There has been a flurry of social media activity on the riots surrounding the death of George Floyd. So many emotions! But today I was reminded about my own forgotten familial brush with racism. This was recently posted on Facebook by a friend:
“The largest lynching in US history took place in New Orleans and it was of ITALIANS! My husband is Italian (as in, from Italy.) Cajuns were kicked out of places, and just moved away and brought their great cooking with them. I’m Cajun. People have to stop acting like victims, deal with cultural issues (like restoring the family) and life will get better.”
I’m of Sicilian descent. WWII also proved tragic for Italians…not just for the Japanese.
Relocations took place. A remote relative of my grandmother was moved from Pittsburgh, CA to the midwest in the wake of knee-jerk reactions against a culture that unfortunately spawned Mussolini. Businesses closed. I’m a 6th cousin of Joe DiMaggio; his dad’s business on Fisherman’s wharf was shut down. And although the KKK is thought simply to be an anti-black organization, they sent scouts ahead into towns to find out which group was most hated. That happened in Seattle, where anti-Italian sentiment led by the KKK was fueled.
Even in my first marriage, I was told that the deceased paternal grandfather from Maine would have hated me because I was Italian.
Not once have my people rioted, looted or raised any sort of public outrage over these injustices. Where the Japanese loudly cried out for reparation, the Italians remained silent.
We went to a traveling museum in San Jose years ago that showed Italian immigration and contributions of our culture to the USA…and the racism Italians faced since they came to America. Racial slurs ran rampant, with attacks also on our strong Catholic faith. It is evident that our journey to America did not completely result in a promised land experience
But the exhibit also chronicled that after WWII, the Italian culture was virtually silent about what they endured, quick to put it behind them and move on to why they were here: to realize the opportunities unavailable in their country of origin. There was no demand for recognition of the marginalization they faced at the hands of racists. No demand for apologies. No demand for monetary help or societal guilt in the form of perks for school or employment opportunities. They simply went on with life.
That fact was most evident to me, in having to accidentally learn it from a travelling exhibit. When I then confronted my dad, he verified it. I asked why he never told me this part of my heritage. This wonderful WWII veteran told me there was no point in it. They had all moved on.
Anywhere racism still exists today and a people are marginalized should still be addressed…where it exists. That is why we have laws & a process. And we all should denounce the historic practice of slavery as illicit. But the ongoing perpetuation of hate by those whose ancestors were effected will insure we never move past it.
Even those with the best of intentions who post thoughts and articles about the evils of our past are inadvertently fueling the fire. Perhaps the ongoing push for feelings of guilt among whites (sometimes promoted by whites) are part of the reason that we are the Walking Wounded more than 150 years after the Civil War ended. Casualties who never actually sustained or inflicted personal injury.
For me, my family history is only two generations born here. My ancestors did not oppress, but were oppressed. I have no reason to feel “guilty” over past attrocities. But I submit that even for those whose family heritages date back to Miles Standish (or Robert E. Lee, for that matter) should not feel responsible for the sins of their forefathers. You did not commit those crimes against humanity.
Hate begets hate. Forgiveness is the true door to healing. It is time to forgive the past…and move on.