I was born a second-generation American to a family of Southern Italian and Croatian immigrants, growing up predominately with Italian-American families. My great-grandfather Vincenzo Vista was a member of the Italian cavalry and emigrated to the U.S. with the great wave of Italian immigration at the turn of the century, eventually taking a job as a ravioli maker for the Ronzoni pasta company. My grandparents worked in the garment industry in New York, a common trade for Italian immigrants.
My childhood was filled with typical Italian-American traditions: a Catholic upbringing; gregarious Sunday family gatherings and dinners with red wine, espresso and sambuca, and Italian cookies and pastries such as cannoli; at friend’s houses, we would eat bowls of tiny snails and we’d enjoy homemade pizzelles and biscotti. The dinner table was the centerpiece of the social fabric of the family. Meanwhile, my grandmother possessed an outward joy and emotional expressiveness that would be hard to imagine among all but Italians. Everyone risks romanticizing their past, but I’ll forever believe that her cooking could shame some of today’s best chefs.
As with all things, culture and traditions fade as time marches on. The world has a way of taking the best from us even as it gives, with loved ones who leave far too soon, taking our hearts and parts of our identity with them. Change and a sense of loss can come invisibly over years or in an instant.
Somehow – even though I always felt connected to my Italian ancestry – a trip to Italy has eluded me all of these years, but not today. My wonderful and gracious wife is watching the kids for a week while I embark on a homecoming to a place that’s home, but not home. With Italian American culture often reduced to stereotypes in today’s society, it’s a chance to reconnect with an authentic and proud heritage.
I’ve always looked at travel as an opportunity to gain an experience and perspective that I can then share with my children. I’ve come to believe that travel doesn’t rob them of my contributions – it makes me a better person with more to give to them when I return, and the hope that they someday feel the same curiosity to know themselves and know the world. Being Italian-American is not the same as being Italian, but for me, this is a small opportunity to seek continuity between the past, the present and their future.
I’m bringing my cameras with me. I’m looking forward to what I bring back.