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JCF Blog

Year of the Philanthropic Journey Part 6 of 12: Embracing My Heritage

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 2/27/2019

Fitting in or standing out? As a kid I just wanted to fit in, blend in with the crowd. I remember begging for Guess jeans, Tretorn sneakers, and slouchy socks. 

Growing up a first generation American, my parents spoke Italian at home but I always responded in English. My friends commented on how much they enjoyed hearing my mother’s accent, eating her delicious cooking, and picking peas from my father’s garden. But I found myself wondering why my house had to be the one where everyone spoke loudly and accented with hand gestures? Why did we eat polenta (a porridge-like dish made from cornmeal) from a giant wooden board in the center of the table without a need for individual plates? Why were we even eating polenta? Saturday morning cartoon commercials convinced me I wanted Hamburger Helper. 

I even remember throwing a major teenage fit because I had to spend six weeks in Italy the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. I was a teenage fool. 

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my parents were instilling me with culture…my heritage. I was learning another language, learning to cook amazing food, to embrace my Italian neighbors as family since all our aunts, uncles and cousins were an ocean away. 

Fast forward several decades and now I aim to stand out, rather than blend in. First and foremost, I’m a proud American. I love my country. But I also want people to know I’m Italian and I want my children feel and appreciate their heritage as well. So I strive to keep the Italian traditions, language, and culture alive in our home. 

To that end, I wanted my children and I to be recognized as Italian citizens. With both my parents born in Italy I was, according to the Italian government, a citizen of the boot-shaped peninsula. But to have it formally recognized, I needed to submit the required paperwork to prove my line of lineage. 

Little did I know the amount of time and money I would spend to accomplish that. The process involved gathering documents from Italy – easier said than done. I spent hours on hold, asked questions in Italian and tried not to get discouraged as the process dragged on. In fact, it took nearly three years. I was nervous and excited the day I presented my paperwork at the Consular office and was thrilled to have it accepted. 

My children and I now have dual-citizenship with Italy - an accomplishment I hold dear knowing how much it would have pleased my parents. I’m keeping something alive, a heritage that started many generations before me and hopefully will continue for generations to come.   

I’m grateful for the support of my colleagues at the Foundation throughout the process. They always cheered me on and shared my joy when I was finally successful. It’s not surprising given the work we do each day. A large part of the Foundation’s work is helping donors remember, preserve and celebrate their heritage. It’s a value that runs deep in this community. People proudly express their Jewish identities and connection to Israel. It resonates with me as I feel a deep, meaningful connection with Italy. 

One thing we all have in common is we all have our own unique ancestry, a story all our own. How do you embrace and honor your heritage?

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