does it mean to be Italian (Sicilian)
DOES IT MEAN TO BE ITALIAN (Sicilian)?
I sent an e-mail to all my family members who have been corresponding
about our trip here to Sicily. I asked them to reply to the question
are the responses I have recieved. People have found that this information
is very helpful in explaining who we are to others, that it would be
good if more people contributed. I invite others who are Italian (Sicilian)
to contribute to this page. Send your thought to be at email@example.com.
Sam Fedele from Rochester wrote:
does it mean to me to be Italian? Off the top of my head, to be
Italian is to be sensual. It is to intimately taste the wine, the
sauce, and the ripe olives, as well as the color of the sky, the curve
of the coast, and the fragrance of the air, the skill of the sculptor,
and the eye and soul of the painter. It is to feel the pain of humanity,
the innocence of a child, the loyalty of a dog. It means to take
care of your family first but to help anyone in need when you can.
It means to drive a hard bargain. It means to belong to a gene pool
influenced by some of the most interesting cultures of history.
It means being horny a lot.
Being Sicilian, I suppose, is why though we try to forgive, we can never
forget. We have a low tolerance for pain and a special passion for
those who intentionally cause it. We go the extra mile to do onto
others who have done onto us. We are compelled by nature to enforce
the rules of fairness and are frustrated when we cannot. Were
There you go. Better stop before I get into serious trouble.
Janet Prinzivalli from California wrote:
Kathy & Peter
Ive been digging around in my memory banks to find my Italian/Sicilian
roots and recollections. Thoughts pop up. Like when I was five years old
and sitting on our mostly Italian speaking grandmas lap while she
fed me bites of her toast dipped in coffee. I savor the buttery, coffee
flavors and the secondary crunch of toast. A feeling of warmth and love
accompanies the memory. That toast was the best tasting ever.
Of course, we older cousins remember Aunt Stellas ravioli, Aunt
Jennies cookies and sitting around the dining room table, adults
and kids, playing cards together. What fun and sense of togetherness.
I have to agree with Sam that family and food seem to be the predominate
associations. I remember growing up with that protection that Sam mentions.
Only for the women of the family, it escalated sometimes to restrictive
guarding and an assortment of dos and donts such as responsibility
for the caring of the family such as cooking and cleaning but not painting
or gardening or staying out late. I am thankful though for my lessons
in Italian womanhood and for the encouragement to seek the ideals our
grandparents sought in this new land. Im also happy to see some
change and new freedoms.
Another memory pops up - the time that I was at the University of Rochester
for a party on the invitation extended to my dental hygiene school. One
of the fraternity members ask me if I was wearing a guinea
cross. Hiding my anger at the slur, I only asked him what he meant. Somehow
being Italian was suddenly second-class. Much later, our family visited
my husbands great uncle in Sicily in the coastal town of Three Fountains
near their hometown of Campobello di Mazara. There, our children swam
in the warm Mediterranean with their cousins, finding instant rapport
without the necessity of a common language. In the evening after dinner,
everyone got dressed and proceeded to the passeggiata. As
we linked arms and walked with the crowd out for the evening stroll, Rons
uncle motioned with his arm encompassing the crowd and said these people
are your family.
Lastly, my children tell me how different our family is from others they
know. How caring for each other and family ties are important to us. Living
so far from the majority of you, Im sometimes surprised myself with
your caring and generosity. I shouldnt be, and I thank you.
Joanne Barrett from California wrote:
I love hearing of your great adventure. I wish I could be there with you
just to see what family we have left and hear stories of our family. To
me being from an Italian family means Love caring and friendship. We are
always there for each other. Maybe we dont always show it but we
all know the love is there. I am twice blessed as you know My Mother and
Father were cousins.
Peter and I had a Sunday dinner with a group of friends who live in Montedoro
(Feb. 15). They were all between 30 and 60, and one of the people had
lived in the U.S. for some time. There were some children but they didn't
contribute. Here are their collective thoughts about what it means to
stick to their word. La parole é sagra (the word is blood).
men are good lovers.
with big hearts
for others and not necessarily for each other
taste of food is important, lot of pride about how good the food is
in Sicily- especially vegetables and fish. Buona forketta (good
enjoy making things by hand
is a pride in taking care of the land that was passed down. They enjoy
working the land. They pointed out that this is particularly true of
Sicilians, and not necessary true of people from the North like Milanos.
here are changing because of progress
dowry for daughters is important, and mothers make things by hand for
them. They crochet blankets and bedspreads. They particularly like to
make something special by hand for first born grandchildren. (When talking
to some younger people before this about dowries, they shared that it
wasn't important to them anymore and that they had asked their mothers
not to make one for them).
are possessive of their children - mothers of daughters and fathers
are also possessive of their things and ideas.
John Falcone from Florida wrote:
I am second generation
Italian- American. I grew up mostly isolated from an Italian- American
community or extended family, though I do feel that I would not be who
I am if it werent for the heritage of Italian culture and the heritage
passed on by my genes. I am hesitant to lay claim to a culture and history
solely based on a second generation or biological association. The culture
is so intimidating that I feel pretentious trying to associate myself
Did the generations that preceded me go back to ancient Rome? Is it possible
that an ancestor of mine had to fend off the Saracens? Is my love of sculpture
predisposed by the exposure of a many generations removed relative to
the work of an Italian master? All these connections are possible but
One experience that is most probable is that some of my ancestors probably
took refuge and lived in those caves Cousin Cathy visited and showed on
her WEB site. That hardship could have fostered both strength and insecurity,
two elements that govern me to this very day.
From Cathy and Peters journal it is clearly evident that our modern
day Sicilian relatives know the joy of living and strive to protect and
promote the cultural traditions that bring them joy. I feel as though
Ive let them down in some way by not striving enough to keep a connection
to my Italian heritage. I will however live and die with the Italian national
soccer team every four years at the World Cup as they strive to show the
world the elegance of Italian soccer and damn those Brazilians, cant
they see the superiority of Forza Azzurri and just get out
of the way.
I am passionate about living. It is not in me to adopt a stoic and reserved
approach. My heritage prevents it. I guess it means being Italian.
My niece and Godchild
Laura Mirabella Durgin from Plymouth, Massachusetts wrote:
What does it mean
to be Italian- Oh it is beautiful to be Italian. I will never forget when
my Irish husband first told his mother about me. Among other things he
told her that I am Italian. Oh you are going to LOVE the food,
Some will say it is all about the food. I would not argue Italian food
is wonderful, rich sauces; savory vegetables; sausage, meatballs and the
bread. The kitchen engulfed in the aroma of home made sauce simmering
on the stove. The garlic; the cheeses; the pasta oh what you would
miss if you did not explore the Italian kitchen.
Growing up I did not recognize or appreciate the food as I do today. In
grade school I was embarrassed to bring a meatball sandwich to lunch while
my friends were eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Back then cannolis
did not measure up to chocolate chip cookies.
There is much
more to it than the food however. Italians are amazing people. Being
a third generation Italian in America and growing up in the suburbs I
was not surrounded by my culture. But when I am in the North End of Boston
I feel right at home. You can walk into the North End at 10 pm and the
streets are filled with people. We are a social culture, with big families
and constant gatherings. The lives of our family members are tightly woven
together. And we do not hesitate to give our opinion about how we are
each living our lives. What a bother to have so many people knowing your
business and giving you their unsolicited advice regarding your life decisions.
What a blessing to have a safety net of family and friends under you as
you walk the tightrope of your life. The relationships are strong and
the people passionate.
I love to listen to my mother tell stories of her life growing up and
buying the home my sister and I grew up in. It needed so much work. With
a family so big there was always someone who could help. There were uncles
and cousins who were plumbers, electricians, and carpenters. The house
was filled with family and friends all willing to contribute their talents.
My husband and I are fixing up a home now, only we have to rely on the
yellow pages and interview contractors who we will never see again. These
are the challenges of moving away from my big family.
As I was preparing
for my wedding I thought about taking on my husbands Irish last
name. How will anyone know that I am Italian? My whole life people have
commented on my beautiful Italian last name- Mirabella. I chose to make
it my middle name - I just couldnt part with it. I joke now that
I became Irish in a moment, just by saying I do.
I have a copy of an article I found in a newspaper years ago. It begins,
Alice K. (not her real initial) lies in bed wishing she were Italian.
The writer goes on to tell us that Alice believes that the Italians have
a way of life that is really living. Americans live to work
and Italians work to live. How much better, Alice K. thinks, to be Italian,
to believe in your bones that life is something you live each day not
just once in a while on Saturday when you can make time. And finally
the author, Caroline Knapp, reveals that Alice K longs to explode
with emotion and fury and rage, like the Italians. All this would be different,
Alice K. suspects, if she were Italian. She would have a fiercely passionate
husband, and together they would have a fiercely passionate family of
fiercely passionate children and they would sit there at the dinner table
over huge bowls of pasta and scream at one another from dusk to dawn.
My husband jokes
about how it takes him 3 days to recover from trips to Upstate New York
to visit my family. We stay up late; we talk a lot, eat a lot, laugh a
lot and have a wonderful time. He has grown to appreciate, as I have,
what it means to be Italian.
My sister Sandra
Hi Kathy &
I' ll never forget when I was very young, someone asked me if I was Italian,
yes, my Father quickly said, Oh No Sandra you are Sicilian, don't ever
forget that !
My Mother gave me the best gift of my life, she took me to Sicily where
I experienced my true Sicilian culture. The feelings of Love and sharing
of families I'd never meet before, how lucky to be born a Sicilian.
Growing up in a predominately Sicilian neighborhood really kept my roots
All my friends were Italian/Sicilian and Catholic.
Our Home was always filled with family and friends. Saturday night my
Aunts & Uncles would start arriving carrying there Cans & little
money pouches fulled with Nichels, Dimes & Quarters, Cigars &
Cigarettes. My Dad would set up his famous Poker table, they would eat
Sausage at Midnight, coffee, coffee & more coffee, they played cards
til 3 or 4 AM. I remember my Uncle Sam & Aunt Mary leaving and going
to 4:00 AM Mass.
Sunday, I awoke to the smells of Sauce & Chicken Soup cooking......
Did my Mother ever sleep? She was still in the Kitchen where I saw her
the night before. Family would stop-in all day eating my Mothers delicious
food. Katie could feed an Army in minutes. My Mom shared her life Loving
While traveling through Sicily with my Mom and Sisters many people would
ask us where are your men? I throught back when I was young my Father
was very strict about going out beacause we were girls, no brothers to
follow our every move. I'm so glad to be third generation Sicilian in
America, where Women are equal to the Sicilian Man.
Being Sicilian means you'll never grow old, your culture keeps you young
Our Dancing, Singing,
visiting our families all around the Country, for Weddings, Retirements
and Funerals. Watching our new Sicilian Generation grow.
I Love Being Sicilian,
My cousin Chris
I have been thinking
over Kathy's question of what it means to be Sicilian/Italian and it has
taken me a while to really put my thoughts together on this.
I have been looking at the two sides of my family heritage, my Dad with
his Italian/Sicilian ancestry and my Mom's with a Canadian, French, English
and Irish background.
The main thing I have come to see is the closeness and commitment to the
family as a whole.
As all of you know, Dad's father died at a very young age leaving Grandma
with three young children to raise. And raise them she did, with help
from her family. She was as committed to her family then as she was the
day she passed away. Jennies husbands family the Lupinettis
has stayed a part of her life and that of Dominic, Jane, Sally and Rick
through all these years.
Growing up I spent
a lot of time with family and cousins at various gatherings. Especially
memorable is Aunt Jean's "farm." No matter when we showed up
there someone else from the family was already there or showed up soon
after. I never heard Aunt Jean complain about all the company or about
all the sauce she had to make. ( Did she really put muskrat in her sauce?)
Being the oldest
cousin of my generation I grew up playing with a lot of my Dad's cousins
as well as my own. My Great Aunts and Uncles were not strangers to me,
as they are to most of the people I know, they were just more family..
The other wonderful difference I see in my two families is food. There
is nothing exciting about English or Canadian cooking. A scone is one
thing but I'll take a cannoli any day.
husband adds that he always thought he should have taken my last name
the day we were married.
Mostly because my family embraced him as one of their own, and the fact
the name Jimmy Lupinetti just sounds so cool, and he would never have
to wait for a table at the North Side Inn.
My sister Angela
I have taken some
time thinking about this question. It is many things to me, but first
and foremost it is family and community. I felt as a young child the importance
of our heritage from our parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles. Not
that they encouraged us to speak the language (unfortunately, because
now we are trying to learn it better), but that it was important we keep
the Italian traditions and that always included family and friends. We
lived in a prominently Italian neighborhood, with grandparents, aunts,
uncles and cousins all living walking distance from our homes. Our Community.
I recently was going through some of my things, looking for information
I brought back from Italy when we went with my Mom in 1989. I found a
paper I wrote for a college essay. It was a narrative essay and I wanted
the reader to reminisce with me on how a typical Sunday was spend in our
house when I was a child. It always started out with my father listening
to the Italian Music hour on the radio. As we were all getting ready for
church Mom would put the sauce on the stove to simmer. I could smell the
tomato aroma throughout the house, and could hear the sound of the sauce
bubbling along with O Solo Mia on the radio. After church
we always went to the Italian bakery for fresh bread right out of the
oven, and couldnt wait to get home to add butter so in melted into
the crevices of the dough. Almost before we could take off our coats from
church there was someone knocking on our door to visit. My father would
take out the bottle of anisette and yell Katie, put the coffee on.
Putting the coffee on, also meant bringing out her homemade cookies, my
mother rolled and twisted with great care the day before. They sat around
the table talking about the weeks events, from politics to distant
relatives I never heard of. Sometimes the adults spoke Italian: We knew
they did not want the children to know what they were saying. Another
knock on the door and before you knew it there was a house full of people
who all ended stayed for dinner. Our Family.
and Birthdays were a big part of our lives. Mom never would allow a birthday
or holiday go by without some kind of celebration. We always had to have
a birthday cake or special dinner. She was the happiest when there were
people around. Family.
wedding coming soon, it reminds me of the many wedding celebrations in
my life. The aunts busily making all the Italian cookies in preparations
for the big event. You never left a wedding without Aunt Jenny filling
a bag of cookies to take home. I especially remember all the Buffalo weddings
of moms cousins, 1st, 2nd and 3rd generations (Saia and Tripi) all
with ties to Sicily. The summer family picnics in Conseus. There were
always gatherings of many generations of family members and friends (paesans).
I know I can go
on and on about family and its importance, but this is starting to be
more than what I think Kathy wanted. But I cannot end this without saying
something about the Perfection and Control issues we are all constantly
dealing with in our lives and some of the conflicts it has caused. We
have all discussed it and have tried to analyze how we can put it all
in perspective. After therapy and our visit to Italy with Mom I feel I
understand where it comes from. We met cousins in Sicily we never knew
and they had to control where and what we were to do.
Our perfectionism comes from us never doing it right in the eyes of our
father, this was put on him and I am sure it was put on to his father.
The sad thing for me is that I unfortunately have also put this on my
children. I have tried to curtail some of this Sicilian characteristic
and hope my children can learn from it and not let it control their lives.
Our children sometimes feel we are interfering or controlling, but we
want to always be there for them. I hope we can give our children and
their children the true understanding and importance of the Italian family
community that was taught to us.
I feel the biggest gift Mom gave us is love and respect. She taught us
that family should be first and foremost the most important thing in our
lives. We should respect and love each other. She never just preached
it, she showed us by her example. She was the gel that kept in contact
with all her family. She taught us how to love and respect our fellow
man and to treat people well. We are all Gods children
she would say. She often reminded us to Do un to others what you
want to do un to you. It was important to help people in need. I
want to believe that this came from her father and his Sicilian heritage.
Those that knew him said he was a wonderful man. This has to mean a lot
for Kathy to be living in the town he is from. I look forward to sharing
this with Kathy, Peter, Carly, Gina and Steve in the next few weeks.
childrens answer to what do you like about being Sicilian?
I was born here
Sicily has a lot of history
In Sicily there are a lot of historical monuments
It is a land of peace
We have a beautiful sea
It is a beautiful land
Sicily is a friendly region
There isnt a lot of pollution
Sicilians like foreign people
Sicily is the best in the world
I like to be Sicilian because I like Sicilian Proverbs (he then went
on to share one that loosely translated means that you should listen
to your mother or you will have problems
I like Sicilian sport teams
I like the beautiful sun, sport, dancing, water and that my mother is
I like the historic monuments and team sports
I like Sicily because it has beautiful weather and beautiful music.
I like historic monuments, music and dance
I like the music and dance.
I like the historic monuments, water, and the sea.
I like the sports and music.
I like the traditions
I like the Sicilian traditions.
Badolato, a friend of my sister Angela wrote:
I hope you don't mind my intrusion and correspondence. I am a friend of
Angela's and I have so enjoyed following your travels. Angela brought
me to your house a few years ago. I remember the birthday celebration
for your daughter: sauce on the stove and great conversation. Angela and
Steve are home by now and I promised I would send some of my Italian reflections
along. I can't wait to hear about Angela and Steve's travels with you.
While my family is from northern Italy I'd like to share this with you.
Growing up "Italian" was living in a two family house with your
grandparents right on the other side of your bedroom door. It was having
my grandmother raise me as my mother. My grandmother has been gone for
23 years and I still miss her. I remember loving those Saturday evenings
when my parents and my aunts/uncles would go out and we got to stay at
grandma's house. We got to open the cans of tomatoes and use the china
cap to grind the tomatoes for the next day's sauce. It was burning the
pin feathers off of the chicken and learning how to make meatballs. To
this day, my dad is amazed that my meatballs taste exactly like my grandmother's!
We'd got to stay up late and drink hot chocolate. Sundays after church
were sauce on the stove and music on the radio. It was Sunday dinners
with all of my cousins around and grandpa coming home after going to the
"club" and bringing us all chocolate bars (we proudly sent him
to heaven with a Hershey bar in his hand). Buying new school shoes was
an annual event with my grandparents. Our neighborhood was full of other
Italian families, small corner stores that we could walk to (and wouldn't
dream of allowing our children to do so in this day and age). It was really
knowing your neighbors and being part of a big extended family that could
drop by at any given moment. My grandfather kept his driver's license
into his late 70's and drove each one of us to school at one point or
another. We'd joyfully sweat in the backseat as he cranked up the heat
because he was so cold because of his circulation. It was and it is above
all else: family. As I prepare for my second wedding in two short weeks
there will be very little family missing. My fiancé (who is not
Italian) is amazed at the closeness I have with my cousins. They are my
family but more than than that, they are my friends. It's orange soda
toasts in honor of our grandparents at each of our weddings. We always
had orange soda with our Sunday spaghetti so we honor that tradition at
our weddings. My aunt and uncle owned a beauty salon and we all had our
first haircuts done by them. And while the salon is long closed, my aunt
continues to do the first haircut for her grand nieces and nephews. Being
Italian is meeting Angela through a business relationship and developing
a good friendship. She is a wonderful woman and I am glad to know her
and Steve. Growing up Italian and being Italian is passion. It's the excited
tone in one's voice, the hands in motion and the intensity of feelings
in everything you do. It's warmth and opening yourself and your home to
others. There is always a place at the table. I wish you blessed and safe
travels the rest of your time in Sicily. Elaine Badolato