Author Marianne Leone

Credit: Beacon Press

Sometimes You Have To Grow Up Before You Can Understand Your Parents

May 4, 2017

If you ever have trouble understanding your parents, author and actress Marianne Leone has some advice: wait until you grow up.

That's what she learned from writing her memoir, "Ma Speaks Up And A First-Generation Daughter Talks Back." It's about her relationship with her mom, who immigrated to the United States from Italy when she was 18. In the process, Leone learned more about her mother and herself, and by extension, how our nation’s attitudes about immigrants have and have not changed.

Highlights from the interview include:

On how she had to become an adult before she could understand her mother

"It's the old 'your children will make you suffer the way you make me suffer,' when that really kicks in. You actually start to understand, maybe a little bit. The culture was so strong, I wanted her to be an American. I was ashamed of her accent, quite frankly.

"She was more giving than I was. I grew up in the Lake, which is Nonantum. It's an area where everybody is from the same tiny medieval village in Italy, and you're either Irish or Italian with a few French Canadians thrown in.

"Right next door to our house was this Italian lady who and lived there for 40 years. Her kids grew up, her husband died, and she moved into assisted living. She sold her house and a family of three generations of Pakistani Muslims moved in. My mother's reaction was: 'Oh good, there's a little girl the same age as my granddaughter.' And also the young boy was her age when she came over. She said, 'I know what it's like to feel different in another country.'"

On wanting to "Americanize" her mother

"It was like living with a crazed opera singer. I wanted the mothers on the sitcoms I saw. I wanted her to wear shirtwaists and be calm and speak in a melodious voice."

On when her mother met her in-laws for the first time

"Nobody met at the wedding because we eloped ... two years later, they've never met, and they're like exact opposites. [Chris Cooper, her husband] actually grew up going to a church called 'Country Club Christian Church.' You can't make that up. I can't use that in a book, it's so insane ...

"The first thing I did was I took my mother and said, 'don't say the F-word to the Coopers,' and she shrugged me off angrily. She cooked this magnificent dinner. She met the mother, Chris' mother was this tall blonde gorgeous woman, and my mother was like a serf kneeling at her feet saying, 'oh, you're so beautiful!'...

"The whole dinner went great, and then I was out making the coffee and I suddenly heard the Anna Magnani level: 'No! No!' My mother got into this deep argument with Chris' lovely father about euthanasia. 'When I want to die, I die!' ... So she won. But she didn't say the F-word."

Click the audio player above to hear the full interview above. This transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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