Do no harm, but take no shit.
That’s my life motto.
I was raised old school (kind of expected when your family is comprised of immigrants from another country). I was taught to respect those in authority, to treat others the way I want to be treated, to stand up for what I believe in, and to value the family and my heritage.
In the last few years, I’ve been dabbling with what exactly it means for me to be Maria Rosaria, who I am and who I want to become. It started when my Nonna Maria passed away a few years back. I was, obviously, named after her. I was also named after my other grandmother, the other matriarch of our family, Nonna Rosaria. For a long time, this wasn’t all that significant to me. Yes, I was named after my grandmothers, a lovely tribute to the two badass Italian women who ran and raised both sides of my immediate family tree. Two immigrant women with nerves of steel and the patience of a saint.
I didn’t really get how that translated to me or why I should be proud of that. Until now.
See, the thing is, it’s because of my family that I am the way that I am. That’s not to blame them for what I do. It’s more to say that the way they raised me, the way they instructed me and modeled for me the right way to behave and live, explains why I’m who I am today.
I realized today that I’m one of the first in my family to do this. Only one of my family members ever studied abroad, and only in grad school. I’m only the third person after my mother and cousin to go away to college in the first place; everyone else either commuted or went to trade school. These opportunities I have weren’t open to a lot of my family members. I’m the first to have them, to be able to take advantage of them.
I don’t want to squander that.
I came here for a purpose, with drive and direction and a dream to fulfill. I’m well on my way to doing that, but I’ve almost started to lose sight of what’s most important to me on this journey. I didn’t come here to drink heavily and stare at the walls of touristy pubs. I didn’t come here to skip classes or get mediocre grades. I was blessed with this amazing opportunity, one my mother reminded me a few times that I “worked my ass off” to achieve. Why on earth would I waste a single second partying the way I could do all summer in St. Louis if I wanted?
This trip has already taught me so much about myself, about what I am capable of. It has compelled me to do things I never would have dreamed of doing otherwise, like climbing mountains and castles, or going to the edge of a cliff and looking out over the ocean. It’s allowed me to improve myself as a writer, artist, student, professional, and person. I’m still learning every day what it means to bear the names of such strong women in my life, such amazing role models I could never dream of measuring up to but wish to emulate. But I have some idea now, especially given all I’ve accomplished thus far, of the greater significance.
So, then, what does it mean to be Maria Rosaria?
It means being an immigrant’s daughter, a young woman shaped by the work and determination of her ancestors.
It means being a soft, gentle, non-confrontational woman, a nurturer who loves her family, feeding and aiding others, and spreading love.
It means being a stubborn, comedic, spitfire force to be reckoned with, a woman with determination, a sense of responsibility to herself and others, wisdom, toughness, an informed moral compass, and endless reserves of drive.
It means being strong and ignoring pain, refusing to be coddled or cared for, refusing to stop just because things are difficult.
It means making sacrifices and being a god damned independent, thinking for myself and dreaming bigger and achieving more.
It means honoring the two matriarchs I’m named for by doing something with my life, going somewhere, blazing trails, achieving great things, and holding onto tradition with both hands.
It means a foot in the past and a foot in the future, carrying their torch, their legacy, long after their work on earth is done.
It means following my heart and my dreams to a bright future because of everything they did.
I am the song of my ancestors, enriched by their history the same way this place is enriched by the history of those who came before. That is why I was compelled to be here: the stories, the histories, and the people. It means the world to me to have finally discovered that. I intend to continue on to the back half of this journey bearing in mind what an honor and a gift it is. I will not compromise who I am, because to do so would be to dishonor the family I hold so dear and to betray myself.