|Amy the Franco-Italian-New-Yorkish-American
a brief interview between two entirely sarcastic twenty-some-things
By Joseph Zamboni
Amy Caramante sits back in her chair and exhales smoke into a
long stream above her head. She wears a blue leather jacket and an orange
scarf that make her look like Joplin. "I'm Mediterranean," she says as
she takes another drag. "My father is Italian and my mother's French, not
that I can tell you anything about it." I continued to interview her about
what she felt she didn't know.
Amy's grandparents were very different people, yet both came
from strikingly close areas. Her mother's parents came to the states from
Nice, a very short distance to where her father's dad was from, Monti Cantini
Termi, Italy. She was always struck by how close they were geographically,
and how they felt they could be defined as "different people". After college,
Amy actually visited Europe and the towns her elders had emerged from.
" It is so interesting, the fact they grew up so close to one another,
the same distance as like, New York to Boston, yet they felt as though
they were totally different people." Southern France and Western Italy
tend to blur in culture was her finding; she found that most people spoke
both languages and some words and phrases were a slight conglomeration
of the two languages.
I asked Amy if she felt like she identified with one "people"
more than another. "I identify myself as a New Yorker," she says, " But
where I grew up, everyone was Italian. But since I moved to Maine I have
started to see that it is a much greater French influenced area; it's OK
to be French here."
"Have you been to Lewiston," I ask her?
"No, but I have heard it is pretty intense there, (laughs); (in
a French accent) my francias is not up to par, ah oui?"
"Tres mal", she laughs.
"What does tres mal mean?" I ask as she laughs at me.
When her mother was a child in New York she spoke only English.
According to Amy, to be American was to speak English and not French, so
her mother grew up missing out on that part of her heritage. "It was the
same with my father's parents. When they came to America, you spoke English,
and you taught your child to speak English so that they could be like all
the other children." Later, when Amy was older, she tried enticing her
grandparents to speak their languages with her, but the stigma was so ingrained
that never would without strong coaxing. "A lot of times, they would say
they don't remember, which is sad, because I know they did." When her mother's
father grew very ill before he died, he would only talk in French, saying
he didn't know English.
"So can you tell me about being a Franco-American woman?"
"Is that what I am?'
"Do you identify with that?"
"What does identify mean?"
"This is only a four page paper," I say to her as she laughs
and wipes the corner of her eye.
"Ok, I'll stop being difficult. I'll tell you, you always get
the same reaction with you tell someone your French. It's really strange.
If someone asks, oh what are you, and I say Italian, they always say something
like ëhey pizan', and break into Sinatra; when I say French it always a
hesitation, like people don't have a quick stereotype to throw at me. If
they do, it's always dumb, like "oh, you smoke then. People are dumb".
Amy talks about other stereotypes she has confronted, like being
atheist, or hating America. "That is one of the dumbest", she says "My
grandparents are from France over 50 years ago and people assume they know
my political views because of that. Seriously, it is beyond my comprehension."
"How do you feel about the Iraq situation?" I ask slyly.
"I think we should avoid causing suffering" she says.
"I'm straying, what is you mother's maiden name"
"Rousseau, although who knows what it originally was, a lot of
people Americanized their names once they got here".
"What is your mom like?" I ask
"She's nuts, and she cooks all the time. She does everything.
I think my grandmother was the same way; they get up early and work their
ass off until they go to bed at night".
"So you are very similar?"
"Not really, she had it a lot harder than I do. She was a French
girl in an Italian part of the city, you know, forty years ago. A lot has
happened since then.
"What does she do for work?"
"Well, my grandmother was a nurse, or kind of like a nurse back
then, and so my mother became one eventually. I think she had odd jobs;
did some cooking, restaurant work, that kind of stuff".
"Do you eat a lot of French cuisine at your house?"
"We ate a lot of pasta,-- a lot of pasta. She makes crepes,
those are French. She uses a lot of citrus in her cooking too; the French
seem to do that. And the wine, they love it".
"Oh yeah, fanatics, they talk about Bordeaux like it was their
youngest and smartest child. That's probably what I really saw in similarities
between when I was in France and at home. There is always this gigantic
meal at 8 or 9 at night that puts you in a coma, with nineteen courses
and six bottles of wine". She takes a minute to think about other comparisons
she can make to her home. "My parents always had cheese after dinner too,
and for most people that is the weirdest thing to do, but very French."
"Is there anything that I didn't ask that you would like to talk
"Is that sarcasm?"
"No, it's just a question".
"About being French?"
"French, Italian, woman, daughter, mother-- you know, whatever
"I hate sterotypes".