Vincent Panella


The Other Side:

Growing up Italian in America

Memoir, 1979

The Other Side
 is a sensitive, candid portrait of an immigrant culture from a third-generation perspective. Vincent Panella portrays his family in Italian villages and American neighborhoods, and what emerges is an critical but loving view of the Italian-American experience: its cloying love, intense frugality, obsession with security, and its strong sense of family cohesion. He writes of his boyhood in Queens, New York, his father’s efforts to shape his life, and the fact that “to be a member of an Italian family is never to be simply yourself.

The Other Side is also Vincent Panella’s personal journey, from rejection of his family to a realization that he cannot escape or deny his origins. The final recognition emerges after an extended visit to Italy, where he comes to know those in his family who remained behind. Thus Vincent Panella has written a book of journeys: a family’s journey from southern Italy to Hell’s Kitchen and the New York suburbs, a young man’s journey to a sense of identity. The story is given an added dimension by the author’s wife, Susan Sichel: Through her own photographs, and through her selection of photographs from family albums, Ms. Sichel further evokes the life and times of three generations of an immigrant family.

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Praise for The other Side

A memoir subtitled Growing Up Italian in America, The Other Side, with photographs by Susan Sichel, is a portrait of three generations of an immigrant family written from the perspective of one who bridged the two opposing cultures, worldly American and traditional Italian. This is a book of journeys: a family’s journey from southern Italy to Hell’s Kitchen and the New York suburbs and a young man’s journey to a sense of identity.

…A colorful, bittersweet memoir, a sensitive rendering of immigrant culture as found in one man’s family.
– Publishers Weekly


…Vincent Panella’s sad, harsh, but loving remembrance of his Italian immigrant family….is a personal journey. Like so many other third and fourth generation immigrant Americans, Panella knows his heritage only vaguely through Americanized clichés. He comes to understand himself, finally, by digging up the family roots.
– The Trenton Times


Central to Panella’s search for identity and self-knowledge is the haunting question of what cultural loss was accrued by these new Americans when they began to forsake their ties with “The Other Side,” Italy, the life-world of Naples and Sicily, for the streets of Manhattan, “paved with guns and gold.” For overshadowing Panella’s past is not only the gunman, the gangster with the violin case, but a people whose values were geared to “making it,” making it in the material American sense, making it with money alone.
– A. J. Montesi, St. Louis Globe-Democrat


Connections – As a boy I held my ears when my grandmother sang to me in Sicilian Dialect. I was relieved that my non-Italian friends seemed indifferent to my grandparents’ broken English.  And although I could ascribe my family’s habits and attitudes to being Italian, it would be many years until I understood what this meant.  Later in life, when I sought self-understanding, I found in myself the best and worst of my family’s values. I felt like Gulliver, waking up with the dawn and seeing the ropes which bound him.

I never knew they were country people.  I’d never seen their tiny towns in southern Italy, beautiful, poor, serene, but for some, miserable.  My family looked upon its origins with mixed emotions: bitterness, nostalgia, and a sense of lost values.  Only my Sicilian Grandfather seemed resolved about the change in his life. He spoke about his old home without remorse.  He had escaped that poverty and isolation.  He was having the last laugh. 

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