I am a guinea wop goombah greaseball grape-stomper Guido Mafioso, a garlic-breathed Fonzi with, as fellow Siciliano Quentin Tarantio pointed out in True Romance, n-word blood.
I am part Swedish meatball bork-bork chef, and part Slav – an ethnicity from which the English word slave was drawn because Slavs were so often conquered and enserfed. My grandparents and great-grandparents on all three sides of my family (Dad’s side, and the two halves of Mom’s ancestry) were part of the “great unwashed,” the Ellis Island mob of European immigrants who fled Europe around the time of World War I. My people are the people for whom the Statue of Liberty was a beacon of the future, and they were greeted with hostility, rage, and often violence.
My father and his brothers were born and raised in a ghetto of the Bronx. Their skins are several shades darker than my own, and though my father trained out his heavy accent while in the U.S. Navy, that side of my family is decidedly… shall we say, “ethnic.” This didn’t keep Dad and his brothers from serving in the military and fighting in Vietnam. Dad, in his case, became the youngest commissioned officer in the Navy at that time, commanding two ships and then helping the Pentagon update its computer systems in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s before his retirement. One of my grandfathers built ships for the U.S. during World War II, and the other was a soldier in that war.
Thanks to my Swedish grandfather, I am essentially “white.” Dad raised us in middle-class America, and that’s the pass I’ve gotten ever since.
I didn’t grow up in a ghetto. My closest personal contact with racism came by way of mild insults about my Italian/ Sicilian “Godfaddah” heritage and being beaten up throughout my time in Hawaii for being a haole (“without breath,” a slur for non-Polynesians, especially white ones) – both pretty mild experiences in the grand scheme of things. I got the white-privilege pass, and I generally still do.
But my people are that other generation of foreign trash, that wretched refuse that “good, upstanding Americans” tried to block from entrance or ship “back to where you came from” less than a century ago.
As I’ve written in previous essays, I am “those people.” When you attack them, you’re attacking me and my people too.
Not long ago, we were the terrorists. The scum. The criminals. Hell, we Sicilians still are those things in the eyes of many Americans. Just ask Hollywood, whose nuanced palette of Italian/ Sicilian characters ranges from oversexed, badly dressed crooks to oversexed, badly dressed priests, with a few oversexed, badly dressed cops, boxers, prostitutes and morons thrown in for variety. (It’s funny, too, how many times non-Italians like Christopher Walken and Wallace Shawn get cast as cinematic Sicilians… though, in fairness, most non-Roman Italianates are played by actual paisanos.) Do I personally get called out for that stuff? Not too often anymore, though I’ve certainly heard my share of meatball and Mafia jokes along the way; hell, I’ve made a few of ‘em too. Beat the bastards to it, right? My point, though, is this:
We are America.
We immigrants, we built this country.
Even the ones who are “those people.” Hell, especially the ones who are “those people,” and whose labors have been so often obscured by prejudice, law, and the self-contradictory concept of white superiority.
My father spent half his teenage years in Harlem. Some of my grand-relations spoke little or no English, and all of them had heavy Old Country accents. They worked their asses off despite the hate, despite the ghettos and the stereotypes. They fought and occasionally died to make America great, and we’re still trying to get it to live up to its best ideals.
A handful of my relatives have thrown their lot in with Trump. To them, I say Remember who we are. The history of Muslims and Mexicans in Trump’s America is the history of our people too. To go against them is to shame our ancestors and go against ourselves.
Our song is the immigrant’s song, and America is a better place for our voices.
My people built their little corner of America, and they raised me to appreciate it and to continue their work.
I’m not rich. I probably never will be. I’ve gotten a free ride in some respects for my lighter skin and an accent that’s more Southern than Siciliano, but I am a proud embodiment of the immigrant experience in America. My work, my life, my family and our legacy – they’re not huge, but they have made this land a better place to live, and a large part of my passion… and, quite often, my anger… comes from knowing that certain people, especially now, are dedicated to fucking it up.
To every hell imaginable with such bigotry. Fuck anyone who thinks that “my America” belongs only to your kind.
I am an American. We immigrants are America too.
I am the product of my heritage. If you enjoy my work, if my words inspire you, then remember that I am one of “those people” too.
Their fight is my fight, and this fight is personal.
Whose side are you on?
I know mine.
And I ain’t goin’ nowhere, and neither are the rest of us, so just get the fuck used to it.