I never met either of my paternal grandparents. Both were long deceased by the time I came along. But I do know that they were both immigrants to this wonderful country. My grandfather Joseph, lied about his age and stowed away aboard a freighter and wound up outside of Philadelphia. My grandmother and her family all came here together and wound up in South Philly. My mom's father was born on the boat on the way here from the Ukraine. My mom's mother was the only one of my grandparents born on US soil, but even that only by a year or two. Her parents emigrated from England and Holland not many years before she was born.
My maternal grandfather was a SeaBee in WWII in the Pacific Theater. I have a picture of him as a very young man, posing with to fellow sailors in New Guinea around 1942.
Maybe that's where I get it from...my love for this country. My heritage is found in countries not nearly as wonderful or blessed as this one. Not that those nations aren't wonderful themselves...but they aren't America. I've heard the stories -some first hand and some second hand-- about the hardships they faced and how much this country meant to them. Among my grandparents, on either side, there was not a handout to be found. Not a government gift or a social program freebie. They came with nothing, they worked hard, and they became parents, business people and homeowners. They weren't perfect, by any means. They were rough, somewhat uneducated because of their standing in society, maybe rough around the edges. They were also hard working, people of Faith, good neighbors, good citizens, good people.
And they were AMERICANS.
From what I understand, my grandfather didn't bother teaching Italian to his children. Because they were "Medicones." Not that they didn't pick it up along the way, but his first command to them was that they were Americans and would behave like Americans.
They were proud of who they had been, but far more proud of who they were. Americans.
I've always been a history buff and always an unabashed Yankee Doodle Dandy. But as I've gotten older, and more worn by the years, (and hopefully wiser) I am even more so. I didn't know about my Italian heritage until I was 21 and didn't meet my family until 2007 at age 43. There was a period, when that was new and exciting, where I was self-hyphenating. I was Italian American or American Italian, depending on how you divvy up the whole percentages thing. But in the last eight or ten years I stopped doing that. I am fiercely proud of my Italian heritage and especially of my family and our story. The longer I've known my cousins and siblings the more I've grown to really love them, and I hope they feel that way about me. I'm LUCKY to be a Daliessio.
But I'm far luckier still -blessed by God in fact-- to be an American. My heritage on either side takes a backseat to my citizenship and birthright as an American.
As years pass I've grown more and more sentimental, more unashamedly patriotic, more fiercely loyal and protective of this land of mine. There are place in this world I want to visit...but none as much as the wonderful places inside our own borders. I want to go to my grandfather's hometown of Montecassino someday. But probably not until I have seen more of OUR mountains. Or met more of my fellow Americans. Instead of backpacking across Europe, I dream of traveling this country, without a roadmap or an itinerary, and just see what is out there.
If it were possible, I would find the center of this great land...the place where her heart is...and fall on that sacred ground and pull her to my chest. I love her that much. She has given me and my family everything...by giving us nothing more than a chance. 242 years ago, 56 great men closed out this day by signing a document that got this all rolling. Their signatures almost invariably guaranteed their own personal ruin. Less than a third of them would survive the Revolution with their fortunes, or their lives, intact. But that was a sacrifice they were willing to make for the sake of the promise that this new country held. If The United States of America could take root. If she could survive. Then the promise of her founding would be there for the children and grandchildren of these noble men, and that was enough for them to risk it all.
I just can't look at a sacrifice like that and simply go on about my day. I owe them. I owe them diligence and vigilance. I owe them my best, to keep this nation always functioning at IT'S best. I owe them my best efforts at being a great AMERICAN citizen, a great neighbor, a great friend, and a great patriot.
I'm trying. Every day.
Happy Birthday America.
God Bless you still