Tag: Italian-American (page 4 of 4)

Independence Day

I had a post all planned for today. I thought it was poignant and insightful. Then I read through my inbox before I made my own entry here. Instead of using my post, I invite you all to read this post by Jeff Goins. Truly inspirational.

http://goinswriter.com/revolutionary-words/

Happy Fourth of July, every one. And God Bless America.

What Do You Do With All Those Tomatoes?

Vandergrift, Pennsylvania when I grew up had a decidedly Italian presence. It was even more so when my parents were kids, and probably even more when my grandparents settled there, but still, when I was young, Vandergrift was pretty Italian. Even to this day they have the Festa di Italiana once a year, so the presence hasn’t completely faded. But I digress…

vegetablesThere were a lot of things I looked forward to in the summer, but one thing I hated as a kid. Gardening. There would be weeding and planting and peat-mossing. And then the picking. And picking. And picking.

Italians plant everything. We have huge gardens. We have to have parsley and basil, those herbs are staples, and they will take over your garden in a nanosecond if you aren’t vigilant. Of course we plant tomatoes.

On that rare occasion that we wanted something no one grew, we’d go to an orchard or farm and pick it ourselves. There was no reason to get bruised produce from the store when we could get what we wanted cheaper fresh from the vine. I spent many June weekends in Erie picking cherries right off the trees.

Many of my friends growing up were Italian, so they worked in their family garden, too. Everyone ate zucchini twenty-eight different ways all summer long. If you’re Italian, you know what I mean.

My friends today don’t understand. My kids barely understand. We don’t have a garden where we live, but we try to get the freshest produce we can. Meanwhile our friends and the kids’ friends are eating frozen dinners and sauce from a jar, or, even worse, just getting take out all the time. When my kids have friends for dinner, I always make sure to have a home-cooked meal instead of letting them order pizza (the pizza here isn’t great, anyway). At first my kids were mortified, but their friends loved it, and now everyone looks forward to eating here. They don’t get food like this at their homes.

Who knew fresh tomatoes were for more than sandwiches and salads?

Are You Thinking Godfather or Jersey Shore?

I know, I know. You hear Italian-Americans and you think Capone and Corleone or The Situation and Snooki. And you are either fascinated with one or both of those lifestyles or couldn’t care less about either. And then you don’t think about them at all.

There’s so much more to Italian-Americans than that.

My heritage is rich and full. Like so many Italian-Americans, we aren’t at the head of a major crime syndicate, nor are we stars of a reality TV show. My family came from Italy because of the same social, political, and economical reasons most families came to America. My great-grandfather came here alone, like so many men did, to find work before sending for his family. Once he was settled in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, he toiled until he had enough money to bring his wife and son over. And once they were here, he kept working. He worked in the mill and grew his family and continued to provide for them until he got sick and died at a terribly young age, causing my grandfather, the youngest, to quit school at fourteen to support his mother, himself, and six brothers and sisters. And he did it without complaint.

That’s the thing about Italians. It’s all about family. You do for family. No matter what.

So my grandfather became the head of his family at fourteen. And even when I was born, the aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews all still treated him like the head of the family. Because he had earned that respect.

My grandfather isn’t with us anymore, but my grandmother still is. She tells me stories of how the wages were different for Italians then, particularly the dark southern Italians like we are. She tells me how the Italians were beaten in the streets and mistreated by other nationalities who had already settled here. That’s why Italians formed their own communities and started their own clubs and shopped in their own stores. It was a matter of safety in numbers and protecting their own. I’m grateful that it’s a different world today.

My family is almost all still in the Western Pennsylvania area. I’m the only one who has had to leave — much like my ancestors, for economic reasons. We went where the jobs were. We now find ourselves in an area without Italian markets and even the closest church is twenty minutes away. We are once again the minority, but it’s not like before.

And I am grateful.

But I haven’t forgotten my roots.

And that’s what I try to breathe that life to in my writing. So no one else forgets, either.

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