Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Growing Up A Mutt

This is me and my cousin Damon. He's Italian. (Isn't he gorgeous?) I'm Italian, too. So when I'm with my Italian family, I'm loud and demonstrative and I focus a lot on food. I also argue a lot, laugh a lot and talk a lot, mostly about folks' medical conditions. It all goes swimmingly until I blurt out some phrase in Spanish. And then my Italian family and I are reminded that I'm notall Italian. I think for them it's mostly a curiosity - like an extra toe or a streak of red hair.

But to me, it is so much more.

Because for the last few weeks I've been spending an awful lot of time with my childhood best friend, Michelle. She's going to be furious that this is the best pic I could find, but Lord help me to understand this forsaken Mac computer - I can't find a darn thing!

In this photo Michelle's neurotically placing candles on her son's immaculately decorated cake, ensuring equal spacing between each candle. That's because she's Cuban and Cubans are nuts. I am also Cuban and Michelle is part of that piece of my life. T
ogether we rant about politics, fuss over every smudge on our children's faces, reassure one another that the world is a most dangerous place and the babies should never be out of our sight, and sniff arrogantly about the style failings of everyone we know. And lots of folks we don't know. Also we eat, but the food is way different.

The thing I struggle with is that because I'm not all one thing or the other, there are so many gaps in my cultural experience. There are things about me that belong to the Italian me, some are Cuban and still others are pure Chicago. But a few weeks ago a friend asked me if what a term in Spanish meant. I had no idea and he scoffed at me that it was a very common Cuban saying. And so I was completely de-Cubanized. I was at a funeral service yesterday and a common Italian saying was mentioned, to which everyone responded by nodding, repeating the saying in a murmur. I'd never heard it, and I was instantly de-Italianized. And I'm ashamed to say it, but I put ketchup on my hot dog. I love ketchup.

There are great advantages to being a multicultural person. I'm adaptable to any environment, I can talk to anyone, I make a mean plate of food - and by that I mean to tell you that I can cook anything as long as I have garlic - and I'm a really good, nurturing (some would say suffocating, but they're mean), loving mom. If there are some disadvantages - not being all a part of something, like a cousin by marriage, feeling a little lame when the hundred percenters bump elbows and smile knowingly - they are most
often far outweighed by the benefits.

I hope the kids feel the same. They're Cuban, which is awesome, they are Italian - so cool - and they are English, French, Spanish and Mexican Indian. I can't wait until they're all cooking!

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