77 years ago this week my Grandmother and her family arrived in the US from Italy.
After generations of life in a coastal town in eastern Sicily, her parents made the brave and difficult decision to move to a country rumored to offer a better life. As Mussolini began tightening his grip on Italy, his soldiers burned Bibles as my Grandma and her classmates looked on in horror. Her parents determined to move to America as they were fearful and concerned about the future of their children. They left family, homeland, security and everything familiar. Before Skype and commercial airlines, they boarded a boat clutching one-way tickets.
When my Grandma arrived, she was 11 years old. She didn’t speak English, but quickly learned. As immigrants, her family settled in New York City and quickly adjusted to life as Italian immigrants. After graduating from college, my Grandma returned to Italy and married an Italian man. They moved back to New York and raised their daughters speaking Italian, drinking wine, eating pasta and having loud dinner conversations. (Sounds familiar…)
What is amazing me about this story is the bravery. I can’t imagine what it would be like to leave home and know I might never return. To get off of a boat after weeks of travel and hope my documents were in order. To look for an apartment and go shopping knowing only rudimentary English, with no Rosetta Stone or ESL classes.
I’ve been to Italy, including Sicily. It is a beautiful and diverse country with loud, welcoming people, delicious and fresh food, and breathtaking Cathedrals, Piazza’s, art, scenery, volcanoes and villages. My impressions of Italy and experiences will have to be another post. Suffice to say, it’s an amazing place and I would have shed many tears to expatriate. Here’s to my Great-Grandparents and their brave and adventurous endeavor!