that geometrically perfect house with a vibrant green lawn that held my porcelain crafted husband, 2.5 children, and Golden Retriever dog, Buddy.

But that’s not how life works.

Thanks to my wonderful father, I have been cursed with brown hair, brown eyes, oil-secreting pores and a last name ending in a vowel. Yes, I am a full-fledged Italian. I have long fretted over the innumerable disadvantages to my situation (fuzzy arms, mob stereotypes, and the expectation to be golden-brown year round to name a few) but recently, as that whole pre-college “self-discovery” phase has started to kick in, I have been contemplating the upsides to the irreversible category that is my family roots.

The Food
I’ve never been the world’s greatest food critic (ask me what my favorite food is and my inner five-year-old will resurface and tell you grilled cheese and ice cream) but I can say with complete honesty that my family’s holiday dinners can adopt their own league of deliciousness. From freshly cooked lasagna to homemade sugar cookie droplets, Italian food easily takes the cake (I give you permission to laugh at that almost pun) in this category. Burgers have got nothing on us.

The Clone Factor
You might consider this a boon or a burden depending on your perspective. For those pessimists, having 100 family members with dark skin, dark hair and dark eyes can easily make one feel like another brick in the wall. On the bright side, you can always easily identify Italian comrades in a crowd (bonding opportunity?) and on the even brighter side, you always have a place to belong. That has got to make you feel even a little special.

The Talking Hands
Once, for a school assignment, I actually tried to go a week without using my hands while telling a story or simply speaking. I sat on them during lunch. I taped them to each other. I even planted them on the surface of my desk every class like starfish and refused to move them unless taking notes was required. I lasted about a day. On occasion, the added enthusiasm caused by my flailing phalanges would detract from my stories but the majority of the time, it made explaining them much easier. I couldn’t tell you why.

The Generosity
Perhaps my relatives are anomalies but Italians around the holidays seem to inherit a lot more than pizza dough (I’ll allow another fake laugh for weak pun number two). With a quick flash of the report card and a kiss on the cheek, the average Italian child can expect to make 50 to 100 dollars at family reunions, especially around Christmas and Easter. Little mobsters take note. Crime is not the only way to earn quick cash.

The Camaraderie
On my journey to understanding my roots, I’ve found this factor to the number one redeemer of the Italian culture. You may be a studious book nerd, a party hopping dropout, a misunderstood boy enthusiast, a two time army veteran, or a socially anxious college-bound senior but one thing you can be sure of is that your family will be standing in the back round with raised glasses and cheers of encouragement. If you take that first step out of your comfort zone, that sea of plump, brown-headed clones will trail your every move, even when you don’t want them to.

Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that heritage, like unwanted memories and overprotective parents, cannot be changed. I may not have been blessed with dusty golden hair or a trophy husband but I was born to a collection of people like me who can appreciate the idiosyncrasies that only come with being Italian. In the end, I didn’t get a dog named Buddy either but I turned out to be a cat person anyways, so it’s not much of a disappointment.

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