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Were You Always an Italian?: Ancestors and Other Icons of Italian America

by Maria Laurino

Laurino, a New York writer who grew up in suburban New Jersey and was once a speechwriter for NYC mayor David Dinkins, explores the disconnect that many Italian Americans, rooted in the rocky soil of Southern Italy, feel between images from Bensonhurst and Mafia movies, on one hand, and Northern Italian style and verve on the other. Her essays ask questions that follow like beads on a rosary: Do we smell bad? Is our food weird? Why is it so hard to accept leisure in our lives? Her deconstruction of Italian dialect–captured snatches of parents’ and grandparents’ unwritten past in words like gavone and stunod is mesmerizing, both as a journalist’s examination of words and their uses and as a woman’s study of what makes her herself. And her witty analysis of the difference between Versace and Armani from an Italian American standpoint is itself worth the price of admission. Essential for Italian Americans, enlightening for anyone else.