This isn’t going to be a Latino-themed story. The editorial staff was nice enough to let me spend this article telling you a tale of something as near and dear to me as my Latino heritage: my Italian heritage. True, I look Latino, speak Spanish and have a Latino last name, but growing up, I probably was more culturally aware of my Italian side than the Puerto Rican side. This won’t quite be a ramble on identity, enough people do those, and people who are White and Black, like President Obama, probably have cooler tales to tell. This is the story of how by visiting Italy, I realized that I am American.
As a kid, this is how I knew that I was Italian:
My Mother spoke a regional dialect of it, especially when it was an important adult conversation.
I ate pasta every other day.
We only got our cold cuts and bread from an Italian bakery.
I have a thick Brooklyn accent, talk loud and with my hands, and so do my maternal relatives.
Plus, I would constantly be regaled with stories of my grandparents and the “old country.” In my childhood imagination, Italy was the land of farms, heartache, and wisdom. As an adult, when the opportunity arose to travel to Italy, I jumped at the opportunity to experience what I thought would be a spiritual connection to my ancestors.
When I arrived, my dream was shattered. There were no poor farmers spinning tales, or poverty stricken old-man priests tending to chickens, or even anyone like the Italians I grew up with in Brooklyn (who would inspire the creation of the show Jersey Shore.) What I found was a country of well-dressed proper people; women dressed in the most expensive outfits, just to visit the grocery store. All the men, even the straight ones, wore skinny jeans and tight t-shirts. People listened to techno and house music (not Frank Sinatra or Mario Lanza), and everyone constantly seemed to be smoking some effeminate looking cigarettes. And why the Italian obsession with Nutella?!
Then it dawned on me. When I bought my ticket, the perception in my delusional mind was that I was buying a flight not to Italy, but to “Italy, 1910” or, more accurately “Italy, 1910, the way mom described it to a child.” Don’t get me wrong, the country itself is beautiful, with delicious food, and breathtaking ruins. But from a cultural perspective, I didn’t feel at home in Italy. And it’s probably because I am not Italian, or Puerto Rican, but simply American.
From a Latino perspective, many of you have been in the same boat as me. As much as in the states we call ourselves Mexican, Colombian, or Puerto Rican, let’s face it, when we visit our ancestral lands, and see ourselves, we don’t feel perfectly at home. We may look for an American product, crave an American food, or overhear someone calling us their gringo relative. America is our home.