Saturday, March 24, 2012

At the Beginning of My Mother's Journey

The artist Alberto Chiarandini
Another rocky night of sleep. Cannot get settled at night. I am unused to sleeping alone and a little uneasy in new locations. I am slow to rouse and quite sore. A freezing cold morning - not a good morning to walk to Pier 21 in this light spring coat! However, I must get some form of exercise as we sit all day in these sessions ...

Olga Pugliese presented a visual collage of the Italo-Canadian artist Alberto Chiarandini - someone I had not known of. An interesting man. That's a really rewarding aspect of these conferences, fellow members are always bringing to light forgotten artists and historical episodes in our history.

The second presentation is a fascinating profile of a group of Italian immigrants who settled in Dominion, Cape Breton, arriving in the 1920s and 1930s to work in the coal mines. Prof. Giulia De Gasperi theorizes that consuming food from one's past repairs a sense of fractured cultural identity. The Cape Bretoners have adapted Italian cuisine to the local diet for some interesting combinations - mostly involving potatoes! Giulia brought along a Cape Breton author named Sheldon Currie. He wrote The Glace Bay Miners' Museum, the book that the film Margaret's Museum was based on and he also studied Italian with Giulia.

Marisa de Franchesi presented a film on the Fogolar Furlan club in Windsor - its origins and its continuing success in the Italian community. I can't help but contrast this with the flagging fortunes of the Trinacria Club in Hamilton (a club co-founded by my father in 1956) that you can read about here. A moment in its history was captured in the documentary Saturnia by the filmmakers Ferdinando Dell'Omo and Lilia Topouzova that will be shown next month on OMNI-TV. The key to the success of the Windsor club, I realized with a sudden flash, was the concerted effort to include women and children in the activities of the club. The Trinacria Club failed to do so and has become literally, I feel, a dying institution.

The theme turns to a darker period during a panel discussion lead by Jim Zucchero (a new friend!) about the internment of Italians during WWII here in Canada. It is a little known chapter in our history but why does it matter seventy years later? The laws that made it possible to intern Italians during the war still exist on the books today. Some specific examples: the herding of aboriginal people into reservations in Canada and the U.S.; suspected Taliban members still detained today in Guantanamo; and, lastly and most recently, the rounding up of activists/protesters during the G20 protests.

At lunch I wander outside of the meeting room in which we meet where there is a long glass-walled vista of the waters of Halifax. You can imagine the ships coming in and what the new immigrants saw as they approached the harbour. It is strange to be here at the beginning of my mother's journey ... I can't imagine that girl, at seventeen, a little older than my daughter, making that trip with her two siblings to make her way in a strange country. That generation had guts, fortitude. I wish I had a tenth of what they had. It made my mother hard at times as a person, I think, but it was also her salvation. It helped her keep things together (family, business, sanity) when things fell apart after my father died.

The next session is a doc profiling three women from three different generations, all admirable and talented I must say; however, as soon as I hear one of the subjects start with the usual political jargon after the film: "dominant narrative", "patriarchy", "gender", "androgyny", blah blah blah ... I am turned off. She seems alienated (the filmmaker also seems to share her perspective and anger) and they offer a point of view not often heard in the community, fair enough; however, the language is so predictable and so programmed in leftist feminist ideology that it loses all its emotion for me and hence my sympathy somewhat.

We have a two hour break ... lord, I am tired and sore from the picnic table incident yesterday. I go back to rest at the hotel until 5. I need a pharmacy, some Nyquil and some Advil please! I pass through the Farmers Market at Pier 21 - tempting but I know there will be a reception this evening and treats through the sessions.

One more session and then a book launch organized by the AICW in collaboration with Guernica Editions. This last session is much lighter in tone and includes Joseph Pivato and Joseph Ranallo - the topic is musica leggera and its relation to immigrant nostalgia.

The boat he came on ...
During a coughing fit I leave and do a brief tour of Pier 21 again and realize that my father also must have passed through here when he disembarked from the Saturnia ship in 1956. I am reminded when I see that there is a picture of the Saturnia among the 100 or so ships that passed through the port. This would have been a perfect venue to preview the film - how foolish of me not to think of it and suggest it to the filmmakers.

I return to the meeting room in time to hear a sing along lead by Joseph Ranallo. Both Josephs had arrived in Canada and passed through Pier 21. Ranallo had an interesting point that although there were sharp divisions on the ships and the passengers could be quite strict in maintaining their distance from the "lower classes" on board, when they landed all Italians became equal, falling to the lowest rung of the social strata as immigrants.

At the book launch for Beyond Barbed Wire, there are some affecting readings about a little known topic: the internment of Italians during WWII - some 6,000 men and women were detained basically for the crime of being born in Italy regardless of their politics. Lovely wine and cheese reception afterwards. Some friends were going out after the launch but not for this bad girl. It's been a long yet enjoyable day and I am anxious to go "home" to my hotel room and get a good rest before the AGM in the morning. Buon notte caru! Missing my loved ones right now ...

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