Italian Souvenir

When I was as child growing up in Brooklyn, this square plaque hung in the family bathroom. It seems that even before I could read, and well before I learned standard Italian, I knew what the words meant:

There might be great popes,
there might be powerful kings
but they are just like me
when they sit here.

At some point, the plaque had fallen, and for years the broken pieces sat forgotten in a drawer. Eventually, my father, Enrico, glued them together and I reclaimed the family heirloom. Today it rests on a plate holder in my family’s bathroom.

In 2008, I asked my mother, Anna, about the plaque’s origins. She told me she’d bought it in Naples during a 1958 summer trip to Italy. “Why?” I asked. “I liked what it said,” she replied. “Everyone is equal.” As a returning migrant, my mother may have found the souvenir’s piquant adage particularly appealing. Having migrated from Maranola, a hamlet (frazione) of Formia (Latina province) in Lazio in 1950, where she had experienced both the splenetic fulminations of a malevolent stepmother and the terror of World War II, my mother may have felt empowered by her new and invigorating status as an (Italian) American woman—married, with a male child, and flush with dollars—to confront the waning powers from her turbulent past.

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