MANNO: Discover your roots through your family tree

It’s those brief moments of having nothing on the brain that I’ve come to love. I usually tell myself I’ll fill those times with something intellectual – maybe read some Walt Whitman poems – and end up doing something mindless, like playing WarioWare mini games on my Nintendo emulator.

But with a solid month of nothing coming up, I’d like to strike a chord somewhere in the middle, between wandering aimlessly through Milwaukee and reading Wikipedia pages on theories in neuroscience. So in that time and the months that follow, I’ve come up with a noble pursuit: to get in touch with my roots.

This investigation is something I’ve always put off. More times than not I feel like I get enough of my culture in the way my family acts and that I’m a nag if I try to dig any deeper.

But we all come from somewhere unique, and we need to embrace it. I’m a three-fourths Italian and one-fourth Irish stew, but what does that mean if I don’t know the ingredients? I think these little factoids have formed us more than we let on. Unfortunately I can’t vouch for Ancestry.com, but I’ve heard good things.

The first step I’ve gone through on this quest was earlier this semester when I looked myself up on Facebook. Not myself, actually, but rather alternate Tony Mannos that live throughout the world. I figured sharing the Manno name gives us a true hereditary linkage, and sharing a first name just makes it bizarre. One Tony I found lives in Australia, and one works at a Missouri casino. To switch lives with another Tony Manno…

But I digress. The next step is to do something that happens frequently: listen in on stories of relatives, especially from parents and other close family members. There are so many ways to interpret these stories that we somehow ignore because we’re so close to the people telling them. It’s as if we have them already figured out. But if you put some of these stories into context – who was there, what the time was like – they start to look a lot more interesting. Stories of my own parents’ childhoods can tell me about Italian customs, what a ‘70s childhood looked like and struggles assimilating to the American way.

The final step, for me, then, is to take advantage of studying abroad across the Atlantic next semester to go a final level deeper toward my roots, seeing Sicily and the other places my family hails from. If all goes right, I’ll come back to the States with an accent and a Luigi mustache.

Of course, half of your roots come from where you already are. In that case, I’m an American male, a student who likes to walk aimlessly and someone who listens to Pearl Jam only if it comes up on the radio (you’ve got to secure these details in the meantime).

There’s an adage in writing to “write what you know.” But some of the things we ‘know’ are only on the surface – and it does a lot of good to go a few layers deeper, to understand why we do the things we do and think the way we think. It’s a question of culture – all of us have a different one, and the more we know about it, the better we can tell the story.

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