Differences Between American and Australian Calabresi
by Roy Fazzalari
An exploration into how the Calabresi who settled in the United States and Australia have evolved differently in thier new countries.
As I "fossick" through various websites with an Italian interest, I get the impression that there is a distinct difference between U.S. Italians & Australian Italians. It seems that many U.S. Italians have lost contact with their Italian families and lack a lot of basic knowledge about Italy / Calabria. Probably because much more time has elapsed in America since the arrival of the first generation of Italian migrants. And also because of the expectations of the migrant from the prevailing culture.
The bulk of Italian migrants came to Australia post World War II and therefore probably two generations or so behind the Italian U.S. migration phase.
My four brothers, two sisters and I were all born in Australia. Father arrived in 1927 to join his brother and one other paesano from the village. We all speak the dialect very well and communicate with our mother in dialect and/or English. Father has since passed away.
Here in Australia, most 2nd and many 3rd & 4th generation can speak the Calabrese dialect well (It has always been encouraged). However speaking proper Italian is definitely not the same case. I regret my children don't speak the dialect--much to my & their disappointment.
In our early childhood in post World War II Australia we all suffered from a strong anti-Italian sentiment. School life was particularly tough as we were very much different, "darker" and in the minority. Perhaps we were somewhat exotic for some. Our parents never did understand why they could not pay the school fees with vegetables rather than cash or why the school headmaster would not agree to allow us to stay home from school when it was time to kill the pig. After all, killing the pig was and is a very important family occasion! But we learnt to live with our differences. Today those differences are our strengths. Our strong family ties, our food etc. For which many of our non-Italian friends now envy us.
I am reminded of the occasion many years ago, when I invited a workmate and his wife for dinner and his wife would not even attempt to eat my wife's famous home made lasagna. And today, after many years, my friend and his wife, having since acquired such a taste for Italian food, are regular guests at our dinner table. Things have changed for the better.
I will always remember the first time I was allowed to bring a non-Italian school friend home and his reaction to his first taste of Olive oil in a delicious fresh tomato salad with olive oil of course, basil, onion, oregano etc.
Today, everyone wants to be Italian. Olive Oil is so trendy. And Calamari...I recall when it used to be thrown back in the water. Now it is so popular and so expensive to buy. Perhaps we should have kept our culinary secrets to ourselves!
Early life in Australia in general was even tougher for our parents who had to deal with all the problems of a being in a foreign land and unwelcoming culture. Homesick and separated from loved ones, strange language etc. And of course particularly during the war, life for them, being Italians, was most difficult. Compulsory Internment in camps for Aliens, separated families, restrictions on travel, anti-Italian sentiment, prejudice, no contact with family in Italy. I guess the plight of Italians was much the same in the U.S. during the war.
Always they taught us to be proud of our heritage and not to hesitate to say so. Another way of putting it: We did not always turn the other cheek!
As a consequence of those early life experiences, I now find myself a little sensitive when confronted with stereotypical negative sentiments about our people and our region. Too often I am confronted with negative throwaway lines, or the butt of jokes demeaning Calabria and it's people. Dare I say it, often from non-Calabrian Italian friends. Some actually believe in what they say and it seems that they think that because we do not protest, often out of courtesy or respect for them, it therefore gives them the right to degrade us at will. For many years I always chose to be cool and ignore them. I came to understand that by not responding I was actually approving of their comments. Most times they were inaccurate and offensive. I would never be disrespectful to them. And furthermore, they would never expect me to be. I couldn't imagine their reaction if I was. So I guess it a matter of continuous education for the uneducated.
Fortunately nowadays, life in Australia for all minorities is generally much much better. Once famous for it's White Australia Policy (in effect - Anglo Saxon policy). Australia's policy now is for a Multi-Cultural Society which encourages and even financially supports the preservation of different cultures. Today Multi-Culturalism is widely endorsed by the Australian community. Even if, Multi-Culturalism is viewed by many as only being good for Australia in "creating a greater diversity of foods."
My impression is that the American experience in many ways is quite different to the Australian experience. Immigrants to the US just wanted to be Americans, so they stopped speaking the language (at least to the children) and with getting established in the United States, didn't dwell on where they came from. This has never been the case in Australia.
I recall seeing a documentary where Henry Ford forbade his migrant workers from speaking anything other than English in the work place. He - Ford - apparently even used to send inspectors into the homes of ethnic workers to ensure that they were; "Living The American Way."
Fortunately today we are allowed to be what we really are: Australians of Italian origin. And to this day, whilst we have all become good Australians, treated fairly and equally, many Italians still make their own home made wine, olive oil, kill the pig, grow their vegetables, make tomato sauce, etc. And now it is even becoming trendy for them too to make tomato sauce for pasta...What next?
If there is a problem it is that, whilst minorities are encouraged to preserve their difference, they are often treated differently because they continue to be different. Right now, this very issue is a serious problem for people of Middle Eastern origins in Australia. And I guess America has this problem as well.
Today I am proud to belong to a community of which my father was a founder. Offering many welfare services to its members. Most importantly, providing care for its elderly citizens via three modern nursing home facilities for aged Italians and social activities etc via a community centre.