It’s not enough that I am subjecting my body to an overhaul. I’m going to subject my brain to it as well. Later this fall, I will be heading to Italy for the first time. As an Italian-American (Sicilian-American to my family) this is quite the pilgrimage. Yeah, I know, some of you all think it’s weird that we refer to ourselves this way (Italian-Americans/Sicilian-Americans), but you didn’t grow up Italian. Some things…just can’t be explained. They are what they are.
As a second generation in the US, I am aware that I’m Italian by heritage, more Italian than those that aren’t, but hardly Italian by those that are. I have a feeling that going to Italy will be culture shock. To ease my transition, I have decided to learn my family’s language.
I’ve always been a bit embarrassed about not being bilingual. Europeans tick off the number of languages they speak like ticking off the number of times they ate out this week. I admire it and envy it. I want to be like them…or at least know more than 1 language.
I can cuss in Italian. Well…not really…I only know one word. I can drop F bombs bilingually. When my family used it, it didn’t have the shame & shock that an F bomb did with my American friends. Their parents were horrified. My parents taught me the word. At least by imitation they taught me the word. There was always so much emotion with it. I can’t imagine them trying to express the same sentiment with the word “darn” instead.
So why don’t I speak Italian? It was a very different world when I was growing up. When I was born, my father had wanted to teach me Italian, but my grandfather put his foot down “My grandchildren are American and they will speak English!” There was no questioning him. My name identified me as Italian, that was enough. My grandparents & father (my mother was American) dealt with being called names “guinea, dego, greasy wop” (for some reason people especially liked adding the word “greasy” to “wop”). It wasn’t just childhood teasing. There was a lot of venom that went along with these names. My grandfather wanted to distance his grandchildren from this as much as he could.
What’s interesting is people’s reactions to that little vignette of my life. My American friends aren’t affected, but my Latino friends find it terribly sad that I lost my heritage. They can’t imagine their grandparents telling them they could no longer speak their language.
I don’t intend this as some kind of political statement. It’s just my story…part of the story of my life. I can only imagine how much courage it took my Great Grandparents to come to a country where they knew very few people and had to integrate into a society where they didn’t speak the language. I suppose I’m doing that in reverse this fall. And like them, I’m going to try and pick up at least a few words before I get there, courtesy of my new Rosetta Stone CDs. Lesson 1 complete.