Diversity wasn’t cool in the small town where I grew up. In fact, it was frowned upon. In the late 1960s, Ridgefield Park, NJ, was comprised almost exclusively of Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans. So, if one’s surname wasn’t Murtaugh, Monihan, Gandolfo or Gadaleta, one was considered an outsider. It was no accident that the words image, Italian and Irish all begin with the same letter. They were intrinsically linked in my old hometown.
As a Cody, I was assumed to be Irish. So, I was considered ‘OK.’ But, that was only half true. My mom’s family hailed from County Clare, Ireland. But, my dad had told us his side of the family was Greek. And, since it was neither Irish nor Italian, Greek was not a good thing to be in the Ridgefield Park of the late 1960s. So, I obfuscated. I laid low. I nodded my head when peers would say, ‘Cody’s ok. He’s Irish like us.’
And, then, the times changed and I forgot all about the whole Greek thing. That was, up until about 10 years ago when my mom put on a Deerstalker hat and decided to do some family sleuthing. She went to her local library, delved into my dad’s murky family history and broke the news that we weren’t Greek after all. As best as she could tell, my mom believed my dad’s family was either Polish or Russian. As the prototypical Archie Bunker-type, my dad wasn’t thrilled with the Polish angle and opted, instead, to begin tell friends and family alike he was Russian. I enjoyed the slowly unfolding drama and, as America became more diverse, so, too, did my ancestral roots. I’d tell anyone who would listen that I was 50 percent Irish and 50 percent goulash. And, that’s the way things stayed until last week when my cousin, Lynn, went to one of those ancestry sites and, lo and behold, hit family pay dirt.
It turns out that my grandfather was born in Galipoli, Turkey (btw, there’s a great Mel Gibson movie by the same name) and my grandmother hails from the oft-contested Galicia region of Austria. So, deep into middle life, I’ve finally discovered my roots: I’m 50 percent Irish, 25 percent Austrian and 25 percent Turkish. And, I am so embracing my newfound personal diversity.
All that said, my gut tells me I still would have been tarred and feathered in my old home town if I’d started boasting about either Viennese sausage or Turkish coffee. Those Murtaugh kids were one tough bunch.