As I mentioned before, I recently returned from a vacation to Italy, my third trip to the country. I thought I would take the time to discuss how powerful it is for me to be in Italy.

I’m Caucasian. It’s the box I check off in any of those forms we all fill out. Yet truly, I’m European, mostly Italian to be specific, stemming to my great grandparents. My mother’s maiden name is Valerio…that speaks for itself. My last name is Janus, the Roman God of past and present. I grew up in a very small Italian town in southern Illinois. We had, and still do have, a yearly celebration, Italian American Days. I even remember as a young child making homemade pasta once a year with my family.

Yet, I never really identified with being Italian. After all, in the beautiful melting pot that is the US, I am Caucasian. I am indistinguishable from any other white girl. But the hazard of our melting pot is that we often lose touch with our heritage, our identity. I learned this lesson in Italy.

When I touch down in Italy, I fit in. It’s quite surreal actually. My hair and eye color, skin complexion, bone structure and yes, the nose…peeps look like me. They look like me! How strange is that! On an earlier trip, the minute I crossed the border from France to Italy, at the train station, people started asking me questions and talking with me…in Italian. One elderly Italian lady, who spoke no English, even chastised me when I responded Non Capisco to her advances in Italian and she went on to teach me various Italian phrases in the hour or so as we waited for the next train. On my most recent visit, it was the prime time for school trips to the various tourist sites. Amazing to see not a blonde in the bunch.

I love the diversity that is part of the US identity. I love being exposed to different cultures, customs, languages, religions and food. At the same time, I encourage you to explore your immigrant origins. Whether your family immigrated one generation ago or five, you have a heritage and it’s part of who you are. After all, we’re all immigrants.