Thursday, December 29, 2011

An Ethnic Blur

The other day I was browsing through Wikipedia for made-up stuff and I happened to come across the entry for Rudolph Valentino. If you aren’t familiar with him, Valentino was the Brad Pitt of the 1920s. He was perhaps the first superstar of film until his sudden death in 1926. Valentino’s passing was a national tragedy and thousands lined up outside the funeral home to view his body. For Italians, and Italo-Americans, he, like Fiorello LaGuardia, was a source of great pride. My grandfather, Antonio Scotti, loved to brag about both of these men, and the famous operatic tenor, Enrico Caruso, as being shining examples of how our people were overcoming the extreme prejudice they encountered when they first arrived in “Ah-meh-rrr-eee-cah”, as he called it.

Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina D’Antonguolla (imagine putting THAT on a job application!) was born in 1895 in Castellaneta, Puglia, in what was then the Kingdom of Italy. The nickname (and this is important, so pay attention) given to him by the paparazzi of the time was The Latin Lover. The LATIN Lover.

You may have noticed that I put a little bit of emphasis on the word Latin and here is the reason why. Because I am becoming a household name, I am often asked my opinion by the captains of industry on such weighty, earth shaking matters such as, which detergent is best for getting out embarrassing internal hemorrhaging stains? Or, what famous President’s likeness can I create when I connect the liver spots on my hand with Indello-Perm Eternal magic markers? Why just last week I was queried on what I thought of the smooth, buttery goodness of Bowl o’ Grease bread spread and axle lubricant! I do give of myself in this altruistic way because I care about you, dear reader ....I truly do.

This morning, after finishing yet another exhausting consultation with the Marketing Department at Swiney’s Original Pork Rinds (made from contented, dead pigs since 1997), Candy, the interviewer asked me a few follow up questions, the last of which went like this.

“So Ms. Scotti, thank you for taking part in the Swiney’s survey. I have one more question to ask, okay?”

“Why certainly, Candy. I’m always glad to help out the pork rind industry in whatever way I can. Fire away.”

“GREAT! Now then, which of the following ethnicities would you say you belong to? A) Caucasian, B) African-American, C) Asian or Eskimo, D) Latino, or E) Other?"

“Well now, I would have to say ‘other’.

“GREAT! What ‘other’ would that be?

“Italian. My ethnic background is Italian.”
“GREAT! ... No, wait. If your background is Italian, then you are a Caucasian.”

“Noooo...Caucasian implies that my heritage hails from the Caucasus Mountains, which separates Asia and Europe. They are situated between the Black and Caspian Sea and the indigenous people from that area tend to be Russian or Turkish. I am neither. Actually, I am more Latin than anything else.”

“But that can’t be. If you were Latina, you would be from Mexico, or Puerto Rico or some other Latin American country. Ms. Scotti, you are confusing me.”

“Well Candy, I’m sorry to confuse you. But I am what I am. Put down anything you’d like then.”


With that, she hung up somewhat abruptly. But it got me to thinking; At what point did I stop being Latin-rooted? When did Valentino stop being the Latin Lover and become the Caucasian Lover? Something was wrong here.

Italians invented the Latin language. Julius Caesar’s last words to his assassin, Brutus were, “Et tu, Brute?” which is Latin for “Hey, I thought you liked me?” No matter where you go in ancient Rome, the buildings have Latin written all over them. The Catholic Church said the Mass in Latin up until the early 1960s. It’s even on our money for crying out loud. Does the phrase “E Pluribus Unum” mean nothing to you people?

That’s when it hit me. My people are in danger of losing their Latin-ness ... uh, Latin-ity, no, wait .... aww, forget about it. You know what I mean. Whatever it’s called, I want it back!

Not that there’s anything wrong with the Caucasians. I’m sure they are a very nice people, although they do seem to always be angry at someone or something. When was the last time you heard Vladimir Putin tell a “Knock-Knock” joke?


 “Who’s there?”


Vladimir who?”

“Vladimir Putin. I’ve come to execute you for crimes against the Russian Republic.”

See? It just doesn’t work. But I can’t explore that right now. I’ve got bigger pesce to fry.
Look Latinos, Latinas, and Hispanics. You kind of lifted our name here. We don’t mind sharing it with you, but you really ought to start giving us our props. Italians are the originals and we’d like you to at least acknowledge that fact. So we’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse; you keep Hispanic, and we’ll take back Latino, okay?

I’m waiting.

Still no answer. Time’s a wastin. Don't make me tap my foot impatiently!

Five, four, three.... C’mon now, I’m not kidding! ... Two, one ..........................DAMMIT!

Okay. That’s it. You’re messing with the wrong person here. From now on, I proudly proclaim myself Latinaaa!

That’s not going to work is it? Too many people will associate me with being Hispanic, not that there’s anything wrong with that. No, I need something else. Something that keeps my heritage but sets me apart from...wait ... I’ve got it ... I’m Latin and I’m Italian too ... I’m.... LATINATALIAN!

Almost sounds like a superhero, doesn’t it? Yeah, I Like it!  Imagine... Rudolph Valentino, the original Latinotalian lover. Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the radio and proud Latinotalian! Martin Scorsese, Robert Di Niro, Luciano Pavarotti, Latinotalians all! We’ll have a parade! A national holiday!    

 Wait a minute. What am I doing here? Sure, being Latinatalian is my heritage, and I’m damned proud of it; but really, I am an American first, right? And I’m damned proud of that too! I need to get this straight in my head. It’s not us vs. them because we are them and they are us, and together that forms a WE. We aren’t expected to forget our heritage, but we should be expected to blend that which we knew with the culture in which we have been blessed to live.  That is, after all, what every ethnic group who ever landed here wanted up until recently; to feel a part of this country and to become one with it. That’s why Antonio Scotti was so proud of Valentino, La Guardia and Caruso. But it’s also why he never spoke anything but English around us. My grandfather left Italy in a boat at age eighteen, gave up his homeland, and adopted this country as his own. He was proud to call himself Ah-meh-rrr-eee-cahn.

Maybe its time we finally put away the hyphens. Sure, we can be proud of where we came from; but we should be prouder of where we are. We can all learn a lesson from that grateful old man who was Antonio Scotti, an American citizen.

That’s it. I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat. Abbondanza!

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