Why You Should Learn About Your Italian Ancestry
Over 15.7 million Americans identify themselves as having Italian ancestry, making up about six percent of the national population. The Italian American community has contributed greatly to the cultural makeup of the U.S., and if you think you might be a member of the clan, you should pursue an Italian heritage analysis.
Italian influence in America
Italy has a rich history of innovative art, religion, architecture, fashion, and food. U.S. Italian culture encompasses these classic traditions with a unique spin that brands it as quintessentially Italian American, and the community has had a significant impact on the nation as a whole. From pasta and prosciutto to The Sopranos and Lady Gaga, the U.S. is ripe with Italian and Italian American influence, and those who consider themselves to be of Italian ancestry are proud, loyal, and very community-oriented.
Italian culture has had a major influence on American food, and Italian American cuisine is definitely its own category. Popular dishes include: pasta, bolognese, chicken or eggplant Parmesan, chicken piccata, chicken marsala, chicken cacciatore, shrimp scampi, focaccia bread, and meatballs.
Italian Americans have had a similarly powerful impact on the nation’s music industry. Some early 20th century Italian American stars include Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Perry Como. The past couple of decades of Italian American influence on music include Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, and Madonna.
There are plenty of films that showcase Italian American culture, and although many of them defer to stereotypes – especially when it comes to the Mafia – some of them are a little more accurate in their depictions. Popular films that feature Italian American culture include: The Godfather, My Cousin Vinny, Moonstruck, I Love You to Death, Saturday Night Fever, and Rocky.
Beyond Rocky Balboa, Italian Americans have been heavily involved in the U.S. sports industry. Notable sports professionals of Italian ancestry include: baseball player Ed Abbaticchio, boxer Lou Ambers, bodybuilder Charles Atlas, hockey player Eddie Giacomin, and football player Ted Hendricks.
The Italian language has been frequently utilized in American culture. Rather than deferring to an English version, many Italian words are used to refer to food, music, and more.
Italy is largely Roman Catholic, and many Italian immigrants brought their religious traditions with them to America. There are thousands of Roman Catholic churches throughout the U.S., and several Italian Americans are just as devoted to the faith as their ancestors were.
Popular facts about Italian culture
Italian culture is steeped in rich history, hailing from the European country and passed down through generations of Italian people. If you’re on the fence about taking an Italian heritage analysis, knowing a bit more about the country’s culture might convince you to take the leap. Here are some of the most well-known traditions and facts about Italian culture, both in America and throughout the world:
- For Italians, the number 17 is considered unlucky.
The country of Italy recognizes a few different superstitions, and this one dates back to ancient Roman times. Many Italians consider the number 17 to be unlucky – especially if it’s a date that falls on a Friday. This is because of the 17 anagram VIXI. In Latin, vixi translates to “I have lived,” which implies death, and Italians ward this off as an unwelcome omen.
- Placing a hat on a bed is also considered bad luck.
Another Italian superstition involves headwear and bedspreads. Many Italians consider beds to be associated with death and illness, and placing a hat on a bed is a particularly grave omen. This is because traditionally, when an Italian priest visits a dying person at the end of their life, they remove their hat and put it on the bed. Whether or not this has any supernatural merit, a lot of Italians and Italian Americans prefer to be safe rather than sorry, and are likely to just opt for the hat rack.
- The cornicello charm acts as the Italians’ protection from the “evil eye.”
Quite a few cultures have a symbolic defense against the evil eye – a.k.a., a curse that can be brought on by a malevolent glare. In Jewish or Muslim culture, the hamsa (or “khamsa”) acts as protection against this malicious gaze, and for Italian people, the cornicello charm does the trick. The charm is twisted, horn-shaped, and often made of gold, silver, plastic, terracotta, red coral, or bone. It is also thought to represent fertility, virility, and strength.
- La famiglia – a.k.a., “the family” – is a major pillar of Italian culture.
If you’ve watched The Sopranos or The Godfather, this one might not come as much of a surprise, but Italians are also known for placing a heavy emphasis on their family (la famiglia). Italian Americans are equally loyal to their own clan, and it’s common for single children to live at home well into their 30s or older – both in Italy and throughout the rest of the Italian-immigrant-populated world.
- Italians are known for using hand gestures and exaggerated facial expressions when speaking.
Of course, this isn’t true for everyone, but more often than not, Italians communicate with a lot of gesticulation. They tend to accompany their language with lots of hand gestures and exaggerated facial expressions, and may speak a bit loudly as well.
- Italian children are expected to help support their family as early as possible.
Italian culture centers itself around family orientation, and traditionally, education hasn’t been heavily emphasized. Instead, children were expected to begin working as soon as possible in order to contribute to the family. Elders are particularly revered in Italian communities, and children are expected to support and care for them throughout their later stage of life.
- Italian American slang – or “Italian pidgin” – is prominent throughout areas with a high concentration of Italian Americans, like New York and New Jersey.
Pidgin is a grammatically simplified language that bridges gaps between two different languages – and for Italians and Italian Americans, pidgin is a marriage between Italian and English. This method of communication is particularly popular in areas of New York and New Jersey, where many pockets of Italian American communities have lived since the early 1900s.
- Italian Americans are known for their grand feasts.
“Little Italys” exist throughout the U.S. – streets or town regions where an Italian presence is particularly prominent. This presence is usually represented by restaurants, galleries, themed bars, or other Italian-centric establishments, and these areas are also known for hosting festive, feast-happy celebrations. Some notable nationwide celebrations include the Feast of San Gennaro and the Our Lady of Mount Carmel “Giglio” Feast in New York City, and Boston’s Feast of all Feasts in honor of Saint Anthony of Padua.
- There are quite a few museums throughout the nation that are dedicated to Italian American culture.
Including art, music, cultural artifacts, details of Italian heritage, and more, these are some of the most prominent Italian American museums in the nation:
- Museo ItaloAmericano (San Francisco, California)
- Casa Italia Chicago (Chicago, Illinois)
- Italian American Museum of Los Angeles (Los Angeles, California)
- American Italian Heritage Association and Museum (Albany, New York)
- American Italian Cultural Center (New Orleans, Louisiana)
- Italian American Museum (New York, New York)
- History of Italian Immigration Museum (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)