Identity Crisis

“Where are you from?”

“How did you learn to speak Italian?”

“What’s your story?”

“So, are you American or Italian?!”

These are some of the questions I’m faced with often here, but I honestly don’t mind answering them. My response usually goes something like this:

Well, I was born in the Bronx, but my parents are both Italian immigrants. Most of my mother’s family emigrated to the States, but almost all of my father’s family is here. We came to Italy in the summers to visit my grandparents, and I also studied Italian for eight years. I’ve studied in Rome for four months, and also lived in Milano two years ago but then moved back to New York at the end of 2016. I’m an American citizen, but just obtained my Italian citizenship last March, which is why I decided to move here earlier this year. Oh, and my boyfriend is also from Milano. WHAT ELSE YOU GOT?!

Ok, kidding about the last part.

However, it’s always interesting to see and hear people’s reactions when I recount to them how I ended up here. My story isn’t a unique one (American-who-moved-to-Italy-for-love-and-la-bella-vita), but I’d say my circumstances are. I’m often told how crazy I must be to have left the Big Apple for a bleak, small city like Milano… always asked why I traded in the great U.S.A for a small, struggling country like Italy. I usually just laugh it off, but–if I’m in a particularly spicy mood that day–I’ll tell them how corrupt, greedy and evil my country is….

…and then the conversation ends there.

For so much of my childhood and youth, I considered myself both Italian and American. In the States, I was Italian, even though I was born there. However, while vacationing here in Italy with family–especially in our small towns in the south–my sole identity was l’Americana. It wasn’t until two years ago that I stopped referring to myself as American, actually. Nowadays, when curious minds asked me where I’m from, I simply reply, “New York”–not just because the term “American” is incorrect and widely vague, but because I feel more closely connected to my city rather than to my country.

As much as I’ve tried desperately to avoid embracing my American-ness here, though, it hasn’t quit embracing me. It rears its head when I sometimes choose to enjoy my afternoon coffee alone, and not in the kitchen with coworkers. Or when I form a line to get onto a bus, as others push and prod their way through. Or when I become pissed off and paranoid after I catch several women gawking at my outfit at the supermarket.

It’s been a hard pill to swallow, that–after all these years and attempts to be more Italian–I’ll still always be inherently American. Although an Italian citizen (and newly-declared resident of Milano!), I’ll still always be the American from New York…….and I need to learn to accept that. In fact, I’ve already began to truly appreciate some of my American-ness ever since I began working full-time: my very American work ethic; no-bullshit attitude; ruthless ambition; inclination for order and organization. Sense of urgency, accountability and initiative. Doesn’t mind teamwork, but is independent and often craves solitude. Understands and values diversity–of opinion, expression, background, religion and race.

Scattered among these very American traits, though, are bouts of pure Italian-ness. My longing for tradition. Deep fondness of history, craftsmanship and the arts. Preference of quality over quantity. Taking pleasure in the simple things. Taking a break. Taking it easy. Taking my time.

It’s a privilege I’ve never taken for granted, being shaped and influenced by two wonderfully rich countries (in completely different senses) and going on to leave one to move to the other once I grew older. Navigating my days here as an Italian-American can be overwhelming, but–regardless of whether I’m too Italian for the States or too American for Italy–I’m thankful and truly blessed to live this life as a dual citizen.

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