The Italian experience in America is something familiar to many of us third-generation Americans. We’ve heard the story from our grandparents and great grandparents. But, what is growing up Italian American like for someone that came over a little later?
Some people today have an unfair impression of what it means to be a descendant of Italians in America. (think: the mafia, or bad Jersey Shore stereotypes of hair gel, fake tans, and the g-word, “guinea” thrown around)
What’s it like to grow up in Jersey, not be a “guido“, and have a mother fresh off the boat from Italy? I asked one of my long-time close friends, Nick Soranno, to tell me more about what it was like growing up Italian American in the 21st century. Enjoy!
December 15, 1970.
It was the day my mother and her immediate family landed on the shores of the United States after setting off from a little town off Italy’s Mediterranean coast. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to appreciate the leap of faith it must have taken to leave your homeland behind. My mother’s family moved to a place they’d never been and adjusted to a culture they knew nothing about. My mom is the oldest of four children, and she became the anchor for her family in their new home. Adjusting was not an easy task, but it forged my mom into the strong woman she is today.
Years later, while working for a small business in New Jersey, she met her husband, my father. Born in Brooklyn to a family only a two generations removed from Italy, my father saw the true side of what it meant to be an Italian in New York City. It was a time in the United States when people of certain ethnicities tended to colonize entire towns rather than pouring into the melting pot. I often picture it in my head as a scene directly out of ‘A Bronx Tail’.
My siblings and I were brought up in a hybrid environment. In 2017, it’s rare you come across an American with Italian heritage on both sides. We got to witness our mom and dad blend our traditional Italian culture with foreign, U.S. experiences.
We were raised Catholic and took our faith seriously from a very young age (yes, a lot of Padre Pio). Attending Catholic grammar and high school, we went to mass multiple times a week. We learned about our beliefs everywhere from the household to the chalkboard.
My mother’s family lived right across the street, and Italian was spoken throughout our childhood. Still, my two older siblings and I failed to be fluent in the language, which is a travesty looking back as an adult.
Venturing into Brooklyn for family gatherings, we saw how Italian-Americans put their own twist on their heritage. Whether it was an American spin on a typical Italian dish or being a bit more into football than soccer, our people were still incredibly devoted to their faith and especially to their families. They radiated a communal sense of belonging that was impossible to shake.
Me back in ’93 and my niece, Julia this past year
I did not know these experiences would have such a large impact on the things that have molded me into the Italian-American man I am today.
And, a huge grazie mille to my friend Nick for sharing this heartwarming story with us. Aspects of his experience are true for me and my family (as I’m sure it is for all of us). While reading his story, it was like I was experiencing it with him.