Fiercely Italian – Proudly Canadian

Vera Golini JPEG bwVera Golini has been a Professor of Italian Studies at St.Jerome’s College, University of Waterloo, since 1975. She holds a PhD. from the University of California, Berkeley

This is the first of a series of articles exploring Italian culture from various aspects

Fiercely Italian , Proudly Canadian
Vol 1 # 7 1992

The love relationship between Italy and Canada has very long and deep roots. Yet, it seems appropriate that in Cross Cultures we should turn our initial gaze not across the Atlantic to Italy directly, but rather to its immigrant children, who, for five centuries since the landing of John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto, c.1455-1498) on the shores of Labrador, have collaborated hand-in-hand with other cultures in shaping our Canadian heritage.

The areas of Canada most thickly inhabited by Italians were and are contained – as most of Europe is – between 40 and 60 degrees latitude. This takes in land from the most southern tip (Ontario) stretching all across the most thickly populated regions of the Canadian provinces. Italian immigrants from the Alpine hills to the summits of the Apennines extending all the way to Sicily had little difficulty adapting to the rigours of the Canadian winters. What proved and continues to prove a challenge is the long duration of the winters, which through the decades has caused many to journey back to Italy.

However, generations of Italians have been making the Americas their home even before Italy was united into a democratic Republic in 1871. At that time, Italy had a land-based economy unsuited to supporting a growing population especially in its southern provinces. In fact, historical records indicate that between 1870 and the start of World War I, about 5 million Italians migrated to countries overseas looking for work. They were mainly males 14 to 45 years old. A census taken in 1911 in Toronto, for example, illustrates this pronounced imbalance between men and women: of 3,000 inhabitants of Italian background, 2,200 were male while only 800 were female. These statistics corroborate the fact that in the early decades of this century, Italians were largely migrants intending to rejoin their families in Italy after a period of hard work and economy overseas.

After the Great War, despite limitations imposed on immigration by the Fascist Party, Italian presence in Canada continued to grow. With respect to work activity, Italians became surprisingly integrated as all types of work opportunities were welcomed. They worked not only as bricklayers, excavators, and stonemasons in construction,, in railways, in highways, .. but also in mines in northern Canada, in agriculture, in commerce, in steel factories, as well as hotels, restaurants, and small individual enterprises.

Yet culturally, Italians manifested since the early decades of migration, a need for close communal ties. As a result, in focal cities such as Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto there grew districts inhabited prevalently by people of Italian extraction where even streets were often given names of prominent Italian figures. The expression “Little Italy” became attached to these communities – an expression which for some carried derogatory connotations, but which, in reality, already showed the determination in the spirit of the Italian immigrants to conserve together the best of Italian culture while collaborating with non-Italians to gradually create a new Canadian society that would embrace everyone.

The formation of the Italian Immigrant Aid Society in Montreal exemplifies among the early newcomers the characteristic enthusiasm for mutual protection in the face of adversity. To this end, Italian immigrants to Canada even before the turn of the century, were among the first to found mutual aid societies, such as the Umberto Primo Italian Benevolent Society in Toronto.

The love and nostalgia of Italy which energized and continues to energize the Italians’ love for Canada, led earlier on to the founding of the Order of the Sons of Italy in the U.S. and in Canada, as early as 1915. Later, the Order of Italo-Canadians was also formed. (In future columns we will have an opportunity to speak of the enriching contributions made by these national Canadian organizations throughout the past decades.)

Like others, Italians have taken care to preserve their linguistic identity while embracing French in Quebec, and English in the rest of Canada.

On the Italian peninsula, since before national unification, French had been the “second language” as a consequence of historical events, and geographic and cultural proximity with France. Since the 1960’s however, English has steadily affirmed itself as a language of widest communication next to Italian. Hence, today in Italy, as in Canada, English, Italian and French register linguistic dominance.

Today Italian immigrants constitute the third linguistic group in Canada after English and French, with Toronto hosting the largest population of Italian origin outside of Italy.

Among their accomplishments, Italians in Canada have created through the decades, a vast body of literature in the three languages, which have served as a unifying voice. In 1984 for the first time, an anthology was published in Canada (Mosaic Press,ON) collecting the works of principal Canadian Italian writers. Many of these writers are themselves immigrants, while others are children of immigrant parents. In each case, the voice, the courage, and the vision of the writer echoes the life experience of the universal immigrant to Canada taking the first steps towards an unknown reality which will be constructed day-by-day. In each author, the constant interplay, the tension between past and present -especially in respect to the generational gap – give way to a vision of hope for the future, and at times of frustration in the new land. Yet, each composition, be it in poetry, in prose, in theatre or film, serves to shepherd along the spiritual and psychological self-awareness of the writer and reader who, as immigrants, speak a common language of feeling and experience.

With this first introduction, I am offering a poem by Celestino DeIuliis, “In My Backyard”


I own a house now.
My father sowed his seeds
in his backyard,
and reaped the lettuce and tomatoes.
He had known who he was when
his hands formed the cheese
drawn from the milk of his flock.
Having come here, he was less sure
and worked in factories or construction sites.
He made his own wine and slaughtered still
the Easter Lamb for us
(and for himself too, there’s no denying).
He loved what was his own with little show
and fewer words.
The language never yielded to him, strong as he was.
I wrote the numbers out on a sheet
so he could write his cheques,
pay his bills …
My youth was spent in shame of him.
My tiny face would blush, my eyes avert
on parents’ night when he would timid come
to ask in broken syntax after me.
In my backyard
I have my grass and flowers
and buy my produce at Dominion.
My eyes avert in shame now
that I ever was that boy.

Mr. DeIuliis was born in 1946 in the Abruzzi, a region
in Central Italy. He received his B.A. and M.A. at the
University of Toronto. He has published several
collections of poems, and presently lives in Toronto.
(In My Backyard is reprinted from Italian Canadian Voices,
ed. Caroline Morgan DiGiovanni. Oakville: Mosaic Press
1984. With kind permission from the Canadian Centre for
Italian Culture and Education, Toronto


“Lucia’s Monologue” – Our Monologue !
Vol 2 # 1   February / March 1993

Generation differences and problems are part of the constellation of themes and concerns pervading the large corpus of literature by Canadians of Italian origin. Some of Mary Di Michele’s acclaimed and best loved poems address these differences with poignant language and striking images: “I love my father .. who knew me from the beginning / as a vague stirring in his loins,/ a burst of ecstasy/ on a Sunday morning.” The poem reprinted here speaks of Lucia’s struggle toward self-affirmation in the family and its special context. This composition is in part a response to two previous poems – the three comprising a unit. The first, “Mimosa”, a prologue, outlines the character of the father, Vito, “more than a tired man .. a sad man” who “married young, just after the war/ and hard times made him stop breathing for himself / and spend it all on his children.” The second poem, “Marta’s Monologue”, is spoken by the younger daughter who lives at home to please her father, teaches school, makes a good salary, and knows “enough to risk nothing”. Lucia is the first-born, a self-made young woman whose vision extends beyond established familiar boundaries. “Marta’s Monologue” and “Lucia’s Monologue presuppose the presence of a listener. These poems belong to the great tradition of the “dramatic monologue” made famous by Robert Browning.

from Mimosa and Other Poems (Oakville, 1981). Reprinted with kind permission of the author

Mary Di Michele has resided in Canada since 1955. She has a B.A. (’72) in English Literature from the U.of Toronto and an M.A. (’74) in English and creative writing from the U.of Windsor where she studied with Joyce Carol Oates.

Her poems have appeared in University of Windsor Review, Ontario Review, Grain, Quarry, and The Malahat Review. Her books include Tree of August, Bread and Chocolate, Mimosa and Other Poems, Necessary Sugar, and her latest, Luminous Emergencies (1990). She won the CBC competition for poetry in 1980, and the silver medal in the Du Maurier Award for poetry in 1983. She now teaches English Literature and creative writing at Concordia University.

So much of my life has been wasted feeling guilty
about disappointing my father and mother.
It makes me doubt myself.
It’s impossible to live my life that way.
I know they’ve made their sacrifices,
they tell me often enough,
how they gave up their lives,
and now they need to live their lives through me.
If I give it to them, it won’t make them young again,
it’ll only make me fail along with them,
fail to discover a different, if mutant, possibility,
succeed only in perpetuating a species of despair.

Most of the time I can’t even talk to my father.
I talk to mother and she tells him what she thinks
he can stand to hear.
She’s always been the mediator of our quarrels.
He’s always been the man and the judge.
And what I’ve come to understand about justice
in this world isn’t pretty,
how often it’s just an excuse to be mean or angry
or to hoard property,
a justice that washes away
the hands of the judge.

Nobody disputes the rights of pigeons to fly
on the blue crest of the air across the territory
of a garden, nobody can dispute that repetition
is the structure of despair and our common lives
and that the disease takes a turn for the worse
when we stop talking to each other.
I’ve stopped looking for my father in other men.
I’ve stopped living with the blond child that he loved
too well.
Now I’m looking for the man with the hands of a musician,
with hands that can make wood sing,
with the bare, splintered hands of a carpenter.
I want no auto mechanics with hands blind with grease
and the joints of a machine.
I want no engineers in my life,
no architects of cages.
I want to be with the welders of bridges
and the rivers whose needs inspired them.
I learned to be a woman in the arms of a man,
I didn’t learn it from ads for lipstick
or watching myself in the mirror.
I learned more about love from watching my mother
wait on my father hand and foot
than from scorching novels on the best seller lists.
I didn’t think I could be Anna Karenina or Camille,
I didn’t think I could be Madame Bovary or Joan of Arc,
I didn’t think that there was a myth I could wear
like a cloak of invisibility
to disguise my lack of self knowledge.

The sky is wearing his snow boots already.
I have to settle things with my father before the year is
It’s about time we tried talking
person to person.

More than a tired man, my father is a such a lonely,
disappointed man.
He has learned through many years of keeping his mouth
to say nothing,
but he still keeps thinking about

“If I had the language like you”, he says to me,
“I would write poems too about what I think.
You younger generation aren’t interested in history.
If you want people to listen to you
you got to tell them something new,
you got to know something about history to do that
I’m a worker and I didn’t go to school,
but I would have liked to be an educated man,
to think great thoughts, to write them,
and to have someone listen.
You younger generation don’t care about anything in the
about your parents,
the sacrifices they made for you,
you say: ‘What did you do that for,
we didn’t ask you !’
is that right ?
These are good poems you have here Lucia,
but what you think about Italy !
‘a country of dark men full of violence and laughter,
a country that drives its women to dumb despair.’
That’s not nice what you say,
you think it’s very different here ?
You got to tell the truth when you write,
like the bible, I’m your father, Lucia,
remember, I know you.”

The truth is not nice,
the truth is that his life is almost over
and we don’t have a common language any more.
He has lost a tooth in the middle of his supper plate,
the gap makes him seem boyish and very vulnerable.
It also makes me ashamed.

It’s only when he’s tired like this that he can
slip off his reserve, the roman stoicism,
the lips buttoned up against pain
and words of love.

I have his face, his hands,
his anxious desire to know everything,
to think, to write everything,
his anxious desire to be heard,
and we love each other and say nothing
we love each other in that country
we couldn’t live in


To Bribe or Not to Bribe ..?
Vol 2 # 2   April / May 1993

To bribe or not to bribe .. this is the question mark in the centre stage of Italian political and economic life since World War II and a matter of international interest in the past several months.

Bribes, kick-offs, protection moneys paid/received for favours are known as tangenti.

This problematic practice reached preposterous proportions in the past two decades so that most branches of central and regional Italian governments were implicated. Of late, Italians refer to their country as tangentopoli, the country of bribes.

Public protests and demonstrations are demanding imprisonment for top political figures such as former socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi, former Foreign Ministers, top executives in FIAT and in the State Energy Corporation. Recent national surveys (L’Espresso, March 21,1993, p.15) indicate that the Italian people have no faith in their present government under socialist Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, who has proposed some unpopular and unsuccessful measures to protect his colleague and good friend, Craxi, from imprisonment.

Each day new resignations are handed in and new arrests are made for corruption and bribery. Hundreds of people are implicated as 900 arrests have been made and over 1,000 people are still under investigation including 41 members of Parliament.

Since the war, main political parties have been financing themselves illegally and have been insisting on payment of kick-backs on public contracts. In virtually any sector where the State hands out contracts to private companies or even to State owned companies, there is a rake-off – tangente – which goes into the pockets of the political parties including the Democratic Party of the left, formerly the Communist Party.

So what else is new ? Some Italians and many non-Italians have the impression and the conviction that this is how things are done and get done in Italy, that ‘bribery’ is the order of the day. No longer ! Italy is finally cleaning up house. In the April 1992 elections, Italians voted overwhelmingly against the old parties that have dominated the political scene since the war. Also, with the end of the cold war, there is no longer the necessity to maintain the same old parties in power and the absolute necessity of keeping the Communist Party out of power.

Until recently, Italy had the largest Communist Party in the West, and that was a major headache for the centre and right-wing parties as well as the Atlantic Alliance. As a result, the growth of corruption in Italy was fostered by the notion that anything was justified in order to keep the aggressive Communist Party out of power.

Through the past year a new social and political corrective organization has quickly gained popularity in Italy. This is the Northern League which would accede to power if an election were conducted today. It comprises and represents the hard-working, honest, and very angry people of Italy who feel that they have supported the burden long enough, and are not prepared to shoulder it any longer.

Political scholars maintain that Italy is at a watershed now because affairs simply cannot continue as in the past especially since Italy is an important member of the European Community.

However, the battle against corruption has not been won yet. Much depends on what will happen in the coming months, what sort of punishments are meted out, what reforms are instituted to prevent the recurrence of corruption. Newspapers and magazine reports indicate that most Italians hope that there will be a real break with the past, and that the kind of corruption that has finally come out in the open will not occur again. Then, perhaps, the wish of Italy’s people, and also of most ardent patriots since Dante may come true: a united nation, free from foreign oppression and internal greed:

My Italy, though words do not avail
To heal the mortal wounds
That in your lovely body I see so dense,
I wish at least to let my sighing sounds
With Arno and Tiber wail,
And Po, where now I sit in deep suspense …
Flattered by an idle part,
You do not see and think that you can see,
Who in bribed peoples expect love or trust. …
Inside a single cage
Now wild beasts mingle with the meekest flocks,
are nested so that the best are in need; …
Is not this the dear soil for which I pined ?
Is not this my own nest
Where I was nourished and was given life ?
Is not this the dear land in which we trust,
Mother loving and kind
Who shelters parents, brother, sister, wife ?
O God, that in such strife
You may remember this; that you may gaze
With pity on the tears of suffering men
Who in their terror raise
Their hope to you on earth; relieve their pain,
Feed them with pity’s grain,
And against cruelty
Virtue will fight and soon the debt be paid:
For the old gallantry
In the Italian hearts is not yet dead . . .

(“Song to Italy” Francis Petrarch, 1304-1374)


Inscribing Ourselves Into Multiculturalism
Vol 2 # 4   September 1993

Those of us who like warm weather will remember the summer of ’93 with pleasure after the rainy one of ’92. For one thing, good weather really affords us the chance to get to know our neighbours and their children as well. The young couple at the corner of the street had been grooming their front lawn for almost an hour when I decided I’d walk over as I had not visited for a while.

“The lawn looks great! Best in the block!” I called out remembering the cute yellow wild flowers all over my back lawn. Ron was trimming the hedge with the electric scissors while Nanette knelt by the geraniums turning the soil and pulling the much unwanted weeds.

“Bloody lot of work this lawn, I tell you”, retorted Ron, his gaze fixed on his work. When he came to the end of the hedge he turned off the current and unplugged the cord. Passing the back of his hand over his beady, broad forehead he asked how come they hadn’t seen me for some time. Had I been away ?

“Non, elle fait son travail de recherche”, injected Nanette, turning around with a smile. Sometimes she speaks in French, the second language which we three have in common – she being the best at it as she is a pharmacist from Montreal. Ron comes from Leeds, has his own business and writes in his spare time. I studied French in junior high in Italy and later in Canada. “How is your research on Italian-Canadian writers coming along?” asked Nanette with her transparent French accent which I find so charming.

“Oh, much better than can be expected. There is so much material that needs to be catalogued”, I replied. “I had not suspected that Italians in Canada had written and published so much. All the while, I am also having a crash course on Canadian literature which is itself a vast, fascinating field. In fact, you know, Ron, I came across your stories in the Canadian Fiction magazine and enjoyed them very much”

“I wrote those a few years ago. Now I stay away from pure fiction. I’m more interested in material with social and cultural implications”, Ron observed while pulling off his gardening gloves and slapping his cap over his knee. “I must be growing old because I no longer have much patience with writing that doesn’t make some kind of committed statement. Take Canada. The state of the nation really invokes a lot of dialogue. So many issues to discuss.
Language is really a bridge covering space between people, connective tissue, I call it. And I don’t feel like wasting language now on fiction. So I’m working on a couple of things that look at the matter of multiculturalism in this country – something many people view as a problem but which to me is an asset. You see …”

“Oh, oh”, exclaimed Nanette with a twinkle in her eyes, “I smell one of your long conversations brewing on the horizon. Ron, why don’t you come in and wash up and then join Vera on the porch while I get us all some ice tea”

Left to myself, I sat quietly for a while on the grey lawn chair admiring the sunlight shimmering off the restless leaves of the dark maple in front of the house. Before long the screen door burst open and Ron reappeared with a notebook under his arm.

“I’m so glad you dropped by”, he said sitting in the shade to the other side of the patio table rubbing his hands together. “Nanette has already read some of my material. But this gives me a chance to get another perspective on things. You see, multiculturalism in Canada is not an accident, or, pardon the expression, an affliction, as some Canadians seem to think. Our very Founding Fathers including Queen Victoria were the first to open the doors to a multicultural reality. They acknowledged the presence of native nations as well as the French and the British on Canadian soil. They were the first to have hopes for a culturally rich future for a people united in peaceful coexistence”

“What gives you that impression”, I asked calmly, sensing his increasing enthusiasm, and not wanting to show my insufficient knowledge of Canadian history.

“It’s not an impression, Vera, it’s fact. Do you know that the British North America Act signed by Queen Victoria in March of 1867 and proclaimed law on July 1st gave French Canada (Quebec) important safeguards? While some people had been opposed to Confederation, by 1867 even to the French people Confederation became justified by the arguments that French Canadians would get back their ‘provincial identity’ – the phrase used then – as Quebec City would become again their capital. What’s more, the anglophone domination of Ottowa feared by French Canadians would be counterbalanced by a strong French Canadian representation in the Federal Cabinet. The Constitution Act of 1867 states clearly …”

“Voila du the froid pour tous”, Nanette’s voice sand out her invitation for us to join her as she appeared with a tray of tall glasses full of ice tea and lemon.

“Delicious, ma chere”, exclaimed Ron smiling at Nanette and pulling up a chair so she could sit right next to him. “When I first came from England and settled in Quebec nearly thirty years ago I was a young chap confused about life, and even more about the political and cultural relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada, including the aboriginal cultures. So I started reading up on Canadian history. And then I fell in love with this wonderful lady here from Montreal, and she epitomizes for me all that’s good about Canada and French culture as part of it. I’d marry her all over again any time”, he said emphatically, passing his left arm over Nanette’s shoulders. I thought to myself that right here in front of me I was witnessing what was a beautifully balanced marriage of two different cultures.

“As I was saying before”, started Ron, anxious to resume where he had left off, “the Constitution Act of 1867 puts it in black and white that either the English or the French language could be used by any person in the debates of the House of Parliament of Canada and of the Houses of Legislation of Quebec, and both languages were to be used in the respective Records and Journals of those Houses. Also, it states that the Acts of the Parliament of Canada and of the Legislature of Quebec ‘shall be printed and published in both those languages’. I was so struck by the openness of the statements that some of them stayed with me. I think the Act even makes provisions for English as well as French to be used equally in any Canadian court of law. Seems like in those days they were more accepting of differences”

I was impressed by Ron’s grasp of historical facts about Canada. “Maybe they didn’t view them as divisional differences”, I suggested, “but rather as sources of enrichment, to go back to your metaphor of the marriage of different cultures”

“Today we like to think of ourselves as very broad minded”, intervened Nanette in a pensive tone, “but really, I think that we regard the world with a narrow approach of exclusion rather than inclusion. This brings to ourselves and our cultures a lot of frustration and sadness”

She paused and took a slow sip. For a while we were quiet; the cool air around us announced the imminent sunset.

“Canada is a country with three founding cultures, and many more founding languages if we take into consideration the various aboriginal Indian languages, as well as the various dialects brought over by the French settlers: Quebec French is really an interesting amalgamation of those earlier dialects. Today’s picture of multiculturalism in Canada is really a continuation and amplification, in my opinion, of the original vision set forth over a hundred years ago. What do you think?” Ron asked, lifting up his head and turning to me, looking, I sensed, for some kind of opposition or debate.

“Well, you’re not going to get an argument from me”, I retorted in a jovial tone, wishing to distance some of the seriousness in the air. “Canada has been my home since 1956 and I have loved being here. Besides, French was the second language in Italy for over a century until English began to replace it in the ’60s. Before that, Spanish had been the second language, and before that, during the Renaissance and Middle Ages, Latin was at times the second, at times the prevailing language. Italy being a geographical focal point, has also been a cultural focus in the West for centuries, and for centuries it has experienced and continues to experience foreign presence on its soil. People from other nations have certainly contributed in the forging of its rich culture, including and foremost the British and the French who have always been attracted to Italian shores. Besides, Italians are a curious lot about other human beings and like to travel as much as they can afford to. With the result that when people from other lands come to Italy whether to visit or to stay, they are not exactly strangers, but rather and first human beings with different languages and customs. Throughout the old world, anyway, it is customary for the average person, young and old, to be fluent in three or four languages. In Canada we’re fussing about two”

“Yes, instead of viewing our cultural situation as a privileged one, we see it as a burden”, mused Ron. “Whenever we go visit in Quebec, it’s for us like renewing ourselves, and when we come back to Ontario the same process happens. We’re really lucky that we can experience this broader type of existence”

Now Nanette broke into the short-lived silence as the street lights came on casting light shadows over the driveway and the trim lawn. “I’m beginning to think that discomfort with multiculturalism is really wrapped up with us human beings being at odds with the environment, with the ecological system, and even with ourselves. Does this sound preposterous?”

The ringing of the telephone dispelled our reflective mood and Nanette dashed into the house. Ron said that they were expecting their two boys back from camp, and that he and Nanette had spent a blissful week of peace and quiet away from everybody, enjoying working at their respective hobbies. Nanette came to the door to excuse herself because she had to get the supper on the table. I thanked them both for the ice tea and the very intense conversation.

Ron and I shook hands. As we parted I said they’d given me a lot of food for thoughts – thoughts which next day, Sunday, came right along with me to church where, surrounded by all the different people, I live each time with inner joy my Canadian multicultural identity.

Some references:
The Canadian Encyclopedia (1988), Vol.1, “Confederation;” Vol.2, “French Language”
Dictionary of World History (1973), “British North America Act”
“The Canadian Multiculturalism Act: A Guide for Canadians” (1990)


Italian Feminism – Then and Now
Vol 2 # 3   June / July 1993

In Italy today they call it “pink power” (energia rosa). It is that type of unique yet universal human vision and energy which derives from the equal half of the human race, the woman. Wile Italian culture, like other Mediterranean cultures is too often defined by imperfect common colloquialisms,, and Italian women did not obtain the right to vote in federal elections till 1945, we should not forget that in Italy, as in other Mediterranean cultures, the woman has openly and latently played a central role in the development of “culture”. Medieval monasteries and abbeys, repositories of religious and secular knowledge, were administered by men as well as women. The presence of women teachers and scholars in medieval and renaissance universities has been historically ascertained.

The elite society of renaissance Italy placed much emphasis on the breadth of education and social refinement which a woman should receive before marriage: education along the lines of the seven liberal arts, and refinement empowering the woman for the efficient governance of a household and of the social network upheld by the noble class. Contemporary treatises (as Leon Battista Alberti’s About the Family, 1444) advised gentlemen that they would do well to marry intelligent and well educated women because not only do they foster well-being at home, but are also able to provide wise counsel to the husband in matters of business and human character.

Outside and within the Church, in the public life of the courts as in the private world of the family, the woman has always played an essential role in the Italian peninsula. After the Renaissance, in the 1600s and 1700s educated women were very much part of scientific and artistic life as they participated in the work of the Academies, sources of new ideas and trends.

Until its independence in 1871, Italy had been constantly under foreign domination since the middle ages; in the 19th century for example, not one, but three foreign nations ruled this peninsula of surface area 1/3 that of Ontario.

In their national character Italian men and women value above all autonomy, individuality and the spirit of collaboration – qualities which through the centuries have enabled the spirit of the peninsula to survive despite oppression.

In the 19th and early 20th century Italian women took part fully in the suffragette movement unfolding across Europe and in the United States.

Just after unification while Italy depended entirely on an agrarian economy, women workers initiated strikes demanding higher wages and shorter working hours: the first strike by rice workers took place in 1883 followed by a second (800 striking women) in 1886 protesting the 12-hour working day. The strike of 1890 caused 3 deaths with 10 gravely wounded. When in 1897 women went on strike because farm bosses had imported women from other provinces to work the fields, the imported workers joined strike with local women. Employers were forced to concede to demands. However, 42 women received long jail sentences for having “challenged the freedom to work and having resisted to authorities.” While Italian women were employed mainly in field work or in factories, historical data shows that between 1877 and 1900 about 224 women graduated from university, 31 having two degrees, and one with three degrees. Two women became particularly well known because both the national medical and the bar Associations prevented them from exercising their respective professions. The resulting scandal was so widely known, that national newspapers and magazines took active interest in time to aiding to correct such flagrant injustices.

In 1912 the vote was extended to all males, including those who could not read or write. Consequently, Italian women (of whom a small fraction were literate) nearly won the right to vote in 1919 as the law was approved by the Chamber of Deputies with a vote of 174 in favour, and 55 opposed. On the way to the Senate, however, the law was tabled on account of Italy’s military troubles in northern Yugoslavia. The Fascist regime sought to promote the vote. However, conditions were totally restrictive: the right to vote was conceded only to women who had received the medal of honour for military service, to mothers who had lost sons in the war, and to women with an education and who paid taxes in excess of a specified sum. Hence Italian Fascism transformed the “right” to vote into a “privilege” and a reward open only to a handful of women in Italy.

After the fall of Fascism the question of suffrage was taken up for passage in the Senate in 1945. Meanwhile, Italian women have been making headway at home and abroad contributing to the economic and cultural life of the nation.

In 1926, ten years before her death, the Sardinian writer Grazia Deledda, was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature – the second Italian to have received the Prize after the poet Giosue Carducci in 1906. In 1986 the Italian neuroembryologist Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-) received the Nobel Prize for medicine/physiology. Yet since 1945, for nearly half a century, Italian women have been experiencing discrimination in the work place and at home. The national media has been addressing this problem in recent years. We will elaborate on this in our next article.

In the meantime our readers may be interested in a publication by the United Nations, The World’s Women: 1970-1990, which contains statistical information on nations across the globe on concerns such as family, political life, decision-making, public education, raising of children, health and maternity, work, and the economy. One reviewer of this publication states that despite some areas of slight improvement, “on almost every subject in almost every country, there is very little cause for rejoicing” ! (Noidonne, April, 1993, p.55)

continuing . . .

Italian Feminism – Then and Now
Vol 2 # 5 1993

Until twenty years ago, as we saw in Part I, the rights of Italian women were closely linked with national advantage in relation to conservation of the family unit and the general public good, with individual rights secondary in importance. The consequences of the Fascist era were still much in evidence. Yet Italy, as other industrialized nations, has felt deeply and the central administration has reacted (though not rapidly) to the pleas for equality that the global women’s movement has been voicing during the past two decades.

In 1985 the Presidential Committee of the Italian Council of Ministers published the proceedings of the Nairobi World Conference celebrating the tenth anniversary of the United Nations for the Women, promoting equality, development, and peace. This important document is prefaced by an announcement made in 1983 by the then Italian President of the Council of Ministers, the Honourable Bettino Craxi. In his Point 5/7 clause he states: “Great importance must be given to the problem of equality between the sexes which has found, in principle, some suitable solutions in the supposed law on equality issued in 1977. This law now exacts concrete and operative means of action to better fight against discrimination relating particularly to career development since discriminatory attitudes in the work place tend to deny women positions that carry great responsibility. Some suitable initiatives had already been put forth in the past legislature and the Government must do all it can in order to pass and approve immediately a new law on the subject” (Translation from Italian mine)

This statement of promise and initiative on the part of the Italian government indicates it is gradually awakening to the reality of discrimination in the work place and to demands Italian women have been expressing at the national level most vehemently in the past two decades with the inception of a real, united feminist movement, the Unione Donne Italiane (UDI). The formation of this association coincides, not accidentally, with the centenary of the unification of Italy into a free, democratic republic in 1871. In May 1981 in a national referendum registering 70% majority, Italians confirmed legislation providing for free abortion for women eighteen and over. The private, the public, and national identity of Italian women is plagued by fluctuations between extremes: traditional preferences, on the one hand, are upheld by political fronts, church groups, regional customs advocating a moral conservatism aiming at preserving the family as a focal social unit at any cost; liberalization, on the other hand, is catalyzed by leftist party politics with materialistic consumerism resulting in part form Italy’s emergence, in the past twenty years, as an industrial superpower. The matter of the Italian women’s identity is further complicated by regional, educational, and economic disparities which persist for centuries. The sense of infinite variety in the national character of Italian women should be interpreted in part in the light of four hundred years of continuous foreign domination preceding Italian unification in 1871. Some statistical information may facilitate here a more concrete grasp of the private and public realities inherent in the lives of Italian women in the past two decades. Data is gathered by the 1985 national census taken every 10 years by the government’s Central Office of Information in Rome.

The publication by the National Committee for Equality between Men and Women entitled Figures on Italian Women offers data on various facets of private and public life. For instance, the percentage of the female population receiving a high school education in the decade 1972-83 had improved from 42.5% to 49.3% (p.25). With respect to university, 2.1% of the women hold a degree as compared to 3.6% of the men (p.24). Here we see an obvious parity in the level of higher education between men and women. If we then proceed to statistics related to employment, we notice that while women in Italy made up 52% of the total national population in 1985, only 35% fourteen years old and over constituted the work force (Italian Women and Work, p.1). Of these, 34.5% had a high school or/ and university degree. Moreover, of the women of age to be included in the labour force, 32.4% were employed, while 58.1% were unemployed and looking for work. In the past decade, the level of education for women has risen noticeably. Nevertheless, the rate of unemployment has remained visibly high. Although 46% of university students are women and there has been a noticeable improvement in the level of education for women since the 1970s, as we have seen, nevertheless the percentage of women fourteen years old and over who choose to become housewives has remained stable through time. Statistics from 1980 and 1985 registered in the studies above, show that in each year, 41% of the women were occupied with home and family while the presence of women in the work force increased only by 2%, from 32% to 34%.

Recently, as a result of legislative relaxation in Italy as well as recognition of dual citizenship, people from former fascist Italian colonies in Africa (Somalia, Eritrea, Lybia) are taking up residence in Italy, as are also people from far and disparate racial and cultural heritage. Women comprise the larger percentage of these new emi/immigrants from former socialist countries, from war-torn areas of the Middle East, Jugoslavia, from Latin America, and the far South-Eastern Asiatic basin. This kaleidoscopic influx of people unto an already crowded Italian landscape not only creates the effect of “fast-forward” in aperture for social change, but also generates unforeseen human and economic problems. In a future article I will try to “map” out the large diversity of international presence in Italy today and the activities of women in a country whose geographical area is 1/3 that of Ontario holding more than double the population of Canada


Women Immigrating to Italy
Vol 3 # 1 1994

For the past year newspapers in Italy have been drawing attention to the vast presence of women from ‘foreign’ nations and continents involved in Italian communities, especially in the Italian capital, Rome. Hundreds of women of all ages from Asian, African, and South American nations have chosen to take up residence in Italy during the past twenty years. During the years of fascist dominance, mainly 1928-38, Italy had thriving colonies in Africa, in Somalia, Libya, Eritrea. Pockets of Italian-speaking people there are awakening to the opportunities for work and a better life in Italy where they are already comfortable linguistically.

Since the 1960s Italy has occupied a prominent place along the leading industrialized nations of the world. With the opening up of work possibilities, therefore, the Italian woman has left the home and headed for the workplace. Precisely in relation to work and employment, one interesting Italian phenomenon – a national custom, in fact – is that if a family has a business, instead of seeking employees out side of the family, all the members, men and women, become occupied in the efficient running of this business. Where financial matters are concerned, as well as loyalty to the job at hand, Italians place their trust first and foremost in family and relatives. This means that someone is needed in place of the wife and mother, in the running of domestic affairs while the woman is helping with the family business. As a result, the past twenty years in Italy have created a high demand for jobs in the areas of domestic, child care and care for the elderly at home. The vacancies in these areas have been filled by women im/migrating from Eritrea, the Tigrai, the Philippines, Cap Verde, Iran, Palestine, and Latin America. Women and fewer men from these areas today constitute the most numerous communities of im/migrants. To date there is no single organization in Italy which collects statistics, or safeguards the human rights of these largely domestic workers. However, these im/migrants make every effort not only to maintain and cultivate their cultural identity, but also to insert themselves into the social network of Italian culture and public life. A recent review articulates some of the characteristics of the cultural communities (which are located in Rome) of these domestic employees from different parts of the world.

In the Eritrean community, for example, 80% of the women work full time in domestic work. They have Thursday and Sunday afternoons off, dedicating this time to volunteer work aiding the illiteracy, drug addiction, and other problems of a national character. This community seems well-knit and united so as to offer its members both emotional and cultural support.

The Filipino community seems to be less open. About 90% are exclusively women often without families. They organize excursions, participate openly in Italian cultural activities, work mostly full time at domestic jobs. In the area of Rome, there are about 20,000 Filipinos organized into three large groups which in reality have political affiliation and loyalties to political parties in their countries of origin in the Philippines. For example, of the 400 members of the “Kampi” club 350 are women. Their meeting places are in churches, in piazzas when weather permits, and in the vicinity of Rome’s Termini station, the central train station. The members of the Filipino community of Rome are a closely knit cohesive group, sharing houses in order to save as much as possible given the fact that wages are low. Although one finds families as well as single individuals, the largest number is constituted by women alone working hard to send money back home.

The community from Cap Verde comprises 80% of women employed full time in domestic occupations. The majority are women in their late teens and early 20s whose exclusive wish is to achieve a good marriage. To this end, their community is uniquely open to cultural influences and new relationships, with the frequent danger of too early and/or unwanted pregnancies. In many cases illegal abortions are procured, often at great risk for the mother. Women who instead keep their babies, become single mothers.

For the women workers from the Tigrai area, the living situation is similar to that of the women from Eritrea and whose number is not very large. For the most part they are in their 30s and 40s, residing in Italy already for some time. In fact, the younger women remain for a short time since their main concern is to find a husband, and relocate with him wherever he may find work. The men from these areas are largely political refugees, and as such, have greater possibilities for im/migration to English-speaking countries such as Canada and England, where they are assisted by political and social organizations.

The Iranian community of Rome comprises about 400 women, almost all of whom await immigrant visas. They stay in Italy for the length of time required them to learn the language of the country into which they wish to immigrate. In the meantime, they look for domestic work. The young women who are students seem to be very receptive to European ideology and Italian values, as they readily adopt the styles of dress, of eating, and other social customs.

The Srilankan community contains a balanced number of men and women with numerous families, and therefore, children. The men engage in various trades, crafts, and assisting with restaurant work, while the women contribute income from their domestic work.

The number of women from Palestine is limited since for the most part they are students, daughters or wives of diplomatic officials and employees based in the Italian capital. Their participation in Italian social and communal life is therefore rather restricted.

Women from Latin America seem to remain in Italy, especially in Rome, for the longest time; they immigrate for reasons of study or for political motives. In recent years, the economic crisis in Latin America has increased the presence of Latin American women in Italy in service jobs and domestic work, women coming for example from Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Peru.

The composition of the Italian population changes yearly. In the past twenty years the influx of im/migrant working women has also contributed in bringing some change to the human face of the nation.

This very real movement or displacement of women brings to mind a parallel situation in Canada in the 1940s and 1950s, decades in which men im/migrated at first without families to Canada from European countries in search of work and a better life. The quest by men and women for a better existence will perhaps never abate, nor will the need for all the people of the world to promote and embrace racial co-existence


Men Without Women : Early Italian Migration to Canada
Vol 3 # 2 1994

Both historians and scholars of world population studies agree that mass migrations across the world are among the prominent phenomena of our century. A rich body of literature has been produced studying the demographic and economic effects of movements of masses of people from one country to another. Yet, surprisingly little has been written on the psychological repercussions that such massive population shifts have had and continue to have on both the persons who migrate/immigrate * , and on those who are left behind. To date, studies have been principally devoted to analyzing the processes of assimilation/ acculturation into new lands of adoption.

However, beyond these considerations, other questions remain which also deserve attention. What are some of the obligations the im/migrants feel toward the country of origin? How do the members of the family left behind regard the person who has left? How is the family unit affected by the absence of some of its essential members such as husbands, fathers, sons? The answers to these and other questions differ not only from family to family, but also from culture to culture. In relation to early im/migration from Italy, studies have generated some notions which social critics seem to hold in common.

For example, in the first decade of this century, Italian critics of migration thought that men leaving the country were indirectly responsible for a degree of criminality in Italy since families were left unprotected, and children were deprived of the vital role of the father in their lives. This was true of men who left the country, but also of those who left small villages and migrated to industrialized Italian cities, as well as European cities in search of work. While the lay person is under the impression that Italians have always been eager to im/migrate to Canada, this is not completely correct.

Italian social critics at the turn of the 20th century pointed out the negative repercussion of profuse male migration away from Italy: there occurred a radical proliferation of illegitimate births, of cases of adultery, of prostitution, and even infanticides by women unwilling for matters of honour, to accept births of an illegitimate child. (1) Unfortunately, local social prejudices intensified, and were directed mainly against women for corrupting men and social values. Prejudices of woman as corruptor of man derive not only from traditional ideas about creation, and all women deriving from Eve, but also from the Deterministic philosophy widely spread in Europe in the late 19th century. Italy, the foremost Catholic country, fed avidly on these and other discriminating notions. Consequently, in the most conservative household, the woman whose husband or boyfriend migrated, was virtually under “house arrest” since members of the extended household took care to guard her honour. For their own part, migrant heads of families lived abroad with a sense of guilt for not living up to family obligations, in relation to their children, their wives, and often aging parents.

Some historians of migration patterns identify an additional type of migrant worker not only in Italy, but in other cultures as well: one who was able to return home at least once a year, look after financial matters, re-establish the future birth of a child, and return to his work abroad. (2)

As for the problems faced by Italian migrant males in North America, recorded history categorizes them mainly along lines of discrimination. For example, both young and middle-aged Italian males were routinely stigmatized with “infecting” the women with whom they had relations with disease. (3) They were accused even back home of leading a loose existence in North America. But interviews with young and older workers in the years prior to WWI, tell a vividly different story. Away from loved ones, deprived of their mother tongue, isolated in labour camps in lonely regions of Canada, these Italian labourers, men without women, confessed to feeling like “beasts of burden”, worthless, different from and certainly inferior to Canadians as well as Anglosaxons. (4) In reality, there was suffering on both sides of the Atlantic: lonely migrant men in the host country, lonely women left behind – a suffering resulting not from abuse of individual freedom, as was generally presumed, but rather from emotional and physical rigours and frustrations which are not part of normal existence.

Acculturation on the part of these migrant men was out of the question since for them, as for men from other European nations, the period of stay was to be brief, primarily for the purpose of making and saving money to take home. Moreover, in these early decades, Canadian authorities ensured that these “target migrants” were kept in places all together by nationalities. Logically, the “leaders” of working groups, as well as managers or labour “bosses” came from the same country, speaking the same language; they were perfectly placed to take advantage of the workers through favouritism, pay-offs, and the like. (5) It is significant to realize, then, that the formation of ethnic foci as for example the sections known as “Little Italy” in Canadian (and American) cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal is a social characteristic of Canadian culture encouraged in part by early attitudes of Canadian authorities toward migrant people. Until lately, popular attitude tended to disparage ethnic people who grouped together for the conservation of language and culture. This was viewed as a reluctance to leave oneself open to receiving cultural influences from the land of adoption.

Perhaps the best documentation of the reality experienced by early migrant workers is to be found in the writings by these workers which are slowly coming to be accepted as part of our Canadian literary heritage. Whatever hardships may have been endured by early Italian labourers, one thing is certain: whenever they were able to rejoin their families with some of their savings, they did so with feelings of gratitude toward the host country. Meanwhile, despite the harsh descriptions of climate and labour conditions brought home by these workers, there persisted in Italy, in the imagination of Italians, and in their 20th century literature, impressions of Canada as a land of plenty and of opportunity. During Fascism Mussolini closed migration to the U.S. and Canada in the 1920s and 1930s because he wished to populate Italian colonies in Africa. But at the close of WWII Italians turned again to Canada in the late 1940s. However, this time their exodus assumed the character of full-fledged immigration, men with their families. The contrasts between war-torn Italy and the potential energies openly evident in the Canadian landscape, created dramatic and lasting images in the minds of Italians on a quest for a better future. In 1949 a farmer’s wife from Abruzzi wrote her first letter home expressing relief at having reached Canada safely with her husband and daughter. She loved Canada immediately, though she did not know English. In a couple of days she had become convinced, the letter said, that “God had created Canada in the daytime, and Italy at night” (6)

The poem offered here, “Canadese”- Canadian – by Antonino Mazza (7) speaks of a genuinely felt wish for belonging to Canadian culture, of the time and growth leading to acculturation, and, in the end, of the lightly cynical realization that when one comes from a foreign country, one never really “belongs” for even if we wish to believe ourselves wholly Canadian, those born here, even our own children, will remind us that we come from elsewhere:


Because life for him
has been labour and struggle,
Canadese, remember your father.
Don’t try to stifle your mother tongue,
in our cage, it is wrong;
do canaries smother their private song?
Be patient , don’t rage,
Canadese, in time we’ll belong;
We’ll acquire our own sense of the land;
we’ll record life and death of our million births;
we’ll have families,
above and below the earth
Canadese, you must never forget
what you are . . . never!
because when you do, they’ll remind you

* Migrate: with the goal of returning to their country of origin Emigrate / immigrate: with the goal of settling in the country of adoption
(1) T.Cyriax, Among Italian Peasants (Glasgow, 1919), 216
(2) V.Nee, Longtime California. A Documentary Study of an American Chinatown (Boston 1973, pp.60-124)
(3) S.Gagumina, Wop. A Documentary History of Anti-Italian Discrimination in the United States (San Francisco 1973); and R.Froester, Italian Emigration of Our Times Cambridge: Harvard, 1919), 441
(4) “Notiziario”, in Rivista di emigrazione [Review of Emigration] May 1908, p.42; and J.Davis, “Town and country”, in Anthropological Quarterly, July 1969
(5) M.Nelson, Temporary Versus Permanent Cityward Migration. Causes and Consequences (Boston 1976), 63
(6) Correspondence of Raffaelina Colilli with her uncle Rocco Golini
(7) Antonino Mazza came to Canada in 1961 and is a celebrated Italian Canadian writer. He has received numerous prizes for his original works of literature and translations into English. He lives with his family in Toronto


The Sistine Chapel : The Work of Restoration of the Century
Vol 3 # 3 1994

A new school year is upon us again! Are your children alert and excited? How about some review, or a smart quiz before the big plunge into the void of the classroom? Try an art quiz with them or some of your friends. You have the questions and of course the answers. What is the largest work of art in our Western culture undertaken by a single individual? What work of art is viewed each year by the largest number of people? What work of art has been restored after nearly 500 years and is almost as beautiful as when first executed? Who is the artist? The answer to all these questions is the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo Buonarroti.

Each year tens of thousands of people from all parts of the world, of all ages and religions stream daily into the Vatican chapel to view Michelangelo’s master work. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the completion of the restoration of the ceiling, and signals the conclusion of the restoration of the Last Judgement as well. The entire composition was badly in need of cleaning and several corrections. Besides having suffered bad touch-up work, it had accumulated leached salts, dust, candle soot, mould, and other pollutants for over 450 years since its completion in 1512. After more than a decade of demanding labour amidst much controversy as to how the restoration ought to be carried out, the Sistine Chapel ceiling and front wall, considered by many the greatest work of art in Western history, emerged clean and radiant. The Sistine Chapel ceiling consists of an 8,070 square-foot flat surface. The front wall illustrating the Last Judgement measures 2,200 square feet. Michelangelo used the ancient medium of “fresco” (painting on wet plaster) on which to record his singular vision. The ceiling fresco composition portrays the Creation and the Fall, 12 prophets and sibyls from the Old Testament, 40 ancestors of Christ, and about 300 additional figures, young and old. The story on the ceiling extends from God’s bringing order out of chaos by separating Light from Darkness, followed by the creation of the planets down to the creation of man and woman, their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the Drunkenness of Noah, and the Great Flood. Michelangelo was only 33 when he began this work about which Goethe wrote, in the 18th century, that “We cannot know what a human being can achieve until we have seen this fresco.” More recently, Professor James Beck, Chair of art history at Columbia University, has called the fresco “the umbilical belly button – the navel – of Christianity, and in many ways the navel of modern Western civilization.”

About the painting of the Sistine ceiling, the story recorded in the history books is that Michelangelo had been commissioned to execute a monumental tomb for Pope Julius II, great sponsor of the arts. Michelangelo’s conception of this tomb was so magnificent, that it aroused the jealousy of Donato Bramante, the then papal architect. In order to distract Michelangelo from work on the tomb, Bramante conspired to have the work of the Sistine Chapel assigned to Michelangelo. Bramante knew Michelangelo as a great sculptor, and could never have suspected that in the few years following, 1509-12, Michelangelo would execute a work of painting which would surprise and continue to thrill the world for centuries. Yet, despite his great genius with the brush, all his life Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor before a painter.

The restoration of the Ceiling frescos and those of the front wall of the Last Judgement, have been undertaken for the purpose of keeping alive and safe one of the greatest treasures of Western civilization. At the same time, the restoration of the huge fresco to its natural, original, bright and radiant colours accomplishes an equally important task, that of correcting centuries-old misconceptions of Michelangelo himself as a sombre, solitary, melancholic man, as traditionally geniuses were supposed to be. The darkness of the Sistine ceiling had always been associated by even eminent art historians, with the presumed “darkness” of Michelangelo’s character. How could modern historians know what true brightness, what brilliant gems of shapes and colours lay underneath five centuries of candle soot and pollution. Thus unveiling the bright symphony of glowing colours and perfect shapes which convey Michelangelo’s vision of the greatness of God’s creation, also brings to light new and more accurate impressions of Michelangelo the man and the artist, as a lover of life, of beauty, and of humankind. These qualities in Michelangelo’s character are already eloquently inscribed in his many magnificent sonnets read only by scholars, but which in fact are available to everyone in a new English translation.

It has taken 13 years and over 35,000 working hours to bring the work of restoration to a successful completion. Tons of chemical solvents, as well as sensitive computer equipment have also been indispensable in the cleaning up process. The international team of expert art restorers have also lifted 17 of the 40 sets of clothes which were awkwardly painted onto nude figures as ordered by the Vatican in the 1700s. Thus, today the entire composition is more like Michelangelo’s work than at any other time in history. In order to preserve this freshness of colour, the latest technological aids have been put to work in the Sistine Chapel: a special mat has been installed to absorb dust brought in by tourists; special air filters and air conditioning equipment are at work at all times; appropriate halogen lamps are also used to seal and highlight the colours.

The entire work of restoration has cost the equivalent of over 11 million U.S. dollars donated by Nippon Television Company of Tokyo. Contributions have also been given by international companies. However, the bulk financing belongs to Japan, for which, according to a contract made in 1981 with the Vatican, Nippon Television had the exclusive rights to works of restoration, has made over 170,000 metres of film equal to 250 hours of work. The contract which expires in three years also gives Nippon Television rights of reproduction of images of Michelangelo’s work for commercial purposes. It is here relevant to note that a remarkably large number of tourists who come to admire works of art in Ital and throughout the Western world are in fact from the East. Since the 1970s Japan has given assiduous and generous contributions to the preservation of western works of art. I was very moved by this and glad, while holding back of my head with both my hands this July as I gaped with open mouth at the Sistine Chapel ceiling together with the two hundred or so people in the room. A man’s voice kept reminding us, “Silenzio! Silenzio!” However, tourists find it very difficult to keep “quiet” in front of such a wondrous work.

Why is tourism Italy’s largest industry? and why do tourists from all parts of the world keep flocking to Italy? Only tourists can give answers to such questions. I felt like a tourist this summer in my own country of origin, as I determined once and for all to try to understand the source of this attraction. As I streamed down the Vatican steps to the Sistine with my young niece who lives in Rome, and with the swelling river of people who quietly moved step by step down closer to the Chapel, I felt myself gasping with emotion, and hot tears welled secretly in my eyes: I was not only proud to be of Italian origin, but also happy that human history has left us such precious monuments as the Sistine Chapel which keep on inspiring our sentiments and refreshing our passions for love and appreciation of humanity. After all, what is the role of art which lasts and lasts after its moment of completion? Is it not to transcend time beyond generations so that the universal passions of those who created the work, may live also in the hearts of those who come into contact with that work of art, be it literature, architecture, film, music, or any one of the arts. Art transcends time. Is this why tourists come to Italy? to experience timelessness through art and the physical remains of history? The passions which crowned Michelangelo’s vision of the spiritual human cosmos live today more resplendently than they have lived in the past 450 years. The world is grateful for this. I experienced a similar sense of gratitude last weekend when I visited the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, to view the paintings of the Canadian Group of Seven. I reflected that, while Michelangelo has shown us the glory of being human, the Canadian Artists of the Group of Seven have shown us the beauty, the wonder and glory of Canadian virgin nature which is the cradle for the lives of us all and which we all should work to conserve.

If you cannot take your children to see the Sistine Chapel as school begins again, do take them to Kleinburg, (at Hwys 7 & 35 very near Toronto) to see the magnificent works of the Canadian Group of Seven that inspire great reverence for our Canadian natural heritage!


Looking for Responsible . . . Actions
Vol 3 # 4 1994

The recent United Nations International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo (Egypt) places the responsibility of the future welfare of the earth squarely on the shoulders , not only of governments, but of every breathing human being for whom this planet is a home. Although in its first days the conference was plagued by infighting on sensitive issues such as abortion, it is fortunate that the more than 170 nations represented reached understanding and a compromise on many issues. It is expected that the texts will be made public in the near future. The voices which emerged from the conference focused specifically on ideological and practical problems surrounding issues of population control. It is unfortunate that these issues “stole the show”, so to speak, since not much in the way of news regarding the equally important matter of “development” reached the average person interested in the proceedings of the conference. In his speech, U.S. Vice-President Al Gore called for a “holistic understanding” of population planning that would embrace a wide range of development issues such as women’s empowerment, maternal – and child health care, democratic development, and reduced levels of official corruption. He hastened to point out that “No single one of these issues is likely to be sufficient by itself to produce the pattern of change we are seeking”

In this post war era, the industrialized and developing nations have been playing a trading “game”: people travel from the South, and the East toward the North and the West, while technology and material goods travel from the North and the West to the South and the East. This has been possible and even necessary since the Western nations – and very Catholic Italy is among these – have used not only education and family planning, but also drastic measures to control population growth. The West expects developing nations to follow its example by reducing the birth rate. This is not an easy task by any means, as the West has yet to learn. A number of developing nations subscribe to nuclear development programs. The Globe and Mail (September 6, ’94, p. A8) pointed out that Pakistan is suspected of being among these nations whose governments are for this reason ineligible for U.S. financial assistance. Yet, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto underscores on the same page the fact that lower fertility rates would not be achieved in her country without more aid. Pakistan’s population, she points out, has increased to 125 million from 70 million in 30 years, and may reach 243 million by the year 2050 (when world population is expected to be double), if major investments are not made in Pakistan. Moreover, there is no indication thus far that developing nations are unanimously in favour of reducing population growth in their respective countries. Just as the Vatican is ideologically at odds with sex education and reproductive-health education, so also the Islamic countries, for example, regard the spontaneous, natural reproduction of life as a “good” since each new human being can potentially make great contributions to the world good. The past half century has proved that research and great improvements in health sciences, together with humankind’s indomitable desire to reproduce have been stronger than any other argument or measure to check population growth. Who can guarantee that the next half century will be different?

While the West can convey some examples in population control, it provides thus far less than admirable examples in areas of sustainable development. In fact, the developed nations are a living illustration of the fact that the lower the population growth, the higher is the standard of living and the greater the threat to environmental welfare. Even as the world achieves a drastic slowing down of population growth, humanity still has to reckon with its unquenchable desire for “improving” its material lifestyle – something which places an unsustainable burden on the environment, as we have witnessed in the past two decades.

Irrespective of their economic standing, today’s nations are caught in a Catch-22 predicament: a slower population growth is necessary in order to allow sustainable development; on the other hand, reduced global population would permit higher standards of living which place unprecedented demands on global resources. Global consciousness has awakened to problems of population explosion and sustainable development which were very real concerns in California 30 years ago when I was a struggling graduate student there, and recycling was already part of daily activity. But nations have yet to conceive of problems tangential to achieving population control. These loom large over the horizon of the earth which is part of our bodies and our homes. The following poem which I wrote at that time did not seem to have great relevance in terms of global destiny since human injury to environment was not a forefront issue outside California three decades ago. Today, however, this little poem seems to have relevance in terms of the earth’s past innocence compared with present persistent technological “battering” of the environment. I offer it here in publication for the first time especially because it concludes optimistically with a plea for a return to a simpler life in harmony with the environment.


Is there still hidden hope
in the bowels of your world?

Before darkness falls
can we strangle these cancers
that choke us all?

Every continent and island
is teeming with expectant life,
with joy, with war and strife.

Primordial Earth
how beautiful you were!

Nothing was holier than your nakedness
against man’s nakedness:
it burned
it shivered
and was vast like the cloak of seasons.

Freedom and imagination soared like eagle wings.

Impenetrable at evening
your domains were infinitely delicate,
infinitely violent.

Your children spoke words without syllables
on radiant mornings
when colours
all about you
pierced through passions of your shepherds’ hearts.

It was you they loved:
with monuments of blond stones
they decked your valleys and your peaks.

Even along deserted island roads
they built with songs their temples
and their homes.

how beautiful you were,
our sole redeeming gift
when you belonged to none
but gave yourself to all

till now
ravished in rags
you lie

so beautiful
even as you die.

Our lakes, mountains, and our falls
sing still in rapture
with each rising sun
concealing underneath
the tumours of our times.

Our hearts are cold with hate.

Too late we suffer
and rage for man
who ravaged
and laid you low,
our Mother and our Pride.

Now nameless voices
from their graves cry out,
faceless, brave and loud,
yet we with all our madness
cannot hear . . .

they are scattered like our winds
that speak to us of love and song
they are bursting like the morning sun,
fragrant like the flowers of our dreams


Canadian Women Writers of Italian Descent
Vol 5 # 1 1996

Canadian women writers of Italian origin have been active in many of the Canadian provinces during the past fifteen years. In fact, there exists in Canada, stretching from East to West, a bright constellation of women writers of Italian origin. We note here those who have contributed substantially to Canadian literature through their many and assiduous publications. In the Easter provinces Liliane Welch lives in New Brunswick, but was born in Luxembourg. She was raised by an Italian mother whose parental last name was Bravi. Lisa Carducci, born in Quebec, is fluent in five languages, but writes mainly in French and Italian. Mary Melfi also lives in Quebec, but was born in Italy and came to Canada at the age of five. Her works are in English. This is also true of Mary di Michele who lives in Montreal but came to Canada as a child.

To date, the province of Quebec has been very fertile ground for the production of literary works by Italian Canadian women and men. Elena Maccaferri Randaccio, recently deceased, wrote in Montreal between 1958 and the late 1970s under the pseudonyms of Elena Albani, and Elena MacRan (the first three letters of Maccaferri and Randaccio). She published in Italian, in Italy, the two earliest novels by an immigrant Italian Canadian woman.

In Ontario, Maria Ardizzi has been enriching Italian Canadian literature since the early 1980s through her unforgettable novels and moving poetry. Three of her novels comprise “The Emigrant Cycle” and have earned her both national and international acclaim. Gianna Patriarca’s poetry continues to delight the reading and listening public since the poet travels throughout Canada to give her readings. Her poetry reveals a quest for precision of language, both Italian and English, a language which conjures up deeply remembered personal experiences. The past 15 years have engendered an ever growing number of Canadian writers who “tell stories of hardship and of success, stories about their own or – more commonly – their parents’ experiences. They try to understand the two worlds in which they live and function … But what struck me about all these novels – by Italians, Ukranians, Poles, or whatever – is that they are both particular and universal in their aim and appeal. They are not just about Italians, Poles, or Ukrainians and their problems as immigrants fitting into our ethnic mosaic; they also articulate the problems of any newcomer to any new society”

The Canadian Prairies have given us Caterina Loverso Edwards, born in Venice, emigrated to England with her family, and then moved to Canada. Her novels and short stories are written in English, and are highly evocative of Italy, especially the Venice of her childhood memories.

On the West coast, Genni Donati Gunn lives and writes in British Columbia, but was born in Trieste and came to Canada at the age of ten. Fluent in Italian, Genni Gunn writes poetry, short stories, and novels in English and collaborates very productively with established Canadian writers.

As just mentioned, Elena Albani and Maria Ardizzi are the two writers who employ the Italian language as their consistent vehicle of expression. They are also related to the extent that the dichotomies existing between Italy and Canada are focal concerns in their novels accentuating territorial displacement, or deterritorialization, as some have called it, as well as loss of communication within the family. Elena Albani’s earliest work, the novel aptly entitled Canada, Mia seconda patria, published in 1958, focuses on a young Italian family’s trauma while in Canada during the Second World War. Albani, herself a school teacher, emigrated to Montreal in the early 1950s. Montreal was a place of refuge for several Italian expatriates. Among these we find the protagonists of the novel, which does not in fact directly address the position of the French Canadian woman of Italian origin. Yet the main character, the young immigrant wife Claudia Moreni, faces social and cultural hardships directly related to the human socio-cultural landscape existing in Quebec at that time. Statistical studies indicate that in Quebec, in 1911, women of Italian origin constituted 2.5% of total immigrant women. The number climbed to 15.3% by 1961, and to 16% by 19811 with a slight increase through the 1980s. The 19 year old Claudia in Mia seconda patria, experiences a total sense of alienation on account of a lack of adequate human contacts. The double linguistic barriers French/English, seem as alien signs of communication, aggravate the state of separation of self from society. The husband’s sudden departure for Italy on family business further complicates the young woman’s relationship to the social and cultural reality which surrounds her. The year is 1940. Concrete historical facts remind us that in June of that year Canada declared war on Italy, and severed diplomatic relations. This meant that, once in Italy, Michele Moreni could not re-enter Canada nor could he communicate with his wife. Claudia is faced with the harsh reality of having to survive with her daughter in isolation and abandonment. Claudia’s human predicament as immigrant, mother and widow, is solved happily in her joining with a British immigrant who is more concretely integrated with Canadian social and economic reality. Elena Albani thus creates a woman who, thanks to her tenacious character and her spirit of adaptability, is able to leap over centuries of Italian traditions seeking integration not only on Canadian soil, but in the company and partnership with a member of the dominant culture. This novel addresses a number of themes which find expression in later Italian Canadian literature as well: the woman’s isolation; the fraying of familial communication and ties; the woman’s eventual attainment of personal and social freedom which, in the 1950s, would have been difficult for her had she remained in Italy.

In the setting of English-speaking Ontario, almost a generation later, Maria Ardizzi also explores the life situation of an Italian wife and mother in relation to her individual freedom. In Ardizzi’s novel, as in Albani’s we find the strong vein of separation between men and women. Unlike Albani’s young protagonist, Ardizzi’s Nora is unable to make positive employment of her individual freedom by effecting a new social network for herself. Her life needs to be increasingly alimented by her children’s presence and affections. Nora’s vision of life and family retain the image of a confined cage or “gabbia stretta” to such a dramatic point that she becomes physically paralized, and eventually silent. Nora internalizes what she perceives to be external elements of social and familial rejections. In time her body rejects her.

The poetry of Liliane (Bravi) Welch is reminiscent of ancestral customs and traditions. Her poetry dwells on remote memories which are engulfed for the most part by the austere nature of the east-Canadian landscape, and by the ever-present voice of the Atlantic ocean.

Some of Welch’s autobiographical concerns centre on her ancestral roots as displayed in the 1987 collection Word-House of a Grandchild.2 Here, in the Preface, Welch states, “I have learned from my genealogy that a family epic is something as forbidding, incomprehensible and ritualistic as a wilderness area; that when you are looking for one specific ancestor at the beginning of a path, another one is waiting for you at the next turn . . . My awakening to my grandparents’ plights and adventures began when, in 1978, I first went to Italy . . . The firm sense of social relations and family commitments returned me to the world of my childhood.” The writer nurtures a magical fascination with her grandfather, “Rinaldo Bravi” – his name/ conceals power and panic … the vowels/ spell ‘strong ruler,’/ the consonants rise up/ proudly. [“Names”,3] In “Slaves of Solitude”, the grandchild, in a voyeuristic rhapsody paints snake-like, a vision of carnal engagement between her grandparents, more an exercise in mutual devouring than redemptive conjugal love:

How I feel
this evening their already
intransigent lust!
In my body-
heat, their division
revives its rock-face
the secret pulse,
exhaustion traps their thirst
and moans rise from
these stubborn slaves of solitude. [21]

In the course of preparing this collection, Welch, by the gift of her creative memory, has brought back to life the persons of her grandparents. The poems serve the purpose of real visitations to the setting where their lives unfolded. The writer returns to Italy to reclaim the memory of her childhood. The deceased ancestors return to the imagination of the writer, and through her, to the village to resume a former life, so to speak, whose episodes Welch recounts. In the end, in the last poem aptly named “Migrations,” the ancestors migrate back to their afterlife, as the writer migrates back to Canada:

Grandfather I heard you
in the flock of Canada
geese last night
when their honk came peeling
from the wind, through clouds,
past rooftops into my bed, that pure
lonely, soaring call
lifted me out of my dreams
to the confines of your migrations
to earth’s end. You were bereft of voice
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I too am driven by your need
for a hundred migrations to come.
I seek you, Rinaldo. Promise of flight.[62]

The need which the immigrants have felt, and continue to feel, for reaching back in their memory for recollections of the past to confirm the present has been considered a typcically immigrant syndrome. Let us remember however, that the exercise of recalling the past both in order to confirm the present and to provide consolation for it, were and continue to be cherished exercises of writers and artists the world over. Memory and doting on remembrances play central roles in creative evolution and in the unfolding of our individual existence.

The time has come for us and for other Canadians to realize that Canadian authors of Italian origin bring to the thresholds of our hearts and memory themes which are dear to them and to all immigrants in our quest for personal identity and authenticity. Let us not forget that many of these themes are universal in nature, though particular in expression and language. If culture emerges from actions and human expressions, Canadian women writers of Italian origin are certainly luminous examples of culture questioning itself as it creates, through the human body, the spoken and written word.

1 Alidya Lamotte, Les Autres Quebecoises (Montreal: Ministere des Communautes culturelles et de l’immigration, 1985),pp21-22,60. Lamotte elaborates with respect to type of employment, noting from studies conducted that of the 106.700 immigrant women in general who receive wages, 72% are employed in factories, while 40% work in domestic and service activities
2 Liliane (Bravi) Welch, “Word-House of a Grandchild” (Charlottetown: Ragweed Press, 1987)
3 “Italian-Canadian Women Writers Recall History,” Canadian Ethnic Studies,XVIII, 1 (1986),83