Chapter 30 La Vendetta

The other night I was watching the ABC Friday show WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? Sponsored by ancestry.com, famous Americans get to trace their roots, which includes a return trip to the “motherland.”

Marissa Tomei, one of my favorite Italian American actresses, returned home to Tuscany to meet her long-lost family. Of course, there were tears and hugs and the sharing of pictures of family past and present.

One of Marissa’s goals was to discover the truth about her great grandfather’s demise in the early 1900’s. Many of us Italian Americans have created legends about past events as stories pass from generation to generation, family member to family member. We are natural storytellers, PhDs in the oral tradition like the “griots” in western Africa. For us, the truth is a relief and often a surprise. In Marissa’s case, it was definitely a surprise. Her great grandfather was murdered!

The news of his murder wasn’t all that surprising. Crimes of passion are not uncommon even in “civilized” Tuscany. It was Marissa’s reaction to the murder that shocked us.

Marissa’s hostess introduces her to a relative of the murderer! And they shake hands, smile, and reminisce! They hug as they say good-bye as Marissa readies herself to return to New York.

For us Calabresi Americans, killing a family member even in generations past is a crime not forgotten, even if the TV cameras were present. There is no way we would be shaking hands and reminiscing with a relative of our family member’s murderer, regardless how many generations removed.

In our dialect, an ancient proverb says: “Su’ Calabrisi e calabrisi sugnu, su’ canusciutu pe’ tuttu lu regnu, tandu nemicu miu, tandu m’arrendu, quandu la testa mia sagghja a la ‘ntinna. Roughly translated it says: “I’m a Calabrese and a Calabrese I will always be. I am known throughout the land. Therefore, my enemy, I will only give up seeking my vengeance when my head is severed and stuck on a pole.”

But, then again, it’s totally understandable! Marissa Tomei is a Tuscan and the Saccos are Calabresi!

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About growingupcalabrese

Professor of French and Italian at San Diego State University
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