If I weren’t Serbian, I’d be Greek. But if I weren’t Greek, I’d be Italian. (I want to stick with my fellow swarthy southern Europeans!) And Louis Prima is one of the main reasons why.
I have always felt a connection with Italians. My mother grew up in an Italian neighborhood, and often got mistaken for Italian. People used to tell her she looked like Sophia Loren! And I am often mistaken for Italian as well, even though I think I look like a typical Slav. Lots of people in my family married Italians, and it just seems like such a natural pairing. Serbs and Italians love food, family, and fighting—we’re very passionate people, we can be ridiculously stubborn, but when we love we love with everything we have.
We had to take a language in college, so I took Italian. I loved Italian food, Italian opera, and Italian men, so why not? I even entered an essay contest where we had to write about an Italian-American book. I picked Maria Laurino’s Were You Always an Italian? I focused on stereotypes and how they are at once comforting and stifling. And I won the contest! (You can read my essay here.)
Whenever I listen to Louis Prima or Dean Martin or Jerry Vale, (if you’re Italian, your grandparents have all their records and I’m sure your parents were forced to listen to them!), I think of my affinity for what we perceive as Italian-American culture. In a way, I think maybe I have always been envious that there is a perceived Italian-American culture, because there is no widespread stereotype about Serbian-Americans! Some people know who we are, but most of the time they don’t. The ones who do tend to think of us as a lot of fun and really hard workers who take no shit—and that is all true.
And there are no Serbian-American singers like Louis Prima. Our cuisine is not as integrated into American culture. Have you ever had ćevapče? How about sarma? Palačinke ring a bell? Oh well. I guess it’s good that we can pretty much keep our culture to ourselves and the lucky non-Serbs who know and love us.
“Angelina/Zooma Zooma” is a typical old school Italian-American song. It combines English, Italian, and bastardized Italian words in such a delicious and irresistible way! And it’s about the narrator’s love for Angelina, a waitress at the pizzeria—how Eye-talian is that?
The “Angelina” part flows into a real goomba-fest with “Zooma Zooma,” a song many of us first heard in the wedding scene in The Godfather. Someday, I will learn all the words. But I’ll keep singing the words I do know, and I’ll shout out the phonetic ones just as loudly.
Louis Prima will make you happy. He will make you feel Italian. Dig it.