The time capsule that our generation lived in
“Are you Italian?” “Yes, but I was born and raised in Australia.” “Well, you’re Australian then.”
This conversation is usually followed by an explanation that in Australia our cultural identity goes beyond our place of birth. I am sure a lot of Italo-Australians can relate to this.
After high school I worked at Brunetti Café. There I interacted with many other Italians, both those born here, and those and born in Italy. I learned that though we Australians of Italian descent tend to identify ourselves as ‘Italian’, Italians see us as Australian.
I always dumbfounded by this because Italian is Italian, right? It’s in our blood AND our hand gestures.
However, throughout recent years working at Brunetti and meeting many new people, I have recently begun to understand the differences between Italians and Italian-Australians.
Trends in history tend to repeat themselves, and I can see one reoccurring in Australian society. Consider the wave of migration after WWII, which saw our parents or nonni create opportunity and contribute immensely to Australian society. The ‘two cultures’, that is, Italians and Italian-Australians, should now merge together as one culture, and new migrants should be welcomed into the workforce.
When the Italians migrated 60 years ago to Australia, they may have brought with them just one suitcase. But they also brought a lot of knowledge, passion and morale from Italy during that time. That is, traditions dating back to several generations ago. Old-school discipline, values and work ethic.
What we Italo-Australians know as Italian culture is archaic. We have been a living in a sort of ‘time capsule’ of Italy of the 1950s post-WWII. La dolce vita, right? It is what we know from our nonni. We have pressed pause and kept these traditions strong and alive. Songs like ‘tarantella’, ‘that’s amore’ and ‘italiano vero’ are strongly embedded in our veins. After recounting to Italians my knowledge of Italian artists, they would laugh when I tell them I grew up listening to Al Bano, Andrea Boccelli and Eros Ramazotti. Italian contemporary music today is another genre altogether and initially felt quite foreign to me.
Five course meals at Nonna’s are imperative and church on Easter and Christmas is not optional. For the majority of Italo-Australians, our Italian origins come from poverty. Many of our nonni either came from farming or labouring backgrounds. Most of us grew up listening to broken Italian and dialetto. We get excited for passata and salumi season. Try and relate to the new wave of immigrants and they will laugh at you. These are ancient concepts to them.
What we have not fully recognised yet is that Italians our age have modernised along with Western society, perhaps more than us in Australia. And having only lived in Italy for over a month, I can say my Nonna would be surprised by the lack of conservatism among the youth, and the abundance of piercings and tattoos.
Most of the youth have either moved to the capital cities or gone abroad to work. There is an open, cosmopolitan mentality, slowly breaking away from what was the past, and those little traditions we hold so close to our hearts. Very few have maintained the traditions of their grandparents and it’s sad to think that one day they might be forgotten altogether.
In Australia there is a growing trend of partnerships in business, Italo-Australians are collaborating with new Italian migrants, and we must adjust to one another to work. The collaboration has a strong potential and is seen in many existing businesses today specifically the hospitality and commerce industry such as Brunetti, DOC, Genobile, ALTO and the Italian Chamber of Commerce. Without realising, we are creating another ‘era’ in Australian society itself. A mixed breed of two distinct cultures, despite coming from the same origins.
Us Italo-Australians can show the new migrants how much their culture is appreciated and well maintained in and outside of the home. Take the annual Italian Festa for example, celebrated in every state in Australia - and the first bilingual Italian school that has opened in Melbourne. I have spoken to many Italians after leaving Australia, about how much more they appreciate their culture upon returning, seeing their country in a new, positive light. Organisations such as VITA, ALTO and ICCI are prime examples that represent these changes and seek ways to collaborate and move forward as a society. Events range from business to food, to fashion and science. International relations are getting stronger with the presence of our Italian consulate being highly involved in Australian culture. Italian culture is present in almost all aspects of our lives and it is the importance of recognising the cultural presence daily; that needs to be brought to our attention.
My hope is that we can open our minds and take the best from the old and the new and step forward together as one.
I believe this could be a potentially new field of study and by completing a study abroad program in Milan, I hope to note many differences in the education system, the workplace and social practices in Italy today and the Italy that we remember back home.
Stay posted ragazzi and follow my journey!