"Sardinia is a part of Italy."
"A part from Italy. An Island away from Italy. Being Sardinian is different from being Italian and definitely different from being Sicilian. My parents didn't approve and didn't get along with her. When I took her there for a visit, she hated it and my father told my mother that our relationship would never work. Tembi, this isn't important." He had gone too far into a conversation that should never have happened on the phone with an ocean between us. "I really need to go, really."
"Okay, so that was then. What does that have to do with you telling them you are moving here?" I knew what it meant, but I wanted him to say it.
"They will think they have failed me as parents. I'm abandoning them, not marrying an Italian or a Sicillian. But I love you. That's all that matters. And right now, I need to swing by Acqua al 2 before I leave."
As soon as her divorce was complete, my mother had been more than happy to hop onto a plane and come visit. It was Christmas break, and I had never spent Christmas away from home. As much as I loved Florence, I hadn’t yet started dating Saro, and I was terribly homesick.
As she and I sipped cappuccinos and sampled pastries in a café across from the Boboli Gardens, out of nowhere she began a quiet but very determined inquiry into why I was studying in Italy at all. To her way of thinking, I was a child of activists, people who had instilled in me a sense of cultural pride and political awareness. I had been raised to sympathize with the challenges facing people of color across the African diaspora. Why, then, had I come to Italy, the heart of European culture, to study abroad? Why was I not in Kenya, like the daughter of a friend Mary from her former movement days?
...And why in God’s name was I continuing to hook up with “white boys”? She wanted something more from me. And she took her time telling me so as we sat eating and drinking.
“But, Mom, I’m an art history major. My graduation requirement includes being proficient in either French, German, Italian. Studying in Kenya—”
She jumped in before I could continue. “It’s about the bigger-picture life choices you are making. By being here you are virtually excluding yourself from the possibility of being with someone who is nonwhite.” Her Afrocentrism came with conditions, and at that moment those conditions included black first, second, and always.