Just Italian-American Things, From A Girl Who Was Born And Raised By Them

Just Italian-American Things, From A Girl Who Was Born And Raised By Them

Breaking and confirming the timeless stereotypes of Italian-Americans

Growing up Italian-American, I have heard every single stereotype there is.

Worse than that, being a blonde Italian has gotten me into more discussions over how "Italian" I really am than I ever wanted. Since I was little we've always spent the majority of our time as a family cooking and yelling. It's what we do. We really are the loud family on the block who talks a few decibels louder than necessary. Our neighbors can hear every conversation we have, especially when we get passionate.

Italians like to be heard.

That being said, not all stereotypes are completely true. I am not so sure I like the way society has framed my family's culture. I watch TV and movies that make Italians seem like a household of greasy immigrants who work in butcher shops and bakeries with a mafia hobby on the side. Back when Italians first started coming to America in the 20th century, they faced major discrimination and were restricted to manual labor jobs or, even more likely, no job at all. Because Italians were, and still are, a mainly Catholic-practicing nationality, most Americans did not take it well. Italians came to a country built on the Protestant faith.

There was a major disparity between the Protestant and Catholic disciplines at this time. From the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, Italian-American discrimination became so powerfully ingrained in Americans that there were instances of major "prejudice, economic exploitation, and violent outbreaks" from American employers. From the northern areas of New York to the deep South, Italians worked in agriculture and other intense labor jobs until the 1920's when a new wave of Sicilians came to the northern United States. During this time in Italy, there was a problem with organized crime and when the Italian government cracked down on them, a majority moved here to get away from prosecution. Up until then, there was no more of an Italian mafia/mob than any other immigrant group. With this spike of organized crime came even more prejudice towards the Italian-American culture for being criminals along with a non-traditional white identity and unaccepted religion.

Nowadays, the organized crime rates of Italian-Americans linger around .00782 percent. We really are just a group of people who love our food, our family, and our religion. Some stereotypes are inevitably true because of our genes: we're short, we have dark hair and skin, etc. And others are true because it's is part of our culture: we're loud, passionate, cook a lot, and love/depend on our mothers more than anyone else in the entire world. Italian-Americans take A LOT of pride in our culture. The first thing you'll hear from an Italian is that they are, in fact, Italian. There is nothing we love more than telling people about our culture and inviting them over to feed them. We have a funny vocabulary and laugh at people who pronounce parmesan with the "s" and without an "i" at the end. We pronounce Mozzarella as "mutz-ah-rhell" or just "mutz". Ricotta is pronounced "ree-goat-ah" and Prosciutto is called "pruh-shoot". We spend hours Thanksgiving day preparing and eating antipasto instead of whatever it is everyone else eats. We eat seven different types of fish every Christmas Eve because "it's tradition". Growing up, we spend a lot of time with Jewish people. We celebrate Passover with them and eat together in the masses. We talk with our hands more than usual because we are easily excited and we jump around a lot when we need to make a point (we blame our high blood pressure on our ability to get heated in .3 seconds, not our food -- never blame the food).

Sebastian Maniscalco

True Stereotypes:

Mom's cooking is better than any Italian restaurant there is. We have never set foot in an Olive Garden and every time a commercial comes on we block our children's eyes and sing Dean Martin songs to block out the lies (this part is a joke, but Olive Garden is a joke too so...). Very occasionally we have casual meals, but for the most part, mom cooks a huge dinner every night. Italians will make you stay and eat dinner with us. We grow herbs in our backyard and eat lots of vegetable with our dinners. We really do eat a lot of oil with our meals, especially in pasta. We have crosses on our walls and we really do listen to Rat Pack radio on Pandora when we cook big meals. We really do drink coffee from a young age and, as we grow, we drink more. I began drinking coffee in elementary school and can now drink an average of 5 cups a day with absolutely no side effects. Our last names make no sense and we get asked "How do you pronounce your last name?" at least once a day. Italians really do use our hands when we talk and a lot of us really do kiss each others' cheeks when there is a family get together. We yell everything we say, especially when we are excited and most non-Italians think were angry. Italians really do begin working at an age younger than usual and tend to seek money at a younger age than other cultures. We do small things around the neighborhood and around the house to get extra cash here and there.

*see character names of The Sopranos, Mickey Blue Eyes, or Goodfellas*

Sopranos Cast

Incorrect Stereotypes:

We don't eat spaghetti every night. There are a million different other kinds of pasta to choose from, and when we do eat spaghetti, it's not with a spoon. I haven't eaten "spaghetti and meatballs" or "fettucini alfredo" in my own house in years. No, we don't live like the Mob Wives from VH1. My dad does not travel around the world because he is part of the mob, he travels around the world because we went to college and got a masters degree in Mechanical Engineering and now he has a high-need job. My Italian side isn't some stern-faced group of criminals. They are a friendly, loving, affectionate, loud, cheek-kissing group always ready to be there in times of need. A lot of Catholic families are larger than normal, but not all Italian families are ginormous (we do adopt a lot of "extended" family though). I don't have 17 cousins names Joe, Pauly, and Tony.

Pasta Types

All this is to say I love growing up Italian-American and I wanted to give everyone more insight into what it means to me to grow up in such a rich culture. I hope I can pass on everything my dad has taught me about being Italian because it has given me something a lot of people do not have. I don't laugh when people point out stereotypes about my culture because it was something my ancestors had to fight to maintain. I get angry at bad Italian restaurants because I know what real Italian food tastes like. I am easily excited (not angry -- there is a difference), quick to love/befriend others, and naturally loud because that is how my family is too. No matter how many years and generations pass, I love being Italian-American and I will always take pride where my loud, passionate, high-energy family came from.


Funny Things About Being Italian I Cannot Deny

True Story (from last week):

I actually have gotten yelled at for saying the Americanized "monserela" before. After coming home for the summer after my first year of college, I said "monserela " while making dinner one night. My dad was so offended when I told him I had stopped calling it mutz because no one at school knew what I was talking about and thought I was just showing off.

Italian Comedian, Sebastian Maniscalo

Cover Image Credit: Personal Photo

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20 Rules Of A Southern Belle

It is more than just biscuits and grits.

These unwritten rules separate the people that move to the South and were born and raised in the South. If you were born and raised in a small southern town, you either are a southern belle or hope you get to marry one. Their southern charm is hard to dislike and impossible to be taught.

1. Adults are to be answered with "Yes ma’am" and "Yes sir."

Whether it’s your parents, grandparents, or the person that checks you out at the grocery store, always say yes ma’am.

2. Always write a thank you note.

For any and everything. No gesture is too small.

3. Expect a gentleman to hold the door open and pull out your chair.

Chivalry is not dead; you just need to find the right guy.

4. All tea is sweet.

Below the Mason-Dixon Line, tea is made no other way.

5. Don’t be afraid to cook with butter.

I’ve never met a good cook that didn’t giggle a little.

6. “Coke” refers to all sodas.

Here in the south, this means all types of sodas.

7. Pearls go with anything — literally anything

And every southern belle is bound to have at least one good set.

8. "If it’s not moving, monogram it."

9. Pastels are always in fashion.

And they look good on almost everyone.

10. And so is Lilly Pulitzer.

11. Curls, curls and more curls.

The bigger the hair, the closer to Jesus.

12. If you are wearing sandals, your toenails should be done.

13. Never ever ever wear white shoes, pants, dresses, or purses after Labor Day or before Easter.

Brides are the only exception. Yes we actually do follow this rule.

14. Never leave the house without lipstick.

A little mascara and lipstick can work miracles.

15. Always wear white when you walk down the aisle.

Weddings are taken very seriously here in the South, and they should be nothing but traditional.

16. Southern weddings should always be big.

The more bridesmaids the better.

17. Saturdays in the fall are reserved for college football.

Whether you spend it tailgating in that college town or watching the big game from your living room. You can guarantee that all southerner’s eyes will be glued to the game.

18. Sunday is for Jesus and resting.

19. Learn how to take compliments curiously.

20. Have class, always.

Cover Image Credit: Daily Mail

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Pride? Pride.

Who are we? Why are we proud?


This past week, I was called a faggot by someone close to me and by note, of all ways. The shock rolled through my body like thunder across barren plains and I was stuck paralyzed in place, frozen, unlike the melting ice caps. My chest suddenly felt tight, my hearing became dim, and my mind went blank except for one all-encompassing and constant word. Finally, after having thawed, my rage bubbled forward like divine retribution and I stood poised and ready to curse the name of the offending person. My tongue lashed the air into a frenzy, and I was angry until I let myself break and weep twice. Later, I began to question not sexualities or words used to express (or disparage) them, but my own embodiment of them.

For members of the queer community, there are several unspoken and vital rules that come into play in many situations, mainly for you to not be assaulted or worse (and it's all too often worse). Make sure your movements are measured and fit within the realm of possible heterosexuality. Keep your music low and let no one hear who you listen to. Avoid every shred of anything stereotypically gay or feminine like the plague. Tell the truth without details when you can and tell half-truths with real details if you must. And above all, learn how to clear your search history. At twenty, I remember my days of teaching my puberty-stricken body the lessons I thought no one else was learning. Over time I learned the more subtle and more important lessons of what exactly gay culture is. Now a man with a head and social media accounts full of gay indicators, I find myself wondering both what it all means and more importantly, does it even matter?

To the question of whether it matters, the answer is naturally yes and no (and no, that's not my answer because I'm a Gemini). The month of June has the pleasure of being the time of year when the LGBT+ community embraces the hateful rhetoric and indulges in one of the deadly sins. Pride. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the figures at the head of the gay liberation movement, fought for something larger than themselves and as with the rest of the LGBT+ community, Pride is more than a parade of muscular white men dancing in their underwear. It's a time of reflection, of mourning, of celebration, of course, and most importantly, of hope. Pride is a time to look back at how far we've come and realize that there is still a far way to go.

This year marks fifty years since the Stonewall Riots and the gay liberation movement launched onto the world stage, thus making the learning and embracing of gay culture that much more important. The waves of queer people that come after the AIDS crisis has been given the task of rebuilding and redefining. The AIDS crisis was more than just that. It was Death itself stalking through the community with the help of Regan doing nothing. It was going out with friends and your circle shrinking faster than you can try or even care to replenish. Where do you go after the apocalypse? The LGBT+ community was a world shut off from access by a touch of death and now on the other side, we must weave in as much life as we can.

But we can't freeze and dwell of this forever. It matters because that's where we came from, but it doesn't matter because that's not where we are anymore. We're in a time of rebirth and spring. The LGBT+ community can forge a new identity where the AIDS crisis is not the defining feature, rather a defining feature to be immortalized, mourned, and moved on from.

And to the question of what does it all mean? Well, it means that I'm gay and that I've learned the central lesson that all queer people should learn in middle school. It's called Pride for a reason. We have to shoulder the weight of it all and still hold our head high and we should. Pride is the LGBT+ community turning lemons into lemon squares and limoncello. The lemon squares are funeral cakes meant to mourn and be a familiar reminder of what passed, but the limoncello is the extravagant and intoxicating celebration of what is to come. This year I choose to combine the two and get drunk off funeral cakes. Something tells me that those who came before would've wanted me to celebrate.

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