I am an Italian American living in New York. This paper will provide an overview of my experiences within my community and focus on ethnicity and the way race and ethnicity has shaped my own personal life view, as well the way I am perceived by others. I will discuss what I remember of my childhood and what I do not remember but was reminded of by relatives. I will relate the way my parents, grandparents, and other relatives helped shape my world view using their own experiences and different ways of dealing with lifeÃÂs challenges.
I have but a few memories of early childhood, and certainly nothing that stands out in terms of being Italian American. All my relatives are Italian, and most of the children in the neighborhood were Caucasian. I lived in Manhattan's Lower East Side and even though New York had many ethnic groups living in that area most of the places we visited for fun (playgrounds and parks) had mostly Caucasian children and I thought nothing of it.
There were other ethnic groups like African and Hispanics that used the park, but not many.
My Grandparents both worked, my Grandmother worked part-time at a factory and my Grandfather owned a butcher shop in New York. My family has kept many Italian traditions and I never realized until I look back at it now. For an example, my Grandmother called me ÃÂGiuseppeÃÂ which translates to Joseph in Italian. My Grandparents did speak Italian, but I never learned enough to become fluent. Respect was a very big issue with my Grandfather and as soon as I had entered their house I had to kiss him on the forehead. I hated to do this, but it is a normal custom for many European countries to show respect.
I do remember my first day in elementary school though; I could not wait to get into school. I had been pestering my parents and relatives to buy books and read to me ever since I can remember. I remember my Grandmother saying, ÃÂSomeday you will learn to read all these yourself.ÃÂ One can say I was obsessed with learning how to read. I was able to read in the first grade before the Christmas break. I was so far ahead that the teachers called my parents to a conference to find out, ÃÂWhat are we going to do with this child?ÃÂThe answer, of course, was easy. ÃÂLet the child read,ÃÂ my Mom stated. IÃÂd stay in class for math and social studies, but when it came time for reading in first, second, and third grade, I would go to the library. From what I can remember I was introduced to my first Hispanic women Mrs. Medina who was the schools librarian. Mrs. Medina was from Puerto Rico and spoke with a bit of a strange accent that I had not heard before. Mrs. Medina introduced me into the world of the Dewy Decimal System. (Computers were in existence but not used yet.) For some time Mrs. Hernandez helped me discover my Italian heritage by learning about ItalyÃÂs famous artist such as; Leonardo ad Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, and Donatello who contributed to religious art around the fourteenth century.
My only real memories of race at that time were that there were mostly Caucasian children but very few African and Hispanic children at my school. This was normal to me because my neighborhood was similar to the schools ethnic environment. I believe the summer before I headed into junior high school my family moved to the suburbs in Long Island. Mom and Dad both received new jobs and wanted to be closer to work as well as move away from the old neighborhood.
So, that summer my whole family moved to our new house and my Grandparents followed months after buying a home two blocks away from us. Everyone was so happy about the move, and I enjoyed having a backyard playing volleyball with my sister.
The junior high school was new and very clean I was impressed. The first day I was surrounded by such new activity like; different types of clothing, different accents, many types of sports, and all kinds of children. The school had White, Latino, Asian, Jewish, and a few more Black children. I knew absolutely no one but my sister and the first day was horrible. However, I was lucky because during lunch a few girls invited me over to sit with them. This was funny because the girls were all different ethnicities one was Black, one Asian, and the other White. I learned later that the girls were part of the ÃÂChoir ClubÃÂ and decided to join choir because I knew them. Mr. Heartily, an Irish man, was our instructor and was into the whole ÃÂethnicÃÂ thing for choir. We sung Negro Spirituals, Mariachi, and even tried out some Asian folk songs. I remember our class did a project in which the whole choir dressed in ethnic costumes, and we gave a series of concerts for the student body, parents, and even some Senior Homes. Mr. Heartily explained the heritage of the music after performing the song.
However, during my high school years I received my first taste of the meanness of prejudice. I did not receive as much prejudice as most of the other Black children because I looked White and Hispanic. My skin color is olive, and I get very dark during the summer months. People have mistaken me for Hispanic all the time, so I blend in with both ethnic groups. The only racial slur I ever been called was a ÃÂwopÃÂ or ÃÂdago wop.ÃÂ The two slang remarks are used to put down Italians and Italian culture.
These words never bothered me because I would joke around with my friends, and we use to call each other racial remarks in a joking matter privately. A few of the African Americans who attended the school were treated unkindly by some of the students mostly the wealthy children. An example, the more popular White girls (cheerleader types) would make remarks like ÃÂGo Home to Africa,ÃÂ to some of the other Black students which began to make more sense as I began to hear other racial slurs like wetback, slant eye, border jumper, pan face, nigger, and more. African Americans only made up about 15 percent of the schools population and Black students seemed to be targeted by the few rich children. For the most part there were not too many racial issues that I remember. At the time rap and hip hop music was very popular and many students adapted to that culture, so it was ÃÂcoolÃÂ to be Black.
However, one of the teachers named Ms. Lee herd someone make a remark in the hallway and decided enough was enough. I did not know this right then, but she went to the principal about the meanness she had heard. We had an assembly the next week, and the speakers were a Black police officer, a Hispanic lawyer, an Asian doctor, and a White banker. The guests discussed their experiences, two of the four had immigrated, and discussed how America was changing, and the only way to be a part of that change was to embrace everyoneÃÂs differences, and look at the person rather than the skin color. They brought up famous minorities who had helped America grow, politicians, military, and even showed pictures of famous actors and politicians who were non-white. This tactic worked and toned down the few racial remarks we had in school.
While I was in high school Rudy Giuliani was elected as the mayor of New York. At the time politics were not a part of my life, but Giuliani was an Italian and my family was proud of him for winning the election. When Giuliani won some people were afraid of him being in power because they thought Giuliani may have ties with the Italian Mafia a misconception due to Hollywood movies and the media. Not everyone who is Italian is part of the Mafia or mob and is wrong to generalize a whole ethnic group because of people like James Riddle Hoffa (Jimmy Hoffa) who was an Italian man with connections to organized crime. I have not dealt with discrimination as much as my parents because the Italian Mafia was active when they were growing up. My mom told me stories when she was enrolled in school teachers would look down on her because of her last name ÃÂBasso.ÃÂ I would love to change Americans misconceptions about Italians being linked with organized crime; Italians have contributed greatly to AmericaÃÂs workforce like many other ethnic groups.
When Giuliani was in office he dramatically decreased crime and corruption that was plaguing New York City. Giuliani also supported protection for illegal immigrants. He continued a policy of preventing city employees from contacting the Immigration and Naturalization Service about immigration violations, on the grounds that illegal aliens should be able to take actions such as sending their children to school or reporting crimes to the police without fear of deportation. This policy made minority and illegal groups feel equal to the other members in society. A wide variety of ethnic groups looked up to GiulianiÃÂs leadership experience when he dealt with the greatest crisis to occur in New York ÃÂThe September 11th Attacks.ÃÂGiuliani was praised by some for his close involvement with the rescue and recovery efforts. On September 11th race and color did not matter we were all Americans that day. On December 24, 2001 Giuliani was named ÃÂPersonÃÂ of the Year by Time Magazine.
I look at how far things have come in this country in relation to race. As educated and kind as my grandparents were, they were still products of segregation and discrimination. Prior generations of my family have endured discrimination that I cannot begin to understand. I consider myself rather fortunate to live in this time as opportunities are endless, and I truly can live the American dream. Knowing this makes me strive even harder to become someone exceptional. I need to make my ancestors proud knowing they made the right choice by coming to America.
References:Rosario Iaconis (2007). Will Italians in U.S. give Rudy the boot? Giuliani's flippant and demeaning use of Mafia jargon may repel many of the 25 million voters who share his ethnicity. Newsday, Retrieved December 21, 2008, from Newsday database.
Dave Wedge (2008). Rudy's mob obsession? FUHGEDABOUDIT! Boston Herald, Retrieved December 21, 2008, from Business Dateline database.
Stefano Luconi (2005). The Lost World of Italian American Radicalism: Politics, Labor, and Culture. The Journal of American History, 91(4), 1505-1506. Retrieved December 21, 2008, from Research Library database.
Lawrence Baldassaro (2005). Dashing Dagos and Walloping Wops: Media Portrayal of Italian American Major Leaguers before World War II. Nine, 14(1), 98-106,197. Retrieved December 21, 2008, from Research Library database.
William Mello (2006). The Lost World of Italian-American Radicalism: Politics, Labor and Culture. International Labor and Working Class History, 69(1), 228-230. Retrieved December 21, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database.