Deracinated Americans

It was a late night in the small-town pizzeria, and the owners were sitting at our table drinking the Antinori Chianti riserva that was “too sour” for the local Swedes, who prefer Lambrusco on the rocks when they are not drinking Miller Lite.  The husband had come from Italy as a child, but his wife was an authentic “SaudaRoccafoda” Italian, who had grown up in the shadow of “St. Anthony’s” steeple.  She was telling me stories, similar to what I had heard from other exiles, about the old neighborhood.  

Growing up, she had known practically everyone, had navigated the complicated networks of kin and marriage that connected the houses and streets of South Rockford more securely than telephone lines and water mains could ever do.  On hot summer afternoons, she and the other children had sucked on the granite they bought at the Italian market, and her family, when it was not dining at home or in the houses of uncles and cousins, had gone out to Maria’s for the famous pizza and the more famous steaks.  If you were well connected, you could order dishes that never appeared on the menu.  You had to know—and be known.  This was the turf of Illinois Rep. Zeke Giorgi—“Uncle Zeke” literally to hundreds, and figuratively to thousands, of Rockford Italians.

Their part of South Rockford had been, like so many...

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