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Canada 150

 


      Embracing “Me I”

       
      By
      Jan. 20, 2014

      Betty Del Re and Federico De Zotti were high school friends. And like many high school friends, they lost touch only to reconnect many years later on Facebook. Now, for most, the friendly banter remains exclusively in the social media realm. Except in this case De Zotti happened to need an Italian-language cookbook. And Del Re happened to own and run a bookstore in Montreal’s suburb of St-Leonard that carries such books.

      And so it happened that one day Federico De Zotti dropped by Betty Del Re’s Librairie Pages & Co. in search of that cookbook. As the friends updated each other on all things life and career, the pair soon realized that they had both been mulling over a similar project idea. And, that they were both a tad bit nervous to pursue it.

      The idea was simple enough. Create a line of merchandize featuring slogans that celebrated their upbringing as children of Italian immigrants.

      Five years earlier, Del Re purchased a box of t-shirts. But not quite sure how to move forward, she placed the box in the back of the closet and focused instead on starting up her bookstore. De Zotti had a similar box in the back of his closet; some plain baseball caps he purchased during a trip to Florida.

      This chance encounter would change everything. Me I Productions officially launched in April of last year with two t-shirt designs, one featuring the “arrono” slogan, and the other sporting “beh-ya” in bold lettering.

      The Italianized English phrases may seem foreign to some, but for many Italian Montrealers, they are part of everyday jargon.

      “The grammatical error, that is the twist. You come from an Italian parent who sends you to English or French school. You come home to Italian speaking parents. And somehow these errors became a part of us,” De Zotti explains.

      “The ‘me, I’ is really a St-Leonard slang. I think it comes from the Fench ‘moi, je’ slang. Just like ‘beh-ya’ comes from ‘ben oui.’ That’s my theory,” Del Re muses.

      “We call it ‘word mastication.’ The art of Italianizing an English word,” De Zotti continues.

      “Do you know how many people look at our ‘arrono’ t-shirts and say ‘Arrono what it says.’ To which we respond, actually, you just said it,” Del Re adds.

      “At our kiosk last summer I overheard two friends talk. Dude, that’s how you talk, one said. Me, I don’t talk like that,” De Zotti fondly recalls.

      To alleviate any confusion, the t-shirts also feature the phonetic spelling of each term.

      Today, the company’s inventory includes six t-shirts and one baby bib. There are plans for more slogan t-shirts and merchandize. And there’s even talk of a book. The merchandize is available online at www.mei-productions.com and at Librairie Pages & Co. in St-Leonard. The Me I Productions kiosk has also been popping up at some local community and cultural events to much fanfare.

      “What we really wanted to do is to remember our roots, what our parents went through to get us where we are today,” De Zotti explains.

      “We’re not doing this to insult our parents’ generation. It’s to honor them. We are who we are today because of them, wooden spoon and all. I have three kids of my own and I realized that they are all extremely proud of their roots. And they are second generation Italians,” Del Re adds.

      “We didn’t come out too shabby, two kids from the east end. We managed to make something of ourselves and we never forgot where we came from,” she continues.

      “There are two types of people in this world… Italians and wannabe Italians. Look at all the cooking shows out there, the clothes, the cars. That’s my motto,” De Zotti explains.

      “It’s okay if Betty doesn’t want to be associated with this comment,” he muses.

      “You know, in high school we weren’t even in the same social circles,” Del Re recalls.

      “It’s amazing that an Italian cookbook made this all happen,” De Zotti adds.

      To learn more about Me I Productions, please visit www.mei-productions.com.

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