127. My Tribe

I get a little zing whenever Anthony Fauci comes on the TV. I stop everything to listen. Sure, he’s one of the true greats of our time, a savior helping us emerge from not one, but two epidemics — AIDS and COVID — a genius both scientifically and in his ability to communicate calmly, clearly and patiently, when frankly, the rest of us would have been screaming. But it’s more than that. I feel a little zing of pride, as if somehow his glow reflects on me.

Credit: Reuters

I get a little zing when I see Nancy Pelosi. Tough, smart, savvy, and always a practitioner of la bella figura, in her perfectly coordinated suits and masks. Made it her business to raise a large family and be the first female Speaker of the House. I got goosebumps when she ripped up Trump’s speech full of lies. I loved “the look” she shot one of her members who began to clap when she announced that the vote to impeach had prevailed. Not classy, it said. It was a look anyone with an Italian mother or nonna would know.

Springsteen. Photo by Ben Kaye

I get a zing at a Bruce Springsteen concert. No matter his own personal depression or the gravity of some of his songs, he exudes a joyfulness he claims to have inherited from his Italian-American mother. Is that why I’ve seen well over forty of his concerts over the past fifty years?

Dr. Jill Biden, the first First Lady to continue with her own independent career while in office, is surely mindful of the example she sets. She manages to seem both exceptional and perfectly normal at the same time, a role model of commitment to profession, family and country. Her Sicilian grandfather changed the family name from Giacoppo when he came to this country. Zing.

Hayes and Fauci

Learning MSNBC’s Chris Hayes has an Italian mother when he conveys her “Happy San Giusepp Day” (dialect, no less!) to Dr. Fauci. Zing! Seeing Lady Gaga, AKA Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotto, in that dress, singing the national anthem at Biden’s inauguration. Zing! DeNiro, Pacino — Zing, Zing! Sinatra was a mixed blessing, but you can’t argue with that voice — Zing!

Gaga at the Inauguration. Photo by Getty Images.

Then, of course, there are the ones that make you want to slink down in your seat. Cuomo, these days; Giuliani, always; Batali, a disgrace. Those mobsters with their cheesy nicknames.

Anne Bancroft

I grew up in a household that played attention to such things. Bernadette Peters is really Bernadette Lazzara; Anne Bancroft was once Anna Maria Louisa Italiano. But being Italian really didn’t mean much to me until far later in life, nor does it mean much to my children, even Maria, who has traveled there countless times and hopes to even live there someday. Perhaps it is an atavistic thing that emerges as we grow old, a need to commune with others like us, whose roots go back to a shared culture, and maybe even a shared gene pool.

I really have no right. I don’t know a lick of science and can’t sing a note. But nonetheless, I get that little zing of pride. They’re my tribe.

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