The Importance of the Italian American Identity: A Meditation

3 Jul

Claiming the identity of Italian American is important to me for many reasons. I claim this identity, because people often “other” me based on my outward appearance. Individuals I meet often mistake me for Hispanic, or “mixed” (black and white). This has been interesting to me, but also frustrating, as I can’t claim these cultural/racial identities. I often am asked, “What are you?” This question is also frustrating, but I tend to reply with, “I am Italian,” because I know this will satisfy them, and leave me be. If I were to say, “I’m part this and part that,” more questions would be asked. I am not 100% Italian—only my paternal grandfather’s side is Italian—but I claim this identity, because I feel that it represents who I am, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. As Italian American poet, Rachel Guido deVries writes,

I come
from centuries
of Calabrese women
heads hard as stone
I am shaped by Calabrese women
who breathed near the sea
who are in me
what is in me

(deVries, 11)

My Calabrese ancestry shapes me. I also claim this identity, because my full name is Italian. My first name translates from Italian to “the female Christ,” which I think is fitting, not because I am “Christ-like,” but because I am a strong, feminist woman. My last name means “Greek person” in Italian. I used to dislike my name. People misspell my first name, often, which I struggle with. The issue I have with the misspelling and mis-capitalizing of my name is that, by writing “LaChrista” or “La Christa,” it removes my ethnicity and identity. I am not “LaChrista” or “La Christa.” These names do not match who I am. These names erase my cultural identity.

I question if I am sometimes treated differently, because people may see me as non-white. I acknowledge the privilege of my whiteness, though I do not necessarily self-identify as white. My skin is darker than many of my white friends. I acknowledge that I am generally considered white in society, and I understand the privilege this gives me. The various Women’s and Gender Studies courses that I have taken have aided in this acknowledgment and acceptance of privilege.


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