Thursday, April 14, 2005

Italian Roots...

Several years ago, I watched “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” just to appease a friend. I didn’t expect to enjoy it, since I find most North American comedy movies annoying. It was not only humorous, but I also identified with the star, Nia Vardalos who played the major role and even wrote the screenplay herself. Vardalos stars as Toula, a Greek woman questioning her old-world culture's expectations -- the conflict between her collective family versus her individual personal growth. The Portokalos family express their worry about Toula coz she is shy and rather plain. Her aunts, uncles, and cousins regularly interfere in the most personal details of each other's lives. Her family believes Greeks only marry Greeks and many other Old World views. Toula, however, dreamed to accomplish more than her family had planned for her.

Many elements of the movie were autobiographical and therefore refreshingly reflected reality. It depicted an authentic portrait about the disparity between first generation Greek immigrants and their children’s divergent ways of thinking. The movie is a light-hearted parody of gratification/pain contradictions. Examining the film has allowed me to contemplate my own gratification/pain contradictions coming from an Italian immigrant heritage.

As “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” had illustrated, the Southern Italian culture is also composed largely of people who are typically loud, extroverted, hard-hitting, intrusive, paternalistic and often not very reflective. My family was no exception, and yet in the midst of this dominant personality trait, I was born: someone different: introverted, sensitive, inconspicuous, quiet, and reflective. I enjoyed reading, writing, drawing and painting. Most everyone else thrived on social gatherings. Whenever anyone celebrated a birthday, baptism, first communion or graduation, everyone enthusiastically attended in large numbers to show their support and warmth, so that food, music and dance were the center of those family events. I preferred to be either alone or with a few friends than with the multitude. My relatives were good at telling me how bothered, leaving me to feel stigmatized.

Examining my Italian roots has proven challenging -- to think about the ways that being Italian has affected the course of my life. I suppose conversation is significant to me because I had so little of it during my childhood. Among the thousands of Immigrant Italian families in Toronto, deeper-level conversation was rarely part of the menu. If only someone had stopped to ask, “How are you? What’s going on in your heart? Perhaps I would not have grown up as a stranger to my Italian heritage.

My passion for writing came about as a result of my need to find recovery from an emotionally void childhood. I began to do internal work on emotional / spiritual issues, seeking to understand how the effects of my childhood interfered and frustrated the my adulthood, piecing together not only how a quiet and sensitive individual survived in an extroverted family, but now seeking to see it as a strength rather than a defect.

-- TR © 2005

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