Friday, May 20

Festa

By Stephen D’Alessio

Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino

Vito Marcantonio’s old campaign posters sit in the glass cases at the cultural center.
His cocked eyebrow and raised fist bring the fire of radicalism surging around him.
At the festa the elder right wing Italians eye his picture nervously,
craning their necks over the bottles of wine to look at the display from their table.
They call him a myth,
like la Befana or Babo Natale.
“The REAL Italians would never support a red!”
As I pass by they tell me all about the good Italian immigrants from the old days,
the Christian immigrants,
the immigrants who never thought of welfare.
For the elder leftists, Marcantonio’s memory is a necessity.
It sustains them like the arancini they eat.
They sit off on their own, cast out
or perhaps self-exiled.
They bemoan the loss of activist Italians of old
like Aeneas’s Trojan refugees weeping for their lost kingdom.
“We are the REAL Italians” they say.
“Those who clamor for Trump are merely WASPS in disguise.”
But the conservatives are drowning them out at the other tables.
And I sit alone,
the millennial activist unfit for either camp.
I don’t know LaGuardia.
Never read Gramsci.
I’ve never met Giuliani or Salvini.
I’ve never felt the struggle of coming to the New World.
I did not suffer the cramped tenements, fingers chewed up in the factories, fires raging in Manhattan.
I cannot imagine the pain of names taken or cut down.
The word wop was not carved in my side by the Irish on the docks.
For me, Williamsburg is in Virginia
and I have never walked the streets where Christ is in the Concrete.
Before long, the Italians are going.
The festa is ending.
The nonnas and nonnos tell us the highway is unsafe.
They urge us to take some bread in case we get hungry.
They are all finishing their coffee and cannolis and heading back.
They are taking their music,
their ancient dialects,
their mysticism,
their beautiful mix of paganism and Christianity tossed together in the Mediterranean,
their struggle for dignity and survival,
and their ties to the homeland.
Will I be Italian when the elders do not return?
Or will I be just another face in the crowd
pleading to feel special?
My inheritance will be a dangling vowel.
I will be cut loose from everything,
craving a world I never knew.

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