By Joe Cannavo
As I often do when I am thinking about a topic for an editorial, I look back and reflect on my many conversations with other Italian-American baby boomers who often reveal their inner feelings about being Italian American. What most express are their regrets over not having learned to speak Italian, either by desire or actually being discouraged to do so by their parents or grandparents. It is at those moments that I realize how much I owe my immigrant grandparents. They, unlike many other of their generation, did not reserve the use of Italian simply to discuss matters that I was not to be privy to. Of course, they knew the importance of learning English to show respect to the country that would now be home to us. More importantly, they understood to succeed in life here in America, English was a must, while feeling it equally important that our Italian language and heritage not be lost to me and to future generations.
Though they didn’t live to see that the their Italian language and proud heritage did get passed to their descendants through me, I never stop wondering how much happiness and joy it would have brought to them to see my children and even four generations later my grandson embracing their heritage and using Italian to communicate to relatives they have visited in our small Sicilian village of Graniti whole story began; and all with the help and encouragement of my non-Italian wife who not only speaks fluent Italian, but was a teacher of Italian in the New Jersey public school system.
Although my story is the exception rather than the rule, that doesn’t mean that some things can’t be reversed. Being 69 years of age, I know how difficult it might be for many in that age bracket to learn a second language, but it’s not impossible. Even if you can learn some basic Italian, it will give you a sense of pride and a true reconnect to your Italian roots. I know this to be a fact, having taught conversational Italian adult evening classes and having had my students describe their joy at having imparato italiano, learned Italian. So, if you have wanted to learn Italian and have the time, don’t put it off any longer. There are so many opportunities at various schools and colleges in the region to do so, many of which offer night courses from simple continuing education courses to college credit courses.
However even if you as a parent or grandparent simply feel it’s too late for you, it’s not too late for you to encourage and when possible enable your children and grandchildren to learn Italian and embrace their Italian heritage. If your children’s school offers Italian, encourage them to select Italian as their foreign language elective.
No one can turn back the hands of time to undo the mistake many of our ancestors made when they discouraged our parents and many of us from learning Italian, but we can make a difference to ensure that future Italian-American generations will always have a knowledge of their heritage language. IAH
(Editor’s note: The weekend of August 28 and 29 would’ve been the 50th Amatriciana Festival in Amatrice, the Italian town most affected by the devastating earthquake that hit Amatrice and surrounding areas of central Italy. To show your support, a nice idea would be at your next family dinner you make it a Virtual Sagra by serving Pasta Amatriciana and opening any Central Italian red wine. Also, if you haven’t already done so, please consider donating to earthquake relief. Here are several agencies that you may wish to contact for donation consideration: Italian Red Cross, La Stampa Foundation, ShelterBox, Save the Children or Italian American Relief.)