January 28, 2011


So You Want To Be Italian?

We came upon this statue as we wandered around Calitri (the birthplace of my grandparents) during our very brief visit there a few years back. It was built in honor of those from this small hilltop town in the Avellino province of Campania who left their hometown in search of a better life. Many of them were sent off on their own, without their parents, to join relatives that were already in the United States. I think my grandmother was fourteen years old when she left. Can you imagine putting a fourteen year old on a ship to a place you’ve never been and not knowing when or if you’d ever see her again? My grandfather was a few years older and went to join a brother who was living outside of New York City. My grandmother returned to Italy once, almost forty years later. I’m not sure my grandfather ever went back.

Although they kept Italian traditions alive, socialized with the other Calitrani relatives and friends in the area, they raised their children to be American and to speak English. When I question my mother about my grandparents lives before coming to the US, it seems like she really doesn’t know that much. My mother and aunt were both great cooks, but neither of them knew how to make a lot of my grandmother’s specialties. The food they cooked was more “American” than Italian. My mother and her siblings have never visited the place where their parents were born.

Enter the next generation-the grandchildren. If you follow this blog, you know I am fascinated by all things Italian. I cook Italian, have been learning the language and devour all sorts of information about this fascinating country. I hope to have the opportunity some day to spend a year there. There are a lot of us from the “second generation” who want to make a connection with the country of our ancestors, find those long lost relatives, and visit ancestral home towns. We want to know more about the lives left behind and yearn to be “Italian”. I wish I had taken the time to get to know my grandparents a little more, although now that I think about it, I’m not sure they would have told me much about their past.

10 thoughts on “So You Want To Be Italian?

  1. My grandfather was from Finland. He told me a few things about his early life, but not much. I wish I knew more.

  2. My fathers family lived in Malta .. and unfortunately we did not get to know them .. as my father was in the Royal Air Force .. and we travelled about and then my dad passed away very young .. and we never went back to Malta … My mothers side is Irish .. .. but oh the pull towards Malta or even Europe is huge ..

  3. Love the picture of the Statue and the stories you tell about your grandparents. Makes me want to go to Calitri tomorrow!

  4. Thank you for this post. That is an amazing image. My maternal grandparents are Calitrani and my wife and I will visit this year for the first time. Thank you.

  5. Hi Paninigirl thank you for sharing, my ancestors can be traced to 9 AD and yes they were the barbarians that took over a large part of italy and started what was known as the kingdom of italy.

    Somehow we ended up in South Africa it pains me to say I’m the only person passionate about italia I’m working on learning the language.

  6. Our stories are very similiar. My grandparents were from the Sorrento area. My grandfather went to sea at the age of 12 and immigrated at 26, a year after marrying my grandmother. You do know that you might be able to get Italian citizenship? I did and we are provided with healthcare which is why we live in Italy. We can live on very little money to a much higher standard than we could if we were still in the states.

    • Martha-I need to do more research into the citizenship. I’ve been led to believe that I’m not eligible because my mother was born after my grandfather had become a US citizen. I’ll be checking out your blog and seeing what you’re up to. Of course, I’m jealous!

      • That is true since your grandfather had become a US citizen. I could do it and some of my cousins could but some could not. Same thing, Pop-Pop had become a US citizen. Too bad. Having citizenship has given us lots of advantages including tah-dah…HEALTHCARE! Something that living in the US we were only able to get at a poverty inducing price. We are here for the long haul and absolutly love it. Lucca is one of my fav towns. Looks like you have good connections there.

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