SOC 101—Introduction to Sociology
Risa Garelick, Instructor
Assignment: Write a short essay that addresses ethnicity.
It’s like this: my father’s side of the family, which is almost entirely (in fact it arguably is entirely) Italian, is extremely proud of its ethnic heritage; while my mother’s side of my immediate family, which is mostly English with a little German, bears no resemblance at all to their Old World customs/aspects, and is proud of being American. I, meanwhile, have no pride in any of the ethnicities from which I’m derived, but instead I find myself just as fiercely adhering to or defending subcultures to which I variously belong – or belonged – and ethnicities that I study. So, if you separate my family and me into three groups, there are three distinct patterns of ethnic pride, and I think I’ve figured out why that is.
First and foremost, my father’s side is fiercely proud of their Italian heritage. My grandparents on that side of the family immigrated to America via Ellis Island at or around the time that most Italian-Americans arrived here, and faced the same struggle that faced so many others, most notably race/gender/ethnicity conflict in New York City. To this day my father boasts proudly of my great-uncle who owned a taxi company financed by the mafia and used the “nword.” When I press him on the issue, he isn’t really a hateful person. The fact is that he was raised by my Italian grandparents and the lot of them lived in the viciously segregated streets of Queens, NYC. Even being Italian is sometimes not enough--my family hails from Naples, or Napoli in Italian, and they don’t much care for Sicilians.
Meanwhile, my grandparents on the English side were born and raised in America, although my great-grandparents on that side of the family came directly from England. English heritage and practices pervaded (apparently) until World War II, when my grandfather went overseas and, in one of those ironies that make the real world so suspicious, fought for the Allies on Anzio Beach, Italy, where he suffered a war wound (finger shot off by a sniper), elected to stay in battle, and then lost his right arm to a mortar blast, at which point they gave him a handful of medals and forced him to go home. After he came home with a pension, one arm, and lots of decorations, he spent the next few decades learning to be lefthanded and making a living for himself and his new family. He carried, and still carries, his prosthetic arm with pride, has never had anything but a huge and generous heart – a trait he shares with my grandmother – and maintains the indefatigable pride in the United States, so typical of WWII veterans.
As for me, I was raised in a poor family, and am one of those “I made my own way through blood sweat and tears” success stories (although luck really did have a lot to do with it – the luck of being born with intellect and character, for instance, which I utilize to the fullest but didn’t technically earn). I find it difficult to be proud of being American, because of all of the struggle, prejudice, and pervasive psychological ugliness that I have both seen and felt in my travels throughout the US, particularly in New Orleans and places like the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, and I find it difficult to be proud of my Italian heritage because, a) I don’t know anything about Italy, and b) my Italian relatives are basically racist New Yorkers. I have Anasazi (actually one Kayenta and a couple of Fremont) tattoos and bear the marks of a blend of Punk, Hippie, Metal, and Seasonal/Adventurer subcultures. I viciously defend subcultures the way that my father and brothers defend Italy and my matrilineal grandparents defend the US. So I suppose ethnicity and cultural pride are natural, human characteristics, but the particular culture that endows someone with pride is probably more a function of their real-world experience than simply their lineage, and when one fades or disappears, another takes its place.