Thursday, March 17, 2011

9:40 -- Luck o' the Dagos

Not everyone loves St. Patty's Day
I always wanted to be Irish.
I hated being Italian.
Irish people had cool last names like Murphy, Kelly and O'Malley.
They didn't have ethnically-confusing last names that sounded like a fruit.
Being called a "mick" didn't seem nearly as offensive as being called a "dago." But then again, this was 1980s suburban Pennsylvania, not New York in the mid-19th century.
It didn't help that we owned a pizzeria.
Irish people seemed so much cooler. They had a sweet lilting voice. Not a Nu Yalk/Nu Joisy nasal tone.
My Irish classmates had soft light-colored hair and freckles. Not nappy-frizz so thick, it was always cut short.
I even wanted to go to Notre Dame because they were the Fighting Irish. My Pap's friend was a huge Notre Dame fan and gave me a keychain that played the fight song.
I hated being Italian. I hated Dago-Wop jokes.
I wore a Claddagh ring with an emerald in it. I threw away my Italian horn necklace.
My loathing of all things Red White and Green culminated the summer before high school. My friend and I were at the township pool. My sister was supposed to pick us up and refused. We had to call my friend's brother. I didn't know him that well except that he'd dated a friend of my sister's and I suppose it didn't end well. It was apparent he didn't think much of my sister.
We got in the car and he had one of his friends with him. They turned the heater up. "Are you greasy yet? Like a greasy dago? Don't forget your leather jacket. Your hair needs some more oil in it. Did your nonna make you spaghetti for dinner?" (That last one kinda hurt; I never knew my dad's mom but his nonna died when I was 7. She was a sweet lady)
The comments continued the whole drive, especially the "greasy Dago" ones. I was mortified. And hot. And silent. I secretly wanted to burst into tears but being that I was 14 and these were senior boys, I kept my cool. But I never forgot that. And never wanted to be Irish more.
My first Irish heartbreak occurred when we visited the Notre Dame campus. But it was for my SISTER to attend, not me. She had better grades than I did but it still wasn't enough for her to get into ND. I didn't stand a chance. (But seeing ND play Purdue in South Bend is still one of the best experiences of my life.)
The next came when Italy beat Ireland during the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals. We watched the game with my dad's Irish best friend. I was trying to contain my disappointment when Ireland lost. I don't think anyone noticed I wasn't cheering for Italy. I don't think I ever felt passionate about soccer again.
The emerald fell out of my Claddagh ring.
Eventually I moved west. The dry climate kept my hair frizz-free. Being Italian was unique and respected. Despite the cute McC boy I met in art school, I no longer wished to be Irish as much as I did before. Then The Sopranos aired and there became a never-before-seen pop-culture reverance for Italian-Americans.  Tony, Pauly, Christopher and Carmela were ubiquitous. Although the mob-mentality only enabled the stereotypes, there was a cool reverence that never existed. Name one full-blooded Italian man that DIDN'T start wearing velour tracksuits at that time. Also, The Sopranos created the most business for nail salons since Barbra Streisand's beautifully-manicured talons graced the screen in Prince of Tides.
My attitude about being Italian changed. I embraced it. The realization that I cook better Italian food than Irish food made Sunday dinners a big deal in my house. It's made my husband happy he doesn't have to cook at least one day a week. My meatballs are the stuff of legend. And I've perfected marinara sauce that's better than what my parents ever made. (Sorry, Dad)
I humbly respect the Irish culture. I love your food and your Guinness beer. My favorite bar in town is an Irish pub. But I think I'll stick with my born heritage and let my Dago flag fly. At least until the other half of my heritage (Russian-Slovenian) takes over. Along with the craving for pierogies.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!

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