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Mambo Italiano

Updated on April 22, 2013

oh, how times have changed.......

I was a 70's baby from the south. Born in Pensacola, Fl aka FLABAMA, lol. People can’t believe it when I tell them that I had a nanny as a child and the question that usually follows is if she was black. I then get the look from that person as if my family had some sort of oppressive situation going on in our house. What they don't realize is that the same nanny that worked in our home actually worked in my grandmother's home after she was married. My grandfather couldn’t handle all of the Italian cooking and would joke at the fact that when they first got married she did not even know how to cook an "American breakfast" (bacon, eggs, toast). My grandmother wanted to be an American housewife of the 40's but also did not want to lose her Italian identity when she moved out of her Italian community in Oklahoma. It was very important for her to cook all the foods they way her mother did, and to use Italian when speaking as much as possible. My grandfather hired a Maid to teach my grandmother how to cook southern food and a traditional "American breakfast" (and during that time period in the south 99% of maids, nannies, or hired help were black). She was labeled as a nanny by outsiders when my mother and uncle were born and they were seen with her in the community. She became a very important person in our family and my mother called her Aunt Marie. When my mother married and had children of her own, Aunt Marie was in her 60's and was much too old to do any major housework but would come to our home or even my grandparents’ home and cook for us. She would insist on not taking any money which usually ended with my parents or grandparents insisting or even slipping into her pocketbook. She spent a lot of her time in our house; especially when my little sister was born and diagnosed with cancer. Aunt Marie was always there with my mother and helping our family any way she could.

What made me reflect on my childhood and my Aunt Marie was the movie THE HELP. This movie touched me so much emotionally and made me so grateful that we never treated Marie the way the characters in the movie were treated as maids working in white homes. But it also made me more grateful to have Marie. She was with our family for three generations and I am sure there were many people in her community that questioned her relationship with our family. Was she just “the help” in the eyes of other people? Was it abnormal to love her the way we did because she worked in my grandmother and mother’s home? I don’t think we were the average family; after all, my grandmother was an Italian immigrant.

When Marie passed away, our entire family was there sitting with her family in a Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL. With no color or social class differences. She was a major part of our family, attended every wedding, holiday and birthday with her own children or grandchildren. I never saw a problem with her being in our lives. One day a friend of mine from Missouri was looking at some photos I had in an album and she asked "who is this black lady in all these pictures?" and I was like "oh that’s my nanny aunt Marie." You would have thought a horn sprouted from my head! She viewed the thought of a black person working in our home as oppressive and considered it modern day slavery. Would she have thought differently if Marie was Hispanic or Irish?



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