I’m Italian-American, only one-quarter Italian, one drop. But that’s all we need to decide who we are, one drop.
“… Barack Obama has become the most high-profile personification of the one-drop rule extant. That “rule” holds that any degree of African ancestry makes one completely black. The pressure on Americans of partial African ancestry to deny their European lineage and identify solely as black is enormous,” writes Charles Byrd.
Perhaps our first bi-racial President should remind his nation we’re all ancestral mutts of one blend or another and so one human race. But we identify with a race or ethnicity for a variety of emotional reasons that transcend reason, sometimes as a statement of genuine protest or pride, by what’s fashionable in a movement or from seeds planted by our parents.
As for my ethnic origin if it comes up I cling to my one-quarter Italian because I’m drawn to Italy’s ethos. I crave the food and landscape and rich artistic history because I was raised to appreciate Mediterranean culture.
When I was born my father gifted me with the name “Laura Giovanna Politi” (Giovanna translates to Joanne) which out of my three brothers and one sister was the only “ethnic” middle name given in our family. My father left half his lineage for me to cherish and so, was a little hurt when years before his death I stupidly told him I used to hide my middle name from my friends at school.
Back then I needed my name to blend as I needed to blend with all the waspy Beth’s and Carol’s and Anne’s.
Later however, as a young adult determined to declare myself with anti group-think bumper stickers like my “Why be Normal?” where “normal” was printed upside down, my middle name fit with the independent-minded person I wanted to advertise.
And so I made Giovanna proof of my Italian kin by convenience, clinging to roots planted by my father and perhaps imprinted from genetic memory carried through distant ancestors.
Before I got married I struggled over whether to drop my maiden name Politi in favor of Giovanna, but Giovanna won me over because it felt like the pseudo name of a novelist.
When I talk to Italian waiters here or over seas however, I pull out both names as one might with ethnic garb or a heritage pin. Invariably every waiter smiles and repeats “Giovanna Politi” in full accent, a polite gift for a paying customer who pretends her name spoken in native tongue somehow transcends our ethnic divide.
Growing up my father embraced the European/Mediterranean food lifestyle. For hours he prepared dinner with fresh local ingredients, meals where healthy substitutions that might dilute the recipe’s signature were strictly forbidden (no margarine, skim or pretend oils).
Silently my father entered the kitchen and ritually sharpened his favorite black-boned knives across a flint into slivered angles. He expertly diced shallots inside the small space between his steady fingers, de-glazed a brown sauce in his copper saute pan and finished all day spaghetti sauce with butcher-stuffed spicy Italian sausage.
Despite grumblings and noise from five hungry kids, my father moved into a meditative trance with whatever Craig Claiborne Times’ recipe he picked that morning. Cooking Mediterranean food was his only form of sacred worship and so, dinner always came with a serious glare and verbal warning, don’t waste your appetite on the bread, slow down.
Before I visited Tuscany a few years ago I romanticized Italy as many novice visitors often do. Even now I idealize a country where although I have no desire to live, I have a visceral attraction to its sensory pulse.
My father was third generation Italian-Russian and my mother is third generation German. Yet my own blood runs German-English and Irish-Italian, a European blend inherited from biological parents I’ve been trying to find for more than three years. At times I proudly pull out my middle and maiden names, Giovanna Politi, clinging to my two drops Italian as I cling to the invisible lineage between my two fathers, men who unaware of one another, created a daughter long drawn to Italy’s familial heartbeat.