Are You Thinking Godfather or Jersey Shore?

I know, I know. You hear Italian-Americans and you think Capone and Corleone or The Situation and Snooki. And you are either fascinated with one or both of those lifestyles or couldn’t care less about either. And then you don’t think about them at all.

There’s so much more to Italian-Americans than that.

My heritage is rich and full. Like so many Italian-Americans, we aren’t at the head of a major crime syndicate, nor are we stars of a reality TV show. My family came from Italy because of the same social, political, and economical reasons most families came to America. My great-grandfather came here alone, like so many men did, to find work before sending for his family. Once he was settled in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, he toiled until he had enough money to bring his wife and son over. And once they were here, he kept working. He worked in the mill and grew his family and continued to provide for them until he got sick and died at a terribly young age, causing my grandfather, the youngest, to quit school at fourteen to support his mother, himself, and six brothers and sisters. And he did it without complaint.

That’s the thing about Italians. It’s all about family. You do for family. No matter what.

So my grandfather became the head of his family at fourteen. And even when I was born, the aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews all still treated him like the head of the family. Because he had earned that respect.

My grandfather isn’t with us anymore, but my grandmother still is. She tells me stories of how the wages were different for Italians then, particularly the dark southern Italians like we are. She tells me how the Italians were beaten in the streets and mistreated by other nationalities who had already settled here. That’s why Italians formed their own communities and started their own clubs and shopped in their own stores. It was a matter of safety in numbers and protecting their own. I’m grateful that it’s a different world today.

My family is almost all still in the Western Pennsylvania area. I’m the only one who has had to leave — much like my ancestors, for economic reasons. We went where the jobs were. We now find ourselves in an area without Italian markets and even the closest church is twenty minutes away. We are once again the minority, but it’s not like before.

And I am grateful.

But I haven’t forgotten my roots.

And that’s what I try to breathe that life to in my writing. So no one else forgets, either.

6 thoughts on “Are You Thinking Godfather or Jersey Shore?

  1. Dear Ms. Troilo,

    I’m a curious college student attempting to write a paper on the Godfather films, which I admit I am rather fond of. I certainly understand the objections to it, and it is sad that the film nourished such a spread of stereotypes. But being a fan of organized crime films in general, Hong Kong Triad films in particular (being from that part of the world), I’m used to looking beyond the crime for something more. I propose that the Godfather films (the first two at least, I haven’t seen the third), are about family. Don Corleone is a likable, respectable man, because of the way he protects his family and friends. Micheal, having been Americanized, lost that connection to his family (he murders his brother-in-law, divorces his wife, murders his brother, etc), which is what caused the decline of his crime empire.

    In other words, instead of watching a crime epic, I see a story of the decline of family values within one particular Italian family. Perhaps a part of “the Americanization” of Micheal Corleone. And I see the nostalgia for an older, better world, portrayed on screen as the gentle, loving circles of young Vito Corleone in Little Italy. When I read your blog entry, especially this line, “That’s the thing about Italians. It’s all about family. You do for family. No matter what.” I thought to myself, but that’s what the Godfather is all about!

    Would you view the movies in such a way? If one can forget for a moment the negative stereotypes the movie allowed to perpetrate, can one agree with and value the underlying message of the Godfather films? Is that actually the underlying message of the film?

    Thank you so much for indulging a college student’s curiosity. And thank you for sharing your family’s beautiful history. There is so much, so much history and beauty from the immigrant generations, so easily lost to their children and children’s children. I’m glad you and your family have been able to hold on to the past.

    I apologize for such a long comment. I tend to be too wordy of a person…



    • Hi LS. Don’t worry about the lengthy response. I needed to hear where you were coming from in order to answer your question properly.

      First, I have to suggest you view the third film. I don’t believe you can adequately assess a trilogy having only seen two-thirds of it. And I think after viewing the third film, you may change some of your views. It’s very different from the first two in some respects.

      That said, I do agree with you that the trilogy is, at its heart, thematically all about family loyalty. I disagree, however, that Michael’s Americanization has made him lose some of his loyalty. I think perhaps you are interpreting some of the events incorrectly. For example, Vito is likable and respected, but he isn’t really all that gentle. He’s feared. He ascended to his position through the same violent path that you are condemning Michael for. As for Michael’s choices… he murders his brother-in-law because his brother-in-law hurt and betrayed his family; he divorces his wife because she killed his baby; and he kills his brother because his brother tried to kill him, branding him as disloyal to the Corleone family and making him a liability (although to spare his mother the heartbreak, he didn’t kill him until after she had died). These are all marks of a man who makes his family’s well-being a top priority.

      There is nostalgia for older, better times. But, like we have to change with the times, so did Michael and the Corleone family. That didn’t mean he was any less loyal. It just meant the times weren’t as simple. I hope you choose to watch the third film. It might make things more clear for you.

      And thanks for visiting my blog and sharing in a slice of my culture! If you have anymore questions, don’t hesitate to ask.


  2. Our hometown actually has a Bari Club in it in addition to a Sons of Italy. (Vandergrift, Pennsylvania.) Must be a popular destination for people coming from Bari.

    We haven’t made it to Italy yet. We planned on going in the fall of 2001, but… well, who wanted to travel then? We haven’t rescheduled the trip yet, but perhaps in the next couple of years. We need a large chunk of time. We want to see everything from the Amalfi coast through the toe of the boot. I doubt a month would do that trip justice.


    • My husband has family from Bari. His family is scattered all over the north and central part of Italy. My family, both my grandfather and my grandmother, were exclusively from Calabria. Our children are truly Italian – they hail from just about everywhere in the country!


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