I have talked extensively on The Italian American Podcast and on our blog about my trip to Italy this past summer, where I met my living Italian relatives for the first time. What I haven’t talked about, however, is some of the things I learned about my family history while there; things I never would have learned if I hadn’t gone.
In this post, I want to tell you about one discovery that remains very special to me; one that I will never forget.
Our two-car caravan had just arrived in the small town of Sortino, Sicily, to connect with the maternal line of our family. Our instructions from our Sicilian relatives were, “Meet us at the front gate of the city, by the Madonna statue.” Coming from a suburb outside of New York City, I couldn’t get over this idea of ‘meeting at the city entrance.’ It really defines the culture of simplicity in these small Southern-Italian towns. Where I live, never would I be able to say to someone, “Just meet me at the main entrance to the city.”
Our relatives were sitting in their car on the side of the road, and of course, jumped out of their car when they saw us. This was the second time we had met them on the trip.
My limited conversational Italian and their old-school Sicilian made it somewhat difficult to communicate, but somehow, we always understood what the other person was trying to say. In this instance, my cousin Nunzia motioned for us to come over to the statue of the Madonna. It was a beautiful statue, built over one hundred years ago, but rebuilt in the 1950’s. Nunzia proceeded to tell us that the statue was built by the brother of my Grandpa Sal’s grandfather; in other words, my maternal grandfather’s, grandfather’s, brother.
It took her a few times of saying, “il fratello di il nonno di tuo nonno,” for me to put it together, but once I did, it was an amazing feeling. While home in New Jersey, I did tons of family research. I found all kinds of documentation, including birth certificates and draft cards, but never could I have found something like this. Something so real and physical. Something that I could touch.
I stood there for a few minutes and took it all in. Then I hugged Nunzia.
Later on during the trip, I ended up staying in Sortino for three nights, and I learned so much more about that statue. I learned things that my Grandfather Sal, who recently passed away, will never know about.
I learned, and saw with my own eyes, that people simply gather around the statue at night and enjoy each other’s company.
I learned that every couple in Sortino who gets married goes to this statue of the Madonna to take photos.
I learned that by going to Italy, you can learn so much more than by solely doing your family research at home on a computer.
Now it’s your turn. Please share your story in the comments below of the happy surprises you found on any trip to Italy you may have taken. And if you haven’t been there, I’d love to know what you dream of finding when you do make it there one day.
The Italian American Podcast