What Nationality Am I, Mom?Christine Coppa
Two months ago, JD’s biological, paternal great grandfather reached out to me. I reached back. It would have been a shame not to. The door is open now. I feel good.
I learned what I already knew from JD’s father—his biological father is Mexican-American.
Early on when we were dating, I invited him to attend the press opening of Dos Caminos in Midtown Manhattan with me.
“Do you like Mexican food?” I said.
“I’m Mexican!” he said.
A few days later we ate Mexican food at Dos Caminos and got the royal press treatment.
As you all know, we’re not together and he’s never met JD. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist to us. I’m raising our child. He’s a real person and subject in our home. JD asks about his father.
I’m Italian-American, with a tinge of Irish via my mom’s mom.
But in all fairness, Italian (Coppa-Agnello) dominated my upbringing.
My son is named Jack after my mom Jacklyn. His middle name is Italian and after his late great grandfather, Domenic Coppa.
Many people call my kid “Jackie Boy.” I almost named him Giacomo (and said he’d go by Jack), but surprisingly, my dad, Carlo, told me to reel it in and name him Jack.
I’m pretty much raising JD how I was brought up—as an Italian-American. Pasta with every meal, Roman Catholic church on Sunday, Feast of the Fish on Christmas Eve. To take the mob jokes with a grain of salt (I kid).
I have great pride in my Italian heritage. My great grandparents came to America from Italy in 1915 with pennies in their pockets. They opened Zambrano’s Bakery in 1917—a successful Italian bakery where people rounded the block for their famous square pizza. My family gave bread to those who couldn’t afford it in the Depression and even took in a family with nothing—giving them a home, food and work. My late-grandma Coppa, who I called Nanny, was the hardest, working woman I knew. A single mom, my grandfather died suddenly when my dad was 18. Nanny worked the counter at the bakery and always smelled like flour—to her dying day. She died before JD turned 1.
Recently JD, the inquisitive 5-year-old that he is, asked about his nationality, or “natural-rality.” I told him he was Italian and all about the bakery. I showed him pictures of Nanny holding him as a teeny baby.
Then I told him he was also Mexican. And Irish. (And prob some other things—not sure of his paternal grandmother’s nationality.)
I tell my son the truth when he asks questions. Then I wait for him to lead me. Sometimes he doesn’t and the subject is dropped for Lego, or a creamsicle.
“Have you ever been to the land of Mexico?” JD asked, exactly like this. I couldn’t help but laugh. His eyes so wide.
“Yes. Many times … with your aunts,” I said. “I was young …” I ran into my room and fetched some pictures of my friends and me in Cancun.
“Wow!” he said, of the crystal blue water and a line of us girls with our arms around each others’ waists.
That was the end of our conversation. It is unclear if JD thinks I’m Mexican. Like I said, I answer truthfully and let him lead. He’s 5. He doesn’t need to know every detail of life right now.
This past weekend we celebrated Cinco De Mayo—a holiday observed in the United States as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride. We made delicious food, hung up some decorations and had some beers. The kids played in the sunshine. The adults talked … my blondie ran around …
And pride came over me.
Discuss your kid’s nationality if you like.
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