Just to gauge the speed of assimilation, I took a tally of marriages within my extended family. First, I counted myself – happily married to a lady half-Italian. We have one daughter who married a wonderful man who proudly claims to be “16% Italian,” the rest northern European.
In all, I have eleven nieces, nephews, and first cousins who are 100% Italian, as I am. Five of them married partners of Italian stock, three married non-Italians, and three are unmarried.
These married relatives produced 19 children – Of those, only 11 are married – 2 to partners of Italian stock and 9 to non-Italians. The odds are that the unmarried children will eventually hook up with non-Italians.
I’m sure you see the same trending in your extended families. Bottom line: Italian American “culture” has already become mostly “a state of mind.”
I notice at family gatherings, where we used to feel italianita` through slang, music, food, and topics of conversation, the only Italian tone today may be a pasta course.
On Christmas Eve, my wife and I host our blended family for the Seven Fishes. One in-law has no taste for six of the fishes and eats only shrimp cocktail. She also takes her linguine with butter and chops it into one inch shreds to avoid twirling. But she respects our Eve tradition.
We have considered offering alternatives to the fish supper as many other Italian American families find themselves doing, but we have decided the Fish will have no other foods before it. We’ll serve anyone tuna from a can or fish sticks, but no meat.
Many years ago, a cousin hosted the annual Seven Fishes for our all-Italian family – everybody knew what to expect, from raw bar to snails, scungilli, eel, and baccala` – and feasted happily. But one year this cousin invited an Irish American family to join our traditional event. Unfortunately, none of the family ate fish. My cousin felt their pain and prepared a meat alternative. They also didn’t drink wine, so they brought a case of Budweiser with them. The next year, the Irish family brought teenagers who were dating their son and daughter, along with two cases of beer. My cousin essentially began hosting two Christmas Eve suppers – one for us, the other for the Irish – in two adjoining rooms. I couldn’t deal with this arrangement anymore and we begged off the following year.
I don’t know how long we can stick to our guns, but I have this problem of comparing things. I compare the Seven Fishes to the St Patrick’s Day corned beef tradition or to the Thanksgiving turkey tradition. Why can’t we have a tradition without compromise? (Imagine some Passover hostess inviting me over and serving pork braciole, just to be hospitable?) Even Columbus Day demands a traditional meal in my world. In fact, renown chef Mary Ann Esposito developed Pasta Due Mondi* expressly for our Institute, blending ingredients from the New World and the Old. But, our lapsed paesani around the country would sooner have corned beef & cabbage on Columbus Day than Pesto Genovese or Pasta Due Mondi. [*The Italic Way XLI p 29]
Christmas Eve today is nothing special to millions of Italian Americans, I’m sure. And ultimately, keeping our traditions will not be up to us. Our children and grandchildren will need to contend with more of a melting pot than even we are stewing in. Those old links that we took for granted – Italian relatives, food traditions, Italian and Italian American music, homemade feasts, and 100% Italic families – are falling by the wayside.
Mind you, we may lament the changes but nothing will stop them. As the ancient Italian poet Virgil wrote so correctly, “Love Conquers All.” Boys and girls fall in love and we must deal with the results. It begins at the dinner table.
I welcome your comments.
A Healthy and Prosperous New Year! -JLM