I have visited Italy twice in the last two years and met 40 of my relatives in southern Italy. We’ve never met before, but we loved each other. This is a photo of me with my great uncle Ilario, cousin Dominic and the legs of his wife, Ines. I’m writing in my notebook capturing snippets of family history as Uncle Ilario shares stories in Italian (translated by my two cousins). We’re sitting under the orange tree that my grandfather picked oranges from when he was growing up on this piece of land before he left in 1914. I loved being there under the Italian sun savoring stories about my heritage, and inhaling the fragrance from the trees of lemons, oranges and almonds.
Both sets of grandparents immigrated from Calabria in southern Italy, and only my maternal grandfather talked about his life there. The other three just wanted their children to be as American as possible. Their children (my parents and their siblings) were not even taught to speak Italian. Perhaps my one grandfather told so many stories because he left his parents and seven siblings behind, not to return to Italy until 67 years later, when he was 89 years old. The cousins my husband and our two children visited two years ago, are the descendants of my maternal grandfather’s family.
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