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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

Newsletter

    Confessions of an Italian American

    Growing up as an Italian American in New York meant that I would have to endure the many stereotypes and misconceptions created by false ideas and images. These images were generated by the ‘Godfather’ films, ‘Goodfellas,’ ‘Casino,’ the John Gotti Trials and other mafia-related films and historical events. Whether the misunderstood beliefs are true or not, I have always had to struggle with these issues and questions such as, ‘Do you have any family or connections to the mob?’ This has been an ongoing trial throughout my life, but more importantly, because of these misconceptions, I had to deal with the issue of identity.

    It is important to realize that being an Italian American does not automatically associate oneself with being connected to the mafia. I may have connections at the local deli where I get a cup of coffee for free just because I say hello every morning, but besides that, my unimpressive list of connections ends there. Honestly, to me, being an Italian American means so much more than having the possibility of gaining intrigue from those wanting to know more about whether or not ‘fuhgetabouit’ is a real Italian word or if ‘ricotta’ should be pronounced ‘rigahtta.’ There are many misconceptions about Italian Americans in today’s society, but there are also many ‘stereotypes’ which fall dead on target to what an Italian American represents. Of course I am talking about what is at the core of any Italian American – family and food.

    I remember as a child, growing up in a typical Italian household, where the word ‘typical’ meant so much more than a negative connotation, but eluding to an idea dating back to traditions past down from generation to generation. Sundays meant stopping whatever I was doing and coming home by four o’clock in order to commence on the consume with the family. I can picture it now. The very thought of homemade marinara sauce simmering over a hot stove, the crisp green salad with roasted red peppers drenched in olive oil, vinegar and herbs, and the ballet performed by the boiling pasta in my mother’s magic pasta pot only kick-starts a cataclysmic reaction involving my salivary glands. Biting into one of my mother’s meals was like being transported to the 13th century and being served in one of Medici’s palaces. The power and influence my mother had on the entire family with her food was unfathomable.

    As for the holidays – oh, mamma mia! – the holidays were entities all by themselves, especially Christmas and Easter. For the most part, my extended family would congregate during certain occasions throughout the year which pretty much consisted of holidays, birthdays, special events, and days of the week ending in a vowel. But holidays such as Christmas and Easter were special times of the year. These two dates were more than what Americans have evolved them into – a day centered toward the children. Instead, it was a time when the entire family (and by family, Italians include – immediate, extended, and friends) would gather under one rooftop and mangia.

    Now, just to clarify something, eating in an Italian household during holidays isn’t as simple as eating corn beef and cabbage. On the contrary, it becomes a whole day event of eating, drinking vino roso, eating, talking, eating, complaining, and did I mention eating? I would look forward to these days and weeks in advance. It is funny though, how events such as holidays, which caused such great pleasure in my childhood, would continue to do so in my adulthood. I am not too sure what it is about holidays in the Falletti household, but I am sure it has to do with food.

    Oh, the spread of food which consumed every square-inch of the tables, and ironically our stomachs by the end of the night were just as overwhelming. The following sections may resemble a menu at one of your favorite Italian restaurants, but after contemplating long and hard I have come to the conclusion that there is no better way to describe the assortment of foods then to do it this way.

    The Christmas feast commences with the hot and cold antipasti which includes the tradition of the seven fishes. Usually representing the tradition of the seven fishes, my family enjoys fried calamari with fra diavolo sauce, shrimp cocktail, clam dip, scuingili, octopus salad, clams of the half shell, and some sort of zupa di pesce; not forgetting of course the artichoke heart casserole, roasted peppers, olives, and the vast assortment of Italian breads, meats, and cheeses. After the first wave of food has settled our stomachs, the second round begins to spring into play – Il Primo Piato, or The First Course. For you non-Italians or the select few who fall under the category of ‘Honorary Italians,’ the first course is the period between the antipasti and the main course, where stuffed artichokes and lasagna are served, just to wet your palate in preparation for the main course.

    Then at last, when you didn’t think anymore would or could be presented, out comes the Secondi, or the Main Course. This portion of the festivity separates the weak from the stupid. You see, normally when you place food in front of someone and they are stuffed, anyone in the right mind would say, ‘No thank you, I’m full.’ No, not for the Italians. We simply unbutton our trousers and hope that someone had brought some fennel to help with the digestion process. God forbid you say no. Mary, Jesus, and Joseph – the looks you will receive! You would think someone just announced to the family that they committed murder. The horror of it all! I think it has to do with the Italian guilt that comes from anyone, especially the mother, who has been slaving away all night and all day over a hot steamy stove while others enjoyed themselves and relaxed in the den or the family room.

    Oh Gesu, look at me rambling on about Italian guilt and the sin it is to reject food from a paesan, when I should be telling you about the main course, where are my manners? Mamma would hit me across the head for talking like a yenta to you. Mi scuzi.

    The main course, or Il Secondi, is the next level in this game called tradition. It is here at this moment when everything my family and I have been preparing for arrives. The crown roast, stuffed with homemade bread stuffing, mixed with sausage and apples, dusted with cinnamon and pepper, and drizzled with brown gravy rendered from seven long hours of slow roasting in the oven. This is served with spinach and cr’egrave;me sauce, homemade apple and cranberry sauce, and crab-stuffed mushrooms. The aroma alone from the array of delicacies is enough to clog your arteries and satisfy anyone’s hunger. Of course, who can forget the wine to wash it all down with? Normally a decanter of a very good house wine is presented during dinner, but not tonight. Not during the holidays, for during these special events Papa breaks out the big guns. The Italian Chianti from the Castello Banfi Vineyards in Tuscany, Italy, which is aged just right for just the perfect occasion. The fact that the bottle only costs $15 does not mean a thing. The fact is, that for some reason, this is the only time of the year when this particular wine is shared during’ dinner.

    Unfortunately for us, the carnage did not stop after taking the last bite of what is probably considered the perfect portion incorporating the last bits of crown roast, stuffing, a little apple-berry sauce, and mushroom. We finish off what is left of our human-like qualities in exchange for a piece of my mother’s homemade cheesecake and a handful of Grandma’s homemade holiday cookies. Believe me, the exchange is worth it. These final two recipes are hand-me-downs from three generations past. It is amazing how something like a recipe could stay the same for all these years, and yet, still have the same impact it had from when my great-great grandparents were still living in Sicily and sections of Naples.

    I remember reading an article about food in a magazine. It said that ‘food is at the heart of every authentic experience. Whether feasting on regional favori
    tes or savoring fusion dishes, eat as the locals do and you will gain valuable insight into a region’s history, culture, and geography. The most memorable moments in life are almost always at the table.’ Looking back at that article, I can see how pertinent it is to my own life experiences. Naturally the idea of family and food runs a tight stitch throughout my life, making it an intricate part of my identity.

    While sitting in my room, I start to stare at the vast sea of memories compiled from years of traditions, family gatherings, ethnic pride, and meals – and I can’t help but to smile. I smile because I know that I come from a nationality renowned for its superior achievements and influence. I smile because I know that I have something to be proud of when I say to someone that I am an Italian American. I smile because I know that every time I look at myself in the mirror, I see reflected in my eyes years of struggle, hardship, dedication, love, and traditions which make me who I am today.

    When someone asks me what it is like to live in an Italian American household, they are usually surprised when I give them an answer quite opposite of one found in the ‘Godfather’ movies or ‘Moonstruck.’ Not that there aren’t similarities which could be found. Believe me, there are certain stereotypes which even I know I cannot escape from, but those are the misconceptions which many have grown to know and love. Obviously anything having to do with food in an Italian American household is probably true, with the power and influence of the mother at a close second. While we are on the topic of mothers, I would like to clear the air for a moment if you don’t mind. For the record, Italian American mothers – mainly my mother – do not slave over a stove all day long, dressed head-to-toe in black with their stockings rolled down to her ankles, all the while ignoring a faint moustache which has surfaced from years of acting like the father figure. Capisce?

    Returning to my original train of thought, yes, there are certain stereotypes and misconceptions which play an important role in shaping what is perceived about Italian Americans, but none help shape this than that of the idea and the meaning behind the Italian Family. My life, my identity. ‘hellip;Alla Famiglia Italiana!!!

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