Bell tower vs. bell tower

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Just when you thought your paesani were uncommon in their ability to discriminate among themselves, you find out that they are not at all unique among Italians, but acting out a phenomenon peculiar to the entire nation. This trait is so common in fact, there is a name for it: campanilismo.

I suppose I first began to notice Italian-on-Italian discrimination as a youngster in Highland Park. It wasn’t the type of discrimination from without that older Italians were accustomed to. The discrimination I noticed related to differences between the families I knew. It was even more prevalent with my parents’ and grandparents’ generations. As a child, I only understood that I was Italian. Later, I began to understand that the Northerners and the Southerners looked at each other differently. I wasn’t quite sure why, but later I noticed this was not only evident in how the people treated each other based on where they were from, but even in how they thought of other’s food.

For example: You might know that in Emilia-Romagna, lasagna is traditionally made with both béchamel and Bolognese sauces. I loved lasagna. We had it so infrequently at home that, when it did appear on the table, it was a really special treat. I remember being about 12, in a beautiful Italian restaurant, and when my turn to order came, I chose lasagna. Oh my Gosh! You would have thought I had just ordered rocky mountain oysters or something! “No, no, you can’t have the lasagna!” “But why?” I whined. “Because,” my mother said. “But why?” “Well, it’s just not the same as ours,” was my mother’s answer. Ok, innocent and confused, I ordered chicken Parmesan. I waited for the car ride home to ask what was so bad about the lasagna at this restaurant. My mother went on and on about how it was made with ricotta! “So?” I asked. “Isn’t it good?” “Well,” she responded, “ours is better!”

From marinara to lasagna, I soon began to understand that Italians tend to think “theirs” is always better. From my mother’s little village to the neighboring commune, each believes their community does it best. Heck, you still hear people say “Didn’t you know that Santanesi and Pievaroli hate each other?” Actually, no, I didn’t. I thought that we all came from the same mountains, so we pretty much were the same. Well don’t tell the Fiumalbini that. They think they’re better than both the Santanesi and the Pievaroli. I could go on and on. On the other side of our mountain is Tuscany. … Oh dear, don’t ever trust a Tuscan!

A few years back, while on vacation in Italy, I spoke with a historian of our mountains to get a little better picture of where my ancestry originates and what I might learn about my people and the history of these mountains. She asked me where I came from in the United States and I explained that she probably heard of Highwood or Highland Park. “Oh, of course,” she said. “I-Wood and Island Park! Of course, so many of our people settled there.” Somehow during the conversation I touched upon the subject that, even though so many of us really come from the same mountain area that called the “Alto Frignano,” all the Italian Americans I know seems to associate themselves with their own village back here in Italy. It’s almost ridiculous. After half a century, some emigrants maintain what I call an “angry pride” over why their village is better than the next one just over the hill. After 50 or 60 years of being away from their hometown, living in America, it can still be sensed, the slight discrimination against others not from their own village.

She smiled and explained that this is called “campanilismo,” or the preference for one’s own bell tower. Of course, every community has a bell tower and naturally everyone prefers theirs. Well just then, as my Nonna would say, “Mi si è aperto il cervello”: My brain opened wide! It was common with everybody and there is a name for it! It almost qualifies as a disease!

I still remember that my Nonna always said that in the 1930s, her father would never have considered allowing her to marry a young man from Fiumalbo. He just had to be from Sant’Anna. I assume there was a comfort in knowing that a person came from your own village. Just like there was comfort in knowing the lasagna was made exactly like your mother made it. And all of a sudden, I understood so many of my people. They were just acting out what they learned from their parents. Maybe they’ve never heard of campanilismo.

Hey, guess what? We are also called “Frignati” or people from the Alto Frignano, whether you are on the Emilia side or the Tuscan side, we are all connected in a brotherhood. Just like the brotherhood between Italians everywhere, whether you use ricotta or béchamel, isn’t it all delicious?

If you have a story to share about our North Shore Italians, please contact me at I’d love to share it with others.

About Elisabetta (Liz) Hawari

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