Free-Floating Hostility

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Look Out, Frank McCourt

Last summer while I was up in the Bronx, I was crossing Fordham Road when I noticed an elderly lady in distress. I offered myself as a walking companion, and as we perched on a traffic island we talked a bit. She introduced herself as Dorothy, and upon learning that my name was Anna she asked me if I were of Spanish or Italian descent. "I was named for my Italian grandmother," I said, which is half true since Nana was half Italian. But Dorothy beamed at me. "I'm Italian, too!" she cried. "But you know when I was your age, they used to make us feel terrible about it." I sympathized, but added, "Well, Italians are doing pretty well for themselves these days, don't you think?" "Yes I do!" she enthused, "We beat the Irish!"

This didn't make a tremendous amount of sense to me at the time, but my brother (who has gotten incredible mileage out of that eighth of himself that can honestly claim to be Italian) explains it thus: Italians are cool, whereas the Irish (including the other half of Nana) have just assimilated. He was unmoved by my observation that the Irish had Kennedy whereas the Italians have only Scalia.

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