Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Accidental Italian

As we visited my home turf of Canton, Ohio this month, the Captain asked about the ethnic makeup of the city. And I was suddenly mystified. Because, of course, the people in my hometown are just people. I don't think of them as having come from anywhere else.

In fact, I don't really think of myself as having come from anywhere in particular. My family is so mixed into the melting pot that we are pretty much just American. Sometimes I have felt a little jealous of the strong cultural heritage of people I have met along the way. My people like hamburgers and apple pie, vacations by the beach, and telling a good joke. But what's distinctive about that? Surely everyone feels the same way.

About the only thing I could have told you, straight from Ohio 15 years ago, is that people from the Midwest are friendly, and I love a good steak.

But that misses the heritage I did grow up with. I missed it because it is so familiar I don't think of it as distinctive. I have lived other places and noted strong Middle Eastern, or Greek, or Asian, or Czech influence. But my own hometown? I was suddenly stumped. So I asked my mom:

What's my cultural heritage from growing up here?

And I learned that my hometown has strong Irish, German and Italian heritage.

Like, oh yeah.

I've known Smithbergers, Longabergers, Wilheims, and Millers my whole life. I can spell most German names just from hearing them, even though I never studied the language. Every bar in town starts O'something (not that I ever visited any of them, they're just everywhere), and I had plenty of friends growing up with either Irish red hair and freckles, or dark Italian shocks of hair and dark eyes. Come to think of it, my high school friends had names like D'Amico and DeSantis, too.

I grew up eating meat and potatoes (hello, hamburgers?), sauerkraut and sausage, and all things Italian. I never realized that some people never had spaghetti until they grew up and left home. I actually met someone like that here in Texas, you know who you are. That is such a strange idea to me, because I don't know what I'd eat on an ordinary day if it weren't for Italian food. That's just plain old ordinary food to me. Everything else--Chinese, Mexican, Japanese, Indian, even Southern--is ethnic food, while spaghetti, pizza, macaroni and Chicken Parmagiana are my favorite comfort foods.

Can you tell my definition of cultural and ethnic is determined by food?

I'm thinking of making one post a week about food. I like it a lot, and stuff. I'd call it Foodie Fridays, except I think it's going to be Thursdays. I've got another idea for Fridays, since they sit there for three days for ya'll to mull over before I get into the next week's fun ideas. We'll see. I have a hard time being committal.

Anyway, all this talk of Italian food is making me hungry for spaghetti. While I go start the pot to boiling, suppose you tell me what's your cultural background. Especially as it relates to food.

1 comment:

  1. i love reading about food. my cultural background is mexican. i mean, mexican food and genuine simple italian foods are normal for us.

    then with dad in the navy, we learned about asian dishes and other fun things. dave added to my life with indian food and it's just grown from there. i wonder what the kids are going to say about food as they grow up.


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