2009 was a pretty horrible year for me. In the course of one weekend I managed to lose my entire family. One was through death, and the others were through a reason I won’t get into, but it was beyond my control and completely blindsided me. To then be only 26 and have no family, no identity… it shocked me to the core. To this day I don’t think I have fully recovered from it, as the loss seems to become magnified on special days like birthdays and holidays, but there is one thing that has been able to help: Assassin’s Creed.
I know some of you are probably thinking why that video game in particular, or why a video game at all, but it’s actually pretty simple: Assassin’s Creed, specifically II and Brotherhood, make me feel at home. While later generations of my family became mixed with ethnicities like English, Irish, German, and Scottish, the core culture for the family remained Italian. Sicilian to be specific. Decades ago my Great-Great Grandfather, along with his parents and siblings, departed from a small province of Palermo, known as Sant’ Elia, in Sicily and embarked on a rather long trip to San Francisco, CA. He was a child at the time, but it was in San Francisco where he’d meet his future wife, my Nonni Rosa. Her parents were also from the same province, but had immigrated over at different times: one in 1889 and the other in 1891.
I don’t know exactly when Nonni and Nonno moved down to Fresno, CA but when they did they set up in the southern part where a huge Italian community thrived and opened up a rather successful fish market. Eventually they moved to another part of town, in which the house still remains in the family today, but still retained their roots. Unfortunately I never got to meet my Great-Great Grandparents as they died in the 1970’s and I was born in 1982 but I grew up hearing countless stories about them. I’d hear how Nonni never cursed but instead she would bite down on her index finger, where the main knuckle is, when frustrated. I’d hear how Nonno loved to barbecue, and their food lived on through their four children: Angela, Angelo, Anthony, and Josephine.
Three out of the four siblings have passed on but the last one, my Great-Grandmother Angela, has succumbed to dementia so that history and legacy is gone. What I do have are memories like when my Uncle Angelo would watch The Godfather he would translate because the dialect used in the movie was the same from where my family came from, or when he got older he would speak to us in fluent Sicilian, and then there was his delicious Cioppino recipe (which I am proud to say I have, written in his handwriting).
Since I was raised around all of that, I find comfort when walking around in virtual Italy and hearing the same language, seeing the same mannerisms, and living the culture. Sure, I’m not 100% but that was what I grew up with and is what I identify with the most. Whenever I hear somebody say “stronzo” (which translates into asshole in English) I can’t help but giggle. I know it might be a bit strange to you since most would find it to be an offensive term, but for us it was one used jokingly. Hell, I even call our cat stronzo when she’s being a pain in my ass.
When I lost my family, the greatest blow to me was the loss of the personal connection to my culture, and the impact it had on my identity as a person. Everything I had to directly relate to and identify with was gone. Unlike everybody else who still have families, I won’t get to participate in the holidays like I had as a child, I won’t be able to look forward to going over to my Nana’s house and seeing her in the kitchen slaving away at meal that is sure to be out of this world, and when I will think about the traditions I’ll want to pass down to any future children I have there might not be anything.
Yes, it’s heartbreaking, and yes I might have some tears welling up in my eyes as I type this, but at least I know that whenever I want to, I can turn on my 360, load my game, and be right at home. And you know what the best part of that is? Nobody can ever take that away from me.
Authors Note: I’d like to wholeheartedly thank the entire team at Ubisoft who have worked on the Assassin’s Creed series. Without these games, I really don’t know how I would’ve been able to feel not as alone and the comfort they have given is irreplaceable. So, thank you for unkowingly giving me back pieces of my culture and childhood that I feared were lost forever. Words will never be able to express just how much I truly appreciate it.