Love, laughter and affection from a large, extended Italian American family was abundant. Food along with hugs and kisses from aunts, uncles and cousins took one from baptism to death. I took for granted this security blanket, until I met those in life for whom this type of unconditional love never existed.
The volume of relationships made it unnecessary to form friendships outside of the family—so I seldom did! My inability to develop and nurture long lasting, friendships for me is to this day a private failure.
Intertwine the teachings and dogma of the Catholic Church with the traditions of an Italian American family and there is little room or acceptance for deviance from expected behavior. There was a right and wrong and a black and white answer. I seemed to live in the constant space of maybe and gray!
Guilt was always felt when I could not meet expectations or fit the mold. Other girls were joining sororities, getting engaged or learning to bake Christmas cookies. I was in the women’s rights movement, saw no prince charming and have never baked a cookie in my life! My emerging pro-choice views did not fit the Catholic Church’s right to life stance let alone its refusal to allow women to be priests. I refer to myself today as a “recovering Catholic” as I attend religious services (Episcopalian or Catholic) every Sunday, continuing to take what I like and leaving the rest.
When my family enters a room the song “When the Saints Come Marching In” always pops into my head. By no means are they all saints, but they certainly file in as a crowd. Whether it was a middle school talent show or a five-hour trip for my last collegiate softball game, the whole extended family was always present.
Although there was always an abundance of love and support, everyone had a role and your opinion could only be spoken so often. The men typically set the tone for the dinner conversation. What they wanted to be discussed is what was discussed and best of luck to anyone who wanted to change the subject. You had to be able to speak loud and proud and even then, if it was something that wasn’t well received, the topic quickly reverted back to its original intent.
The unspoken expectations of my life were determined at the dinner table on Sunday nights. My grandma would do the cooking, with assistance from my brother and I, while my mom would set the table. The men would watch sports until called up for dinner and point spreads and politics filled the room. I wanted so badly as a child and young adult to be able to contribute that I would study sports and politics constantly just so that I could contribute to the conversations. In fact, my profession is athletics and my undergraduate degree is in Political Science;
(1) What are the challenges embracing ethnic, cultural values when at times in conflict or in a minority within a workplace environment?
(2) Why does it take decades before one can embrace, laugh at, or reject traditions and characteristics of an ethnic background?
(3) What is the process for dealing with the feeling of guilt when failing to meet ethnic family expectations?
Growing Up Italian Linda Brandi Cateura 1987
How Good Do We Have To Be? Harold S. Kushner 1996
Sarasota Herald-Tribune Extended family connections improve quality of life Kathy Silverberg August 3, 2018