There is No Such Thing as Half Italian

The other night, while guiltily attempting to enjoy the silence of a first-ever empty house, I settled into my sloppy, toy-covered living room with the remote and a fleece blanket. I was thrilled about the opportunity to watch adult television, at a normal volume, without the worry of tripping noisily over a toy, or sneezing, or breathing. The silence, though a blessing in the face of recent stresses, was ill-placed. I’ve never been without my children in the evening, and it was downright disquieting.

I sought to distract myself with some enthralling entertainment, something into which I could dive headfirst, something that would help me forget I was alone.

Redemption came in the form of PBS pledge programming. I’m a sucker for PBS pledge programming. PBS is responsible for my love (turned lust, and then safely back to love) of Harry Connick, Jr., Cirque du Soleil, and musical theater, to name just a few. Needless to say, I was more than ecstatic when I noticed an Il Volo concert has just begun.

Picture via

Who are Il Volo, you ask? Well, they’re a motley crew of young adult tenors brought together, in 2009, by an Italian talent competition. And they’re wonderful. As soon as you get past the, ahem, motleyness.

I sat, legitimately absorbed by the concert (to the point where I spent two hours arguing with myself over the practicality of buying tickets to an upcoming show), their shaky but charming English, and their beautiful, yet very distinct, voices.

During one of their songs, a song about mothers, black-and-white family video reels played on a screen above the stage. Grandmothers and grandfathers, whom I imagine are no longer with us, smiled, laughed, drank, and ate at large, food-covered family tables. At the end of the song, each young man presented a single rose to his teary-eyed mother before kissing her gently on the cheek. I have to admit, I got a little misty.

And that’s when it hit me.

This is me.

I am half Italian. But as anyone who is half (or more) Italian, knows, there is no such thing as half Italian. This culture, much like an allergic reaction, has a way of spreading over your body, your spirit, your life.

Brando as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (...

I have had a love-hate relationship with my Italian heritage for as long as I can remember. I love (and hate) the importance of family, I love (and hate) the emphasis on food, I love (and hate) the stereotypes, and I love, no, well, just hate, the portrayals in the media. The Godfather, though I could sit, mesmerized, for the nine hours it takes to run on network television, rather disgusts me. Just about everything filmed in New Jersey raises my blood pressure. And Mario and Luigi? Well, they’re okay. I don’t mind them.

Anyone who reads me regularly, or maybe even sporadically, knows I have a chip on my shoulder about Jersey Shore. Do you want to know why? Really why? Because they’re whom I’ve been running so recklessly to avoid, to avoid being, my entire life. And there’s also that kid from Rhode Island, whom my cousin, and several other acquaintances, know. Personally. What can I say? Small state. The proximity, coupled with their, uh, antics, create a perfect storm of emotional turmoil for me. That and the tanning.

I’ve tried to deny my maker on several occasions, tried to walk away from the gold chains, the accents, saying things like “fuhgeddaboutit” and “sangwich”, and the unnecessarily large holiday spreads, but I’ve only been marginally successful.

Now that I have children, who are now a quarter Italian, a smidge Armenian, a pinch Polish, and half Egyptian, I can’t help but sit here and wonder what we’ll make of that soup, which veggies will float to the top, what direction we’ll take, and how they will ultimately identify themselves. Because though there’s a lot I’d like to forsake about my own culture, I can’t (and won’t) let it go.

I secretly love it when my soon-to-be 81-year-old grandmother hauls off and starts shouting the names of saints when she’s angry, or sits me down to impart some generations-old wisdom. Each time, the conversation begins with her trying to accurately translate some epigram, awkwardly explaining it, then ending with, “That’s what my mother used to say, Steph, but it sounded better when she said it. It sounds better in Italian.”

I know, Gram. I know. It does sound better in Italian.


11 Comments Add yours

  1. Oh I love hearing a good litany of the saints in Italian! My children are half Italian and they frequently complain to me that I ruined them by being Russian/French/Scottish/Mutt. “Mom, if it weren’t for you, we’d be 100% Italian!” (And in my head I say, “You’re welcome,” and “If it weren’t for me you’d have a unibrow.” And worse. Pray for me St. Monica.)


    1. Ha! I totally forgot the unibrow…it’s easy to do since I pluck it so well.


  2. Hey! Great Post. Would you be willing to put it up at MM? Or anything else you feel like?


    1. Yes. I thought about that yesterday, but I got caught up here at home. Should I just post it there as is?


  3. yeah that works – just saw that you did! ;)


  4. Could you add a little italicised blurb about you on the bottom? Thanks for posting it!


  5. This explains so much about my husband and his siblings who are 1/8 Italian. Their grandmother is half. We see each other EVERY weekend, and we drink ALOT and we are LOUD and we eat ALOT and now I get it. Thank you. This also exlains why my 1/16 kids talk with their hands and my daughter thinks she runs the joint.


  6. elinewn says:

    I’d love to be part Italian! Well, except for the hairy part. But nowadays we can fix that. But even more I’d love to be able to speak Italian. Italian swearing sounds so much angrier! And yeah, everything sounds better in Italian..


  7. Bridget says:

    I’m glad you didn’t slam Mario & Luigi. We couldn’t have been friends anymore. That would have been sad – I need more mob connections.


  8. allegra says:

    I am northern Italian, but just half, but my mom hated being italian, so I grew up under a Scottish Irish English father, and my mother denied us access to her heritage and her family our whole lives. She refused to teach me Italian even tho I begged her to do so at age 6. She refused to let me see my cousins or my uncle, but on few occassions. Now that she is 75 , she wants me to connect with my Italian cousins, but there is no bond. It is gone. I grew up under the influence of my father’s family, and to this day I hardly acknowledge my Italian hetitage. I don’t even look italian. People are surprised when I tell them I am half italian. It’s been a love hate relationship with my Italian side my whole life also.


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