Coming to America and leaving Italy was never my priority. It was an alternative, and I welcomed the chance for a new life. I looked forward to my American adventure, hoping to have more freedom, independence, and a better fortune, never expecting to come face to face with violence more often than none.
Violence was something I saw in black and white on TV. It was fake, a distraction, something intangible that could never happen to me. (2) It did. And I had to adjust to it. Fast.
I landed at Logan on April 5, 1966, and attended Boston English High School in the fall of 1966. After a traditional Thanksgiving football game played at Harvard Stadium in Cambridge between Boston English High School and Boston Latin. (3) I was leisurely walking toward the ‘T’ station at Harvard Square to make my way home to Dorchester and was suddenly taken aback by what I witnessed.
It shook me. A boy wearing a Boston Latin jacket was literally pounded with repeated punches by another boy not wearing any school sports jacket. I presumed the aggressor to be from my school, and the feeling of association did not make me proud. The victimized boy was on the ground with his arms up, doing his best not to get seriously hurt. Passersby saw it, ignored the incident, and kept walking toward the subway station. I was told that people did in America if they witnessed violence.
When I opened up to my trusted school classmates, they concurred: “Just walk away, don’t get involved. You might be the one getting hurt.” So that became my Survival Commandment # 1: Walk Away!
A few months later, after playing soccer with my teammates, members of the Boston International Soccer Club, at an indoor gymnasium, I took the train back to Uphams Corner in Dorchester and from there the bus to Bowdoin Street. It was dark, past nine pm, and once off the bus, I started walking toward Quincy Street, where I was to take a left to reach Bellevue Street. I was happy with my playing performance (I played with older and more experienced footballers), relaxed, and looked forward to watching shows on our small black and white TV before bed.
Just before turning the corner toward Quincy Street, two young men, one in his twenties and the other in his teens, suddenly stopped in my tracks from a dark doorway to my left. The older man pointed a gun at my abdomen and demanded, “Give me a quarter!!!” I stood still and, with my left hand, unafraid, slowly pulled a quarter from the little pocket sewn along my belt line. I passed the quarter along in the older man’s open hand without uttering a word. As I did, they both pulled aside to let me walk by. (4) That personalized reaction of mine became my Survival Commandment # 2: Meet the demands with calm!
About a year later, in 1967, I was joyfully walking toward the ‘T’ station at Fields Corner. It was a gorgeous breezy day. The bright warm light from the sun was enough to make me happy. I was a few feet away from the station when four boys just about my teen years who were walking in the opposite direction stopped short in front of me, blocking my direct passage forward. The tallest of the four, standing in the middle, looking straight in my eyes and about three feet away, burst with the words,” We don’t like the way your face look!”
I stood still, turned my face to the first boy on the left, repeated the same motion with the second, skipped looking at the boy who had pronounced those words, looked calmly at the boy who was standing on the right, and calmly took two parallel steps to the right and breezed straight ahead toward my destination. From the corner of my eyes, I noted that they watched me walk past them for a while, frozen on their steps and not knowing what to do next. That afternoon, my prompt reaction became my survival commandment # 3: Ignore the threat!
Speeding the clock forward to the early summer of 1994, my modus operandi toward violence avoidance did not change much. Standing on the sidelines of a soccer field in South Boston wearing my entire black United States Soccer Federation refereeing sweat suit. It was around two pm, and I was pretty content with myself for winning a state championship with my over 40 soccer team, Cambridge City, (5) that particular Sunday morning. Members of a local Soccer Team composed of immigrants from Ireland were setting up the soccer nets while many other young and older men were still playing a pick-up football game.
All was good until one of the older men approached me and queried, “What are you doing here? I nicely responded, “I am waiting for the soccer game to start!” The older man walked away in silence, but a minute later, a younger man approached me intimidatingly, “Why didn’t you answer my father when he asked you a question?” I did not have a chance to move my lips. The young man reached my left jaw with a violent punch with a quick gesture. (6) I stood still. Nothing in my body moved, not even my eyes. I looked around, and nobody had noticed the assault. Finally, the young man looked at me and, seeing that I had not reacted, walked to the other side of the field where his group was waiting for his return. They quickly got into their cars and left. My non-action that afternoon was a summation of my previous experiences, becoming Survival Commandment # 4: Wait patiently before you react! (7)
Coming to America was not my priority. Staying in America and avoiding violence is my choice. When I face violence, I react with peaceful means. That’s how I have survived in America.
(1) Reflection # 1:: Is avoidance of violence cowardice?
(2) I reacted to violence with violence in Italy when in 1959 when I was ten years old.
(3) On Thanksgiving Day of 1966, Boston English defeated Boston Latin
with the score of 20-18
(4) Reflection # 2: Why a quarter? Was it a real gun? Were they practicing
(5) In my mid forties, football, soccer in America, was my obsession and escape from reality.
I played, coached, and referred the sport
(6) The punch jolted my left jaw and I couldn’t chew food for about ten days
(7) Commandments # 5 through # 8 will be continued in a sequel:
Responding to Aggression with Violence