Tag Archive | "Italian-American"

Happy Mother’s Day (Buona Festa Della Mamma)

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In the United States and other countries around the world, a day is set aside to honor motherhood.  In the U.S. and many other nations, that day is the second Sunday in May.   Regardless of the precise date, Mother’s Day is a special day in our lives to recognize the women who bear the pain, nurture, guide and love their offspring selflessly their entire lives.

Not limited to humans, the strong bond and caring between mother and child can be observed throughout the animal kingdom.  In Roman Catholicism, the Virgin Mary is worshipped and adored as the spiritual Mother of all.

Growing up in a family of Italian heritage, my brothers and I considered our Mom special not just on Mother’s Day, but all year long.  She was always there for us when needed, toiling endless hours cooking and cleaning.  She took care of our family business while Dad was earning the money to put a roof over our heads and food on the table.  Despite her seemingly endless household chores, she still found time for Dad when he came home from a hard day at work.

She did all these things and more out of love of family and did them without complaint, calling it her duty.  Today, it would cost a King’s ransom, even without perks, to pay an employee who kept a home as tidily and lovingly as did my Mom.

When things got out of hand amongst us kids, she stepped in and solved the problem.  And, if you thought you could avoid punishment by being fleet of foot, forget it.  The average Italian Mom could nail you in the back of the head with her shoe at fifty paces.  Ask George W. Bush how difficult it is to avoid a shoe attack.  And, he saw them coming!  Call it tough love or any other politically correct term you choose, we soon learned the secret of getting along with our friends and relatives.

Yet, we always felt the protective shield of Mom in our lives.  Always watchful of her brood, Mom could transform herself from meek and mild-mannered to ferocious in an instant, should anyone or anything threaten her family.  And, when Mom wasn’t happy, nobody was happy.

The day I marched off to war, she tried to keep a stiff upper lip when we said goodbye, but she could not hide the tears in her eyes.  My future uncertain, I knew that I would be atop Mom’s prayer list.  They say, “A mother’s prayers go straight to heaven.” And, while I am certain that my Mom’s prayers helped keep me safe, I also think of another old adage, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”

So as we celebrate Mother’s Day, I would like to take the liberty of including the entire writing staff of Write On New Jersey in wishing all mom’s of every time and place a “Happy Mother’s Day.”

Going GaGa

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The performer known today as Lady GaGa began her life as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta on March 28, 1986 in New York City.  Of Italian heritage, she was the first child welcomed by Joseph and Cynthia Germanotta.  At the age of 11, having demonstrated a talent for music, her parents considered enrolling her in the prestigious Julliard School of Music in the city of her birth.  Tradition won out and instead, Stefani entered the Convent of the Scared Heart, a private Roman Catholic school, which would prove to have little influence upon her.

Shortly after her thirteenth birthday, the singer with the stoic stage presence wrote her first piano ballad and unveiled it at local talent shows.  Four years later, New York University’s Tisch School of Arts accepted her into their music program, where she improved her songwriting skills.  At the age of 19, she opted out of the program to focus on her career rather than her studies.

Striking out on her own, she performed in clubs on Manhattan’s Lower East Side with Mackin Pulsifer and the SG Band. With a repertoire that highlighted burlesque and a lifestyle that embraced drug abuse, the girl scandalized her father and turned her nose up at her Catholic school education.

Nicknamed GaGa by music producer Rob Fusari in honor of the Queen song, Radio Ga Ga, Stef adopted Lady GaGa as her stage name.   In 2007, she teamed up with Lady Starlight for gigs in New York’s downtown clubs, where the duo was billed as Lady GaGa and the Starlight Revue. Promoting themselves as “The Ultimate Pop Burlesque Rock Show,” the pair performed a tribute to variety acts of the 1970’s.  They went on to earn high accolades for their performance at the Lollapalooza music festival.

Finding her niche, Lady GaGa incorporated the music of David Bowie and Queen into her mix, thereby joining the scores of the uninventive claiming to “sample” other artists’ music when in truth, they rip it off.  She also claimed Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Brittany Spears as influences.  Discovered by producer-singer-songwriter and former car thief Akon at Interscope Records, she inked a joint deal with Jim Iovine and Akon’s label, Kon Live Distribution, where Akon dubbed her his franchised player.  Lady GaGa began using her own material to launch her debut album with producer RedOne.  Boys, Boys, Boys was the first song that they produced.

In 2008, she relocated to Los Angeles to finalize her debut album, The Fame.  Its urban tracks combined Def Leppard-like drums with metallic handclaps.  GaGa also collaborated with a collective, called the Haus of GaGa, which selected her clothing, or lack thereof, as well as stage sets and sounds (so much for musical artistry).  The Fame received positive reviews from Metacritic and was described by Times Online as “fantastic.” The CD achieved #1 status in Austria, the United Kingdom, Canada and Ireland, netting worldwide sales of three million copies. 

Following her success in foreign markets, the Haus of GaGa’s image mavens focused on U.S. audiences.  They double billed GaGa on her first concert tour with her label mates, the newest incarnation of New Kids on the Block (who aren’t kids, by a long shot).  The tour that ran for approximately two months (from October 8th to late November, 2008) led to The Fame Ball Tour of North America.  This kicked off in March 2009 to critical acclaim.  In the immortal words of Captain James Tiberius Kirk, “There is no accounting for some people’s tastes.”

On her World Domination Tour, GaGa opened for the Pussycat Dolls in the U.K. and Australia, where she was well received. One reviewer claimed that she upstaged the headliners. As the Dolls’ chief claim to fame is not their vocalizing but their soft porn stage gyrations, this speaks volumes for GaGa’s performance.  In fact, GaGa’s MTV “Love Game” was banned from Australia’s Network 10 for its sexually explicit imagery.  It’s good to see that there are some morals and musical taste alive somewhere in the world.

GaGa also appeared semi-nude on the May 2009 cover of Rolling Stone’s Hot 100, thus joining the myriad near-bare bods, male and female, that have graced those covers since the early ’90’s.  In that issue, she stated that early in her career, she fell in love with a heavy metal drummer in a New York club, who served as her inspiration while writing music in her later years. She also stated that she was bi-sexual and is inspired by beautiful women.  This revelation makes her male friends uncomfortable and me somewhat doubtful, remembering when Elton John referred to himself as bisexual before stepping fully out of the closet.  In the same interview, GaGa insisted, “I am not using the gay community to look edgy. I’m a free sexual woman and I like what I like.”

After many tours, Lady GaGa received nine accolades at the MTV Video Music Awards.  These include Video of the Year, Best Female Artist, Best Pop Video for Poker Face, Best Direction, Best Editing, Best Special Effects, Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction for Paparazzi.  Following her appearance at the Royal Variety Performance in London earlier this year, she had the honor of meeting Queen Elizabeth II.  I would have paid to have been a fly on that wall.

A far cry from her modest upbringing, the former Stefani Germanotta embodies an old Italian saying used to discuss one’s children.  “Almeno lei non fuma” translates as “At least she doesn’t smoke.” 

La Famiglia

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Earth from Space 2

The Holiday Season, in the midst of which we find ourselves, is a time of giving, sharing, and reflection.  As we gather together to enjoy or endure (in whatever situation you may find yourself this year) the blessings of the season and conclusion of another calendar year, many of us will pause to remember Holidays past.  For me, what made those occasions special were not the gifts given or received (most of which I can barely recall) or the food and drink consumed, but the people with whom those times were shared.  If you were fortunate enough to have grown up within a close extended family, you have a sense for that about which I am speaking.  The offspring of members of two tightly-knit Italian-American families, I – of course – shared those joyous times with parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts, and cousins!


And, during my childhood and adolescence, our family gatherings were not reserved simply for Holidays, but were a regular part of life.  Every Sunday was like a mini-Holiday!  For, on that particular day of the week, my mom, dad, brother, and I all traveled from our home in New Jersey for a day with our families in Philadelphia.  We began with dinner at the home of my paternal grandparents in the early afternoon.  Later in the day and evening, we joined my mom’s side of the family at her parents’ home.  Why and how that particular schedule was established, I do not know.  But, what I do know is that for the ten-plus years that I remember our Sunday pilgrimages to the City, the dinners and family gatherings were attended, with extremely rare exception, by each and every aunt, uncle, and cousin.  Regardless of what was happening in our individual lives and nuclear families, we all made it a priority to join with our extended family for that one day out of the week.


My father was one of three brothers and my mother one of five sisters.  And so, our Sunday dinner with my father’s family was usually shared among fifteen adults and children, and the evening gathering of my mom’s clan customarily totaled twenty-one.  As Americans of Italian heritage, we always viewed our families as being more loving and closer-knit than those of our non-Italian friends and neighbors.  And indeed, I, to this day, know of no other non-Italian-American families who were more in each other’s presence or whose lives were more closely intertwined than were those of my mother or my father.


Imagine experiencing Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter on a weekly basis!  That is what my childhood was like.  The incredible food was just a small part of the equation.  The truly amazing aspect of those days was the overwhelming sense of love and fulfillment that was enjoyed by all on those occasions.  Now, I do not mean to suggest that my mom’s and dad’s families did not have their share of disagreements and even animosities, as most people do.  But, in the presence of each other, those feelings faded away, as the snow melts on a mild spring day.  Harmony reestablished, we were liberated to enjoy the reverie, camaraderie, and peace that one can only experience in the presence of those whom he or she truly loves.


It occurs to me now that there was one other individual who, although unseen, must have attended our weekly gatherings.  If Heaven is the presence of God, then He must have been there among us.  And, if His presence can create harmony and joy among biological family members, then why not among all his children?


The day is fast approaching when all of us must come to the realization that our peace, harmony, and very survival are interwoven with those of our brothers and sisters inhabiting this planet.  Fuel, food, and clean air and water, in diminishing supply, are among the commodities that we must equitably share.  The root causes of hatred and violence must be illuminated and eradicated.  And, we must all learn to tolerate and even celebrate our cultural and religious differences.


Perhaps, as naive as it sounds, we should begin by acknowledging ourselves as members of the same family, relatives not by place of origin but by common Creator.  Then, perhaps, we may feel inspired to gather together and discover the enriching power of sharing a meal or companionship with our brothers and sisters of every race, culture, nationality, and religious persuasion.  In the presence of each other and our Heavenly Father, we will surely see our differences melt away and be left with a sense of peace and fulfillment, as well as a blueprint for resolving the difficult problems that we share.

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