Hi readers! I hope you’re having a wonderful week. Today I wanted to talk about a subject that has made me reflect on who I am in this world quite frequently in the last few years: the Italian-American culture. It seems that who I am changes depending on what country I’m in, and which passport I show at the airport. I’ve learned that being Italian-American, no matter how hard we try, is not the same as the Italian experience of today. So where does that leave us Italian-Americans? I often feel too different than an Anglo-Saxon American, but not Italian enough for the life I live now. I know some of this is just part of being an expat, but I think this hyphenation of identities is something that resonates with many Americans.
This comes from the practice we Americans have of putting our heritage before our nationality, which is a practice that makes me conflicted inside on a regular basis. On one hand, I love being of Italian descent. It’s my thing, it’s what I’m proud of. I love that my grandparents are immigrants that contributed to America’s history being intimately intertwined with the immigrant experience. On the other hand, when I’m outside of America, I’m just…..American. When I speak to someone in Italy and they hear my last name they say, “Ah, but you have Italian origins!”. Yes, Italian origins, but American first and foremost. Back home, the response to my last name is always, “Oh you’re Italian!”. So does the importance of our nationality or heritage differ depending on where we are? I’m still trying to figure it out.
I loved that in America the Italian side of my hyphenated identity was emphasized. However, when I’m here in Italy, I love that my Americanness is emphasized. I’ve gained a new pride in being American that I often didn’t regard while I was actually living in America. I think this is where the hyphen comes in. The hyphen has often been described as the place where a new culture is born, the true mix of heritage and nationality. Italian-American culture is truly a heritage of its own.
So how are Italian-Americans different from Italians?
- Food– Italian-American food is heavily influenced by American culture. That’s not a secret or an opinion, it’s just the way it is. We’re all aware that there are many Italian-American foods that do not exist in Italy (hmmm…future blog topic?). This is not a bad thing though! Americans and Italians alike are innovative and creative, and immigrants who came from Italy may not have had money or access to the same ingredients they had in Italy. So mixing and improvisation was key! From there, different tastes were acquired to match the climate of the new country.
- Language– Dialect is such a huge part of the Italian-American experience. When Italians immigrated to America, they clung to their dialect when starting their new lives. Aside from that, speaking Italian in America was illegal in WWII. So there’s a whole new generation who wasn’t learning or speaking Italian as we know the language today. Language classes for the later generations, like my generation, really didn’t offer Italian choices in schools. You usually are presented with German, French, Chinese, and Spanish. Whatever we did pick up at home, was usually dialect.
- Grandiose Traditions– One major difference I’ve noticed (and appreciate) is that Italian-Americans are extremely over the top when it comes to practicing traditions from “the old country”. It’s the way that we keep them alive, and not dilute the experience for the future generations as. We’re proud of our heritage, and even if some of the traditions aren’t really practiced so much in Italy today, we make sure that our future generations know where they come from.
At the end of the day, I think I’ll have to accept that I have two perspectives. As an American, I consider myself to be Italian-American. As an expat with a more global perspective, I consider myself to be just American. Feel free to let me know how you feel too!
Need a new podcast? Interested in Italian-American life? Check out my friend Emma Coleman’s Podcast: Ben V. Marconi Lodge: Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America- it is more than just pasta! She has great interviews and topics each week- check it out!
Lots of Love,