Tuesday, March 21, 2006

On being Italian... Well, Italian-American, at any rate.

Growing up on the mildly perturbed streets of New York, (never liked the term "mean streets") I was lucky in that I was immersed in Italian American culture from the beginning. In NYC, the influence of Italian Americans was everywhere, and for the most part, we were the majority on Staten Island.

It wasn't until I came to New Orleans though, that I ever had any appreciation for that fact. Here in the big easy, there isn't really an Italian American community per say... I mean there is to an extent, but it has been absorbed over the years into the cultural gumbo that makes up this very strange and wonderful place. What Italians I met here had no idea of the history of their ancestors, something that had been drilled into me my entire life in NY. I had gotten used to having a pizzeria on every corner, and a family's typical Monday night dinner being spaghetti and meatballs.

One thing that I also noticed was how few Italian American role models had actually made it into the national collective consciousness. Sure, We had a chief justice, but Rudi Gulliani wasn't to be a household name for years, yet. In this vacuum, who was a young Italian American to base his behavior on? Well, for my age group, you had a choice... Mobsters (like the Godfather), Jerks (like Vinnie Babarino in Welcome Back Kotter) or Dumb-ass boxers (like Rocky) Our popular actors and singers did little to make for good role models either... In interviews they tended to be either pompous jerks, or tough guys.

So, what was an Italian to do? Me, I took my cue from history, and looked up to people like DaVinci, Verrazano, and Vasco DeGama. Italians, before moving to the new world were Scientists, Explorers, and to a certain degree conquerors.

Of course, that don't mean I don't appreciate the fantasy of being a Mob boss :)


Lauren said...

Well, you could always look up to Tony Danza... and regarding the Italian population of New Orleans: There was plenty of Italian culture in New Orleans! Venezia! BROCATO'S! Did you ever see the monster sized St. Joseph's Day altar at Brocato's? There's a St. Joseph's Day parade. There's an Italian meeting hall in Metairie. There's Plaza D'Italia downtown. There's an established mob family! How can you say there's no Italian culture in New Orleans?

dreamwalker said...

I googled Italian American cartoonists...interesting. Lot's of art in your hertiage. Actually lots of everything :)

I'm just a happy mongrel.

Anonymous said...

Having served St. Joseph's day mass twice at the Piazza d'Italia, I can say there is a local Italian culture. A culture that added its own pinch of starch to the culinary menu of this city. And wasn't former New Orleans mayor Victor Schiro of Italian ancestry??

But I can't figure out which Chief Justice was Italian. Scalia has always been only associate justice.

Rob the Webkahunah said...

Lauren, you are gonna love tommorow's cartoon....

Maybe I wasn't clear about my assesment of New orleans Italian-american community... it's not that there is None... it's just that it's a far cry from being immersed in it. And the Feast of San Gennaro (degraded here in new orleans to the st joseph's day holiday)is a much bigger deal in the community I grew up in. :)