identity, Culture, Unity

I’ve always wondered why Europeans don’t feel European the way I feel American…

… It’s probably because we are living in a world defined by labels that is saturated with nationalism and a constant reinforcement of an “us versus them” mentality. In the midst of the Coronavirus, my international classmates and I decided to combat this madness by calling for unity, for once and for all, among the people of the European Union. As an American with European roots, I was raised with more than one strong cultural identity, so I was surprised to receive a reluctance to sign the COVID19 petition from my European friends. On more than one occasion I listened to statements along the lines of, “I think this is really nice, but I don’t feel this way, I don’t feel European, I feel more German/French/Italian/etc., rather than European.” As someone who grew up feeling connected to a multitude of places and cultures, this lack of unity among my European counterparts disappointed and saddened me. When I say that I’m American my Italian friends will say “no, you are Italian”. When I’m in Italy I defend and am proud of the United States and when I am in the United States I defend and am proud of Italy and Europe…but in a world that is becoming smaller and smaller, why must we have to choose to stand by one nationality?
My name is Adriana, one of the things I am most proud of is my ability to identify with many cultures. I was born and raised in the state of New York, just one hour north of NYC. My parents moved to the US from Italy with their families as children. Since I was a child I have always identified as being from New York, European, American, American-Italian, Italian, and Calabrese, and I never felt I had to choose just one. To me, all of them are true. Living abroad I am often approached with the question of “where are you from?”, and the answer is always New York, even though it is more of a complex question/answer because I feel as though I am a citizen of the world and one answer is the whole truth about me. In Italy, us Italians are curious about and deeply connected to every detail of one’s origins. If I’m asked about my family’s background I do not say ‘Italian’, but rather, ‘my parents are from Calabria, provincia di Catanzaro’. I always notice this among Italians, we like to get very specific about where we are from. I am proud to be Calabrese and I am proud to be all of the things mentioned above, and there is no one identity I feel stronger about. I’m 100% all of those things. I am American, I am Italian, I am Calabrese, I am European, and I am from New York: each one of these identities is instrumental to me being me.

Adriana the Italian... and the Calabrese

I’ve been coming to Italy since I was a child and I feel lucky to have been able to explore this incredible country from north to south.  I am completely in love with my Italian heritage and this country, which is why I decided to study here at The American University of Rome.  It has been a blessing to have experienced such an authentic culture and lifestyle growing up, and living in Italy as an adult is like connecting to another side of myself.  Southern Italy has this natural, rustic, under-appreciated beauty that is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been in my life.  I am fluent in my parent’s native Calabrese dialect that is quickly becoming extinct.

When the Coronavirus really hit Italy and the entire country was put on a strict lockdown, we were all shocked.  Shocked and taken totally by surprise, we did exactly as we were asked, we stayed inside, and we could not believe what was going on.  People were dying, the infection was spreading, tourists were leaving, everything shut down and the third most visited country in the world became a ghost town.  What did the Italians do?  We took to our balconies and windows, blasted the radio, and sang our hearts out to all of our favorite Italian songs.  The Italians united.  They even showed that they can in fact form a single file line.  Italians!  I honestly never thought I’d see the day.  From the historical North-South divide to the regional rivalries to the changing dialects as you pass from one town to another, Italians are so very regional and provincial.  Italians have never really felt united as one.  But during the Coronavirus pandemic, I watched the Italians put all of that aside and become, finally, ITALIANS, all united with CE LA FAREMO!!  And night after night we sang together, “uniti ma distanti”.  The camaraderie was amazing, and I’m so proud of my people.  I felt inspired, I was proud, and at the same time I was heartbroken for my Italy, scared for my loved ones, and worried about the future.  My future, Italy’s future, and the future of the EU.  I was more worried about the future of the EU than the rest because they’ve already seen their fair share of challenges recently.  Failure to come up with timely solutions and cohesive responses to problems that initially hit one country really hard, and the rest only a little.  I was worried that for Italy, this would be sort of a breaking point.  The EU failed to show to one of its founding members during the onset of the pandemic all that it stands for: cohesion and solidarity, the two things needed the most during times of crisis.  I hope that the EU and the world will follow Italy’s example of putting our differences aside and uniting as one during the most difficult times.  My American side says learn from the United States!  Look how strong we are!  Our strength comes from us, the people, because we are a people united.

Adriana the European

The more I travel to new places the more it becomes so undeniably clear that I am a citizen of the world.  I’ve lived in the US, Italy, and England, travelled to and fallen in love with over 15 European countries including Malta, Germany, Greece, France, Ireland, Switzerland, and Scotland, and each time I left in awe of their distinct beauty and culture.  Europe is truly an incredible place.  Some of my closest friends come from different parts of Germany, Italy, England, Bosnia, Albania, Spain, and the Netherlands.  I think we are all the same.  I feel connected to them through our ‘European-ness’.  But to them I’m different, I am either American or Italian, and they are German or Italian, not European.  I get so excited to connect to all Europeans in this way when I travel but the strange thing I’ve noticed is that the feeling is not mutual.  I was not born in Europe but I still feel European, so I’m constantly wondering why someone who was in fact born in Europe does not feel European…  Why don’t Europeans feel connected to one another?  They share borders, most of them share currency, jobs, institutions, etc.  Together, they make up a unique and extraordinary thing that is the EU.  My point is, my identity goes from regional to provincial and national to continental.  Though I feel so strongly about my identities I know that identity itself is a social construct and it all comes down to how you look at the world.  At the end of the day, there is no difference between me and the next person, regardless of where they are from.  What is race really if we are all part of the human race?  

So my fellow Europeans, let us wake up and not be closed in our own little national boxes.  We have seen time and time again that nationalism is not the solution to transnational problems like Coronavirus.  What happens if you are Swedish and your wife is Italian, how would you consider approaching Coronavirus then?  Or imagine tomorrow you are Spain, or Estonia, or France, forced to deal with big actors like China and the US on your own, without the protective shield of the EU?  We cannot take all the advantages without sharing all of the responsibility.  And if we share the identity and the responsibility, and we are a strong and cohesive Europe, imagine what greatness!     

Eighty years ago on the Italian island of Ventotene, Altiero Spinelli (who, at the time, was younger than I am now) dreamed of a federal, united Europe: the so-called ‘United States of Europe’.  Spinelli lived through the events that caused the world wars and saw the devastation they brought on Europe.  He experienced first-hand how nationalism only leads to war, death, and destruction.  The young Spinelli had a different dream for Europe: a free and united Europe that transcends national sentiment; he dreamt of our Europe today.  On Ventotene he wrote to us: ‘we EUROPEANS’ — not we Italians, we Spanish, we German, we French, we Bulgarians — and he implored us to overcome our nationalist identities.  Spinelli believed in the power of the European citizen.  He believed that the demos will build a great Europe.  In doing so we could put a permanent stop to senseless suffering, and only then can the great Europe Spinelli dreamed of be realized.  With all due respect Mr. Robert Schuman, this time the demos will make the Europe of tomorrow.  Today we face the most perilous threat: a broken and divided Europe.  Let us never forget what a broken and divided nationalistic Europe is capable of.  This enemy knows no borders, no nationalities, and recognizes no citizenship.  We are at risk of losing our Europe that our predecessors died for.  What will our future be without a unified Europe?  If we do not show compassion and love for our neighbor now, we may not be able to rebuild Europe as it was rebuilt after WW2.  History is important but the future is different.  We Europeans are stronger now than ever before (thanks to the opportunities Europe has provided for us).  We represent a prosperous and strong economic union but an even stronger force of good in the world.  We are the ultimate champions of human rights and human dignity, and our strength lies within our commitment to cohesion and solidarity, not just for some of Europe, but for all of Europe.  The world can learn a lot from the EU’s model.  The EU stands taller than any actor in the world for human rights…and tell me, what is more good than that?  Let us be proud!  

I love Europe.  I can easily travel between its incredible countries without worrying about changing money or obtaining visas.  I can stand in awe in front of Rome’s Coliseum in the morning and take the selfie of a lifetime in Santorini at sunset.  At any time I’m craving the most amazing strudel I’ve ever tasted in my lifetime, I can simply hop on the train to Bolzano up in the North.  I can buy a plane ticket for 50 euros to go to Cannstatter Wasen in Stuttgart, Germany for the weekend and the following weekend be fully Irish at St. Patty’s Day in Dublin.  How lucky are we?

Adriana the American from New York

Now let’s cross back over to the other side of the Atlantic… New York is one of the coolest, if not the coolest state in the United States.  Fight me about it.  The Empire State: we’ve got Times Square, Ellis Island, Carnegie Hall, West Point Military Academy, Niagara Falls, the Adirondacks, the list goes on and on.  Everyone in the world dreams of NYC, the city that never sleeps!  Americans gave the world baseball, Hollywood, Disney World, the Grand Canyon, and Google.  Each state is a gem and is unique to our legacy and beauty.  New York is a very blue state while Texas is a very red state and even within the state of New York the differences are vast.  We have different New York accents.  We are 50 very different states yet, 9/11 happened to the entire United States, not just New York.  In fact, 9/11 happened to the whole world.  The tragedy of that day broke the hearts of all Americans, but what it failed to do is break our spirit.  We came out more united than ever before.  The words “Proud to be American” mean so much more since that day.  We stood and cried together not as New Yorkers, but as Americans.  And on that day we were touched by the amount of love and support we felt from our friends around the world, too.  In a tribute to 9/11 the French said: “We are all Americans on this day”, and in the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, the Empire State Building in New York lit up with the colors of the French flag as we all became French that day.  When Hurricane Katrina devastated our beloved New Orleans, we Americans from every single state came together again to send relief and aid to our fellow Louisianans.  All 50 states cried for the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, one of the deadliest mass shootings in our modern history.  Americans are always fiercely united, but in times of crisis our bond becomes even stronger.  A crisis or a tragedy has never been able to break the Americans.  So, as an American, I’m wondering, why can’t Europeans unite the way Americans unite?  Especially during the most trying times, is it not better to stand together than to stand alone?  Why would Europe, after all its achievements and despite all it stands for, allow the Union to break apart under nationalist sentiments?  What about our ancestors who died fighting for our rights, what about our relatives who lost everything during one or both world wars?  Have we stopped to ask ourselves what their fight represents?  Or are we so removed from these historical events that we fail today to see that our rights are not given to us freely, but taken through uniting and raising our voices?  Let us not fail to recognize that our lives will not inevitably be protected.  If you ever wonder how important your voice is, I just have one thing to say to you: the civil rights movement.  Remember that not so long ago segregation was accepted in the United States.  Back then, just like now, we thought we were so free, we thought we had reached the peak of civilization, but it seems we still have a long way to go. The time has come for us to emancipate ourselves the way every child emancipates from their parents when they grow up and own their own lives.  It is time for this generation to take ownership.

I’m Italian, American, American-Italian, Italian-American, Calabrese, European, and I’m from New York

Though I may not possess an Italian passport or a European passport, and though my birth certificate says I’m American, my driver’s license says I’m from New York, and my family tree says I’m Italian from Calabria, I feel European in every sense of the word.  I believe in the EU’s fundamental values and in the power of a United Europe.  So what, we speak different languages, that’s why we learn a common language like English and have Google translate and other incredible technology at our fingertips so we will always be able to understand and interact with one another.  We have different views, different backgrounds, passports, tastes, political ideologies, but we are all European and we must stand together as Europe, as the United States, to be stronger, to be better, to survive whatever life throws at us, and to defend our legacy and our future.