Coming Together Around the Idea of Italianess

I was delighted and at first a little surprised when I received an invitation to speak at Villa Maria High School, an all-girls’ school in Montreal – delighted because I always enjoy talking about my work to young people; surprised because the invitation came from the school’s Italian club – “Mondo Italia.” I didn’t think that high school students today would organize such a club. But then, why wouldn’t they?

Italians have always loved to come together around the idea of “Italianness,” however one might define this. There is a vitality and wealth to having Italian roots that compels people to identify with it. There is also a solid tradition of organizing and coming together from the early years of massive Italian immigration to Canada in the late 1800s until today. Italian-based organizations have flourished, as evidenced early on by mutual aid societies, and later by business organizations, media (such as this magazine!), and cultural and community centres.

Comprised of grade 7, 8 and 9 students most of whom are third and fourth generation Italians (and some non-Italian italophiles), the Mondo Italia Club meets once a week to, in the words of their moderator and teacher Maria DiScala, “honour and foster an appreciation for the Italian culture.” This, in my view, precisely describes the mission of virtually all the aforementioned types of organizations. If a group of adolescents feels the pull of their cultural roots, this can only bode well for the future of the Italian Canadian identity.

This issue shines the light on Montreal’s Little Italy – Canada’s first and still vibrant Italian enclave, and in many ways a reflection of Little Italies everywhere. Like its counterparts throughout North America, Montreal’s Little Italy began with immigrants turned labourers in search of a more promising future. They huddled together to form the nucleus of a community, and over time became integrated with the wider society, growing more prosperous and offering succeeding generations greater opportunities.

Tangible evidence of the trials and tribulations of this community is Montreal’s Casa d’Italia. Inaugurated at the height of the Great Depression, the Casa is emblematic of many community successes and some disappointments. Pasquale L. Iacobacci takes readers on a short but comprehensive tour of the Casa, and its future plans, as it undergoes a major structural renovation and vocational overhaul.

What is a feature on Montreal’s Little Italy without mention of the adjacent Jean-Talon Market! Also opened in the 1930s, la marchetta illustrates the early influence of Italians on Canadian culinary and lifestyle choices. (The fact that so many vegetables in the English world are known only by their Italian name can surely be traced to the Jean-Talon Market!)

An event that still marks individual members as well as the Italian community as a whole is the imprisonment and the designation as enemy aliens of hundreds of Italian Canadians, during World War II, though none was ever charged with any crime. Michael Mirolla interviews playwright Vittorio Rossi about his play on the subject, Paradise by the River, that will re-open this fall at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre. On a lighter note, Giancarlo La Giorgia wonders about the nature of “authentic” Italian cuisine and its knack for appropriating “foreign” ingredients in its constant pursuit to reinvent itself.

Caroline Morgan Di Giovanni profiles Jessica Scarlato, a young Italian Canadian soprano with a bright future, and Kasper Hartman profiles Canadian poet and critic Carmine Starnino. Connie G. McParland writes about the Accenti Magazine Foundation’s first annual gala and Licia Canton reports on the 5th Annual Accenti Magazine Awards. Read Loretta Di Vita’s winning story “Just Visiting”; and read about Amy Occhipinti’s winning photo “Guidare.”

Happy Reading!

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