Dear Adoption, I’m Embarrassed by You
If I just say “How are you?” In Italian, to the Italian barber on Constitution Boulevard, he’ll give me a lollipop after my brother get’s a haircut. I don’t want anyone to know I speak Italian. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m four now and I don’t speak Italian anymore.
I was plopped into a tiny town full of Italians shortly before I was two, I came from Southern Italy. I’m the real deal, but why do I feel like a phony Italian? I don’t think I would fit in with my birth family, now that I don’t speak Italian anymore, but I don’t fit in with these Italians here the United Sates either. I’m confused. It’s not supposed to be this way is it, the embarrassment? Would my other family be upset with me, that I lost my language so soon? I didn’t want to keep that part of me then.
I can pretend to be anything I want, I think to myself, because when Italian folks ask what part of Italy I’m from, and I say Naples, they look at me cockeyed. Southern Italians are supposed to be dark but I’m light. “Are you sure you’re Italian?” My cousin asks me one day when he questions whether I ever go in the sun. I don’t tan as much as turn a sort of golden color.
I seem to keep changing my identity to fit whomever I’m with. If I happen to be within earshot of people disparaging Italians, I can hide behind my married name, and no one will be the wiser.
“Dad” I asked shortly after being told I was adopted from Italy, “Am I Italian or American?” He answered “You’re an American of Italian decent.” OK, whew! That cleared things up for me for awhile.
When I was first married, my Mother-in-law would talk about Italian food and then look at me. I’d think, “Why’s she looking at me? I don’t know how to cook Italian food like a real Italian.” Not like my adoptive Mom, who hardly ever used a recipe, but could whip up something delicious, seemingly out of nothing. I stayed far away from the kitchen when I was living with her. I didn’t want to fit that stereotype either. Just what do I want? What type of Italian would fit me? How on earth can I be lost among all these Italians in my little adopted town?
When my children were born they had light hair and skin so I hardly even thought of them as Italian either. Are they Italian? They are half me. Why didn’t I have all those Italian saying all over my house or on little plaques in my kitchen like a good Italian American would? I did what I was supposed to do, I was supposed to forget that other family existed, those Italians I tried to forget, and then I forgot about me. I missed that part of me. I’m lost, and I’m embarrassed that I am lost.