“Be Italian” (or any other ethnic group that is cool)…

Whenever I see a post about the kids on “The Jersey Shore” it’s always followed by comments about how they aren’t really Italian. There’s always someone pointing out that if they went to Italy they would be made fun of and not accepted because they don’t speak Italian and don’t look/act like they are from there either.

Now, the issue about “being Italian” has also been brought up in interviews with the cast, and they are always quick to respond that they aren’t representing Italian Americans; for them it’s about the Guido lifestyle. I can respect that. I’m curious though, about the gap that viewers see in “being Italian” and “being Italian American.” From my understanding, “the Jersey Shore” cast sees it as there  still being cultural ties/practices that relate back to the “old country.” So in living their way of life, and through ethnic background they consider themselves to be Italian…so why can’t the rest of us?

How much does cultural background influence us? If we have the ethnicity in our genes can we really say we identify with it  if we pass for “white” and are not raised in a place/by a person that encourages a connection with our heritage? What about those who are white, but were brought up in a place where the majority of people were from a different racial/ethnic background and that influence was strong?

In a way I can relate to the cast’s plight because as a Latina (who doesn’t know Spanish) I’ve been told many times over (usually by people of the Caucasian persuasion) that I’m not Hispanic. If this has ever happened to you, you can understand how incredibly frustrating it is to have some say this, especially when you do have many ties to your culture. There are subtleties that outsiders would miss. Hell, there are people who I’m related to who don’t really understand specific traditions because they were not brought up with those concepts in mind.

I’ll admit it, I’m annoyed by those people who don’t really identify with being Hispanic unless it makes them look cool among their “white” friends or helps them get a scholarship/job when they tick the box on an application form. It’s unfair for the rest of us who’ve had to put up with racial slurs and being treated with prejudice.  In fact I know one person who passes for white, who sort of laughed it off when their fiance boyfriend called them “a wet back,” simply shrugging and said he doesn’t know better.” All the people I know(white or Latino) would find that unacceptable, but maybe that’s because they’ve been immersed in the Hispanic culture. Or maybe they  just know that exploiting and insulting people of different ethnic backgrounds is never in vogue.

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2 thoughts on ““Be Italian” (or any other ethnic group that is cool)…

  1. Message received, loud and clear. I am not a Hispanic who walks around mixing Spanish words with my native English, but I have still had to deal with the prejudices that come with being a person “of color”. Sure, we don’t participate in all of the traditions of our ancestors, but the culture lives on in other ways…it is there in our sense of loyalty to family, it is there in the foods we prepare for special holidays. Shame on those who neglect their responsibility to stand up for their cultural values. How Hispanic you are has nothing to do with how much culture you have in your daily life. Those who use it as a crutch or shrug it off to look “cool” have some lessons to learn about what it is to be proud of your culture, for better or worse.

    1. You’re right, loyalty to family is a major part of the culture and if that is lacking…well I think that says a lot. I am curious though, about your views in regards to not having the culture in your/one’s daily life. Do you think it still has to be a somewhat prominent thing that you experience. For example, if some is trying to figure out what my ethnic background is I will tell them I’m Scottish. However, I don’t really identify with being Scottish because the culture wasn’t really part of my upbringing.

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