Being cristiano

“The meaning of the words good and bad were determined by the domus. The immigrants in Italian Harlem spoke of their deepest and most fundamental aspiration as the desire to be ‘Christians.’ (The opposite of living like a Christian was to live like a Turk.) A Christian was defined as a person rooted in and responsible to the domus. One woman explained the word to her children: ‘When you all grow up and are earning money and are married, we must buy or build a house which will hold our whole family together. That’s the only way to live like Christians. The American way is no good at all for the children to do as they please and the parents don’t care.’ Another young woman held out as an example of Christian living the insistence of a young woman that an importuning suitor come and meet her family before she allowed him to walk her home from work. The old woman emphasized her point: ‘He came three times and then both families got together to arrange for the engagement. They were ready to be married when the war came along. This girl will marry and be blessed because she revered her parents and did the right thing. I call that living like a ‘cristiano’ not behaving like a Turk.’ A Christian had a domus sensibility; he or she was ready to sacrifice without question for the good of the domus.”

Robert Orsi, The Madonna of 115th Street, p. 86.

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