Being Italian is much more than having a commonly mispronounced last name. It comes with a large family of loving and prideful people who are rich in their faith and raise their future generations to be the best that they can be. These attributes have molded me into a man who puts family first, acts righteously in the name of God, and eats way too much pasta. Although I live a quality Italian life, I must thank my early relatives who began the American Giardinas and who sacrificed so much to be where I am today.
The exodus of my family’s American residency began when my grandfather’s paternal grandfather, Dominic Giardina, immigrated to the United States from Bisacquino, Italy in 1890 with his parents and five siblings. They began their journey in New Orleans where they worked on local plantations until Dominic was the only living member of the family remaining. My grandfather’s paternal grandmother also entered the United States from Bisacquino, Italy in 1890 when she was only five, leaving behind her mother back in Italy. The two married around 1915 and lived in Birmingham where they raised their nine children. Throughout their initial times in a new country, they faced many problems. Without the ability to speak the native language, English, they were frowned upon and unable to interact with their new peers. Despite these tremendous obstacles, with their hard work, determination, and faith, they were able to bring up a strong and holy family.
My grandmother’s father and my great-grandfather, Tony Piazza, immigrated to America from Bisacquino in 1900 at the age of nine with his father. He left his mother, three siblings, and grandmother in Italy in hopes of a better life in a new country. They began work in a sugarcane plantation where they faced the same issues that my grandfather’s side of the family did. Unable to speak English, he was not given the chance to attend college, so he put his heart into work. Eventually, Tony and his father gathered enough money to bring the rest of their family into the United States. With the help of the rest of his family, the Piazzas were able to open a grocery store in Pratt City, Alabama, a predominantly African American populated area. White people during that time would not trade with Italians, so the African Americans were their main source of customers for a long time. Like the Giardinas, the Piazzas were able to create a desirable life in the new world by working hard and never straying away from their Italian ways and morals.
These two families conquered so many hinderances in their journeys for a better life. Their sacrifices paved a way for their future generations to thrive while upholding the traditions from their homeland. Today, while those who started the lives of the Giardinas and Piazzas are no longer with us, their customs and practices are still alive and thriving. Their faith is one of the apparent of the traditions. Our family now is a strong presence in the Catholic church, attending each Sunday morning with a gathering for lunch following the dismissal.
It is important for one to reflect on where and who they came from. It reveals the true nature of how one interacts with others and why one does a certain thing. For me, after countless amounts of pasta and meatballs following Sunday church service, I realized that my Italian heritage is much more than just delicious food. It is a representation of those who left behind their entire lives to make a better one for their future families. Because of my ancestors and all they went through; I am now a proud Italian man who is strong in his faith, even if numerous people cannot say my last name or jest at me for the insane amount of pasta I consume. To me, my Italian heritage is not a meaning, but a fulfilling lifestyle that honors those who gave up so much for me to have what I have today.