When do two halves make two wholes? As American kids in Italy, Bruno, Joseph, and Tobias Mine are three Italian-American boys who are different from children we think of as typically “Italian-American” – kids in New Jersey or San Francisco or Boston whose grandparents or great-grandparents emigrated to the United States. These boys are half American and half Italian, but in their case the result is more than the sum of the parts. Because their upbringing has allowed them to become both fully American and at the same time wholly Italian.
These boys have an American father and an Italian mother. On top of that, they have had three different first languages. Bruno, who is now 13, as a toddler learned Spanish in Guatemala, where his father was working. Joseph, 11, learned Italian in Italy; and Tobias, who is 10, learned English in the United States.
When Tobias was a year old, the boys moved to Miami where they learned English and began being infused with one of the cultures that they would come to call completely their own.
Baseball, soccer, catching lizards, exploring the neighborhood, and following their favorite team, the Florida Marlins became their daily activities. “Playing was fun in America because we lived on a closed-off street,” says Joseph.
After eight years in Miami, the Mine family moved to Acqualagna, a small town in Italy near where the mother grew up. In Acqualagna, the boys’ lives changed again, where they embraced their own “other” culture, Mom’s.
After years of speaking Italian with their mother in Miami, the boys quickly began to integrate into their new society. The transition to Italian life was not difficult because of earlier summer visits to Acqualagna and nearby Fano on the Adriatic coast. “Italy was not hard to get used to because we would come during the summer to see my Grandma,” says Joseph.
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School in Italy was another hurdle that the children overcame. The academic system is different here from what they were used to. The boys attend school Monday thru Saturday. School also ends at lunchtime rather than in the afternoon.
After finishing the first year, Bruno noted that Italian kids, “go to school like they are going to work.” Tobias adds, unintentionally exaggerating, that “Italian schools have no holidays, and they have no type of celebrations like Halloween or Valentine’s Day.” Other national or religious festivities are, of course, marked by days off from school, but the boys have learned that studying in Italy is a serious matter.
Becoming friends with Italian children could also have posed a challenge due to the cultural divide, but the boys stepped up and met the challenge. In school, “it was easy, very easy to meet new people because I already spoke the language,” says Bruno. Both Joseph and Tobias also have had similar experiences meeting new kids in school because they could also speak Italian and they played local sports.
Retaining their American culture has also become an important aspect in their day-to-day lives. By speaking Italian every day at school and at play, at least one of the boys’ other languages has started to slip away. “My Spanish it pretty much gone because I don’t speak it anymore; I only speak English and Italian now,” says Bruno, who was in a bilingual Spanish-English program in his Miami middle school.
Trilingual cards to their parents
“My mother makes me speak in English so I don’t forget,” adds Tobias, who like the other two boys continues to use English as a matter of course with Dad. That language is important for preserving their American culture while reveling in a new one.
After living almost a year in Italy, the boys have fully entered the Italian culture. “I prefer to live in Italy,” says Bruno. Joseph has also come to love the culture but still holds onto his American roots. “I love Italian food, but I really miss baby back ribs from America,” Joseph says.
Today, the three boys are balancing their cultures and distinct heritages. When asked if they feel they are American or Italian, they all promptly respond, “Both.”