Living Abroad

April 7, 2020

Something that makes me smile is when I think back to my two years living in Rome. I just met marvelous people and created a new life for me. I’m from New York. My parents came in the ’40s. I grew up in Long Island City, which is now not affordable for anyone.

Can you hear me? And what I think about my time in Rome is that I was a different Carmen. This was in the ’70s, so it’s not the Italy of Corona Virus. It’s the Italy of love and romance and a different way of doing things. I worked there at a newspaper called the Rome Daily American, met some marvelous people. What makes me smile is that for the first time I felt I was an American.

Living in New York city as a person of color, of Puerto Rican background, I was always the minority and I always felt a little marginalized or a whole lot marginalized. And I moved to a country where everyone was excited to be with me, to know me because I was American. Lo and behold, finally someone gets it. The Italians just lifted my spirit. It was party, party, party. I learned to speak Italian. I learned to be an Italian. And one thing that everyone said to me was, “Oh, America. Oh, Spanish. Yeah. Everything free in America.” Everyone knew Westside Story. I just, “Okay.” Which was kind of interesting.

When I first decided to go, my parents were very nervous and scared for me, so they took me to a spiritualist, and she foretold my future and gave my mother a little, what we call a black hand. And she put it in a little red pouch and I was supposed to add this on my brassiere always because it was going to protect me. I don’t know what from, but I was too nervous not to do it, so I did it. So that’s what brings a smile to my face.

I still love Italians. I speak Italian somewhat because there’s no one to practice with. But I recommend to everyone to live somewhere else, learn another culture and language if you can, is the most expanding experience. And I’m grateful for my two years there, for my love of the country, and for finally feeling that I was an American.

In this time and space that we are in with the whole immigrant issue, it’s really important to live in another man’s culture, eat his food, and understand what someone I worked with used to call they come from. She says, “You always have to know someone’s come from because that will help you understand the person.”