Isn't America The Dreamland?
AN ITALIAN DIARY: CHAPTER 3
Written by: Alessia Petrolito
Since I can remember, I’ve been my parents’ favorite subject. Not a black woman, but their first grown child, the one you try to frame in time when she reaches an accomplishment. With education and eagerness, I started to own a world they had never seen or experienced. I was their studious daughter and always liked to be right. With the coming era of selfies and camera phones, I started to take pictures of myself. To me, photography and its manipulation were a shortcut to drawing; it was a way to fix in time, an idea, a constructed reality. If you look at them, look at them closely, or you’ll never understand.
Santena, an Italian town nearby Turin, Piedmont.
Libera. When she took off her glasses, she was a beauty, her eyes, her lips. She’s a woman, and she is free, graduated, with the world at her feet.
Years had passed by, and tired of looking, Lei longed for a place to be herself, a group to call her own. She no longer wanted to be the first, the last, the only one. She knew who she was, her birth name, her personality, and wanted to dive into her complexity, to express her thoughts and not be called unpleasant or childish.
She never wanted to be in Turin, nor Italy. She didn’t like it, too poisoned, grey, and polluted. She wanted to see her motherland, not from a book or a screen. She wanted to live it, have that sun tingling on her forearms.
She left everything, including her beloved cat, and departed.
Chicago, IL, USA
She was in Chicago on the blue line train, Adele and Stromae’s songs playing in her ears and then moving from Wicker Park to Little Italy and Pilsen following Racine Ave and the smell of Mexican bakeries, which reminded her of home. She had multiple amazing roommates, but it didn’t take her much to feel that she didn’t belong.
Incastrata. Fake, that land felt not dreamy at all. American History wasn’t hers to own. Lei fought her way out of the black word. She couldn’t walk or talk without people noticing her. Her voice, pronunciation and rolling R. She sounded French, but punctated H(s) and vowels; she was Italian on paper and Piedmontese at heart.
One drop, she had much more of it. She had all the African West Coast. She looked mixed, even exotic to some, her accent, outfit, and all. She had colonial blood; still African American culture wasn’t her own.
Incolta. Lei had no means. Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s documentaries helped but weren’t enough. She knew nothing of the culture, of the literature she was in. She was unprepared, disconnected. She made it to grad school, helped by unusual background and studies, whim, and luck. Her research could have started.
With the view on Lake Michigan from the School’s student lounge on South Michigan Ave, Lei felt in heaven, with so many resources at her disposal; essays, and handbooks, authors she never heard of—W.E.B. Dubois, Audre Lorde, Paul Gilroy, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Edward Said, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Avtar Brah, Hélène Cixous, Jacques Derrida, Aimé Cèsaire, Édouard Glissant, Vilém Flusser, and George Yùdice. Their voices were giving reasons to her struggles. She runs across fields - Literature, Adoption Research, Sociology, Anthropology, Autoethnographic, Linguistic, Visual Studies, Perception and Art Theories - scrolling down their pages, ecstatic.
She always wanted to draw, and now she wanted to write. The literature she was finally exposed to was missing something; her cohort kept saying they had already written about that; what’s different? Lei is. Her story is.
Adottata. Lei dived into pods, thinking across disciplines and identities. She was adopted, one-of-a-kind experiences that weren’t subjected in the masters’ literature she was reading - Franz Fanon, bell hooks, James Baldwin, Derek Walcott, Fred Moten, Ta-Nehisi Coates; even in the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Taiye Selasi. Everything is about family, blood, and heritage, especially in Italy. There was the difference, right or wrong, having or not having a family gets you to the places. Her family was from Italy and made a life for her there. A life that didn’t see her, a society that didn’t want to be troubled by her color, and she was supposed to be grateful for that ‘kindness’ because of her last name.
Why are you in pain? Aren’t you lucky? You had food, love, and a roof on your head?
Battagliera. Lei had luminary ideas on her account, everything you weren’t supposed to have in grad school. She wanted to fight and argue; she wanted to merge gender and race studies to adoption research, then introduce adoption research to Arts and Literature and then cluster them together. Full of ideals, she wanted to overcome and burn hybridity.
Idrida. Her languages: she couldn’t think, it was hard to walk the linguistic bridge, she thought in Italian, translated in English, then switched; and the grammars fell apart. English was polling, Italian couldn’t stay, it couldn’t leave. It was so tiring. She felt layered, and most of all, wounded.
Lei ain’t Black, or well, she’s Black but Italian – Yeah, but what is she first? Do you think she must choose?! Suddenly, she missed Turin; she had come to find her peace and, despite, found a new hunger, the willingness to be alone, weirdly problematic and misunderstood: an adoptee, an artist, a writer, and a visual thinker too.
Mostro. Lei was inhabiting the liminal space: a foreigner, outcasted in the breed, or a searcher – What was she, a freak?!
Mad, she was so madly angry. She missed bread, she missed everything; she couldn’t stay on this land. She lost weight, developed symptoms of an eating disorder; she was living with her phone in her hand, she was hyperactive on social and watching all her favorite Italian TV Talk and Talent Shows on streaming. She tried to fill her remoteness, the space that was separating her from her past life. It was one of Lei’s bad habits, always living somewhere else—in the past, in the future, in the U.S. when Italy and in Italy when in the U.S., never in the present place.
She was at the edge of a nervous breakdown. She raged with her friends and colleagues. She cried every night on the phone with her sister and dad. Her dad, he even ceased to be upset; he would have liked to caress her head like he always did; he was certain to find the top of her nerves. She was too far for him to handle and stood there on the other side of the phone, seated at his desk, just listening to her rant.
Giudiziosa. Despite their bad relationship and young age, her sister had her back when Lei’s bad times came. She was eighteen, yet she seemed the eldest at times; her tone and patience called to a well-hidden but greatest strength. Lei took a long time to realize how wrong she was about her sister; she constantly jeopardized their getting along. She wanted to be the strong one, the running stallion on top of her antagonist, her sister, mistreating and leaving her behind as an underdog. In her head, at home, she had to be the most earnest, the most accomplished, the one who knew better, the last one standing in her Bossypants! How wrong she was?! At home, at school, online and in her inner self, there were several battlefields. She was at war.
It was 2016, Presidential election at the doors, she couldn’t deal with it, didn’t want to, so she graduated with two precious friends at her side. She packed what she could, shipped what she couldn’t fly, threw the rest of her belongings in the garbage, and returned home and to the stress she knew, seeking a new pace and a peaceful growth.
Avida. Lei wanted all: Italy, progressive thinking, a job, resources for her studies, a man to love, and a home. She wanted to be comforted and stop fighting the unknown. Returning for good, this time, Lei had a clear mind: no more planes, just her books and her blogs. She was troubled, but she was back, back to the people and all the things she longed and stressed: her culture, language, friends.
Yet, like any traveler at the curve towards the end, she was changed. Of course, she couldn’t fit; she should have never left. She spent all her savings trying to be cool, catch up with time and with those who never did leave – Italian adoptees, friends, and acquaintances.
Why did you come back? Isn’t America the dreamland? Lei sunk– They don’t know, they haven’t seen it, nor lived. But she could no longer be unaware.
Art and the Fall even brought her Love.
She got back on her feet, fortune brightened for her, she was at the right time in the right places again. She found an internship, and then a dream job.
One year, it took her one year.
Lei paused for a second, and she felt healed – Wasn’t that too much happiness to feel?!