As a child, I was a firm believer that adult conversations were always more interesting than my elementary school gossip. Whenever bedtime would come around, seven year old Adriana would lie in bed and strain to hear the adult chatter. I would listen to minutes of slightly audible rumbles, then an explosion of laughter would follow, then more slightly audible rumbles, and so on. I would fabricate the flow of dialogue – Aunt Kate’s rebuttal to Uncle John’s snarky commentary. Their orchestrated conversation would seemingly continue for hours, but it would eventually lull me to sleep.
I am now slightly older and have access to the late-night conversations I once desperately imagined. The reality is that most of their chatter is reflective nostalgia, passing along traditions and comparing alterations to family recipes. I love sitting and listening to the tempo of my dad’s voice, my mom’s shrieking laughter, and the clinks of the wine glasses that accompany their conversation.
There is a significant difference, however, in the kitchen table stories shared and remembered by my Lucey relatives compared to those told by my Fazio relatives. My mom’s family, the Lucey family, is Irish Catholic, well educated, and has been rooted in New England since 1849. On the contrary, my father’s parents immigrated to The United States from Italy in 1919. Both families stoutly identify as Americans and proudly left their diverse marks on United States history and culture. In my opinion, though drastically disparate, their differing experiences are just as equally American and both equally influenced my American identity.
If you were to visit the JFK Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, you would hear a recording of JFK saying (something along the lines of):
“Get to Brockton, Massachusetts and find Jack Lucey. He’s the Mayor’s brother. He knows everyone, he can help you.”
Jack Lucey is my grandfather. The Mayor, Gerald Lucey, is my great-uncle. Jack and Gerald were a dynamic duo: brothers taking on the political field. When Gerald won the Brockton Mayoral election of 1950, he brought the entire Lucey family into the political sphere. It was only shortly after his entrance to stardom that my Uncle Gerald stumbled upon Jack Kennedy. Busy with his new Mayoral duties, Gerald passed young JFK over to my grandfather. My grandfather then promised the Kennedy family that he would polish JFK into the politician he needed to become. My Great-Grandmother Nora began to host mock tea-parties while my grandfather would recite speeches with JFK for hours on end. The Lucey family became the silent backbone of the Kennedy campaign.
Though my grandfather Jack never entered the political scene as the star, he undoubtedly embraced his role as an American. He always took care of friends, family, and oftentimes strangers.He worked his way from blue collar to white collar and ended up watching his children play on the front lawn of the Kennedy Compound. He used his education and financial successes to improve the lives of the underprivileged, giving them aid so they too could achieve their highest possible successes. His values modeled quintessential American morals. I believe Jack was a true American man.
My dad’s family, the Fazio family, was never exposed to the comfort of my mother’s upper-middle class childhood. My grandfather, John Fazio, was born in Bari, Italy and stopped schooling at the age of 10 to work full time. Shortly after, in 1919, 12 year-old John Fazio said goodbye to his life in Italy and made the trek to New York City in search of the American Dream. It was an opportunity to better his own life, to better the lives of his future children, and to fulfill his own potential. During his first ten years in the United States, my grandfather taught himself English and performed odd jobs to make ends meet. He would walk the lengths of the railroads to look for coal to heat his room and eventually a worker from the Rizzi Family Coal company noticed his habits and hired him.
In 1930, he met my future grandmother, Mary Silletti and they then planned for an arranged marriage. There was no initial romance nor love story: my grandmother was a young woman in need of a husband, my grandfather was an immigrant in need of a wife. John and Mary had three kids – Ann, Michael, and my dad, Patrick. My grandfather saved his money and eventually opened his own coal company to support his family but, after the depths of the Depression, his business capsized. For the rest of their lives, my grandmother worked as a seamstress and my grandfather worked in the harbor, loading and unloading boats.
They never moved beyond the lower middle class. They never owned a home, never received high school diplomas, and never experienced true comfort nor leisure. My Grandpa John never never had the magical ‘rags to riches’ American story. However, he quite literally picked himself up by his bootstraps and worked hard to give his children all of the opportunities this new country had to offer. I believe that he too was a true American man.
Fast forward to 1994: the wedding of Tara Lucey and Patrick Fazio. They were married at a beautiful resort in Lake Tahoe with both families present. My Grandpa Jack Lucey was seated next to my Grandfather John Fazio. Generations of United States history were manifested at a single dinner table: two men who had experienced drastically different Americas.
My guess is that most people define their own Americanness through closely held stories of their parents or grandparents. While my two grandfathers experienced two very different Americas, I am proud of the diverse marks they made on United States history. Whether it be working on JFK’s campaign or immigrating to the United States, their stories were as equally important and as equally American. They formed my patriotism on the front lawn of the Kennedy Compound and on the railroads of New York City and this combination is something to celebrate – to commemorate the beauty of multicultural America.
But, to me, my role as an American means that I not only appreciate my stories, but everyone else’s. To be an American means to recognize the immigrants, the refugees, the farmers, the teachers, and the political elite as all essential to the cultural medley that makes America, America. No two families have the same late-night-kitchen-table stories to bring to the table. Some of you can trace your relatives back further than the pilgrims, maybe others are the first in their family to come stateside. My family’s experiences are no more patriotic nor impressive than anyone else’s family – they all hold the same significance and all played essential roles in forming the America we know today. Whatever your story may be, our various narratives make for a holistic view of American truth.
It is admittedly too easy to write someone’s experiences off as invalid or inferior – to think that one is more incredible or impressive or to pass judgement on the story entirely. I think, however, we become the best Americans by hearing other’s stories and recognizing that their reality is just as valid as your own. My family has taken part in the highest level of political action and the most humble immigrant beginnings, but both embodied America. I am incredibly thankful for these narratives, for the way they shaped me into the person I am, and that we can continue to celebrate all these stories around the kitchen table.