The North End This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


I was raised on strange Italian foods in my grandparents' kitchen. After school,my younger cousin and I would go there while our parents were still at work. Wefeasted on foods of every variety, followed by a big dinner. The floor was alwaysa little dirty and the smells always the same: grease and garlic accompanied bythe sound of boiling water.

When it was time to eat, fear overwhelmed me.A brown meaty substance was sprawled across my plate. How was I expected to eatthis culinary mystery? Tongue, tripe and squid are some of the delicacies I'vetasted over the years, their identities revealed only after consumption. Thesmells of frying fat and the sound of bubbling concoctions filled thathouse.

One evening, during dinner, when I realized what I was swallowing,I became utterly disgusted. My young-er cousin and I made eye contact across thetable. What should we do? There was no dog to sneak it to, but we had to get ridof it. He followed my lead as I politely slipped the remains of what I waschewing into my napkin and slid the rest of the food on my plate to one corner,trying to make it as compact as possible. I covered it with my napkin. Mygrandparents were too kind to say anything about our conspicuous tactic, and Isat there wondering how my mother and aunts could enjoy these dishes.

Playing outside in the city was another part of my after-school life.Despite the years that had passed since my parents played here, the games werethe same. Playing baseball in the street, shouts in Italian surrounded us.

"Che ora e?"

"Sono le sei e cinque."

"Vuoi uscire stasera."

"Si."


The wonderful serenade reached across blocks. Yards that are too smalland houses that are too close can only promote unity, once all the neighborlybickering is temporarily over.

My grandparents' next-door neighbors werefirst-generation Americans from Italy. Every so often they would come over for avisit, their few words of English spoken with beautiful accents. When I attemptedto communicate with them, however, I hit some culturalblockades.

"Grandma, tell Mrs. Cominito I like her scarf," Isaid. A cascade of words followed that I didn't understand, and then, "Shesays thank you, she will make you one." While I understood the Sicilianslang of my grandparents, Mrs. Cominito's speech was so different that I wished Ihad learned more Italian.

I am proud to be Italian (as well as halfIrish). When I'm at the Italian feast for St. Sebastian, I know all the foreigntreats. I know my roots. Even when my grandmother's friends say, "Shedoesn't look Italian," I can confidently respond, "But I feelit."

I love my grandparents' house in that tough neighborhood. I feelsafer there than anywhere else. Despite the gangs, police presence and weeklydrug busts just blocks away, I feel at home. I now realize why they have neverwanted to move from that three-family house at the corner of Pearl and ErinStreets. When we begged them to move in with us I understood why they sovehemently resisted. We cannot replace the atmosphere and friends they love. Thebeauty of those mean streets takes me back to my roots. I am protected bygenerations.




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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