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|WHO'S WHO HERE?|| |
|MISTAKEN IDENTITY|| |
|by Evan Hunter|
I think it's very nice that because of the internet,
everyone in the entire universe knows that I was born
Salvatore Lombino. (I like to think I was born Unnamed
Baby, but that's another matter.) I think it's not very nice
that no one bothers to mention that I changed my name
legally to Evan Hunter in 1952, which means that I've
been Evan Hunter longer than most of my readers have
been on this earth. I can promise you that if you call me
Sal, even if you knew me when I was three years old, I
will not answer.
As a matter of fact, back then there were two Salvatore
Lombinos roaming the streets of New York. We were
both named after my grandfather on my father's side,
an immigrant from Sicily who got run over and killed by
a street car on First Avenue when my father was still a
child. My father hardly knew him. I never met him. I was
born on a blanket on our kitchen table on 120th Street
and First Avenue, in what was then New York's Italian
Harlem, a ghetto redolent and resonant of the streets of
Naples, from whence most of its residents had come.
My Aunt Jenny -- born and bred in America -- delivered
me. She was a midwife. My parents -- born and bred in
America-- named me Salvatore, in honor of my father's
scarcely remembered father. My father's brother chose
this name for his son as well. Two little Sals, both born
American, but nonetheless struggling to be considered
Rather than bore you with explanations of why I felt it
necessary in the American climate of the Fifties to
change my name by court order (I would do it all over
again in the American climate of the twenty-first
century,) I will merely quote from a book I wrote titled
KISS, published in 1992.
"So if we allow this trial to become a name calling
contest . . ."
"One minority group against another . . ."
"An Italian-American victim versus . . ."
"I find that word offensive, too," Carella said.
"You do?" Lowell said, surprised. "Why?"
"Because it is," Carella said.
He did not think that someone with a name like Lowell
would ever understand that Italian-American was a
valid label only when Carella's great-grandfather first
came to this country and acquired his citizenship, but
that it stopped being descriptive or even useful the
moment his grandparents were born here. That was
when it became American, period.
Nor would Lowell ever understand that when we
insisted upon calling fourth-generation, native-born
sons and daughters of long-ago immigrants
"Italian-Americans" or "Polish-Americans" or
"Spanish-.Americans" or "Irish-Americans" or worst of
all--"African-Americans," then we were stealing from
them their very American-ness, we were telling them
that if their forebears came from another nation, they
would never be true Americans here in this land of the
free and home of the brave, they would forever and
merely remain wops, polacks, spics, micks, or niggers.
"My father was American," Carella said.
And wondered why the hell he had to say it.
"Exactly my . . ."
"The man who killed him is American, too."
"That's how I'd like to keep it," Lowell said. "Exactly the
point I was trying to make."
But Carella still wondered.
If you're still wondering, ask and I'll try to explain