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

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

Breaking and confirming the timeless stereotypes of Italian-Americans

Personal Photo

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

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