Language and Legacy

Exploring the legacy of Italian language across generations of women of Italian origin

The history of migration is rich in testimonies and documentations on the cultural mediation role that women of Italian origin play in their migration journey and in putting down roots in a new land.

In this series of conversations, six first generation women, together with their daughters and granddaughters, take us on an exploration of their experiences and of the meaning inherent in sharing their deep linguistic and cultural baggage.

Australia Donna pays homage to these women and all women of Italian origin for their outstanding capacity, strength and determination to keep alive this legacy for new generations.

Click here to see more about the project.

Language and Legacy: Grazia Ceravolo and Domenica Rocca

Mother – Grazia Ceravolo

Born in Sant’Eufemia d’Aspromonte (Reggio Calabria province) in 1932, Grazia arrived in Australia in 1954. Both her parents were Italian born. Now a widow, she has three daughters, a son, and seven grand children. In the first years after arrival, Italian and Calabrese were spoken in the home, now also English. Grazia has maintained the Italian language and Calabrian dialect so her children and grandchildren can know and understand the culture of their parents and maintain a connection with relatives in Italy. She wants her children and grandchildren to be able to read her husband’s poetry, written in Italian, to better understand their origins and cultural heritage and so strengthen the bonds between generations. This she has sought to accomplish, not only through the spoken word and her husband’s writing, but also through the traditional dishes that she has always prepared for her family and through the dance school Gruppo Danza d’Aspromonte that she and her husband founded, where for many years they taught traditional dances like La tarantella to their own and many other children.

 

Daughter – Domenica Rocca

Domie was born in Adelaide in 1955. Both her parents were born in Italy. She is married with two daughters and one son. In her family of origin, she spoke Italian and Calabrian. Now she speaks English within her own family, a mixture of Calabrian and Italian with her parents. It is important for Domie to maintain the Italian language, even if not spoken correctly, as a way for her children to honour their grandparents who took care of them while she and her husband established and worked in their many Italian restaurants. Doubly important so her children can access their grandfather’s poetry and writing in which he reflected on his life in Italy, on his everlasting love for Calabria, and on his beloved traditions, which he never forgot throughout his long lifetime. Domie and her husband value the culinary legacy of Grazia’s store of recipes from which they draw for the menus of their restaurants and through which they hope their children will maintain a connection with their culture of origin.

 

Interviewer – Vera Ubaldi

 

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Language and Legacy: Maria Chiera and Rosa Filosi

Mother – Maria Chiera

Maria was born in Caulonia (Calabria province) in 1936 and arrived in Australia in 1960. Both her parents were Italian born. Now a widow, she has three daughters and eight grandchildren. In the first years after arrival the family spoke Calabrese and English. Now they speak Italian and English. While gradually learning to speak English in the early years, Maria continued to maintain her Italian language, sharing it with her family and within the community, particularly through her voluntary work assisting elderly people.

 

Daughter – Rosa Filosi

Rosa was born in Barmera, South Australia in 1966. Both her parents are Italian born. Her husband is of Italian origin born in Australia and they have two boys and a girl. Languages spoken in Rosa’s family of origin were Calabrese, Italian and English. Now in her own family English is the main language. Since her early years at school Rosa has been very interested in studying Italian. She has continued to deepen her knowledge of the language because for her it is the way to draw from the source of Italian history and culture.

 

Interviewer – Daniela Costa

 

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Language and Legacy: Carmela Allegretti, Elena Castrechini and Deanna Pinder

Mother – Carmela Allegretti

83 years of age, Carmela was born in San Giorgio La Molara, Provincia di Benevento, Italy, the last but one of eleven children. She emigrated to Australia in 1956 and married Arturo, an Italian migrant born in Mazzano Romano. Carmela is the mother of two children, has four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Together with her husband she has always maintained her Italian language, culture and traditions.

 

Daughter – Elena Castrechini

Elena Castrechini, 58 years of age, born in Australia, is proud of her Italian heritage. Having a San Giorgese mother, a father from Rome, her husband, children and grandchild all born in Australia, she has created a multicultural family, rich in languages, tradition and culture. Elena continues to uphold all of this in her workplace and at home with her family and friends.

 

Granddaughter – Deanna Pinder

Diana, 32 years of age, born in Australia, a young mother of her child, Sabastian. Proud of her Italo-Australian heritage she endeavours to speak Italian when in the company of her grandparents and family. She teaches a few Italian words to her little boy.

 

Interviewer – Vincenza Ferraro

 

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Language and Legacy: Reparata Spandrio, Sonia Pascoe and Isabella Pascoe

Mother – Reparata Spandrio

Reparata, born in S. Giorgio la Molara in Benevento, emigrated at a young age to Australia in 1955 with her mother Grazia and younger brother Mario and joined her dad Giovanni who had preceded them the previous year. When she was 18 she married Vittorio who had emigrated from Cosio in Valtellina and together had three children, Sonia being the daughter. Isabella, Sonia’s daughter, is one of Repa’s eight grand children. Italian was spoken in the family home and it was natural for the children to learn speak it as best they could and to learn about their heritage. Reparata has always had a passion and love for her Italy and continues to have a thirst to learn more about its history, art, music and culinary traditions. Her family is also particularly blessed and enriched with the influence of Argentina, Greece and Croatia through the children’s spouses.

 

Daughter – Sonia Pascoe

Thanks to her parents Sonia has spoken Italian since she was a child. But in the 1970s and 1980s once she started attending school where English was spoken it was difficult for her to carry on with the Italian language. Notwithstanding this, she has a passion for her Italian culture and would like to see her children carry on the traditions that have been passed onto her.

 

Granddaughter – Isabella Pascoe

Isabella is in High School and is a student of the Italian language. She has recently returned from her first trip to Italy where she had the opportunity to get to know the country where her grandparents were born. She speaks English and some Italian and is proud to be of Italian heritage.

 

Interviewer – Lara Di Fabio

 

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Language and Legacy: Antonietta Bonini and Tina Luce

Mother – Antonietta Bonini

Born in Altavilla (Avellino – Campania province) Antonietta arrived in Australia in 1955. Both her parents were Italian born. In the first years after arrival, Italian and Neapolitan were spoken in the home, then later also Valtellinese and English. Antonietta always maintained her Italian language because she was very homesick for Italy. She wanted her children to know about Italy and be able to communicate with relatives with whom she has always kept in contact.

 

Daughter – Tina Luce

Tina was born in Adelaide in 1969. Both her parents were born in Italy, her father in Valtellina (Sondrio – Lombardia province), her mother in Altavilla (Campania province). English is spoken in her immediate family. Tina learnt Italian from her mother and Neapolitan from her grandmother. She studied Italian in high school and uses the language in her work at Bene Aged Care where most of the elderly residents are of Italian origin. She was seven years old when she visited Italy for the first time where she began to learn the language more fully. Since then she has maintained contact with friends and relatives and takes pride in her linguistic and cultural heritage from both the north and south of Italy.

 

Interviewer – Giuliana Otmarich

 

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Language and Legacy: Cathy Procopio and Julia Procopio

Mother – Cathy Procopio

Born in Savigliano (Cuneo province – Piemonte) in 1962 Cathy arrived in Australia in January 1970. Both her parents were Italian born, natives of Calabria but resident in Piemonte. She has one daughter, Julia. In the first years after arrival, Italian was spoken in the home, later English, which Cathy learnt at a school for adults for 6 months as there were no teachers at her primary school that could support those students whose English was their second language. She helped her parents who did not speak the language. It was important for her to pass on the Italian language to her daughter so Julia could maintain contact with her own father who lives in Italy and with her grandparents and extended family. Cathy has remained passionate about Italy and considers herself fortunate to have the pleasure and benefit of both the Italian and Australian cultures.

 

Daughter – Julia Procopio

Born in Milano (province of Lombardi) in 1992 Julia arrived in Australia in June 1992 when she was 6 month old. Both her parents were Italian born, her father in Puglia, resident in Milano, her mother in Savigliano (Cuneo-Piedmonte province). In the first years after arrival, Italian was spoken in the home, later English. Julia was teased for her Italian culture in primary school but in high school her Italian and Milanese origins were admired. She became fluent in Italian after spending three months with her father’s family in Italy. She considers herself bi-lingual and teaches languages in secondary schools. Julia loves Italy and is proud of her Italian linguistic and cultural heritage. She is certain she would pass on to any future children of her own this invaluable legacy.

 

Interviewer – Marylisa Fabian

 

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Language and Legacy

Exploring the legacy of Italian language across generations of women of Italian origin

The history of migration is rich in testimonies and documentations on the cultural mediation role that women of Italian origin play in their migration journey and in putting down roots in a new land.

In this series of conversations, six first generation women, together with their daughters and granddaughters, take us on an exploration of their experiences and of the meaning inherent in sharing their deep linguistic and cultural baggage.

Australia Donna pays homage to these women and all women of Italian origin for their outstanding capacity, strength and determination to keep alive this legacy for new generations.

Australia Donna wishes to thank the Department for Communities and Social Inclusion for their contribution of funds to this project.

It gratefully acknowledges the generous and invaluable guidance provided by Angela Scarino in structuring the interviews.

A special thank you to Ian Gibbins for his most valuable and enthusiastic support in every technical aspect of the project, from re-structuring the platform for the website, to video-recording and editing of the interviews, to the final production of the videos and their posting on the website.

Australia Donna wishes to thank the women who generously agreed to take part in this project and those from the organising committee for their contribution to the many phases of the project.

 

Click on the links below to see the conversations.

 

Drought by Nancy Sortini

The year was 1957. I was a mere 17 years of age.  A position had presented itself as a governess at a remote cattle station north east of Alice Spring.  I applied and got the position to supervise two children ..  In January of that year I arrived in Alice Springs a very excited, very naïve young woman looking for adventure.  I was full of bravado and daring and ready for anything that my new life could throw at me.  They told me that the country was in the throes of a severe drought, but it meant nothing to me as having never been there before I thought that was how it was all the time.

I soon was spending every spare moment with the station hands tearing around the property.  It was sad to see the spindly trees which the cattle had eaten the leaves off as far as they could reach.  The nearly dry waterholes with little water left in them, and where the weaker of the cattle were bogged down in the surrounding mud and could not get up to get to the water.  These of course had to be shot as an act of mercy.  It was the one thing I never quite got used to  I always turned my head away as the deed was done. I soon learnt that life in the outback can be harsh and brutal.

The words of Dorothea McKellar’s poem I Love a sunburnt country, came back  to me, and I really understood for the first time what her words ‘  meant.  I loved the remoteness, the red earth, the distant mountains which I would gaze at at sunset when they changed into a myriad of distant colours.

The dust storms were something quite frightening.  We would see one gathering in the distance, shut all windows and doors and huddle inside.  The noise as it passed through was like thunder and even though everything was battened down the relentless dust seeped through every little crack it could find.  By the time it had passed  we and the house was covered in dust.  It would take the station owners wife days to get the house free of dust again.. It  amazed me that when I borrowed a book from the house that even the pages were full of  bits of red earth..

Many times in those months of drought we would watch as storm clouds gathered and would wonder if they contained rain.  Inevitably they would move on and disappointment  was shared by all.

The magical day arrived when the clouds did open and down it came, rain, something I had always taken for granted.  I realised then that it was the difference between life and death, survival or going under.  What was the most utterly amazing thing for me was waking up a few days later to a world completely transformed, from red earth to a carpet of green grass growing as far as the eye could see.  I just could not believe my eyes and realised then that this was what it was always meant to look like.

I left after a year when my contract  was up in search of more adventure.  I left behind a broken heart, and a local policeman who after he had taken me for a drivers test, had his hair turn white overnight.