Allora, Entonces: Similarities between US Latinos & Italian-Americans

For many Americans, the adjective “-American” almost always comes with a hyphen. People are more often “Mexican-American,” “Italian-American,” or “Chinese-American” than just “American.” Self-identification is a part of our culture, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“pizza on white tray” by Fallon Travels on Unsplash

Nowadays, the vibrant and diverse cultures of US Latinos have become a distinct part of the fabric of American society. The opportunity to learn about these cultures surround us every day: in real life through Latino people, through movies like Coco portraying (in this case, Mexican) culture, through media channels like We Are Mitú; even perhaps in a Spanish class.

These types of media portraying US Latino culture seems bounded by a common thread, being, “This is who we are.” What I mean by this is Latinos have become a prominent demographic in the US, and their general culture has become distinct from that of others.

However, identities in the US tend to be murky and somewhat confusing. I say this as an Italian-American.

On paper, I’m “white.” That’s it. Portrayals of “who I am” in identity pieces written or starring Latinos (in publications like Buzzfeed or We Are Mitú) tend to drive in Latino vs. non-Latino culture. These comparisons often come in the form of “20 things Latinos Are Tired of Hearing From White People” or “Stuff White People Will Never Understand About Latinos.” Nonetheless, the more Latinos I meet and the more Latino media I follow, the more I feel like our cultures are way more similar than different.

“dancing women and men on stage” by Cesira Alvarado on Unsplash

US Latinos and Italian-Americans indeed share a very similar culture. As I started learning about customs US Latinos hold, I started to realize that I held the same beliefs. In many ways, my culture felt akin to that Latinos, and not as much to White Americans. Here are the things I think bring Latinos and Italian-Americans together:

1. A love of family: Latinos and Italians are family-oriented. Family always comes first.

2. Religious holidays: For example, for both Latinos and Italians in the US, Christmas Eve is a larger holiday than Christmas day. Both groups are traditionally very Catholic and share many similar celebrations to honor saints, the dead, and big holidays like Christmas and Easter.

3. A similar socio-economic background, at least at one point. Italian-Americans were majorly discriminated against in the early 1900s and during the World Wars. Nowadays, Latinos have replaced Italians as the “new immigrants,” and face many of the same struggles.

4. Food: The cuisine of Mexico (the most prominent Latin cuisine by far in the US) and Italian cuisine are widely regarded as some of the world’s best. Though Mexican food is known to generally be spicier, Italian food (especially in Calabria, where my family is from) can also have a good kick. Pickled chili peppers, crushed red pepper, and chili paste are common in some southern Italian dishes, just like jalapeños and other hot peppers are common in Mexican cuisine. All in all, flavor balance is the main goal here.

5. An “old country” that is vibrant, colorful, and absolutely beautiful. People from all over revere Italy, Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, and many more Latin American countries as countries that are full of natural beauty and treasures. Immigrants from those countries are generally proud to come from places so beautiful and so full of Latin flavor.

6. Being Latin. As an Italian-American, I feel like the culture my relatives grew up in is very…well, Latin. Our “old cultures” share that commonality: everything is more laid back, and life is meant to be enjoyed. The weather is hot, and life is great!

7. Language: Spanish and Italian are similar languages, and are often stereotyped as “the prettiest.” A lot of the structure of our sayings, anecdotes, and figures of speech are almost exactly the same. We understand each other in tones of sarcasm, seriousness, and superstition.

8. Ethnic ambiguity. Both Italians and Latinos come in many different shades, but despite that, dark-haired and olive-skinned Italians and Latinos are hard to distinguish from one another. Though both ethnicities are diverse, many share that “Latin look” of darker hair and darker skin.

Bearing these similarities in mind, I think it’s important to understand that our identities are more than black, brown, and white. Maybe the media doesn’t give the impression that we are way more similar than different, but we are. Finding similar bonds builds bridges, and we can’t afford to allow our identities to put up walls. Be proud of who you are, and be open to those who are not like you.