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a history of the dispossessed

adeodato piazza niccolai

Every group that lives under the naming
and image making power of a dominant culture
is at risk from this mental fragmentation
and needs an art which can resist it.

Adrienne Rich

"Hey Dago, do you know what noise two Italian tires make? Wop! Wop!" Grease-ball, Wop, Dago, Spick: it was no different than being called Nigger. I came to the Midwest in '59 speaking no English. At Wilson Jr. High School the all-American kids took me by hand from classroom to classroom. The Principal feared I would get lost and somehow go home. After six months I learned to play football. Like other northern Italians I was tall and strong, or so the coach said, besides he needed someone who kicked the ball well. Ethnic racism didn't exist in those pre-Camelot years. Everyone lived on his own side of the track without complaining, without any racket but then came the 60's ... all hell breaking loose. By '64 I was out of high school and had my first breakdown. Why did I feel so left out? I shovelled coke in the steel mill to pay for college; I lived alone for the very first time. Twenty years later: "by the way, Nick, you still talk funny, but maybe you know it by now." Thanks, buddy. I think it's time for me to go home. But where is home? Not near Chicago, not in central Indiana and I can't afford life in Venice. I'll move back to Vigo. That's what I did in 2001. Bought a small place right in the town square. The problem is that everyone there calls me The American. Hell, I was born and raised in that mountain village and did not leave until I was 15. I don't belong here, I don't belong there. What does it mean to be-long? Is it to be without a country to call one's own? To hold no possessions? To move like a hobo from train to train going nowhere? Another American friend asked if I knew why Italians were called "Dagos". I answered, No. He said: "because they go here ...they go there ...they go everywhere except going back to where they belong..."

(1) Adrienne Rich, Blood, Bread, and Poetry. Selected Prose 1979-1985, W. W. Norton, New York, p. 175.

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Anno 4, Numero 16
June 2007




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