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Stella: That’s Italian, damn it! June 16, 2009

Posted by paulstella in Uncategorized.
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“It’s tortellini,” I said to my RIT University News co-worker Susan Rosinski. Susan and I were seated next to each other this past weekend at the wedding of RIT sports information director Joe Venniro and his wife Erika. My response came to her question seeking identification of the appetizer that had just been placed before us.

“What is this?” she asked a second time. To be fair, neither time had the question been intended for me. Instead she was requesting an answer from our colleague John Follaco, and she clearly did not hear my first response. “Tortellini,” I said a bit louder with a hint of frustration. John, who heard me both times, laughed out loud as he looked at Susan and me. “Why didn’t you ask Paul? He’s Italian too.”

Such is the burden of a fair skin, blonde hair individual whose ancestors hail from the northern most regions of Italy. It’s rare that we get recognized for our heritage.

My father’s parents immigrated to the states during the early portions of the previous century. I was not blessed with their presence in my life as both my grandparents died well before I was born, but I still take great pride in knowing I am just two generations removed from my Italian roots.

Now my late mother, who was Irish and a native of Canada, might have taken issue with my making such a big deal about being Italian. My siblings and I were brought up in a fairly homogenized, middle class, American existence. But I think even she would admit that I was dipped most heavily into Dad’s gene pool. So the Italian part of my heritage is the one I find most compelling.

Standing at the village limits to Asiago during my visit to Italy in 1994.

Standing at the village limits to Asiago during my visit to Italy in 1994.

Perhaps this is why I get mildly frustrated by the assumption that I’m not Italian. First of all, my last name end in a vowel, doesn’t it? In addition, I had the great fortune 14 years ago to travel to Italy, taking advantage of the opportunity to visit my grandparent’s hometown. Asiago (That’s right, home to Asiago cheese!) is a beautiful village nestled in the southern fringes of the Alps about an hour and half drive from Venice. My short visit there provided me with some wonderful stories, and I’ll need to share those another time. But the point I want to make came with meeting Italians that didn’t fit the traditional mold of how we Americans see them. Wow, they actually looked a bit like me!

Anyway, I’m not trying to make a mountain from a mole hill here. Susan, John and I enjoyed a good laugh over our exchange. But I simply reach out now for the support of anyone who has passion for his or her own heritage. Remember us ‘Northerners’ are proud to be Italian too. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to lose the inferiority complex.

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Comments»

1. Thomas Ferrazzi Ferris - June 16, 2009

Hey Cuz…Same deal here…my dad’s family are abruzzese while my mom’s crew are german/irish (same irish as you). My dad’s family changed their name in the 30’s to, I suppose, “fit in.” When my mom married my dad, her mom (your anunt Pat) was not thrilled that her daughter was marrying out-of-tribe. Not a good start, but time has worked its magic and my dad is now an accepted member of the family!

2. paulstella - June 16, 2009

I did not know that, Tom. Family lore can be pretty fascinating.


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