I believe that we are all Americans. And by this, I do not mean that we are Irish-American, or Italian-American, or African-American, or whatever. We are not hyphenate citizens of the world; we are Americans.
As a boy, I often sat and listened to my immigrant grandfather talk of his first years in this country. Cancer having claimed both of his legs, he was close to death then, and perhaps nostalgia tinctured his memories with a rosy haze, but I didn’t think so at the time, and I don’t think so now. His body may have been wasting away, but his mind remained razor-sharp until the day he died. My grandfather enjoyed having an audience, even one as young as I.
He told me how it had been frightening for him to uproot himself and his young wife from everything they knew and loved. In a voice that was still choked with emotion, he told me how his parents had begged him not to take the action he had decided upon. Though moved by their pleas, he nevertheless insisted upon realizing his dream. He gladly forsake his former way of life so that he could embrace and realize the dream that was America. My grandfather had born and raised in Naples, but he had no desire to call himself anything other than an American. He proved it by becoming a citizen and fighting a war under the banner of the American flag. My grandfather respected his Italian roots, but he always considered himself an American. It was America, after all, that had given him the blessings of his life – a good home, a devoted wife, and a loving family. Could he have had those things had he stayed in Italy? Perhaps so, but perhaps not. My grandfather risked all that he had to find a life in a new country. For better and for worse, he was an American not only in name, but in his heart.
I was named to honor him, and as a result, I was his favorite grandchild. He talked to me for hours, and I loved to hear the sound of his voice. To this day, I can hear his voice in the chambers of my mind.
“Angelo,” he said. “Never forget that you are honored to live in the greatest country on earth. Never forget.”
I never do. I never forget that even though I am of Italian descent, I am first and foremost, an American. For this, I thank my grandfather, and this is what I believe.
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