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.