I GREW UP IN EAST BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, A NEIGHBORHOOD with a large Italian population (mostly immigrants). For me, they represented large families, strange accents, and wonderful smells from delicious mysterious foods. Wine was on the table for all meals, and even the young children were encouraged to sip it from fancy glasses. My street was a mixture of nationalities. We were also Irish, French, English, Native American, and Chinese, as well as many other mixtures we couldn't figure out. My own background was Irish and German.
On the other side of my street was a housing project that went on for four blocks. It became my playground and community. My own home was a two-family house. Nana lived on the first floor and my mother, two brothers, two sisters and I occupied the second floor. Mom was divorced and had to apply for welfare to keep us together. I don't remember seeing Mom much after she began to work under the table, because the welfare's cash benefits wouldn't cover all the bills.
I found that if I wanted attention or something to eat, I could go to any of my friends' homes on the street or in the projects and blend in with their families, and feel I belonged. I liked to stay at my friend Angela's house the best. She had a mother and father at home and they always had fresh, hot Italian bread to share with me. Angela had one brother, and many aunts and cousins, but what I was most impressed with were her four handsome uncles! They all communicated loudly, bellowing passionately to everyone in their space, anus and hands slicing through the air. To me, that noise and confusion represented what family was supposed to be.
I am a product of the system, so to speak. I was a child of five years old in a single-female-headed household with four siblings, and