Not too long ago I enjoyed watching a really amazing documentary on PBS called the “Italian Americans“, which told the tale of the plight of Italian immigrants and how they were treated and their contribution to American society.
I wasn’t aware of this, but the unification of Italy in 1861, which was meant to strengthen the country and defend its citizens, didn’t exactly accomplish this for the people that lived in Southern Italy, a mostly agricultural and poorer area of the boot, which drove them to cross the ocean to explore a better life. Southern Italians have slightly darker skin (unlike Northern Italians) so they were discriminated against. So much so that half of them returned to Italy eventually. Those that remained must have felt desperate because they were treated lower than dirt, yet, remained. Some of them decided to try their fortunes on the West Coast, and that proved to be quite an amazing move, since it was Italians that settled in large numbers in Northern California, built its fishing empire, along with help creating Napa Valley and bringing their wine culture to the US.
As a side note, and for those that may wonder, my mom has that slightly darker skin, coupled with darker hair, which my little sister inherited, but I inherited my dad’s side of the family very light complexion, paler than pale, blonde with blue eyes, which often confused people about my heritage. My dad’s side of the family lived for centuries in NE Italy in the Alps area near Asiago/Trento, my DNA shows that 50% of it (obviously my dad’s!) is generally German/French/extreme northern Italian and even slightly English and Scandinavian. If I had been one of those immigrants back then, I would have fared much better thanks to my lighter complexion, which serves me well in the world of today as well. Blondes do have more fun for sure, even if my blonde hair is curtesy of L’Oreal nowadays.
Even my aunt and my ex-MIL felt the pinch of discrimination. They both told me stories of being treated as lower class citizens because they had an “accent”, and they moved here in the late 1950s and 1960s. Not that long ago in the grand scheme of things. Amazing how one generation changes things. I never encountered any of the above. My “accent” was never looked down upon, instead it was “cool”, even “sexy”. People nowadays wonder what the heck I am doing in the US when I could be in Italy. Isn’t it amazing how things change? Well, at least for people from Italy, since Italy, well, let’s face it, it’s major cool. If I can say so myself.
The one thing that did change, but not in the favor of my generation of women in general, is how our role as mothers and caregivers has diminished in value. Even if people know that I have a seriously ill child that cannot do anything for himself and is completely dependent on me (and I have no family nowhere close to help), I have an 11 year old that I play taxi driver to (and I cherish doing it-not complaining here), and a husband who, while is for the most part independent, still relies on me for many things since his strokes 5 years ago, people still wonder “what I do”. I get that question so often it’s really quite disconcerting. Apparently taking care of my family is not regarded as important nor time consuming? Would you have asked your grandma in the same situation “what she did”? Is my contribution to society so nill that unless I had a job, I am worthless? Shouldn’t taking care of my children be enough? It’s not anymore. And that is sad. As much as I applaud and wholeheartedly support women’s rights in every aspect of society, I wish being a stay-at-home mom came with some respect. Even in Italy most women do work, and those that stay at home are looked down upon, so this is not a cultural problem per se, just a worldwide 21st century issue, of course only in first world countries.
Now that my book is finished, after the summer, I will most likely look for a part-time position that will allow me to get out of the house in the morning to do something I like-working in photography or graphic design in some way. I will not do this to gain the respect of society, because at this point, the respect of my children and my husband comes first. Being a mom and a wife is a role I cherish. I will do this because I know I will function better as a human being if I spend a few hours a week doing something that lifts me higher, something that feeds my soul.
At the end of the day, family is everything. Ask any Italian! Madonna Mia!