Lady Gaga
By Romina Monaco

I am an avid fan of Oprah Winfrey’s program, Oprah:The Last Chapter which covers an array of topics, mostly on matters of social reform. I happened to be watching one such episode where Oprah interviewed the widely controversial and provocative Stephanie Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga. In her quest to bring awareness to her anti-bullying campaign, Born This Way, Lady Gaga and her mother discussed the bullying that the star painfully endured throughout her youth. One incident mentioned by her mother happened when Stephanie’s high school locker was defamed with slanderous remarks about her heritage. This conjured up all sorts of memories for me as I too remembered a dark period in my life where I was demoralized by my peers for the sole reason of race.

My Communion 1978
In the first decade of my life I grew up in North York, an area of Toronto predominantly inhabited by Italian-Canadians at the time. I didn’t feel any different from the other kids I went to school with. Perhaps it was because we shared a mutual cultural background. That all changed when my family moved to Palgrave, a tiny rural community just north of the city. The first day of school was a culture shock to me as most of the other children were Anglo Saxon. Prior to the move I had always maintained good grades but once transferring to this school it was established by my teachers that my English language skills were quite poor. I was placed in the lowest reading level program and my grades were failing. This was the catalyst for the hurtful remarks made by my fellow students.
This relentless teasing resulted in alienation. I spent recess alone in the school yard and sat in solitude on the school bus. No one wanted to be caught dead with me. It was a lonely and painful time. The school week began with students volunteering to go in front of class to recount any interesting events that transpired during their weekend. I will never forget my fellow classmate, Patrick who told the story of his new neighbours, whom his father referred to as dirty wops that farmed pigeons and cute little rabbits only to slaughter them for food. The entire class gasped in disgust and my teacher, Mr. Allen, sternly told him to sit down while giving me a sympathetic glance. Tears welled in my eyes as the humiliation for one so young was too much to bear. That day will be etched in my memory forever.

As time passed I continued to feel the alienation. I would throw away the prosciutto and friulano cheese lunches that my mother had prepared for me, so as to avoid the teasing. As a result I would go the entire day having only eaten the fruit from my lunchbox. I was not only ridiculed for my ethnic food but also for my attire. I pleaded with my mother to buy me jeans so I could wear them to school instead of the flamboyant Italian designs she was accustomed to dressing me in. She turned down my request point blank. I would feign sickness regularly so I wouldn’t have to go to school, dipping the thermometer in hot milk. Fridays were my favourite day of the week because I knew that for two short days I would be relieved of the daily social pressures I felt. Sunday nights I would lie in bed and cry from sheer anxiety, wondering if anyone would sit beside me on the bus the next morning. I would arrive home after school in tears, telling my mother that I had not one single friend and that I wanted to move back to the city. In my second last year of elementary school I decided to write a speech pertaining to my ethnicity for the annual Public Speaking contest. I spoke proudly about being raised in the Italian culture and the contributions made by Italians on a global scale. I became a finalist and because of this I had regained some sort of self-esteem. I started to make friendships and was finally being accepted by my fellow students.

Banting Prom 1988

My Big Fat Italian Wedding! 1999

The Italianista in Cuba 1978
In 2000 my husband was asked to host an event presented by his company Z103.5FM at my old high school, Banting Memorial in Alliston. He was adamant that I join him. I had not been to Alliston since my Commencement in 1989. As I walked the hallways of the school I felt the anxieties, insecurities and the hurt flooding back and contaminating my spirit. The effects were still apparent.

I think of Lady Gaga and what an inspiration she could have been to me if she had existed back then. I admire her self-confidence and the belief she has in her creativity and abilities. I think of the profound messages she delivers to her young audience. Her legacy is to honour and embrace individuality and not be ashamed of one’s background, appearance or sexual preference. With the passing of time I have developed my confidence and sense of self, participating in the Italian community as a board member of the Italian Heritage Month of Ontario and writing for an Italian-Canadian publication.

I somewhat fit the stereotype of my heritage. I eat rabbit stewed in a chopped olive sauce and my drink of choice is San Pellegrino with a twist of lemon. I am shamelessly expressive, loud and passionate. I am curvaceous and I talk with my hands. I am dramatic. I am Italian.
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