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Less Italian with Each Passing Day- Saying Goodbye to my Heritage

Ok, let me be clear.  I’m American and proud of it.  Born here, raised here, probably will never move out.

I’m also a New York City native, and NYC is, of course, a melting pot mecca for immigration.   And we who can trace our heritage to another country by relatives who are still alive and usually have accents, still identify somewhat with that other nationality.

My grandparents on both sides came off the boat from Italy.  They were Italian.

They knew English too, but they spoke Italian at home and my parents’ first language was Italian.  They were first generation Italian Americans but still had major ties to the boot-shaped motherland.

My first language was English.  The parents used occasional Italian words and phrases, or had full conversations with my grandparents, great aunts/uncles or my great-grandmother, who never even learned English but lived in an Italian immigrant neighborhood so got by just fine… but they didn’t teach me or my siblings Italian.

But there were still plenty of references and traditions being done in my house where I felt somewhat Italian. Mostly all holiday/food-related: the Seven Fishes [sic] on Christmas Eve, calling pasta “macaroni” and calling macaroni sauce “gravy,” my parents had Italian music that they played in the house and in the car on the 8 track player, and many many other things.

And did I mention that we were LOUD?

Plus, I grew up in a neighborhood where the majority of people were in a similar situation.  As long as we stayed in our little pizza-petri dish of a neighborhood, then we identified as being Italian.  If somebody asked us what our nationality was, to us it meant our heritage because our Italian relatives were still around.

Family holidays were LOUD, food was gourmet and plentiful.  I swear, my mom’s fried meatballs could have solved world peace.

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Of course, Italian Americans had our own take on being Italian, and we all see it in movies and TV.  Yes the cast of Sopranos and Jersey Shore look like caricatures but I knew thousands just like that… maybe even one PERSONALLY.  Not EVERY Italian American is like that.  But there definitely are MANY that are.

But the actual Italian-ness was great.  The accents, the traditions, the language, yes the FOOD.

The years have gone by.  I lost my last grandparent in 1986.  Great Aunts/Uncle, distant cousins along the way too.  I have one actual-Italian “second cousin/once removed” left (my grandmother’s first cousin’s son-in-law.)  He has an accent and always talks about the old country.  I know about 30 words of Italian so I use them with him.  Those are great conversations that make me smile ear-to-ear out of respect, adoration and love.

I honor my grandmother by making homemade cavatelli pasta occasionally from scratch.  I don’t even use a mixer, all by hand as she taught me:

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My mom still throws in an occasional Italian word, we know all of the ones that she uses by now.  And she makes traditional Italian food sometimes, but she cooks less these days, and now she and my step-dad now live in Florida so I see them only a few times a year.

And one day, hopefully far from now, the Italian roots will be gone completely.  I’m American only.  Nothing “wrong” with that, happens to many eventually.  Just a realization of change… And it hit me as I screamed “Paisan!  Viva Italia!!!” to Italian NY Marathon runners yesterday.

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60 thoughts on “Less Italian with Each Passing Day- Saying Goodbye to my Heritage

    1. sure. for two people.. 2 & 1/4 cups of flour, 1 egg, 1 cup of ricotta.

      you can put all ingredients in a mixer and get into into a blob of dough that way. I do it by hand.

      on good sized cutting board, make a volcano with the flour. in the crater, put the egg in there and whip it up. then put the ricotta on top of the egg.

      then just keep turning it onto itself over and over until it starts to stick together. ten knead it until it’s really consistent. will take 15 minutes max, maybe less.

      then pull off pieces and roll them out so they’re long cylinders the width of the tip of your pinky. do that for the entire dough.

      then cut the all up in one inch segments so they look like little pillows. maybe a little shorter than an inch.

      when all done, lightly coat the cutting board with more flour, and for each segment, press your finger tips of your pointer and middle finger into them a little above center, the next motion is as you press down towards the cutting board, pull towards you so the roll up onto themselves.

      continue to re-flour the board lightly as needed.

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      1. Thank you very much!! It was very clear. When I saw your picture, the shape of the cavatelli looked like the gnocchi my great grandmother used to prepare. But the color was just different. I will definitely try to make them (but I’ll use a machine :)).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. 🙂 And my great grandmother didn’t put eggs in her gnocchi, that’s why they looked pale compared to your cavatelli 🙂
        I hope I find ricotta here (very small town!).
        Thanks again!

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  1. I’m fighting the fact that i’m losing some of my Italian (only half italian) roots. I still have my grandparents but it’s slightly different. No more Fishmas dinners, all of their friends are gone so they speak Italian less and less. I personally don’t speak Italian but I’m trying to keep some semblance of heritage alive. I make my nieces call me Zia and you know. wear a lot of gold jewelry and talk loudly with my hands.
    great post.

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  2. How lovely that you honor your grandmother by making that pasta! 🙂 MAYBE one day your roots might be gone but I think that the fact that you have that realization shows that you have a biting conscience/awareness..and I don’t think you will ever completely lose that part of yourself!

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      1. Writing daily breeds some form of discipline…it is quite liberating too! I am fairly new to blogging but it has been really therapeutic to me! I am currently in Singapore!

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      2. Haha..I am Singaporean although I recently spent a year in England and have just returned to Singapore. Nevertheless, I don’t like constraining myself to one country as a fixed location because I am open to moving to different countries whenever. That is why I used the word ‘currently’. Life is fraught with changes and I don’t know myself where I will be heading to next(: You are in New York, yes?

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      3. Haha, I am currently figuring out what to pursue next in life so I am keeping my options open:) Alright, a New Yorker eh! I visited New York about two years ago but didn’t get to spend enough time there as well as learn enough about the city. What a pity, really!
        🙂

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      4. Hmmm, it would definitely be refreshing to you:) The heat, humidity, modern buildings intermingled with slightly more homely neighbourhoods, cosmopolitanism! A pretty colourful and dynamic city(: But, sometimes because Singapore is sooo small, it can feel quite constraining! If you ever do come to visit (which I hope you do), I’ll be very happy to show you around! 🙂

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      5. I live in Brooklyn, and actually on unemployed at the moment. My company laid me of because of some consolidation. I’ve been interviewing, my industry is online advertising research and effectiveness

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Hmmm, I see! This phase of time must be quite refreshing and thought provoking for you then(: Since now you can freely accept a myriad of opportunities lying in front of you:) Any ideas what you’re gonna do next?

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      7. Couple of minutes to midnight. For me, it has been a bit of a busy day because I am in the process of moving houses. So, packing etc.
        What are your plans for Saturday?:)

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      8. I’m going over a friend’s house in new jersey, the next state over from new york. His gf put together a party where everybody dressers like Santa Claus and goes bar hopping. Should be fun. I’m doing laundry and going to the gym before all of that

        Liked by 1 person

      9. I used to write for a travel magazine which explains my travelling. Then, somehow, I was compelled to pursue Law so I headed to England but decided that it wasn’t my cup of tea after a year so I headed back to Singapore just a month ago. Right now, I have a few options in front of me but I will probably make a firm decision next year. (:

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      10. Ahhh, I see. Yeah I am figuring things out but one thing that I know is not going to change, would be my love for writing.
        Nevertheless, we can never be too old for embracing changes, can we?

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      11. Thank you for being so warm and encouraging! Such heartfelt conversations really make my day (or at least, it made my night since it is past midnight here) Nevertheless, you have a great Saturday! 🙂

        Like

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