I had friends from many different cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. My parents taught me that friendship did transcend those superficialities. For Italians, nationality and religion are paramount, though, and I understand that sometimes that can lead to prejudices and stereotyping of other races, ethnicities, or religious groups. Luckily, my family was tolerant. However, I do remember knowing other Italian families who were less accepting of differences and more apt to criticize or judge others because of their religious affiliation or their skin color. I would have to say that based on my own experiences that this does not reflect was it truly means to be Italian. Being proud of my identity does not have to entail prejudice of any kind and does not have to taint my friendships with others.
One of the ways that Italian culture is most often celebrated is with food. Italians and non-Italians alike love to eat and to eat well. Italian food is extremely popular around the world for its fantastic flavors, versatility, and freshness. We sometimes would spend hours together as a family: my mom, dad, and siblings all together cooking and preparing for big meals. When we had family or friends over for dinner, it was a joy to entertain and make everyone leave full and satisfied. I recall huge portions of antipasti, soups, salads, pastas, and main dishes, especially on special occasions like birthdays. Weddings were also an excuse to celebrate and eat a lot of good food. I believe that traditional Italian families tend to prefer fresh ingredients, and I knew many other Italian families that grew their own tomatoes or basil. Most of the Italian mothers I know, including my own, usually cooked fresh dinners instead of resorting to prepackaged processed foods. Moreover, food was not treated as an inconvenience, as it was in many of my friends' households. Rather, my family and many other Italian families we knew savored each opportunity to get together at home or at a good restaurant for dinner. Of course, wine often flowed around the dinner table as well and is as integral to Italian culture as food.
For Italians, food, family, and friendship go hand in hand. I fell honored and lucky to have been born into a Roman Catholic Italian family, and am quite proud of my heritage. My pride partly arises from the positive attitude my parents gave me toward my background, but much of it evolved as I realized how much I appreciate what it means to be Italian. Knowing how important family ties are will help me to be a better parent in the future; whether or not I marry another Italian or even another Catholic, I will definitely teach my children many of the same values that I learned as a child. Watching how my parents treated their friends helped me to honor and respect my own friendships. Finally, appreciating my culture would not be possible without acknowledging how wonderful Italian food is and how it ties into parties and social events. Italians value family, friendships, and food as a way to celebrate life.