I remember asking my mom before bed if I could go to sleep in Nonna Grazia and Nonno Nino’s house. After a few minutes of begging she’d finally cave and say “okay let’s go.” I’d run out of the car to their house and knock on the door, “Areistu ca stasira!” I’d say.
In the morning we’d go into the kitchen and I’d have a breakfast of milk and cookies. I remember looking forward to it because Nonno would add a little bit of espresso to the milk and I felt like a grown-up.
I remember watching Nonno pick figs from the fig tree in the backyard and eating them together. Or going with him and my dad to our pizzeria in Queens. I’d sit in a booth with Nonno and help him fold stacks of pizza boxes. As my dad walked by the table I’d say “Lo posso fare veloce! And he’d stop to watch me fold the boxes as fast as I could.
When we moved to North Carolina, my Nonni and my cousins followed. To this day, I still walk across the street to my nonna’s house and have sleepovers or just hang out with them and eat (well COVID-19 has…you know, changed some of my habits).
While I can’t be with my dad’s side as often as we’d like we still have weekly Facebook messenger video calls. And we try to visit them whenever possible. My Nonno Filippo used to have a pony and carriage. I remember visiting when I was a kid and riding around town.
I’m grateful for having grown up in such a big, yet close-knit family. Something that I think about a lot is how grateful I am for the ability to communicate with all of them. Other than a few of my cousins in America, everyone in my family either learned English as a second language or never learned it all. The majority of my family speaks Italian, more specifically the dialect of Sicilian, even more specifically, the dialect of Sicilian that is spoken in Carini. Every city in Italy has its own version of the Italian language that they know.
It was important to my parents that, even though I was being raised in the United States, I knew how to speak our language. So for as long as I can remember I’ve been able to speak Sicilian very well.
A few years ago, my parents, my brother and I took a trip to Carini to visit my dad’s side of the family. I was able to meet some of my little cousins for the first time in person. The first thing I noticed was that they spoke to me in proper Italian, while my aunts’ uncles and Nonni still spoke Sicilian. My Nonna Maria said that it’s because that is what they are learning in school. She said it’s good to know Sicilian because its the language of our people, but it is also important to learn proper Italian. It allows you to communicate with others across the country.
Sicilian is a spoken language and while it can be written down it’s not common, as is the same for other dialects. One can’t google translate the English word for “chair” into Sicilian, or Barese or Fiorentino. Dialects are something you learn through listening.
What Nonna Maria said was true, it would be helpful for me to learn Italian. I could understand it and I could read it okay, but speaking it was a bit difficult for me. I wanted to learn the grammar, learn how to write and I wanted to build upon my Italian vocabulary.
So after years of taking Spanish in school, I decided my senior year of college, that I would take Italian 101. I’m now in my last week of class and it’s safe to say that I have learned A LOT. While I still have a little bit to go before I’ll consider myself fluent in proper Italian, I am 1000 times more confident in my reading, writing, and speaking abilities.
Communication in all forms is valuable and builds relationships. Learning a language is a step towards communicating more effectively or in my case, more properly. I still speak Sicilian at home, however, I am now one step closer to speaking fluent Italian. I am thankful to have grown up with the ability to communicate with my family. It has allowed me to be close with them, even if some are an ocean away.