I was just notified yesterday that “1943” a chapter from my thesis-in-progress won the 2010 International Arts Movement Juried Competition in Fiction. I’ll be doing a reading from my submission at IAM’s annual conference at Cooper Union’s Great Hall in Greenwich Village on Saturday, March 6th. Tickets are still available if you happen to be in the area and feel the burning desire to challenge the way you look at arts and the world.
Creativity is universal. It is the essence of who we are as human beings. Although many deny it, everyone has it. One of the people who profoundly encouraged my creativity is the amazing Lorraine Ferro. Lorraine was my voice teacher a few years back and beyond what she did for my voice she encouraged and fostered my creativity. Lorraine had a singular role in my claiming my writer’s voice. She was my one of my first creative mentors and I am so thankful for her.
Lorraine and I share our Italian American heritage through our respective arts. And one of her more recent endeavors just blows me away. Lorraine, JoAnn Robertozzi and Rosie DeSanctis are the three voices of Trebella. Amazing songstresses who bring new life to songs that enriched our lives and helped define Italian American culture as more than either Italian or American.
Thank you Lorraine and thank you Tre Bella!
I was eighteen years old the first time someone called me a wop.
It was the first weekend at college and I was getting to know some of my classmates over some of the worst pizza known to man. We were talking about what we were planning for the weekend when out of the nowhere this rather upper crusty looking guy, we’ll call him Preston, asked me “You’re a wop, aren’t you?”
Up to that point I had never heard the term and asked Preston what he was talking about.
“You’re a wop. I can tell,” he replied, grabbing my school ID from my hands and holding it up for the rest of the group to see. “See I knew it!”
“Preston, what the heck is a wop?” I knew that I had been insulted but I didn’t know about what
He just smirked and tossed my ID back.
It took me three days to find someone who was willing to tell me what I had been called and even he looked ashamed when he told me. “It means without papers. It refers to Italians.”
I wasn’t naïve, I knew that there were derogatory terms that referred to Italians but I had never heard them directed at me or my family personally before. It was an eye-opener to realize that others didn’t see us as we were but who they wanted us to be. At that point in my life I was living the American dream, my father and his family came to the US from Italy in the 50s. They all worked hard, he and his siblings were able to go to college if they choose. My parents got married and worked together to raise us to get an education and be independent. Our whole family was made up of hard working, intelligent and honest people. They did their military service, paid their taxes, sent their children to school and took care of their parents – all the things that good Americans were supposed to do. We had the best of both worlds we were Americans with Leonardo, Sinatra and ravioli.
This was the first time I was ever faced with the Anti-Italianism the history books told me was long past. Ha! Like during my engagement party when my husband’s grandmother looked around my parents’ house, tapped her nose twice and winked at her son. Her opinion was obvious: Italians can’t possibly work hard for what they have. When I approached my husband about what I had just seen he turned red and told me that she was just joking. Some joke! I have it on good authority that when she went to her grave in 2008 she was utterly convinced that I was a mafia princess and not the daughter of a CPA that I “pretend” to be.
What I find particularly interesting is how this type of stereotyping is acceptable in the mainstream. In a day and age when most people accept, at least publically, that stereotyping is wrong it remains acceptable to pigeonhole certain ethnic groups. MTV has argued long and hard that it is merely providing entertainment that the public wants with shows like Jersey Shore (in my opinion, the public will accept whatever it’s handed, but that’s a discussion for another day). If that is true, what does that say about our culture that in an era where an African-American can be elected to the office of president it is still acceptable to target certain ethnic groups for our entertainment?
Many people continue to choose ignorance and there is nothing I can do about that. Their stupidity won’t change me one bit, except to make me more determined than ever to achieve my goals. In the end, the more that I am able to accomplish, the more I prove these idiots wrong. And we Italians don’t give up easily!