Saturday, December 10

The Italian Hello

A 1942 photo of Italian Americans on MacDougal Street in Lower Manhattan. Marjory Collins / Library of Congress

We joke among ourselves at Pummarola about the Italian Hello. Even when we have pressing business, it takes at least 20 minutes to get past our greetings to one another. This labeling is the sort of thing that can get an ethnic group a bad reputation, but we didn’t come to it intentionally. Like so many cultural attributes, the Italian Hello found us. It’s an impulse we might  bury when around certain other groups, but left to our own devices, we’d gladly spend 40 minutes saying hello on a serious call, 10 minutes discussing the actual reason for the call, and another 40 minutes saying goodbye. (And we’d start 15 minutes late, btw.)

The Italian Hello is a way by which we tell our stories. Whether we’re describing what happened on our way to the bank this morning or catching up after months, we’re keeping a culture of storytelling alive, perhaps without even being cognizant of it. It’s the idea of making time for a conversation with an elder at any gathering. It’s slowing a phone call down enough to remind everyone that what matters most is that we are all connected. Even the seemingly simple act of asking a family member for a recipe can result in long-form narrative. And cookbooks from Italy support this: directions are often written in paragraph form instead of bullet points. There is no skimming here. The Italian Hello is not just a wave or a smile. It’s a transfer of knowledge, requiring your full attention. 

Every culture tells stories—it is the nature of society itself—but the Italian diaspora does it with a distinctive flavor. This is an issue dedicated to the Italian Hello. We don’t “require” your full attention, but we think our stories may captivate you. Among this issue’s treasures you will find a meditation on growing up Italian and Cuban in Ybor City, a recounting of the family method of bread baking by our dear friend Joanna Clapps Herman, and a unique connection to the elusive Elena Ferrante. In this issue we are talking about our lives and the people who are in the constellations we consider Italian and Italian American. We are talking about our connections to one another. 

We are always telling stories. One of the editors quipped that this special issue is really what we do every issue, and it’s true. Pummarola tells a particular brand of Italian and Italian American story, providing a new platform for authentic dialogue, often giving voice to the silent, digging through stereotypes to find common denominators, and sometimes exposing uncomfortable truths. For each of us, the experience of being Italian American is deeply individual, yet it’s the commonalities of our cultural experience that bring us together, and bring us here. At the heart of those commonalities is storytelling: a welcome, a hello, Italian style. 

We hope you will enjoy this issue as much as we have enjoyed putting it together.

The Editorial Collective

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