“How do you identify?”
It is a question that comes up often these days. And in several different ways. But here I’m talking about heritage.
According to U.S. Census data, approximately five percent of the U.S. population (about 16 million people) self-identify as Italian-American. Admittedly, this is not easy information to find. The US Census website has a page about Ancestor Appreciation Day on September 27. There are cute infographics about Irish and German immigration. There is information available about Hispanic Heritage Month, National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, Asian-America and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Irish-American Heritage Month, St. Patrick’s Day, National African American Heritage Month, American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Day, and German-American Day. Anything for Italian culture or Americans of Italian descent? That’s a hard no. Disappointed? Yes. Surprised? No.
As I have mentioned in the past, I am a huge fan of The Italian American Podcast. It is a wonderful resource of Italian history, culture, and what it means to be of Italian descent in America. One of the hosts, Patrick O’Boyle (yeah, I know, trust me), is your classic North Jersey Italian guy, which is probably why he is my favorite on the show. He is your quintessential neighborhood guy, except he has an encyclopedic knowledge on almost everything. He also makes some incredibly profound statements that really make you stop and think.
I’ve been listening to the older episodes of the podcast and Patrick had an awesome phrase when discussing St. Joseph’s Day. “It is a volley against a modern post-ethnic world.” I. Love. That. Comment. I think Italian immigrants were so desperate to assimilate during the great migration and be “American” we’ve lost our heritage. He has talked about how younger generations identify more as “white” instead of “of Italian descent.” Remember, there was a point when Italians were not considered white.
Now I’ll be honest. I never gave it a thought. Most of the kids I grew up with were either Irish or Italian. Of course there were a few other ethnicities mixed in, but I’d say probably 80 percent fell into those two categories. When someone asked “what are you?” Depending on the situation, my answer was either “American of Italian descent” or “Italian.” That was it.
Now forms see to be more concerned about race as opposed to ethnicity. When a form asks for race, I fill it out, but when there’s an option for other, I always add “of Italian descent.”
I know, it’s not a race. But it’s my identity. And it’s still important.