Saturday, July 28, 2012

Grandma said you can outgrow being Chinese.

I don't want to say my father's parents were ignorant but, upon meeting my aunt's adopted niece, Grandma Marie Rabasca said not to worry, that she would outgrow being Chinese.

I believe the girl is still Chinese and still waiting to outgrow it.

In the relatively recent past, my father, his brother, and the same aunt waiting for her adopted niece to outgrow Chineseness took a heritage trip to Calitri, Italy, to find our distant family. The trip was a success. They met first cousins, learned we are related to the man who hid the questionably mystical Shroud of Turin from the Nazis, and discovered that we are probably a billionth Albanian. Sometime during the height of the Ottoman Empire, a man named Rabasca emigrated from Albania, set up shop in the mountains outside Naples, and established a family that would eventually have a road named after the man who would eventually immigrate to America and eventually establish the family that would eventually lead to me.

The operative word here is "Albania." I'm pretty sure we cannot outgrow this. I'm also pretty sure that my grandparents are still turning in their graves over this one.

For the record, I don't personally have an issue with Albanians nor with anyone trying to outgrow their Albanianness.

My grandparents, however, would likely disapprove of our being anything other than fully Italian. It was a big step for them to accept that their youngest son would marry a Jewish girl. You can't outgrow that one, either...believe me when I say I've tried.

We do seem to be less and less "pure blooded"-sorry, Adolf. I recently read an article about Italian soccer star, Mario Balotelli, an adopted man of a Sicilian Jewish family.

Oh, by the way, he has been unsuccessful at outgrowing being black, specifically Ghananian.

Mr. Balotelli has endured a fervor of such ethnically hostile epithets that I'm surprised he didn't score against his own team in the Euro 2012 Cup. In Turin, the fans welcomed him by throwing bananas onto the field. I imagine the ones throwing bananas are also appalled at the idea that the Moors once invaded southern Italy, slept with Italian women, and shared genes that darkened their offsprings' complexion.

Come on, my fellow paisanos. Do we really have that much time on our hands that we need to hurl fruit at a man kicking a ball into a net because his skin's a reminder that "other" people are, in fact, out there?

At the center of this disproportionately reactive behavior lies the question we ask in America: who are we? Balotelli, an athletic hero, is redefining the meaning of "Italian," as we ask here, "What is an American?" We do seem to be less and less of who we think we are and it is threatening to a great many people. My own daughters are more Italian than anything else -that is to say that they are exactly one-quarter Italian. But, then again, they're one-quarter Jewish, which is to say that they would have been spared in the Holocaust, according to the Nuremberg citizenship laws. Their dad would have been out of luck. I haven't even yet mentioned that when you throw a dart at a map of Europe, chances are it'll land on a country from which they have blood. For some reason, in America, we place all of that ahead of being American.

Maybe Grandma's right...we're just outgrowing being Chinese.

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