Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Name is Joe

The name is Joe: a typical American name carried around for 50 years by an atypical American male.  My parents still to this day tell me the story of how they both arrived on Ellis Island in the same year, 1940.  My mother arrived in May and my father arrived in July.  The way they tell their fateful story, it seems that they were on the same boat with adjoining cabins.  My mother was four at the time and my father six, both old enough to remember the trip, but not quite old enough to remember all the details. 

      I was born on November 28th 1961 and was christened Giuseppe after my grandfather, but from that day forward, I have been known as simply, Joe.  My father engrained into me that it was always necessary to deny any trace of immigrant status, and to carry forward my grandfather’s name into American culture was a regret he did not wish to create.  I learned the Italian language through osmosis, listening to my parents’ private conversations, arguments, and reconciliations over the years.  They refused to formally teach me their language and stressed that English was my country’s language, thus the only one I needed to know.  Speaking Italian so well and so instinctually helped immensely as I pondered my way through the city of Rome, taking in what I see as the true foundation of Western civilization.  I had taken part in the Rome Studies program at Notre Dame, where I attended architecture school.  My father had been my inspiration.  While only trained as a carpenter, he had a natural talent for building and understanding space and, had he been given the opportunity, would have excelled in architecture.  I am the first person in my family to have attended university, and my parents keep me close to their hearts and conversations with friends as a token of why their parents brought them to this country and the opportunities that moving here gave them.  

            While in Rome, I drew and studied both the ancient ruins and the awe-inducing Renaissance architecture along the way, fueled by espresso and serial infatuation with girls whose names all ended in “a”, in a city that I still hold as one of the world’s truly great places.  I discovered my Italian heritage and culture, free from the forceful Americanization that I experienced at home.  Friends were impressed by my ability to immerse myself in Italy and its strange habits and mannerisms and envious of my charm with the local girls and my ability to lure them into my tiny lair of an apartment containing just a few sticks of furniture.  I rose to the top, not only in popularity, both romantic and social, but in architecture school.  I eventually went on to win the Rome prize in 2001, and my name is well-known now in architectural circles throughout the world.  While no longer the typical Joe of the great United States of America, I still feel as though I am the same son of immigrants, searching for that American dream.  I travel all over the world, meeting all sorts of people.  Everyone looks up to me like some kind of perfect divinity, but have never been able to create my own place, in my own country, thus my own reflection of who I am eludes me.  I am still working on hammering my own flag into American ground.  My parents welcome me home on holidays with pasta and stories, but I eventually leave to find myself homeless again, a perpetual nomad.  The years have worn me out, and I am tired of all the movement.  Right now, I just crave stability and something to keep me in one place for awhile. My feet are heavy and their inertia has left.  I crave the freedom that standing still would give me.  At the age of 50, I am halfway there, and my enviable, exciting life no longer empowers me like it had.  

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