I am part Irish-American, part Italian-American and I have some Dutch and French blood running through me to top it all off. I grew up feeling the most identification with the Italian side of my family, which was my mother's side, simply because they were around more often. Both of my parents were from Queens, New York. So, the definition of what an "Italian" was was quite different from Italians who are actually born in Italy.
My grandfather's name was Al Capone. Sheer coincidence, but he was known to pack quite the punch. My mother was his first child, but he later had two other children with a younger woman, the same woman he had an affair with while married to my grandmother. This left me growing up with an aunt and uncle who were my age... That's always been an interesting one to explain. My aunt and uncle were my first examples of what being Italian meant. At least what Italian meant living here in the Tri State. They had heavy New York accents, wore team jerseys, never shied away from bar fights, and had their own interpretation of the Italian language.
Have you ever eaten a ganole? Sure you have. It's a cannoli. That's right, ganole, gannoli, ganoul, ganoolie. All New York-Italian slang words for a cannoli. Then there is hot gaba-goul. That would be hot capicola. Oh, It gets better. If you are an Italian and you do something foolish you are called "Stu-nad" or considered a "stugats," sometimes even a "doo-da-doo." If a woman is an undesirable female, or skanky for lack of better terms, she is flagged a "skeevatz." And, if you are a lady of the night or of the streets (or if you cross a jealous Italian woman), you will likely be labeled a "Putana."
Lets not forget the many other entertaining and somewhat fascinating words that New York and New Jersey Italians keep in their lexicons. Goomba, goomah, oobatz, boombatz, ming, proshoot, biscott, buttagots and calamad just to name a few more. I am not kidding... you have to look this stuff up.
Needless to say I didn't have the best or most accurate examples of where my Italian roots first sprouted. But, these family members were always fun and endlessly funny. They were also generous and kind in spite of their downfalls. If you needed a dollar, my Grandfather would find you five. Even if that meant he went home with empty pockets. He didn't have much, and he probably didn't know much, but I loved him and all of them while growing up.
The Irish side of my family was, in fact, a stereotypical Irish family from a lower socio economic status. My Grandfather, who passed away long before I was born, struggled with alcoholism. My two uncles, whom I never saw or spoke with for majority of my life were also alcoholics, and from what my father had told me, very belligerent ones. I listened to tales of nights when fists were thrown and noses were bloodied in their home. I have even heard stories of my father having to lift his own slurring dad off of the floor because he was so incoherent due to the obscene amount of alcohol he consumed. A sight no child should ever see.
They didn't have a lot of money, and like many people do in Irish families, they dealt with issues that come along with alcoholism, like anxiety, passive aggressiveness, bullying and estrangement.
Here is one of my side notes that loyal readers are used to seeing: In social sciences as well as psychology and behavioral psychology, there are patterns called "multi-generational emotional processes" in all cultures. In the Irish culture a few of these are; alcoholism, passive aggressiveness, teasing (also known as bullying), coping with tragedy with high drama but avoidance, and estrangement.
My father's family fit the mold...
I didn't have cousins my age on my mother's side, and I didn't know my cousin's from my father's side except for two who lived in Florida. When I did meet my other cousins as adults, it was too late to have much in common with them and several of them had inherited the generational process of alcoholism. Not something I wanted to be around. It was difficult to feel so much disappointment time after time, but as I became an adult, I not only understood but, I also respected why my parents chose to keep myself and my sister distant from many of our biological family members.
So, where did all of this leave me? Well, I inevitably have inherited some of these traits and some of the multigenerational systems have continued to spread themselves like a disease into my generation. My sister and I have been estranged for several years. I crave beer like most people crave sweets, I have a fiery temper and never back down from a verbal confrontation, it is impossible for my father and I to have healthy conversations (he blames all of that on me of course, because it is too painful for him to admit that these behaviors have been leaned and passed down), I hear myself using Italian slang with my children, and I even notice myself making facial expressions, gestures and sounds that my mother and father made.
It sounds as if I am only going to take a disgruntled turn here, but I am not. In spite of all of the insanity I am still proud to be who I am and have the parents I had and have. My mother sacrificed everything for my father and for her children. She taught me what it meant to be strong through being stoic and also taught me when to draw a hard line when necessary. My father worked hard with every bone in his body to give my sister and I much more than he had ever had, and taught me what it meant to work hard and stay focused. One of the greatest pieces of advice came to me from my father. The advice was that, "Jealousy is a wasted emotion and it will run your life if you let it." So, I have never been a jealous person and always embrace my own self.
Both of my parents had great sense of humor and were good to their friends. They loved music, food, friends, the arts and did their best to give me the security of family despite all of the "missing leaves" on our family tree. And, when my mother got sick, my father never left her side. They taught me what it meant to love. What it meant to choose a partner that is also your best friend, and how to work things out no matter how difficult they may appear to be.
Now, what did I do with all of this baggage and negative genetic material? I still embraced some of it. Even some of the traits others may find undesirable. I never let anyone push me around and I protect the people I love fiercely. I took the hard-headed Irish-Italian mind I have, and filled it with any source of information I could find, so that I could channel the power with intelligence and not just emotions. I also admitted my faults and sought out extensive therapy and education in order to stop many of these patterns so that I could have a healthy marriage, healthy friendships and be the best mother I can be. Of course, I haven't gotten rid of all of it, but the great news that I discovered on this extensive journey for change, is that it takes approximately three generations to break a multi-cultural emotional process and that my generation is one of the first that has the knowledge and empowerment to stop these negative cycles.
That gives me hope. I hope it gives many of you hope. In spite of the disappointing reality, that it is near impossible to repair damage that has existed with parents and our past, know that there is great possibility that our children will be able to be the first to pave a new path. Not only one of wanting to do more and be more than us, but one that will actually change the ways of behavior in systems and society.
Be proud of what you have come from. Crazy or really crazy. It has given you the tools to become who you are, even if those tools caused you great pain. Your friends are your chosen family who will fill all of the voids you didn't know how to deal with as a child. And, work hard to change the things that cause you shame. Don't just pretend that they aren't there or you will one day see them in the clearest mirror of all, your children.