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Piazza Purgatorio: Una lettera d’amore all’Italia al tempo della pandemia

Piazza Purgatorio: Una lettera d’amore all’Italia al tempo della pandemia

“T’avia sarbàtu du aranci. Ma…” mi dice zia Carmela. “Ti avevo messo da parte le arance. Ma…” sospira. Sono al telefono con lei e parliamo in siciliano, la nostra lingua madre. “Cu è? A nuòstra Francuzza?” sento lo zio Luigi in sottofondo. Io sono a Montreal e loro a Joppolo Giancaxio, il paesino in provincia di Agrigento dove sono cresciuta.…

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The Legacy and Cultural Significance of Italian Grocers

The Legacy and Cultural Significance of Italian Grocers

Although it was a long time ago, the memories I have are still vivid – walking as a boy at my father's side on cool summer mornings, before the sun was up, at the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto, visiting the farmers' stalls one after another, looking for the most succulent black cherries, the juiciest red haven peaches from the…

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The World I Want to Dream of

The World I Want to Dream of

In 1966, at the age of twenty-four, I left Italy, my country of birth, and only sporadically returned to visit relatives and friends. Seldom in touch with Italian news, over the many years, I only recall the major events that the media chose to broadcast about my country. If this detachment appears to be neglect for my place of birth,…

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The Prescott

The Prescott

The Prescott shares a reputation with The Lafayette House in the Byward Market as the oldest licensed drinking establishment in Ottawa. Originally called The Preston Hotel (it stopped renting rooms in 1978), the establishment was re-baptized The Prescott in 1941 most likely, it is held, in recognition of its status as the last watering hole between Ottawa and the town…

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Centro Arte e Cultura Alberto Di Giovanni in Roccamorice

Centro Arte e Cultura Alberto Di Giovanni in Roccamorice

To honour his hometown of Roccamorice in the mountains of Abruzzo, Alberto Di Giovanni established an exquisite cultural museum in a restored chapel in the heart of the village. The project began about 10 years ago when the municipality was able to fund the reconstruction of the “Baron’s Chapel,” a private chapel of the Barone Giuseppe Zambra.  A tall, square,…

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The Other Italy

The Other Italy

In Canada and the United States, Italians form an ethnic community whose values and traditions represent an alternative to the North American status quo. This particular reality often leads to the assumption, among other North Americans that Italy, unlike Canada or the US – countries composed of plural “national identities” – hosts no minority ethnic communities of its own. Historically,…

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Oregano & Origins: In the Shadow of the Italian Kitchen

Oregano & Origins: In the Shadow of the Italian Kitchen

I learnt to cook so well in Sicily that I will cause the banqueters to bite the dishes and the plates for joy.” – attributed to Alexis of Tarentum, 4th century BC, in Mary Taylor Simeti, Pomp and Sustenance: Twenty-five Centuries of Sicilian Food (1989). “Simplicity…is one of the most fundamental and at the same time most elusive keys to preparing food well……

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Rocky Roads: Northern Italy’s Jewish Heritage

Rocky Roads: Northern Italy’s Jewish Heritage

Mountain Jews in the Italian/Austrian Alps? The Tyrol region is not immediately associated with Jews or Jewish history. Yet surprisingly, the area encompassing the magnificent Dolomite Mountains has had a Jewish presence. In fact, no less breathtaking than the landscape of this UNESCO World Heritage property is the post-Emancipation history of the Jews who passed through this part of the…

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Sicilian Ruins: Resurrecting Poggioreale

Sicilian Ruins: Resurrecting Poggioreale

In a June 2012 editorial in a local Piedmont newspaper on the earthquake in Emilia-Romagna, the editor was careful to express his sympathy for the loss of life and injuries. But he was otherwise on another mission: that earthquakes in Italy do more than just knock down old buildings and towers. He explained that when an earthquake destroys a church…

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Red, White and Green Space: National Parks in Italy and Canada

Red, White and Green Space: National Parks in Italy and Canada

Canada and Italy possess striking landscapes, each unique in its own right, and no less picturesque one from the other. These spaces, often designated as national parks, are as valuable to a sense of national identity and pride as are music, art, and history. Federal and regional authorities in both countries recognize the value of these spaces and play a vital, ongoing role in their creation and maintenance. The notion of national…

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Cicoria Roadside Stories

Cicoria Roadside Stories

Many Italian immigrants who came to America in the last century were certainly disappointed when they did not find the fabled streets paved in gold. But others were surely heartened when they discovered that the endless fields of green, which both surrounded and dotted their urban habitat, contained another kind of gold – cicoria! These hopeful immigrants, who were accustomed to…

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Home, Belonging and Identity

My fascination with cultural identity stems from the fact that I grew up immersed in three separate cultures that were often at odds with each other. I was legally Canadian, culturally Italian, and linguistically, a Quebecker. This hyper-awareness surrounding my cultural identity was only compounded when I left Montreal and moved to Newfoundland for graduate school in 2007. Leaving multi-ethnic…

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Where Everybody Knows (How to Spell) My Name

Where Everybody Knows (How to Spell) My Name

Recently, an acquaintance told me that I don’t look “Canadian.” In all fairness, the person who said it to me was not Canadian, and I think it was meant as a compliment. Still, it made me reflect on my cultural identity (as opposed to my national identity), and it made me realize how fluid and dynamic it can be. It’s…

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My Italian-Canadian-American Life in Reverse

My Italian-Canadian-American Life in Reverse

The first I saw of Rome was no different than the last I saw of it three years ago. The persistent chaos at Fiumicino, then at Termini, was familiar and, more importantly, happy. There is no reason for me to feel so instantly at home there or, in truth, almost anywhere on the peninsula. I have never lived there for…

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Italy For Beginners

Italy For Beginners

Can you imagine waking up every morning in a place where nearly every street has a coffee bar or gelato stand? Where you can sit on your balcony and watch the sunrise or set behind a majestic duomo in the distance? Where beauty and culture are at your fingertips? This place could seem like a dream, but for one summer, it became my reality:…

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I Left My Heart in Campania

I Left My Heart in Campania

There is a song, a famous Neapolitan song, that my mother taught me when I was a little girl: Vir 'o mare quant’è bello, Ispira tantu sentimento ... The opening lines of the song, Torna a Surriento, have been made famous by Elvis Presley, Dean Martin and Luciano Pavarotti. They have been enjoyed by thousands and thousands of fans over the…

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How Six Months in Turin Changed My Life

How Six Months in Turin Changed My Life

Italy! Land of delectable food, birthplace of the Renaissance, and home of great design – I believe it is one of the greatest places on Earth. My “soggiorno torinese” began in August 2005, but my journey had actually begun at McGill University, six months earlier with an acceptance letter from Italy for a student exchange. Growing up, I had always…

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Forever Home

I was standing outside the Palermo airport with my brother and sister, soaking in the scorching heat and the magnificent landscape. Sicily has such beauty to offer; from where I was standing, I could have taken any number of pictures that would have been postcard-worthy. I didn’t take any though, because my body was not yet used to the island’s…

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Being or Becoming: Who Am I, Really?

As I sit to write this piece, I am hit by a cosmic, albeit familiar, question: Who am I, really? My identity was never a major concern for me until recently. I’ve always been pretty certain of who I am. I’m Giulia, of course. I had my adolescent identity crisis, but that was part of growing up. Everyone goes through…

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Volumes Commemorate Italian Internees

The Community Historical Recognition Program instituted by the Government of Canada is a welcome step in exposing past wrongs and trying to gain new understanding of problematic historical events. As reported in the Summer issue of Accenti, in 2009 the Canadian Government created a program inviting community organizations to submit proposals for projects that acknowledge a dark chapter in Canadian history…

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When Mass Hysteria Leads to Injustice

Revisiting and re-examining difficult episodes from our past allows us to become attuned to the lessons of history that can inform and guide our social policies, laws and practices. In March 2003, I contributed an article entitled “What We Suffer Most Is Memory Itself” in the inaugural edition of Accenti Magazine (accenti.ca/library). At that time, I was completing research for…

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Italian “Enemy Aliens”: How Canada Declared War on Its Own Citizens

Italian “Enemy Aliens”: How Canada Declared War on Its Own Citizens

"Sending civilians to internment camps without trial simply because of ethnic origin was not then, is not now and never will be accepted in a civilized nation that purports to respect the rule of law. On behalf of the government and people of Canada, I offer a full and unqualified apology for the wrongs done to our fellow Canadians of…

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And the Band Plays On…

And the Band Plays On…

Montreal’s oldest Italian organisation, the Order Sons of Italy, is also the city’s oldest Italian band – and they have the photos to prove it! Joe Fratino doesn’t care much for the spotlight. Even as president of the Order of the Sons of Italy, the oldest Italian organization in Montreal, he usually prefers working in the background to ensure that…

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Italian Canadian “Enemy Aliens” – Coming to Terms with Canada’s Wartime Legacy

Italian Canadian “Enemy Aliens” – Coming to Terms with Canada’s Wartime Legacy

This past April, the House of Commons passed Bill C-302, the “Italian-Canadian Recognition and Restitution Act,” a private member’s bill tabled by Saint-Leonard/Saint-Michel Member of Parliament Massimo Pacetti, asking the Canadian government to apologize to the Italian Canadian community for its wartime arrest and internment of innocent Italian Canadian civilians. The bill, supported by all opposition parties but opposed by the…

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La Traversata – Italian Immigrant Accounts of Ocean Crossings

La Traversata – Italian Immigrant Accounts of Ocean Crossings

Much has been written on the topic of Italian emigration to America in the 19th and 20th centuries. But despite the vast amount of research on the topic, the ocean crossing itself, perhaps the biggest single event in the immigrant experience, is also one of the least studied. And though it permanently marked their lives, once they arrived in the New World,…

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Forgotten Jews of Southern Italy

Forgotten Jews of Southern Italy

Who am I and where do I come from? The simple response would be “a writer” (my profession) and “Montreal” (my place of birth and residence). Inquire a little deeper and you might get my ethnic background: “Italian,” or more specifically, “Calabrese and Sicilian.” At this, some people will jokingly reference mob connections. The one connection they’d never make is…

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De Grassi, the Story Behind the Name

The Degrassi television series, which deals with real-life issues facing its young characters, has enthralled viewers in Canada and 100 other countries for thirty years. The original series, The Kids of Degrassi Street (CBC, 1979) took its name from a street in Toronto’s East End – De Grassi Street. Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High followed. The current edition, called Degrassi: The Next Generation, is now in its…

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Symbol of Resurgence – Montreal’s Casa d’Italia

Symbol of Resurgence – Montreal’s Casa d’Italia

In the mid 1960s the Italian community almost lost the Casa d’Italia landmark. It took great effort and much lobbying to prevent the expropriation and demolition of the Casa, whose lot had been earmarked for the construction of a station for Montreal’s newly created Metro system. This event is reflective of the often tumultuous seventy-five year history of the Casa d’Italia – a witness…

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Stereotypers Beware – Le Donne Briganti Have Your Number

Put away your prejudices, preconceptions and stereotypes. Le Donne Briganti are coming! Made up of women from all walks of Montreal life – lawyers, restaurateurs, conference centre directors and publishing house owners, to name but a few, Le Donne have made it their mission to speak and act out as one against what they feel is the malicious stereotyping of Italians. While…

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Pier 21 Legacy: Italians in Halifax

Pier 21 Legacy: Italians in Halifax

Although the Italian community in Nova Scotia is among the oldest in Canada and Halifax holds a significant place in the history of immigration, it was only in 1974 that a group of Italians came together to form the Italian Canadian Cultural Association of Nova Scotia (ICCA). Previously, while the Italian community was present in Nova Scotia, most Italians were…

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Centro Scuola Italy Programs: Strengthening Cultural Ties

Centro Scuola Italy Programs: Strengthening Cultural Ties

Standing in front of the Duomo in Florence with a group of your best friends makes a perfect photo for Facebook or your cell phone. But more importantly, you will remember the experience for the rest of your life. Travelling to Italy, living in residence, studying for credit, and visiting historic sites creates an indelible impression on eager young minds. Since 1986,…

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Florio is Shakespeare – Fifteen Reasons

1. John Florio added more than one thousand new words to the English language, the same contribution attributed to William Shakespeare. Furthermore, Florio compiled the first Italian/English dictionary. The 1611 edition contained 74,000 Italian words and 150,000 English words. Frances Yates, author of Florio’s biography (1934) defines Florio’s dictionary as the epitome of the era’s culture. 2. John Florio and…

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The Folklore of Making Tomato Sauce

The Folklore of Making Tomato Sauce

Newfoundland’s Memorial University is famous for its Folklore department and may boast the only such program in Canada – at least in the English language. (The Université Laval in Quebec has a French Ethnology program). But it still takes quite a stretch of the imagination to connect that and the making of tomato sauce by third generation Italians in Montreal…

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From Russia Without Love: Letters from the Russian Front – 1942 (Part 1)

On the Luganskaya Front An endless column ahead of me is standing still on the frozen trail to Lugansk. It is a column only in a manner of speaking. It would be better to call it an infinitum of wrecks lined up one behind the other. Wrecks… Everything is decrepit, worn out, perforated, consumed, and dented - a perfect match…

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Home Winemaking: Reviving an Italian Tradition

Ask anyone for his or her impression of homemade wines and the answer most often includes some polite body language followed by one or two descriptives such as "too strong" or "harsh." Such wines are the result of outdated winemaking methods and poor grape selection. The younger generation of Italian Canadians sees little reason to keep the home winemaking tradition…

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La Storia Nascosta

La Storia Nascosta

In the unusual spelling of my family name lies a significant aspect of North American Italian culture. Schembri is the original spelling of my name, as it appears in the birth record of my grandfather in the nineteenth-century municipal record book in Bivona, Sicily.The vulgarization of surnames is, of course, typical among North American immigrants. It happened often for obvious…

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Minister’s Forum on Diversity and Culture

Last April I was privileged to be invited to the Minister's Forum on Diversity and Culture, a two-day affair organized by the Department of Canadian Heritage. The event brought together heritage department functionaries and representatives of the so-called ethnic media, ostensibly with the purpose of initiating a dialogue between the two parties. In plenary sessions and in smaller discussion groups,…

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Italian Immigration and Its Continuing Influence on the Structure and Culture of North American Society

Italian Immigration and Its Continuing Influence on the Structure and Culture of North American Society

In the fall of 1999, I began offering a course in North American Italian literature. After years of reading about classes with titles such as Italian Canadian Literature or The Italian American Experience, I decided to offer a North American Italian Literature course, though my university has few Italian American students. Much of what I have observed about American and…

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Creating an Enduring Cultural Legacy

Creating an Enduring Cultural Legacy

The actual moment when the Italian immigration to Canada began is a hotly debated topic. Some consider the landing of Giovanni Caboto somewhere in modern-day Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in 1497 as the very first evidence of the Italian presence on Canadian soil. Others refer to such historical facts as the arrival of Piedmontese soldiers in New France with French…

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What We Suffer Most Is Memory Itself

What We Suffer Most Is Memory Itself

Some months ago in Toronto, a group of legal scholars gathered to discuss the administration of security in a multicultural society (like Canada) in the aftermath of the horrific events of September 11, 2001. With the introduction before Parliament of Bill C-36, ethnic and racial profiling had burst onto the national agenda and attained renewed prominence. As one participant noted,…

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City of a Perilous Legacy

On June 10, 1940, and in the months following, while Canada was at war against Italy, hundreds of Italian Canadian men across the country were arrested by virtue of the War Measures Act. Terrified men, some as young as eighteen and others in their seventies, were whisked away to internment camps in the Canadian bush to serve a sentence as…

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Interview with Heritage Minister Sheila Copps

ACCENTI: Thank you for agreeing to appear in the inaugural issue of Accenti Magazine. Sheila Copps: No problem. I'm very excited about it. It's wonderful. ACCENTI: You delivered a very emotional address during the ceremony designating Madonna della Difesa Church a national historic site. Do you feel a special attachment to the Italian Canadian community? Sheila Copps: I was taught to speak French by…

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Just How Many Canadians of Italian Origin Are There? …And Where Do They Live?

According to the census conducted in the summer of 2001, Canada's total population was estimated to be 29,639,035. The greatest proportion of Canadians ever (39.42%) reported "Canadian" as their ethnic origin. Canadians of Italian origin account for 4.30% of the population, the eighth largest single group. Vaughn, north of Toronto, is the Canadian city with the greatest proportion of people…

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Of Churches, Frescos and Historic Sites

Of Churches, Frescos and Historic Sites

Last November 30, Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, in a simple but meaningful ceremony, designated Madonna della Difesa Church, in the heart of Montreal's Little Italy, a national historic site. "For the last 80 years, "Copps said, "Madonna della Difesa has been at the centre of the life of Montreal Italians. It has enabled the immigrants arriving from Italy to…

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