Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What Do We Owe Our Ancestors In Todays World?

What Do We Owe Our Ancestors In Today's World? A interesting question in light of how Americans are perceived in the world today. Almost everyday we read how the image of the United States has been tarnished by events over the past twenty years and especially since 9/11.

There are many factors that go into this supposed decline and they have been reported to death recently. Our ancestors came to America with eyes wide open at a time when we were considered the 'shinning light' of the world. Many came because they believed that our streets were paved with gold but most came just looking for a better life for their families just as people do now.

So what do we owe our ancestors relating to how we should perceive our 'homelands'? This is a question that I can only answer for myself. Each of us has to look at our family histories and see what brought us here. Poverty, religious freedom, political persecution, past crimes and famine are just a few of the situations that brought people to these shores.

My first ancestor, Rocco Bruno, arrived here around 1865 with his family in tow. The family traveled as a unit with Rocco's wife Antonia Maria DeStefano, his father-in-law Giuseppe DeStefano and several brothers-in-law. They came with little or nothing but had high hopes for a better life.

Their home was in and around Naples, Italy. I say in and around because they were street musicians and made their living when and where they could. The men playing instruments while my great great grandmother sang and danced.

They settled in Manhattan, NY and continued their musical ways playing in bands and giving lessons. My great great grandfather, Rocco, turned himself into an instrument maker. Especially the harp. By the time he passed away in 1899 he was one of the premiere harp makers around and his clientele came from all over North America to have harps built or repaired. Quit a feat for a poor Italian street musicians from Naples, Italy.

Rocco and Antonia had eleven children all raised to love where they were born while loving their adopted country.

So what loyalties do I owe Italy and the Italian people?

My uncle served in Italy during WWII and he told me, when I was a kid,  that when he was there he was overwhelmed with emotion everywhere he went. Especially when he was in an area he knew our family had relations.

I did not understand that until I visited Italy for the first time in 1975. I visited Sermide, my grandfathers home town, in Mantova Lombardia. I stood in a cemetery among my ancestors and heard what happened to them during WWII. I stood in that cemetery and cried. The sense of loss was stifling.  I knew then what I owed my ancestors.

I literally owed them my life. The mere fact that they moved to save the integrity of their immediate families also saved generations of that family. At that moment I knew that I owed everything to them and a loyalty to Italy that I hold dear today.

That is what we owe, I owe, our ancestors. Even when the world thinks ill of us, even when it looks like so many people want us to fail our individual ancestors are owed, loyalty, love, trust and honor.

You all should take time out of your lives and find out who these people are and find away to honor them.

I never pass by someone named Bruno, Schimmenti, Marinelli, Malerba, Destefano or Mantovani and not wonder if we share a family bond.

You will find out some amazing things about your family. Like, my grandfather, Emo Mantovani, met my grandmother, Italina Malerba, in Brooklyn, New York around 1913. The interesting thing is that when they lived in Italy their homes were less than 12 miles apart but they needed to travel halfway around the world to meet.


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