Italians: The Mexicans of White People

My husband once told me that Italians are the Mexicans of white people. He’s allowed to say this because he’s Mexican.

The truth is, there are quite a few similarities between his family and mine, which I’m guessing help make this marriage thing work. The other truth is that I’ve always been attracted to men who weren’t the true definition of WASP. Two of my serious boyfriends were Japanese and Hungarian (I’m talking born in Hungary, not like, oh, I have some random Eastern European lineage mixed in with 20 other nationalities including Welsh and Native American). The other white guys I’ve dated were Jewish and part Chinese. Interestingly, at no time have I ever dated another Italian. There’s no lesson to take away from this, really, I’m just stating fact.

Me and my husband chillin’ on our refrigerator door.

Growing up Italian-American in Massachusetts is different from being Italian-American in Jersey or Long Island. For one, while there are plenty of other Italians around, your basic Vinnys, Marios, and Enzos are not GTLing—whatever the crap it is—on the Cape Cod shore. In Mass, you’re more likely to find yourself surrounded by the Irish. Massachusetts is like a potato wrapped in proscuitto (which sounds kind of yummy, someone should try making that). For another, there’s not a whole lot of diversity. It’s saying something that for a long time I was the darkest person in my class. When the second-graders had an Olympics-themed parade, guess who was Mexico? You better believe I rocked the shit out of that poncho, though.

Being a white person of questionable ethnicity has led to some awkward situations. Puerto Ricans would approach me on the street in New York and ask me questions in Spanish. (My
stumbling reply: “No hablo…I don’t…I don’t even know how to say ‘I can’t speak Spanish’ in Spanish!”) I was often mistaken for being Jewish or Israeli, and was the natural choice for Cha-Cha DiGregorio in Grease and Lead Havana Dancer in Guys and Dolls. My first dance solo was to “What’s New, Buenos Aires?” from Evita. My instructors put a flower in my hair and had me darken the mole on my face.

Still, I’m not going to sit here and pretend people haven’t gotten over their confusion and deemed me White Enough to enjoy privilege. I’ve never been followed in a store to make sure I wasn’t stealing anything. I’ve never had to explain to someone that my race is not a rug. I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I’m not your garden-variety white, I’m in no way claiming I’ve had it bad on account of my nationality. I’m just garlic herbs on a bland cracker. And this will hopefully be the most racist post I ever have on this blog.

green of skin, black of heart

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