Wednesday, January 28

Not cool to be Italian?

When I was a kid, it wasn't cool to be Italian. In fact, I have emotional scars from the experience (read on for those details). But as an adult, thankfully it's different. Nowadays being Italian has some cachet. 

Have you ever asked someone "Are you Italian?"
The response is almost always one of the following:
-100%. All italian 
-a quarter

It's never just "yes." It's never "a little."  People will tell you, proudly, how much Italian is in their blood. If it's less than a quarter, they might even round it up to a quarter.  I know people who won't even acknowledge the other half of their heritage. 
-"I'm Italian."
-"But your name is O'Brien."
-"Whatever. I'm Italian."

If they are Italian, they'll tell you the regions their families are from. All of them. 
-"I'm half Abruzzese, a quarter Napolitano and a quarter Calabrese."
-"My Mom's side is from Puglia and Basilicata, my dad's side is right off the boat from Calabria. A little town right at the tip of the boot. They used to wave to the Sicilians they were so close to Sicily." 
"Actually, I'm Sicilian. (This is another topic but trust me, don't attempt to engage a Sicilian in a discussion about 
why they say Sicilian not Italian.)
Myself? I'm Siciliana, Calabrese, Abruzzese and Basilicata. :)

If they aren't 100% FBI (that's Full Blooded Italian, a term you know if you are one), they will scramble to tell you their lineage. It's fantastic!
-"I'm a quarter. My mom's dad was born in Rome, but I was raised with all the traditions."
-"My dad's grandfather's mom came here from Piedmont. We always relate most to that side of the family."
"My mom is Irish and my dad is German but my step-dad is half Italian so you know, I'm kinda Italian."
"Not actually Italian but I married one."

I love that one especially. How do you not love someone who embraces their spouse's heritage? And let's face it, especially if an Italian mother is involved, that's a lot of heritage to embrace! The food, the um, strong opinions, the protectiveness, the hand gestures and noise level at dinner- if you haven't been around Italians all your life and you go to a big family dinner, buckle up!

It's like everyone wants to acknowledge their Italianness- (And who can blame them? Being Italian is awesome.) It's like being Italian is a very elite club with special benefits and everyone feels compelled to prove their bloodline. Sometimes it's almost like people with only a little bit of Italianness want FBIs or others to recognize them as paisans. "Accept me! Accept me into the club!" Can't fault anyone for that. I mean, it IS like a club (a very, very COOL, delicious club!) but all people proud to have Italian blood are members. In fact, if you just love Italians, we'll give you a membership card. We're like that. 

Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco (an FBI) made a joke that Italians will say they're "a hundred percent Italian. Head to toe." And anyone who is part Italian says "Yeah, I'm half Italian and half embarrassed." Nothing to be embarrassed about, everyone should be proud of their roots, but I have yet to meet anyone prouder of their heritage than an Italian-American. This pride is important to me because as a kid who moved from an all Italian neighborhood in South Philly to what my family called "Medagon town" nearby in Delaware County, PA, my Italianness was not embraced. I endured taunts of "dago," "wop," and "greaseball," through 9th grade. My name, my skin color, my nose and worst of all, my smelly Thursday leftover meatball sandwiches (thanks, Ma!) brought me undue attention. (I'd name the kid who was most relentless in doing this but I don't want to give him the satisfaction.) 

So, yeah! You wanna be Italian? Come on in!  

Share your thoughts. 

Thursday, January 15

How to Speak Italian in South Philly

Last night when I was updating the link for PhillyTawk, I came across this old video of Dom Irrera talking about how Italians in South Philly talk.  I'd like to say his examples are largely stereotypical but I can't. Just the names of the neighborhood guys alone made me laugh out loud. Granted, I can only agree with him as it pertains to South Philly Italians when I was growing up, but if you're 40 or older, I'm betting you can relate, too.


Click here:
How to Speak Italian

Wednesday, January 14

Gatzadeels and Jungadels

These are two words I grew up with and I have no idea if my mom made them up or they are so butchered beyond recognition that I cannot find the correct spelling.
I have a feeling gatzadeels comes from the word cazzo which is the word for a male body part, but I'm not sure.

Anyway, they both mean little pieces of decor- figurines, statues, decorative plates, souvenirs, random pieces of unmatching "art," basically things that must be dusted and are infinitely breakable. Gatzadeels don't have to be cheap and junkie but jungadels are.

Growing up, my mom did not have any of those. She has a credenza with a few pieces of Lladro and a piece or two of Royal Daulton, and some Capo Dimonte flowers but that's it in terms of figurines. "Simplicity is elegance" is her motto. And I can't believe it, but I adhere to it. I hate what I call "little shits" all over the house. They junk up a nice clean line of a mantel or a shelf where one or two pieces suffice. In short, my home is "gazadeel"-free.

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The Philadelphia Accent

I'm reposting this video (Philly Tawk by Sean Monahan) because the original post from a while back has gotten some hits and comments that it wasn't working.  This should work now. Enjoy!