When I was growing up my father often spoke of Amadeo Giannini and his “Bank of the People” as if he were telling the tale of a great mythological figure.
“Never forget,” he would say, “when workingmen couldn’t get loans from anyone, when they were down and out and needed a helping hand, it was one of your people, an Italian, who helped them by starting the Bank of Italy.”
My father’s version was a bit of a stretch compared with reality, but I could almost see the Italian flag waving in the background when he, a first generation Italian, said those revered words, “The Bank of Italy.”
When I had my first job, although it had undergone many iterations by then, I opened my first checking account with the Bank of Italy. I am now 73 years old and I still bank with them—and, I still have the perks from years ago—no charges for my checking account
That’s a lot of money over the years.
Whenever I call up the bank they thank me for being a “valued customer.” I almost laugh, because I know that someone whose only asset is the regular deposit of a Social Security check is not exactly a valued customer, but I like hearing it. It makes me feel special.
Besides, I like living with a mythological figure from real life as opposed to those in fiction.
After all, if a plain ‘ole Italian immigrant, like Giannini—a real life guy who ate pasta and drank wine and whose picture we can look up on Wikipedia—could do something big, something to be remembered for, then, so can I.
Over the years, I have realized that when my father was pointing out Giannini to me—he was doing more than simply pointing out a good guy who opened a bank—he was also saying that helping others, reaching down and giving someone a hand up, was something important enough that you would be remembered for it.
I do what I can to keep Giannini’s memory alive—when I think about it though, I’m probably doing it more to keep my father’s memory alive—but I do it anyway.
When I go into my bank branch, I make it a point to ask the teller if she knows who founded the bank.
“It was an Italian immigrant,” I say. “He opened the bank to help other immigrants who couldn’t get loans anywhere else.”
When I say this I’m not only sharing my father’s myth about Giannini, but I am also sharing my own values by letting the teller in on the fact that I think it’s a good thing to help immigrants. And I’m able to say all of this, about immigrants, without getting political about it.
The tellers say, “Really?” Or, “I didn’t know that.” And I tell them it’s too bad they didn’t know it. The bank should tell them about it when they get hired.
“It makes the bank more human,” I say.
Nobody laughs at me.
Whenever I hear Giannini’s name, I feel like I am hearing the name of an old friend.
“He’s my friend,” I want to say. He’s somebody my father talked to me about and he’s somebody who did good things for people and I feel like, of course, his bank would want to finance my house or give me a credit card or even a personal line of credit.
My husband, the CPA, isn’t so sure though and usually says something about how my father’s story really is a myth because Giannini wasn’t so much a good guy as he was a good businessman who recognized a market when he saw it.
But hey, I don’t let that stop me from hanging onto my myth. My husband’s not Italian. He doesn’t understand how important myths are.
They are the stories of our lives. They help us to live on a grander scale. The make us think we can get loans from the bank any time we want.
I’m glad my dad gave me the mythological Giannini for me to carry around. I love his story about the “Bank of the People.” But I’m Italian. I like an embroidered life with opera in it.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock