It appears that after nearly a half a century of not being Italian in the slightest, I am going to spend the rest of my life as a part Italian person.
You might wonder how this happened. DNA is the short answer. A DNA test revealed to me that I am part Italian. How do I explain it? Well, that would be part of a family mystery that I identified years ago, gathered the evidence in my head and then solved with the help of DNA.
And that’s all a great thing, even though family mysteries — or secrets, depending upon who you are in the family — bring with them complication and conflict, don’t they? At the risk of being cryptic, it turns out that only one other person involved is also secretly part Italian, and for various reasons, I choose to not divulge it to them.
And yet part of me just wants to scream at the person, “Holy crap, we’re Italian now! We’ve never been Italian before, but now we are!”
The person would not enjoy the news as much as I do, though. And I’ve read about what qualifies as DNA test nightmares, where people find out they have a half-sibling, that sort of thing. I found out nothing of the sort, but I wouldn’t have minded that either.
I have to confess, I was really kind of hoping for Jewish. It’s true. I thought that was the solution to my family secret. Italian really came out of left field for me, especially because there is a lot of precedence for people thinking I am Jewish. Back when I lived in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, for instance, whenever I walked through the Hasidic side of the neighborhood, some guy invariably stopped me, holding a yarmulke in his hand and asking if I had accidentally dropped mine. But, no.
It is funny, though, because upon realizing it, I thought to myself, geez, all this time I had an ethnicity I flaunt and obsess about. While I was going through life under the impression that I was all WASP — and Southern WASP to boot — it turns out I had a little flavor in my DNA. I could have been talking about it all the time. I have never, ever met any person with even merely a finger nail’s worth of Italian in them that didn’t let you know they are Italian. I have never, ever uttered the words, “Really? You’re Italian? I had no idea!”
The downside of my Italianicity is that the circumstances of it prevent me from having family traditions or touching upon anything — recipes, whatever — that made it across the ocean to my family table even today, because there’s no family table. There’s no family. I am a Lone Italian. I belong to an Italian clan of one, because the rest of my clan are hidden under decades and whispers and, with a few forgotten blow-ups in the 1950s that are of little consequence.
What am I going to do with my newfound Italianicity? Well, I’m not going to convert to Catholicism, I know that much. I’m definitely not going Italianize my name. Sevenelli? No thanks. And I’m not going to suddenly change my view of Christopher Columbus, horrible hand-chopping creep that he was.
The change will come when someone asks me my family heritage — which doesn’t happen often, but does happen — instead of saying, “nothing special — English and French,” I will be able to say, “English, French and Italian.” In my experience, the other person’s eyes will light up and say, “Oh, Italian!” A small thing, certainly, but it’s good to shake things up in tiny ways, at least.