Sunday, July 1, 2012

Italian or Australian?

Salvatore never really identified with being an Australian. As a teenager he hung around with the Italian boys in Five Dock, a suburb of Sydney where the Italian migrants started to move to. He spent time in the local pool halls and always played a mean game of pool. A lot of his friends drifted into trades such as mechanics as a way to follow the Italian boy’s obsession with cars. Salvatore was different ( although always enjoyed Italian cars) and stayed at school and eventually went to university.

Salvatore and his brother had desperately tried to 'fit in' with the idea of being Australian. The obvious manifestation of being different was the food. They begged their mother, a sensational cook, to buy TV dinners which were frozen prepared dinners wrapped in alfoil with a little section for mashed potato, another for peas and possibly carrots and finally a chop or steak. All this could be easily heated in the oven. It was the frozen version of meat and three veg.

One night sitting down to a mountain of delicious pasta Salvatore told me the story of wanting TV dinners to be the same as his Aussie friends. Savoring the pasta et polpetti  (Pasta and ball meats!), I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Another distinctive difference to every other Italian male I know is that Salvatore couldn’t care less about soccer. However every World Cup he would always take the Italian side.

I learnt from him that Aussies were called “Skips”, after the television personality Skippy the kangaroo. Every migrant child knows the term Skips but unlike the reciprocal “Wog” or “dago” they kept it much more to themselves.

Francesco Ricatti , in his article 'First love and Italian postwar migration' said 

‘The way I looked to others was another surprise. I had never realised that I was classified as different because I didn’t know that blonde hair and blue eyes was seen as normal...As I noticed these differences, and I was hurt, I tried to change myself in order to be accepted. The first thing I learnt was no salami sandwiches for lunch, and instead I wanted to order a meat pie or a vegemite sandwich. I also realised that my mum didn’t use Kraft cheese in my sandwiches but the smelly one. In the classroom situation, when it came time to tell the class ‘news’ I’d find myself changing the stories so that mine wouldn’t sound so different from the others. The day we spent making salami at Zio Rocco’s turned into a family barbecue and watching a soccer game became an afternoon at the footy.’ 

 Being called 'wog' or 'dago' was commonplace in the sixties and seventies and was often the cause of scuffles between boys It was not unusual for scuffles to break out when young Italians were called names such as ‘wog’ or ‘dago’. A group of Italo-Australian boys interviewed in a Brisbane boys’
high school in 1979, made the point that the worst kind of name calling which they could offer back to their Anglo-Australian peers were words such as ‘convict’ or ‘skippy’, did not have the same derogatory value as ‘wog’ and ‘dago’. 

Clearly, the power to define cultural symbols lay in the hands of the Anglo-Australians, even when the majority of boys including the dux of the college, happened to be Italo-Australian. 
On his Italo/Australain identity, Francesco Ricatti further states that that  

‘My Italianess stood out in me as if I were wearing a constant sign. I even started believing the images they [Australians] had of my culture, and if they made fun of it, I’d find myself laughing with them rather than defending myself. To be  accepted, I was agreeing with their comments and ideas about my culture and family: my Grandmother wore black; my parents had an accent; I had garlic breath; I only washed once a week; I had spaghetti for breakfast; my father was a mafia godfather; my Uncle owned a fruitshop...'

No comments:

Post a Comment