Find Diana Bucco’s displays at: Point Park University, 322 Boulevard of the Allies; and Duquesne University.
“My 10th grade coach said, “Kid, I’m starting you,” which was unheard of. I’d never played formal ball, just street ball, and I was showing up in a community where folks had tremendous opportunities their entire lives. Here he was starting me.”
I am the daughter of immigrants from Italy. My mother was one of 15. Nine survived, six died, two from poverty. Both my mother and father remember vividly World War II as children. We grew up in Beechview. We had a very rich life, although we didn’t have a lot of wealth.
There were amazing people every step of the way who helped me, because growing in an immigrant household, you were confused all the time. The roles in your home were different than the roles in the environment around you. They were figuring it out as you were, so there was nobody to help you navigate what was going on. Yet, there was this very rich community fabric that kept you going.
One woman was my softball coach, which by the way took me five years to convince my parents to let me play, because girls didn’t play ball! I remember Mrs. Saylak with that cigarette hanging from her lip, hitting that ball to us and thinking she was the coolest woman in the world. There were amazing women in my life who, in moments of doubt, somehow intuitively helped me get over the hump.
There was a family core. It wasn’t just mom, dad, and children, but relatives who all kept an eye out for you. It was an expectation that you would aspire to be somebody better than you are today. There was a neighborhood core, where you didn’t walk down the streets where there wasn’t somebody who was looking out for you. I remember walking into Dunn’s Den bar in Beechview, because they had a cool jukebox. By the time I got to my house, my mom was in the yard waiting because somebody called to tell her that I had walked into that bar. How did that happen? That was the community that we lived in.
My parent’s American dream was that their children would go to school in Mt. Lebanon. When I was in eighth grade, we transitioned from Beechview to Mt. Lebanon. For me, that divide was as wide as going from New York to the farm. I was a hardcore city girl.
My 10th grade basketball coach, Mr. Ashburner, said, “Kid, I’m starting you,” which was unheard of. I had never played formal ball. Just street ball. I was showing up in a community where folks had tremendous opportunities their entire lives. Here he was, starting me. He pushed me harder than anybody I had ever known. I remember the day he told me that and said, “I’m going to start you.” He said, “Now, you got to go get your physical,” because I hadn’t yet. I left, and no sooner had I left, that he died on the court.
We lost Mr. Ashburner. I never started that game. He saw something in me that demanded that I aspire to harder, higher levels. I wonder if where I’ve gotten to is where he would have wanted me to be. I think about how great it was growing up where you had a very strong social fabric anchored not in wealth, but in people.