My Italian Grandfather came to America to start a new life, to become an American, to escape poverty and to avoid creeping Socialism. He also had to go through the legal process of Immigration and Naturalization, was sponsored, vouched for, promised work by a relative and paid taxes. English was the only language he allowed spoken in his own household, so that his children would become quickly assimilated into American society.
As an adult, my father had to go back to school to learn spoken Italian. As such to this day I am left struggling to correctly verbalize the colorful Old Italian curses. Just like failing to learn the Texas Soft Shoe Shuffle from my Texan grandfather, I somehow feel as though something has been irrevocably lost by my not knowing any of this romantic vocabulary; especially the vulgate.
But assimilation was a defensive necessity in the old days.
The Irish, whose immigration preceded the Italian’s, and who already had a leg up because they knew the language (of sorts), relished the opportunity to persecute the “guineas.” This slang term was derived from the Irish labor bosses, who while supervising groups of Italian on the railroads, would comment that they ‘cackle like a flock of guinea hens.’ Any Italian, who spoke English, was then looked upon with a bit more respect.
Where, then does the term “Wop” come from? Was it the sound of Pizza dough falling out of the sky and hitting a hard counter-top, or more likely “Without Papers”? Then what about the term “Dego,” too? I cannot even begin to hazard a guess where this ridiculous idiom came from. Perhaps “Diego” as a slight to Christopher Columbus?”
Ironically, it is a shame that my grandfather did not speak English, because being unusual for an Italian, his natural hair color was red; a trait that his friends teased him about enough to eventually settle on the nickname ‘O Rousse.’ Because unfortunately for the most part and for most people the only thing that sometimes really counts are appearances, given the proper accent along with the right outfit, by changing his last name to O’ Ross he could have turned this to an advantage and blended in quite nicely with the rest of the “Micks.”
In contrast, today’s immigrant is generally an illegal un-sponsored Hispanic, who doesn’t pay taxes, refuses to learn the language, and who actually expects citizens in this country to learn his native language instead. They send billions of dollars back home. Some of them are felons who ply the drug and human trafficking trades. Their children take up classroom space in schools at taxpayer expense; while for unknown reasons they even enjoy legal rights under Federal anti-discrimination anti-hate legislation.
The very fact of most bilingual signage being scripted in Spanish begs the hypocritical issue of selective language discrimination against the Pole, the Russian, the Czech, or any other person more likely to have legitimate visa papers. Other countries of the world do not remotely consider catering to such nonsense. They simply arrest illegal aliens and deport them. They also do not have multi-lingual signage; or if so the second language seems to paradoxically revert to English.
Although I do not understand these trends, which do nothing but increase polarization in our society, I suppose it is no worse than also lacking a clear understanding of my father’s generation, those children of the legal immigrants, who counter-intuitively and illogically then all seemed as though they want to go back and become native Italians or Irishmen all over again.
When I was a teenager, I could not think of anything more ridiculous than a bunch of grown men calling themselves ‘The Sons of Italy’ or the ‘Knights of Columbus’, dressing up like Christopher and his crew, running around waving Italian flags, speaking fractured idiomatic Italian, singing pigeon opera, and crying like a bunch of babies over the old country that they had never known, had never seen, and could not even really afford to go back for a visit.
The same goes for the caterwauling Irishman weeping and falling into his boilermaker booze while he belts out a few maudlin tunes for that good old unknown sod of his father, who left because he was starving to death and barely surviving on potato peels. See if you can figure that one out or even explain it to someone waiting in the interminably long legitimate United States INS citizenship application lines.
Sorry Grandpa. You can roll back over again.
Calitri, Italy: If you lived here, you would be home now
My father took it even one step further. Throughout his life if anything or anyone happened to be of Italian extraction or of Italian origin, it logically followed that it had to be good; even if it was absolutely not any good at all. That logic applied equally for example to the gamut between olives to people; even if they were all collectively rotten or degenerate.
He also said there was no such thing as the Mafia, which in his opinion was an invention of Federal agencies, bent on further denigrating his campadres. To purposefully spite that nonsense, I argued to the contrary by suggesting to him that the Sons of Italy was a phony front group that harbored, covered up and legitimized organized criminals.
On one occasion when we went out to dinner, my father engaged the family sitting next to us in conversation, when upon discovering that the family was of Italian extraction, he invited them over to our house for drinks the next weekend. As it turned out, the only thing anyone had in common, including the various children was that everyone’s last name ended with an O; such that after numerous silent or dangling conversations I realized it was an experiment in reverse bias that turned out to be nothing but an unmitigated boring failure. My mother was furious about the invitation anyway and used the fiasco as yet another in a tediously long series of “I told you so’s.”
Another example of all things Italian being copasetic occurred when I was once briefly engaged to a girl of Italian extraction. She could have had no arms, legs, teeth or hair, not to mention anything about her personality or her brains. My father hadn’t even met her yet, but it made little difference. Her last name ended in an “I,” and that was good enough for him.
- Oh great. She’s ‘Talian. I can’t wait to meet her. I know she’ll make a great wife.
Personally, I have nothing against Italy. I think the country has a great heritage, especially when it comes to scientific advances, music, architecture or art, but not the counter-point brutality of the Roman Empire. It also makes some really some good wines, cheese, and olives. As far as Italians or Hispanics themselves are concerned, just as in any other culture, country or food product, there can be some really bad ones mixed up in the barrels of the genuinely good, while unfiltered immigration will never be able to separate this chaff from its wheat.
When it came to Italy, the worst immingrants were the really crooked men who went out of their way to make you think they were straight laced legitimate, yet in reality are no better than any other ordinary con-man who comes along to set up a street game along with a seductive rap and a shill in tow. Just like the ones who in belonging to the Mafia swear on the New Testament that it is nothing but a benevolent charitable international civic organization; while behind the scenes a murder contract goes out.
But I knew that never happened anyway because my daddy told me so when I was just a little boy. And everyone knows that daddy’s never lie to their sweet little innocent babies.
The Italian Flag
Cause I’m a Muswell hillbilly boy. But my heart lies in ol’ West Virginia.
Never seen New Orleans, Oklahoma or Tennessee.
Ah, take me back to those Black Hills
That I ain’t never seen.
(Muswell Hillbillies: The Kinks)
Calitri, Italy Photo/Source http://www.panoramio.com/photo/3934667