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Apr 7, 2006

Growing Up Italian in Canada

My parents moved us from Italy to Canada when I was 6 yrs old. Adjusting to a new country, language, climate, & culture wasn't always easy. In fact, it was more than a little challenging. Over the years, I've come to understand that all those adjustments & transitions, had a profound impact on who I am today. Funny how time has a way of altering the lens by which we view our experiences!

Growing up, I was one of the few Italian kids in my neighbourhood. When my friends came over to my house, I was embarrassed by the fact we didn't eat the same way Canadians did. There were no frozen dinners, no hamburgers & fries, no deserts after meals, no sliced bread in a bag, no sliced (plastic) cheese in a wrapper, no macaroni from a box, no veggies from a can etc.

Rather, my stay-at-home mom, would bake fresh bread, make home cooked meals every day, & serve fruit after dinner. The only snack included in my school lunches was fruit. I think we were the only family in the suburb who had a vegetable garden.

It's horrid to recall how victimized I felt by being different in terms of what I ate as an Italian immigrant. Yet, it's interesting to note that my friends always flocked to eat at my home, where my Mom was always eager to feed my appreciative friends! Now I know that my friends envied me but at the time I hated being different. To this day, my long term friends, still obsess over my mother's cooking and can't wait for invitations to events such as birthdays, baptism, communions, holidays, and long weekends.

Another memory of growing up Italian in Canada is that from the age of 7 to 10, I was the family translator. What pre-teen do you know that gets dragged to appointments to translate and facilitate discussion between their father and his bank manager, accountant, lawyer, architect, city planning staff, contractors, bookkeeper, financial planner, and even the Parish Priest?

Growing up I thought it was exploitation on my father's part largely because it infringed on my play time and in a lesser way, because it took me away from school which really pissed of the Nuns (I was educated in a convent school). Today I understand that so many of my skills were developed and nurtured by my father's influence and the opportunity of accommodating a language barrier my father faced as an Italian immigrant trying to carry on business in a new land.

Another interesting point about growing up Italian was that my grandmother came to live with us two years after we moved to Canada. So I never had a grandma's home to visit on weekends or during special holidays as did my Canadians friends. And of my friends who had widowed grandparents, none of them had a grandparent that lived in the same dwelling - rather the good bulk of them lived in old-age homes or retirement facilities as they're now referred to.

My grandma was like a second mom to me. She helped fill the gap of whatever needs didn't get met by my mother. She's the one I would turn to for understanding & empathy and she was the one that would continually build my sense of self worth to offset the marginalization I experienced from others who resented differences. She was truly a wise woman who helped me to understand much about people and life in general. Now I appreciate and value that one of the best part of my heritage and culture is how we value and support our elders.

When my mother learned the language, she started a home-based business, making custom drapes for privileged women. As her business grew, she hired other immigrant women to help with the work load and share in the profits.

She never advertised and regardless, her business thrived because she produced a quality product, that was competitively priced, with low overhead. Without education, my mom used a common sense approach to growing her business. She encouraged other immigrant women who knew how to sew to come on board. By investing time, energy & resources to train her team of seamstresses, she created a win-win situation for all, including the happy clients who became repeat customers and referred her to others.

From my mom, I learned about empowering others, the value of hard work, and the importance of planning & evaluating every step of the way.

So although I never got to go take ballet or figure-skating lessons, I had an abundance of books and real life role models to guide my development. How rich is that?

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Posted: Friday April 7, 2006, 7:00 am
Tags: culture diversity empowerment transition marginalization growing-up role-models adjustment [add/edit tags]

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Maryalice M. (20)
Friday April 7, 2006, 8:53 am
That is a beautiful story. Today's immigrants in the USA demand things, even that we change our language to suit their needs; mother's too old to learn English, they cry, and sure the schools now must send notes home in two languages. My father often told stories about growing up Immigrant Italian in USA, too bad I didn't write them all down! Great story.

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Barbara Anello
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