Academic journal article Ethnologies

Visiting la Madre Patria: Heritage Pilgrimage among Montreal Italians

Academic journal article Ethnologies

Visiting la Madre Patria: Heritage Pilgrimage among Montreal Italians

Article excerpt

This article focuses on visits to Italy undertaken by young Montreal Italians. I have divided these trips into three separate categories: the school trip, the extended stay, and the family visit. These trips allowed my informants to access Italy on three different levels. The school trip gave them the opportunity to experience the touristic elements of Italy, while the extended stay allowed them to understand the realities of living in Italy. The family visit gave them a chance to trace their family history and experience their parents' hometowns. These trips and the narratives that accompanied them have become identity markers for these Montreal Italians as well as a way for them to shape cultural awareness.

Cet article traite des voyages en Italie entrepris par de jeunes Italiens de Montreal. Nous les avons divises en trois categories: le voyage scolaire, le sejour de longue duree et la visite dans la famille. Ces voyages permettent aux jeunes Canadiens de developper leur identite italienne a divers niveaux. Le voyage scolaire est une occasion de vivre une experience touristique, alors que le sejour de longue duree leur donne un apercu des realites de la vie quotidienne italienne. Le sejour chez les proches de la famille permet de retracer leur histoire familiale et de decouvrir les lieux d'origine de leurs parents. Ces voyages et les recits qui les accompagnent constituent des reperes identitaires pour ces jeunes Italiens montrealais ainsi qu'un outil de sensibilisation culturelle.


I never felt stupid or rejected in Barisciano.... How could you be rejected? This is where you come from. This is where we would be living if it weren't for my grandfather; this is where my grandfather lived (Steven Scalia 2008).

I have never been to Italy. Having Italian citizenship and an immigrant mother, this is something I rarely admit. I grew up listening to stories about Italy from various family members; some of my family lived there, others have merely visited, but I was always left feeling that my Italian identity was somehow diminished since I have never visited our Madre Patria--our homeland. Young Montreal Italians, like myself, were brought up on stories of their homeland told by immigrant family members. Many have been to Italy several times and consider it a necessary experience for the cultural identity of young Canadians of Italian descent. Second and third generation Italian Canadians in Montreal are in a unique position when it comes to their heritage pilgrimages to Italy; they are not immigrants themselves returning to the country they left behind, nor are they visiting their distant familial past with little connection to the area. In this article I explore the narratives of these young Montreal Italians visiting Italy, the reasons why they undertake such visits and the identity folklore generated by them. This article is part of a larger study on ethnic identity among young Montreal Italians that focused on how they performed their Italian heritage; through food, religion and ethnic display.

The methods for this study are steeped in qualitative research and while my research does not draw upon a representational sample of Montreal Italians, I believe that what "such approaches lack in breadth, they make up in depth and, as such, provide a necessary counterpoint to survey-oriented research" (Del Negro 1997: 25). To this end, from April to July 2008 I conducted ethnographic interviews with twenty Montrealers under the age of 35 about their experiences as members of the Italian community. I began by interviewing acquaintances of mine who grew up in Italian families and who then, in turn, referred me to friends of theirs. Thus, I was able to interview a rather homogenous group of Montreal Italians. As a Montreal Italian of this generation, my upbringing was comparable to most of my informants and I believe this allowed me better access to their anecdotes and narratives as they could explain their traditions and customs without worry of judgment. …

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