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Picture it: Sicily, 1947. Four brothers earn their living from the sea like so many Sicilian sailors, seafarers, and seamen before them. They leave their small village within spitting distance of Calabria behind and the youngest works on a boat bound for America. He gets off the boat at the port of Baltimore and never looks back, finding his way to New York where he settles down, marries, and starts a family. Until the FBI shows up to arrest and deport him for being in the country illegally.

That man was my grandfather, and these are our stories.

Sophia Petrillo hand up saying “Picture it. Sicily. 1912.”
Sophia Petrillo hand up saying “Picture it. Sicily. 1912.”


A common refrain among people who are seeking Italian citizenship through descent is something along the lines of “I’m Italian!” Their enthusiasm is genuine, this recognition serves as a connection to their “roots,” whatever that may mean, but as someone raised in an all Italian-American family never more than a generation removed from The Old Country, I couldn’t help but wonder: Does “Italian” even exist?

Here’s the thing: Although we all sat through the Renaissance lectures about painters, artists, that lecture on The Prince and the Medici family, that… wasn’t my history and it sure as shit wasn’t Italy. You’d…


Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty

Picture it: A ship coming into New York Harbor from Italy carrying your poor, huddled masses yearning to be free. They arrive in New York, traveling through Ellis Island before they head into New York City or to the large train station in Jersey City where a new world awaited them. Crying from joy over arriving in the country where the city streets are paved with gold, doors open and ready to welcome the new immigrants, and anything is possible! In New York you can be a new man! …


Map of Normand Empire

My father has never been a historian or a genealogist. Quite honestly, my father so rarely talked about anyone in his family that he actually knew firsthand that I was quite certain he had been conjured by mom’s imagination when she was looking for a boyfriend in 1978. Having said that, my father was very committed to one particular piece of family history:

“Hundreds of years ago, i normanni invaded Sicily, raped some women, and our family was born.”

Now, as per usual it becomes necessary to fact check my father. So yes, around 1030 (~1000 years ago), the Normans…


Orange tree, sunshine sky background with orange text “Family Trees”
Orange tree, sunshine sky background with orange text “Family Trees”

People who dive headfirst into putting their DNA out there to meet long lost family members astound me. The faith, positivity, hope that they want to meet their long lost relatives! That they actually go looking for people to be biologically related to! Madness. Lunacy.

Family can be a lot like the shark from Jaws: you never see it but it’s menacingly lurking just below the surface of the water waiting to steal from you what’s rightfully yours. Generational wealth abounds in my family. Generations of accumulated bad feelings, grudges towards siblings that are handed down from parent to child…


Since before Britney Spears was in a conservatorship (#FreeBritney) my father has regaled me with stories that we’re Italian. As a sassy teen, my eyes would roll at this declaratory statement. Nowadays, more so than ever before, my parents are very proud that they are of that Boomer era Brooklyn. Archie Bunker once described the American dream as people free to live in their ethnically divided neighborhoods and this is how my parents lived and grew up. …

Sanguine

An Italian American, raised in New Jersey by parents from Brooklyn, I recently completed the Jure Sanguinis process. I eat antipasta twice because it’s so nice.

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