Alé heard stories, Lorenzo discovered miracles; no, neither was immune to the American dream. It was like a disease, infecting people with its superiority, convincing them it was everything. So, just as hundreds of others, they boarded a boat in early 1953, setting sail to the country of their fantasies. The boat’s name was Gioia, the same name of their daughter conceived in November that year. And their history runs through Gioia’s veins just as their blood does, because, you cannot escape the past, even if it wasn’t your own.
An overused copy of The Great Gatsby sat on the porch, quite alive in its half-open state, but nonetheless, utterly alone. And I thought this with my back against the grass with half-closed eyes, wondering if Jay was great, if Daisy was worth it, if Nick was truthful.
If wasn't for Momma yelling my name, I would've stayed like that for the day.
Sighing, I grabbed the book as I walked inside.
Stumbling in the vibrant orange walled dining room, I found Momma at the table, her olive skin glowing from the sun's ray peeking through the window. Her maroon purse spilled in front of her, where she fumbled through the contents, eyes clouded.
“Have you seen my notes?” Momma was a bookkeeper for our neighbor Mr.Nicks, keeping his private notes. And every Friday, his wife came by to collect, in exchange for her weekly pay.
Before I could answer, Gia entered, Margaret trailing behind.
"Where you been?" Glancing at the clock, I sat down across from them. "School ended hours ago."
"Flake off," Gia hissed, leaning against Momma. "I waited for Margaret."
Two-hour bus ride, to a school three cities away. I noticed the anger dance in her eyes. Tension burned off Gia, who was naive enough to believe things would change soon. Perhaps they would, but not with us.
Margaret was denied to our southern Virginia school, due to her flawless midnight skin, cornrows with lavender beads, and tentative smile, unsure who was going to nod or spit at her. Unlike us, Margaret never had a chance for some freedoms society offered immigrant families like us, no one with a family like hers was. It was our mother's complexion that saved us: with skin pale enough and faces pretty enough to allow us more privileges then we dare speak in front of her. Besides, even though Gia and I went to the white school, it didn't mean they were kind to us. Society's cruel, even when they 'accept' you (at least, pretend to).
Margaret's eyes were wide, thoughts spilling from her, but she refused to acknowledge them. Even around us, she refused to speak out of turn. It seemed the world broke her down young, she learned the order of things quickly. And she looked like that as Gia walked her out, unable to convince Momma to let her go.
Papá came home around seven, finding us in the harvest gold walled living room, on the couch, in front of the television. With shameless black streaks decorating his skin and exhaustion pulling at his wrinkles, reminding us how he spent his days: working at the grungy, rubber factory in downtown Chicago.
“Again?” Papá eyed my book. "You haven't stolen another yet?"
“Borrowing," I corrected, folding the page's corner. "From the library.”
“Without checking it out,” Gia grumbled, Papá laughing.
After kissing my forehead, Papá sat on the couch, the four of us barely fitting, as Momma muted the television. We sat like that for the briefest moment of eternity, a promised silence of peace wrapping around us kindly.
It was Gia who broke the quiet, as though her thoughts were silently consuming her.
"Gioia, why read that book so much?"
“Is the American Dream worth it?” I asked instead, circling back to earlier thoughts. “Gatsby had it all, and it wasn’t enough without Daisy.”
“Senza tentazioni, senza onore,” Papà said, winking at our native tongues.
Nodding, I didn’t linger on the phrase long. Papá handed out old proverbs like coins, as though he was far too rich with them. Growing up, I always tossed them, Gia collected them, constantly running her mind over the phrases.
“Margaret likes that one,” Gia whispered. “Says it's what makes people fight for their rights, as King does.”
"Freedom shouldn't be a temptation," Momma said, as the door rang.
Once she opened the door, we could hear the distinct, high pitched voice of Mrs. Nicks, greeted Momma with false sincerity, carelessly butchering our last name. That’s the thing, no one ever pronounces it right. It’s as though they use our last name to learn their words: sounding out each letter individually, never together.
There was a short, soft exchange between them before Momma returned, hands empty, as they were when she couldn't find her notes.
And perhaps I was overreading The Great Gatsby and overthinking about my parent's journey to America because after I took in Momm's dull eyes; Papa's stained, callused hands; Gia’s tilted head, thinking of Margaret's love for King, I burst into tears. This wasn’t their dream.
“Papà, let’s go home, to Turin, where you and Momma lived.”
“Italy's no home for us,” Papà sighed, softly. “Not anymore.”
“But, the American dream isn’t real, people's lives just crumble cause they realize it too late.”
“La famiglia è la patria del cuore,” Papà smiled. “Gioia, this is home, and just because we got pieces of our dreams, doesn’t mean we should leave.”
“Momma’s loved math since she learned of numbers, it’s partly why I fell in love with her, Gia loves Margaret, regardless of what her race. And you girls are the only dream I need. This might not be the American dream, but it's pieces of ours. Al povero mancano tante cose, all’avaro tutte.”
“The Giuliani Dream,” I breathed, taking pride in the pronunciation.
Translations: Senza tentazioni, senza onore = Where there is no temptation there is no glory
La famiglia è la patria del cuore = Family (or "home" as typically translated) is where the heart is.
Al povero mancano tante cose, all’avaro tutte = The poor man is lacking many things, the greedy man all.