My Life As A Daughter Of An Italian American Immigrant

By Karen Barna

As a woman growing up in an Italian immigrant household riddled with the relic psychic remains of a post World War II era, the echoes of mafia mentality resounded. Remember the movie Gotti which was based on the life of the Gambino boss family? Here is the opening dialogue from that motion film:

“Makes you think. Makes you think about the people in your life. . . . .What’s it about? What’s life about? You gonna go through it as a man‘s man. He’d say “suck it up.” Take the fall. Do the time. That made who you are. That makes you what you are. How long we been around this thing of ours? This Cosa Nostra? I say hundred and twenty years. I mean, what’s it about? It’s about the rules. The parameters. When you take the beating for the friend you don’t run and you don’t lay down, you don’t betray who you are. What you are. Self-esteem man. Self-esteem is basic you pick it up on the street. It goes with the street. You gotta remember Angie here. I love this guy. I loved him and he was stupid. He didn’t want to listen to me. He wanted the god damn dope money. He never rolled. You know that? He never rolled.. My brother Gene, Joey and the Mic, they don’t roll. They doing a 1,000 years now. You never roll. They didn’t roll . . . You don’t rat white. Those the rules. Give you a little power, right? Not like the kinda power these feds have. God forbid. Right? God forbid we pull there chain in public. Right? We fucking dress better than them, they take it personally. Like it’s a fucking vendetta. They’re suppose to act better than the rest of us. They just want me to be something I wasn’t born to be. Humble. They want’ you to be humble. So you humble me. What you got now? You gotta a war. You gotta a global war. You got the Chincs, the Dominicans, the Asians, the Russians, the Columbian, the Jamaicans. What they doing? They desecrate the nation. You get your variable fucking snow storms of cocaine and smack and whatever the hell else they shove into their vein. You gotta worldwide crime syndicate now. There’s no rules. There’s no parameters. There’s no feelings. There’s no feelings for this country. Anarchy. You heard anarchy. So. Five, ten years from now. They’re gonna wish it was American Cosa Nostra. Five, ten years from now. They’re gonna miss John Gotti [Of the Gambino boss family] . . . .”

When I recorded this open dialogue I though about the death of King Richard III, whose remains were unearthed in recent years, and the forensic analysis they preformed on his remains. He didn’t run and he didn’t hide. In spite of his disabilities, he stood up and fought like a true soldier in the final battle in the War of the Roses. Richard was at a terrible disadvantage. Despite this he accepted his fate in all its brutality. Like a soldier. Like a true Mafiosi he didn’t renig on his commitment to “country.”

Then. Then I thought about the fake rubber rat I found positioned on the hood of my car as I left my last job as Driver for Eastern Autoparts Warehouse. I ask myself, “Am I that Name?” Not only is this statement an interrogatory, but it is also an academic scholarly work written by Denise Riley, “Am I That Name?:” Feminism and the Category of Women in History” (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988).

“….the historian Merry Weisner-Hanks draws a connection between silence and virtue in women: ‘Because Eve tempted Adam by using words, women’s speech becomes linked with sin and disobedience, and female silence is thus interpreted as a divine command.’ She goes on to say that, “Italian, English, and German, Protestant, Jewish and Catholic men all agreed that the ideal woman was……’chaste, silent and obedient.’” ~Rosemary Balsam, The Language of Silence, Women’s Bodies in Psychoanalysis

But lets back track a little. Cosa Nostra was Sicilian for “our thing.” Cosa Nostra is still a criminal syndicate in Sicily. It is a loose association of criminal groups that share a common organizational structure and code of conduct. The basic group is known as a “family”, “clan”, or “cosca” or “cosche” in Sicilian. Each family claims sovereignty over a territory, usually a town or village or a neighbourhood (borgata) of a larger city, in which it operates its rackets. Its members call themselves “men of honour”, although the public often refers to them as “mafiosi”. The mafia’s core activities are protection racketeering, the arbitration of disputes between criminals, and the organizing and oversight of illegal agreements and transactions. Following waves of emigration, the Mafia has spread to other countries such as the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Since this influx of immigrants, this mentality has still carried itself across borders into the New World during the early 20th century migration of foreign immigrants from abroad. Its tropological status can still be heard, witnessed, and recorded in the behaviour of the descendant’s offspring, in genetically select humans who have acquired the Mafiosi gene. In these families, they are the ones who are lucky enough to fit in to there vendetta like culture.

In studying religious culture, I‘ve come to understand that one could deify a country. One could even deify a crime family. One could even deify an insect if the social atmosphere was correct. What makes it highly probable  in any case is the existence of this ‘exacting father figure’ who will castrate you if you don’t follow his laws. What is it about the human race that creates delusional beliefs about ‘self’ and ‘other‘? Why are we raising narcissistic children who harbor resentments and hatred. Thus, we must endure the experience of an “angry culture.” We are raising them to follow the commands of an “all exacting father figure” instead of teaching them to think for themselves, decide for themselves. Many parents today don’t encourage their children to ask questions of them, or question there own methods of logic in their means of punishment. And so, many of us don’t raise independent thinkers. Instead they follow authority figures like mindless drones. But why? I believe its because it’s easier to command respect through the fear of intimidation and violence than it is to discuss peace and how to preserve it. What’s peace got to do with it when you’re fighting a war based in survival? It’s also hard being questioned at every turn about the reasons behind their code of conduct. If you don’t believe me, just ask Gov. Chris Christie who came under fire when he and his family stayed at the Governor’s mansion located on Island Beach State Park while the beach was closed due to a government shut down. Many state residents became infuriated that he could visit the beach while the rest of them were shut out. Idiotic and childish if you ask me.

The Western Christian religion and the Mafia have a lot in common. Westerns religions, like the mafia, encourage silence in the face of a very abusive entity that terrifies with horrific punishments the consequences to breaking “the law.” In the words of Gotti, “Gives you a little power, right?”

Consider the following quotes . . . .

“It is reasonable to assume that early monotheism, which had to fight for its existence, was particularly stringent in it superego demands just because it was surrounded by societies granting greater instinctual gratification. The superego is more punitive and threatens more terrible punishments in the young child than, in the normal course of development, ever in later life. Perhaps the strictest, most castrating father god belongs precisely to the earliest monotheistic development; perhaps castration anxiety was evoked as new weapon to keep man under his control.” ~Bruno Bettelheim, Symbolic Wounds

Taking into consideration this quote regarding early monotheistic culture and the silencing of women . . .

“The subtlety of apparent female silence is a limiting factor in our understanding. It is obvious in clinical work that women’s silence are deeply influenced by their interactions with their mothers, as well as by the more familiar silencing by men of their wives and daughters that have been identified as manifestations of a heliocentric society.” ~Rosemary Balsam, The Language of Silence, Women’s Bodies In Psychoanalysis

“…..Sixteenth-century women wrote mostly prayers and poems -published often with apologies about their boldness or anonymously or with pseudonyms. In them, a thickly textured alliance of obedience, silence, and concealment of the body hides in the guise of domestic deference.” ~Rosemary Balsam, The Language of Silence, Women’s Bodies In Psychoanalysis

What I’ve witnessed in the more recent events of my personal life, living in a neighborhood with resident immigrants mostly from soviet block country like; Poland, Russia, Czechoslovakia, is that many of these individuals hold  similar tropological linguistics of speech and behavior. I encounter men with high levels of narcissism, possessing vendetta like means for exacting there revenge. In short, “god-like” mentalities. Historically, my neighborhood has been Polish in its decedent, but in recent years it has diversified with many of the immigrants coming from Russia and Czechoslovakia.

Not that far from my home is another town called Chambersburg. At one time this town was “little Italy.” Today, Chambersburg has changed tremendously in its demographics. Where once is was a cohesive network of Italian immigrants working together with similar roots, we now see a fragmentation of scattered peoples; African-American, Latino, and Italian descents. There are still some authentic Italian restaurants and bakeries, but the town doesn’t hold the same atmosphere anymore.

In reflecting on recent current events I wonder about all the factors contributing to increases in human aggression and violence. I’m reminded of the following quote:

“The violence of the child’s wishes is as yet little mitigated by a realization of what he can do; they are not controlled by his ego or tempered by any knowledge of what might or might not happen in reality or of what other people might permit him to do. This violence of his wishes, at an age when the limits are not yet well established between fantasy and reality, between wishes and their fulfillment, leads him to fear that his parent will retaliate in kind, and the fear is not reduced by a realistic knowledge of what action his parents might take. An unmanageable conflict is thus created between the child’s dependent needs and desires and his hostile wishes against those on whom he depends for their satisfaction. This conflict, in turn, intensifies his hostility as it increases his fear of retaliation.” ~Bruno Bettelheim, Symbolic Wounds

Western cultures seem to be producing greater anxieties in its off spring due to the need to over regulate behavior to ensure more power and control. This control seems to stem from a need for individuals with under developed egos to maintain a level of success in a capitalistic New World. It seems the cycle started, and the cycle may never end.  And, what’s more, it is not likely to ever end as Freud repeatedly made the point that society exacts a heavy price in forcing its members to forego pleasures, and even accept displeasures. . . . the causes of civilization. These anxieties then tend to lead to counter phobic elaborations or superstructures – in belief, to help that society along in the process of its civilization.

***The names represented in this writing is in no way intended to imply criminal syndicate status among any person who may be named Richard or John or who resemble the characters or entities presented here. That is, there is no innuendo being made to implicate any person in criminal activity.


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