My great-great grandmother Rosa Pace, born in 1858 in San Fele, Basilicata, married my trisnonno Giuseppe Sabba and had 6 sons. They were poor farmers but were as strong as the oak tree and as fruitful as the chestnut tree (it was customary to hang these two branches over the doors for that symbology).
When Rosa was young, Basilicata suffered from extreme poverty, the brigand war in Southern Italy (San Fele, along with Rionero in Vulture was in the epicenter of brigands war) and the Italian diaspora. Although they hardly had anything to eat, they managed to give me and my family members the most beautiful gift. The gave us America.
They painstakingly saved their money and sent one teenage son to Newark, N.J. every two years to live with family. Giuseppe died when Rosa was pregnant with their sixth son, and they never made it to America but remained in San Fele and continued farming. Rosa was a mother who sacrificed not just financially, but emotionally because she knew she would probably never see her five sons again (and she didn’t). Phones didn’t exist and they were all unlettered, so writing was not an option. But my trisnonni knew their sons and their future descendants would have good lives in the land of the free. America was a dream to the poor people of Basilicata and they sent their sons to live in a great American dream. That is our story.
Thanks to Rosa and Giuseppe, we have lived good lives here and those five brothers raised huge families in the U.S.A., unarguably the greatest country on earth. Like most Italian-Americans over the years, we have served in the military, we have worked very hard and have raised beautiful children. America is the world’s superpower, both economically and militarily and we are proud of that. It’s the most powerful nation on earth and the biggest economy on the planet. Everyone has opportunity to succeed and if you work very hard and live responsibly you can have a good life and provide for your family.
Italy is also a superpower, but Italy doesn’t have a huge economy and military. Italy is the world’s superpower of art and culture. It only comprises .05 % of the earth’s landmass but it possesses 70% of the globe’s significant artistic treasures and has 58 UNESCO world heritage sites- and we are very proud of that as well. I am extremely proud of the cultural contribution Italy gives to the world.
In America, there is a lot of arguing going on over the interpretation of its constitution. These arguments go all the way to the Supreme court and tempers flare if they don’t rule their way and the court is attacked by one side or another along partisan lines. Americans have different priorities than Italians and argue over things like guns, abortions, and free money (and free everything!) for everyone, and on and on.
In Italy, the first article of the constitution is the right to work. There is also an article, number 9, that states that the Republic must defend artistic patrimony, landscape, ecology and biodiversity. The dignity of hard work, art and cultural patrimony, ecology and biodiversity- now these are worth arguing about!
This sums up well the life philosophy of so many who immigrated to the U.S.A. from Italy. Work was good and important and family was everything. God, family and patriotic love for their new country and the family part of the equation was an inseverable connection to their old country as well. They were just as Italian in the U.S. as they were in Italy and, they didn’t cry or complain about anything, just let them work and spend their time with their family.
Many years ago, Italian-Americans were forced to assimilate more than was necessary (or at least some of us view it that way) and as a result, our presence and influence in this country has been diminished and America is changing at the same time.
It is now more imperative than ever that the Italian presence and our rich culture and artistic heritage get reinforced in America. Our children should experience the full glory of their Italian birthright and the wholesome Italian creative genius and rich Italian culture should be recognized, celebrated and promoted in schools, on TV and in the communities. Italians are still here; they love America, and their Italian hearts still pump the blood of the ‘paese dei sogni’ through their veins (two lands of dreams lived by one people).
Like my trisnonni, Italy gave a gift to America of numerous people of extraordinary creativity and ability over the years and Italy, the superpower of art, still has so much to share with America. It is our responsibility to keep that American dream alive.