Okay, I should not be that cynical, but have you ever been to a Italian Catholic funeral before? Basically I have 32 first cousins on my father’s side and most of them have children (and some even grandchildren!). At my Granmother Toscano’s wake and funeral we expect over 300 relatives.
As I sit in the stronghold (my parents’ and grandmother’s home), it feels like a scene from the Lord of the Rings. You see my grandmother has a very nice ring encrusted with a score of diamonds (I’m not kidding), and already a “discussion” has emerged as to who gets the ring.
Growing up I heard all the petty gossip around Italian Catholic weddings (Aunt Stella’s family only gave $25 then took a doggie bag!!) to vicious gossip at Italian Catholic funerals (Uncle Lenny went into my mother’s bedroom and stole her dentures!)
In the midst of the funeral of my well loved 97 year old grandmother, I already see rising greed, grudges and family grime. Included our own issues of white male power and privilege.
You see we are a rainbow family. My aunts and uncles married outside of the mainland Italian gene pool.
First it was my Uncle Joey who married (shudder) a Sicilian. Then my Uncle Rocky married “an Irish girl”. Uncle Louie married a Puerto Rican woman. Aunt Mary married a WASP from Cape Cod, had three children, divorced (a huge no-no) and married a Black man in Hartford. Uncle Frankie, the youngest married a woman from the Philippines. My dad (known as Petey) married my mom, whose family comes from Naples, a Southern but still mainland Italian city.
(My father and his siblings in order: Joey, Petey, Mary, Rocky, Louie, Frankie-I ain’t jokin’)
As a result, out of all his daughter-in-laws my grandfather favored my mother most and let it show. Depending on how dark you were, the more disowned you became. My mother tells me that she and my father had to sneak my grandmother away to see my Aunt Mary since Grandpa had forbidden contact with her after her marriage to my Uncle Tom (Yes, we could not go to my Uncle Tom’s cabin–actually a cute house in the North End. Hartford was also the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe.)
Racism became encoded in me just by observing the attitudes and actions of my own family. The divide was clear. We had the “good” cousins and the “bad” cousins. If you were dark or poor (and espeically dark and poor) you were automatically a “bad” cousin.
This week I struggle to apply the same sort of grace and generosity to my own family as I seek to extend to my “ex-gay” opponents. As a Quaker, do I believe that each family member has a little of God in them? Do I look for and expect the best from them while still accepting their shortcomings (and my own)? Do I dare post the picture of my ancient second cousin who looks like she mothered the race of Orcs?
Stay tuned (and if you are so inclined, hold us in the Light during this time).