With the closing of several churches and the restructuring of parishes into clusters, the Italian American community of my girlhood breaks bread more often with the Spanish speaking parishioners I have chosen to join. St. Joseph’s Day on March 19 is one of my favorite days, second only to the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass. I usually begin a conversation in Italian at one table and then switch to Spanish with those sitting nearby.
This past year, St. Joseph’s Day was celebrated on the 87th birthday of “Mama Lucha.” A friend allowed me to borrow her charra outfit and asked me to sing “Las Mañanitas,’ the Mexican “Happy Birthday” song.
Various pasta dishes were served, and a perfect cultural blend took place. One of the guests was Italian-born, and he explained to me that the beignet-like zeppole (St. Joseph’s Day Cakes), which I had never heard of, were traditionally served for dessert. Some of the Mexican women present had a hard time believing that I had taken it upon myself to learn Spanish as an adult.
When the parish priest called for unity among the older Italian American community and the newer Spanish speaking faithful, I willingly volunteered for the position of cultural mediator. How many more “Mama Luchas” and “Assuntas” (named for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary) can I reach simply by breaking bread with them in the language of their childhood?