Friday, May 20, 2011

My Italian heritage

Tonight is pizza night. At least once a week for the past year I've made homemade pizza from scratch. At first I followed a recipe, but like anything done repeatedly, the process has gotten more byzantine over time. My sister gave me a pizza stone in January, which dramatically improved the quality of the crust and made preparation all the easier. Now I don't have to cook the crust separately before putting on the toppings.

In addition to making pizza, I also make really good meatballs. For these, I follow my mother's recipe. She's not Italian. These feats of culinary greatness are about as Italian as I get. Unlike my father, who grew up with Italian-speaking parents in a largely Italian neighborhood, as a third-generation American, most of my Italian heritage and folkways have been lost. Sure, my father has done extensive geneaology work. I know where I come from, Piana Degli Albanese, a village in the mountains above Palermo, Sicily, but I cannot point to any specific family tradition that hails from the old country. My mother's side of the family has been in the United States since the 1850s, so any trace of ethnicity is lost there as well.

Italian-Americans get a bad rap. The first three entries in a Google search of my last name reveals a pizza joint and two New York area mobsters. My father, Frank, shares the same name as the Gambino Family consigliere, Frank "Franky Loc" Locascio. Most other Locascio surnames are spelled LoCascio or Lo Cascio. The name has many meanings. It could mean "Of the Cascio." Cascio is a type of cheese. In southern Italy, Locascio is a derivation of Lo Castro, which means of the walled city. A Castro is a Roman walled fortification.

Apparently, the village in Sicily, Piana Degli Albanese, where my great-grandparents emigrated to the United States from in the early 1900s is largely populated by the Arbëreshë, an Albanian minority community living in southern Italy since as early as the 15th century. I guess I am more Albanian than Italian. I like to embrace this idea because being Albanian would explain my love of mountains. Italy is mountainous too, but more in the north. My roots are far more southern.

I'd like to embrace my ethnic roots a little more closely, but since I wasn't raised within any specific traditions, it would be affected, an approximation, with no legitimate family claims. Or, I could seek out extended family on my father's side -- most of whom I haven't seen in years, and appropriate their uniquely Italian traditions. That's an idea. I'd better do it soon, as my father's generation is passing away and so few of them, my father included, have maintained many of the old ways.

At least I've learned to make a really good pizza from scratch. It's a start.

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