Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Growing Up Italian

I have been posting on a number of Italian-American pages on Facebook such as Proud to Be Italian-American and You Know You're Italian American When. These are fun sites because many of the people share my memories of childhood growing up in an Italian-American household. The people who post there come from all over the world, not just the United States. They are very friendly and supportive; it's like having 10,000 cousins. The age range of the posters surprises me, they are not all old timers, but many young people who seem to want to read about how their grandparents grew up. One young lady said she was waging a personal struggle in her family to keep the old Italian-American holiday traditions alive, but she was fighting an uphill battle.

I feel for that young girl because she only wants for her kids the wonderful memories of growing up Italian-American that she treasures. I wish her luck, but I fear time is slowly erasing the things I hold dear from my childhood. There are a number of reasons for this. First, families are not located in one big neighborhood the way they used to be. This close physical proximity made these gatherings much easier than today when families are more scattered. We took turns hosting holiday gatherings at different houses, and everybody came because they could practically walk. The tables and chairs were mismatched, and so was the dinnerware. Some of us used old jelly jars for glasses; the good china, silverware and stemware were "for company". There was, however, no shortage of laughter. 

Another reason for some of these traditions dying out is that they are a lot of work. Young people grow up so differently, and even with all the labor saving machines and gadgets in the kitchen our mothers never had, they don't want to spend their holiday time shopping, cooking and cleaning. They have learned to enjoy these holidays so much because mom and grandma always did the work. They may not enjoy making seven fish dinners on Christmas Eve, or homemade pasta, lasagna, Easter pies, cookies and all the traditional dishes we love so much. I can't say I blame them...if it was up to Italian men to carry on the tradition, we might be in trouble. It has also become expensive, which you know if you've made pignoli cookies lately. 

The thing that surprised me most is the number of shared experiences people on these sites post about. It seems that whether you grew up in New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, even Italy and Australia, the memories are the same. They remember the food, the family gatherings, the neighborhoods, the crazy relatives, the struggles and especially the love. I feel so privileged to have grown up the way I did, surrounded by family and neighbors who cared about one another and who, without hesitation or fuss, were there to help in any way they could. We wanted our kids to have a better time of it than we did, but to also appreciate the value that Italian-Americans cherish most...family.

And so, as long as we're able, our generation will keep doing the shopping, cooking and cleaning, not just for our own pleasure, but so maybe our kids might be inspired one day to pick up the baton and keep these traditions alive for their families.  


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1 comment:

The Whiner said...

Yes, it's hard for change to happen. I love the old traditions. I think distance is the hardest one for me. I'd be happy to host a holiday! But everybody's gotta come here! I'll do the shopping, cooking, etc. I'd love to give to give Mom and Aunt Paula a break.