Italian Influences

The topic of this post was suggested by a reader from Europe who responded to my request for blog ideas that I made in a recent post. The reader wrote:

I read that you are from Italian descent and still have a connection with ‘la bella Italia’. I was wondering if this European/Italian connection influences your daily life. Does it make you look different to things happening in the States or the world? Or doesn’t it make that big a difference?

This thought was intriguing to me. Here is what I think….

I have divided the questions asked above into two sections. This post is about the question about European/Italian influences on my daily life. I will have a post on this blog in the future about how my connection to Europe and Italy makes me think a bit differently on things that happen in the USA.

My father’s family is full-blood Italian. His parents were born in the Old Country, in a small town on the island of Sicily. Theirs was an arranged marriage. My grandparents immigrated to the United States in 1903 and were married in New York City on Valentine’s Day, 1904. They had their first child in 1905 when my grandmother was 17 years old. My Dad was 6th in a brood of 21 kids, the last one born in 1925.

I describe this part of my family history because it defines the primary influence on my life today. Not really European or Italian, specifically, but of a large family. My Dad and Mom had 15 kids… and oddly enough, that is not the largest family among his siblings. I tell ya, I have a very, very large family! I have hundreds of first cousins, dozens of nieces and nephews, and (now) dozens of great nieces and great nephews, too.

Being among such a large, often raucous, group has many influences. I can “hold my own” in a crowd; I am comfortable with public speaking; I can defend my points of view (sometimes passionately).

Despite some of the differences among my cousins and me, we still believe in blood being thicker than water, so we stick up for each other often. Oh, and being from such a large family and with statistical outcomes of genetics being what they are — I am not the only gay person in the family. I have others who have dealt with the issues of being gay and coming out to the family.

The Italian influences in my life continue….

2. Religion. My Dad was only allowed to marry my mother, who was not Catholic, by promising to raise the children in the Catholic Church. Fortunately by the time my twin brother and I rolled off the family assembly line, my parents became much more relaxed about the church thing. I never was baptized or became officially Catholic. The influence on my life as a result of not being baptized or confirmed in the Catholic Church is a mild form of distance from some of the more Catholic-conservative members of my family, especially when it comes to recognizing that I am married to a man. I wrote about that on a recent blog post. (But I AM a man of deep faith.)

3. Language. My grandparents lived with us when I was born and until I was about six years old. They only spoke Italian. I learned Italian from them as I learned English from my parents, naturally. The best way — learning it when you learn language (rather than studying it later.) I went to college for one year in Italy during one of my senior years. I traveled throughout the country and most of Europe during that adventurous year and conversed in Italian, Spanish, French, German, Romanian, Greek, and bits and pieces of other languages. I regret that I have only kept up the fluency in Italian and English, and converted my Spanish to Latin American (rather than Spanish from Spain), but have lost fluency in other languages as I have not had others to speak with who converse in these other languages. I still use my Italian daily, when I visit with friends or family, or when I just mumble Fa Cosi Sia.

4. Passion. Italians are passionate people. They love life and live it with gusto! I am passionate about my spouse and our marriage, my siblings, my family, my senior pals, my friends, and my community. I care, and show it as much as I can in many ways.

5. Temperament. In the not-so-distant past, some people who know me might say that I had a quick temper. I could get agitated quickly and express my opinions or differences thereof rather loudly. I learned as I matured how to hold my tongue. I am much, much more calm and patient these days, and it shows. I smile much more often. My blood pressure is low, my spirit is happy. Then again, that is another Italian influence — Italians generally are happy people.

6. Food. I enjoy cooking. I built a gourmet kitchen in our house when it was constructed in 1998. It is quite common to find me on Sunday afternoons cooking away, preparing many Italian meals both to enjoy for Sunday afternoon dinner, but also to keep to eat during the week when I have less time after work to prepare home-made meals. Italians love food. Yum! However, I have to say that due to health reasons, I do not drink wine. While uncharacteristic of Italians, wine makes me sick and I can’t drink the stuff.

7. Talking with hands. Yep, my hands punctuate my speech, especially when I am speaking passionately!

8. Bella figura. This is a way of life among Italians. It is hard to explain, but its facets of cordiality, formality in greetings and giving thanks (sending gifts), and confidence are traits that characterize how I behave. The only parts of la bella figura that I do not adopt is the more formal dress and sense of style. If I had to wear a jacket and tie just to have dinner with friends, my friends would faint and I would look so uncomfortable, stiff, and uneasy that all around me would feel depressed. (More information about la bella figura is here.)

Thanks to the reader of my blog who asked this intriguing question! I appreciate it!

Other ideas for what to write about are welcome!

Life is short: know your heritage!

3 thoughts on “Italian Influences

  1. Loved this one! You just covered every memory of my family that I still have. My brother and I were removed from the Italian family “ghetto” by my Dad who was not about to have us do the ‘finish high school, get married, work in the factory’ route. We were WASPed! We did go to college to fulfill Dad’s idea of what America had to offer; we did not learn Italian (the secret language Mom and Dad used at the dinner table punctuated by nods to my brother and me) but I know those hand and arm gestures that are generally derogatory. LOL.
    My cousins — large numbers but not hundreds —- have diversified since factories have closed over the years; figured out that there were other ways to live in the states. Most have done very well.
    Happiness IS a major part of our lives, isn’t it? There is also that roller coaster ride between happy moments……….
    You caught me with many cups of coffee in me. I will be silent now. Thanks!
    Ken

  2. This topic is one of the main reasons why I like your blog so much. Your blog is so authentic and this topic just proves it again. Thanks, BHD!

    And by the way, I love Sicily! I was there for my honeymoon and me and my wife just enjoyed every minute of our time on that beautiful island. There is a fantastic British documentary with an art-historian and an Italian-born chef who travel through Sicily and give a great insight in the island. The documentary is called ‘Sicily Unpacked’ and can be watched on youtube. Here is a link: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLB04A4D2C24DDC100

    Even if you’re not into television, it’s worth your time. You’ll enjoy it! If not, I’ll pay for a bottle of wine 😉

    • Thanks for your comment and the original inspiration for this post. I’ll pass on the wine, thanks. Can’t drink it. But the videos certainly will be enjoyable. I will look forward to watching them.

      Ciao e grazie!

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