Just Because I’m From NJ Doesn’t Mean I’m Italian
I don't know how many times people have just assumed that I am Italian because I am from New Jersey. I have asked people how to pronounce some Italian last names and was given a quizzical look. They usually say something along the lines of "you're Italian, you can pronounce that." I blame Jersey Shore for this stereotype. Well that and the fact that New Jersey does have a lot of people that have Italian heritage.
I don't know how many times I have been criticized for the way I pronounce Italian foods. I do have a strong defense for the way I pronounce them, but we will get to that in a little bit. I've noticed New Jersey Italians drop letters off of certain words, which never made sense to me. They also add an accent to certain words as if they always talk that way. I pronounce mozzarella like motts-a-rella. not moots-a-rel(rolling the "r") and calamari like cal-a-mar-ee, not cal-a-mad. I had a roommate in college who was from Verona, Italy. She told me that the way Italian Americans in this area pronounce certain words is the way Southern Italians pronounce them and they are wrong. Her words, not mine.
Whenever I pronounce things like that people will ask me, "aren't you Italian?" The answer is no. I am Irish, Scottish, English, German, Romanian, and Eastern European and Israeli Jewish (that's how Ancestry.com words it). I grew up identifying with the Irish Catholic side, which is the more dominant side. This is also why I am so pale and burn so bad. I digress.
In New Jersey there are a lot of Italians so I understand why people assume I am. According to The National Italian American Foundation 17.9% of people from New Jersey are Italian as of the 2000 census. In the over 1,000,000 mark we have the highest percentage in the country with New York having 14.4%. According to NJ.com, 10% of people from New Jersey are Irish. According to that same article, Toms River (which is my hometown) has the highest population of Irish with approximately 10,500.
So, next time I can't pronounce an Italian last name or pronounce ricotta cheese as ri-cot-ta instead of rig-ot, just know that just because I am from New Jersey doesn't mean I'm Italian.
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