In honour of Italian Heritage Month, we welcome guest writer Marianne Iannaci, a Ryerson University journalism student who comes from an Italian background and loves everything about her heritage. Having just moved to Toronto a few months ago, she’s rediscovered where her family settled and grew up when they first arrived in Canada and shares her experience with us.
I may not be the most Italian girl out there. I wasn’t born on Sicilian ground- heck, I’m not even Sicilian. My parents didn’t come to Canada as kids and my grandfather didn’t grow up under Mussolini’s rule. I swear in Italian and I call a drying a cloth a mopine, but I couldn’t say more than buongiorno to an Italian who wants to hold a conversation. As a kid, I would sit alongside the men in my family who would discuss the premise of The Godfather or The Sopranos over Sunday dinner and was always told that “when you are old enough, you can watch them.” My Italian heritage was prominent growing up, to the point that I understood the danger of a wooden spoon, but getting older I’ve gotten to know what it really means to be an Italian- Canadian in my family.
As a kid who’s only ever lived in the suburbs, I viewed the city of Toronto as an actual “Little (version of) Italy.” My grandparents, aunts and uncles all grew up in the city within two blocks of each other. My grandmother lived on Bellwoods Ave. and my papa, her boyfriend at the time, lived around the corner on Henderson. They would tell stories of how they used to buy roasted red peppers at San Francesco Foods just down the street, and by the age of eight I experienced for myself, the best tasting pizza from Bitondo’s, right across the road. I would hear about mornings at Café Diplomatico on College St. in the 1970’s and by the time the Azzurri won the World Cup in 2006, it was a known fact that it was the only place to watch the game. My papa’s small house on Henderson lived to see me bust through those doors every Easter Sunday more than 15 years ago. It used to hold my entire family and a dining room table full of antipasto. And it wasn’t until my great grandmother passed away that I got to experience the beauty of St. Francis Church; the same church that held my grandparents wedding more than 45 years prior.
Through my journey to become “old enough” I understood why you should “leave the gun and take the cannoli.” I grew up learning how to make grandma’s cannelloni and memorized the Italian national anthem so I could shout it before the Azzurri took the field. I began to love Louis Prima every time my dad would play his CD throughout the house on a Sunday, and just like all of my aunts and cousins, I ALWAYS WORE BLACK. There was never a time when the front closet wasn’t full of black coats when the family came over.
Just eight months ago, I moved to the city of Toronto. I am now 19 years old and living blocks away from where my family first grew up. The most unforgettable memory of my own in this area, came from the first day in my new place. I went to lunch with my father and his sister at Café Diplomatico now, for me, just down the street. Halfway through our meal an older man rose from his table with his companions and came to ours. Before he could say a word, my aunt’s face brightened. The man was a neighbour of my grandmothers’ and happened to know my dad and my aunt as kids. For more than an hour we all talked about the things that happened on that street. And from then on, I knew the bond and compassion that Italian families hold is unlike any other. I left that lunch after giving the man two kisses on the cheek- and I can safely say, I’ve never felt so close to home.