Moving towards Sicily

The Sicily of today is very different from the one my grandparents left behind; it has gone through a tremendous economic boom which saw it move from an agricultural-based economy to one based on industry, all in one generation.

People in contemporary Sicily live as well as anyone else and barely recall the hardships of their grandparents.

My journey towards my Sicilian origins happens two generations later and takes me deeper still into the story of this fascinating island as I descend further into Sicily, a fathomless place.

I was born infatuated with Italy, thanks to my grandparents and parents who brought me up to love the language, culture and cuisine of Italy. 

As a child, I loved the feeling of being an individual, being Italian in deeply Anglo Saxon Australia set me apart from everyone. 

At school, I was reminded continuously of my foreignness. I spoke with my hands, ate different foods for lunch, spent my time mostly with my family, heard a foreign language every day in my home. 

I loved being Italian, above all because I loved my family and so rejoiced in my individuality.

I never felt connected to Australia; there was always something excluding me; I never felt like I belonged. I do love many things about Australia: the energy, weather, lifestyle and Australians are beautiful people. But I never really felt accepted or indeed at home there.

Luckily I do not recall ever being the victim of racism, yet I am not too fond of the derogative words Australians still use for Italians.

The words ‘wog’ and ‘i-tie’ make my skin crawl. Today Italo Australians call themselves ‘wogs’ and stand up comedians poke fun at the older Italian migrant generation, which is sadly beginning to die out. I feel protective of them, as I recall the time when those words were a slap in the face. I have never been called those names, to my face but my family members, yes.

Today Australians are in love with Italy; everyone drinks coffee, goes to the cafe, takes Instagram photos while having their aperitif or dreams of holidaying in Tuscany while sipping Chianti. 

It wasn’t always like this, 1950’s Italian migrants in Australia were teased and called ‘plonk’ drinkers and the first alfresco cafes were seen as totally foreign as the thought of drinking coffee at a table on the side of the street was considered utterly insane.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve never felt comfortable in Australia. I can never quite entirely forgive the old Anglo Saxon racist underbelly which gave Italian’s such a hard time and that still exists just below the surface.