I grew up in a small town called Thorold, which is just a few miles away from Niagara Falls and the American border of New York state. The climate is mild and perfect for crops of fruit including grapes which of course makes wine so I suppose this is what attracted so many Italian Immigrants to cross the bridge over to Canada in the early 1900’s. When I attended school my classmates had Italian surnames like Scappaticci, Maccoretta and Gazzola. Last summer I had the pleasure of speaking Italian with the mother of my brother’s best friend. She moved to Canada when she was in her 20’s and told me the story of how she took a ship from Genova.
This past weekend I visited the Exhibit “La Merica!”, the story of Italian emigration to Ellis Island, New York, at the Galata Museum. I highly recommend it as it’s a very unique look into the past history of how all those 17 million Italians ended up on the other side of the pond and how pizza and Italian food became a mainstay in North American culture.
When you pay your 11 Euros to enter you are also given an Italian Passport. It looks like the real thing and has a bar-code on the back that you scan as you go through the exhibit. As you pass through you are asked to insert your Passport at the Customs Control and again at the end to see if you pass the admittance test which is interactive.
It truly gives you a bird’s-eye view of the journey from embarkation to how they ate and slept on board and what process they went through upon arrival. They were even given tests for mental health and literacy. Many fell ill from poor conditions on board in third class berths and died. The male barracks were separate from the female ones to avoid promiscuity and fights.
Emigrating to a new country can be overwhelming, I know because I’ve done it twice. And I have to congratulate these pioneers of our past for doing it under such conditions. Today we are fortunate to have modern facilities and communication options that are endless. The exhibit even has real letters written to their Mama’s back home telling tales of their first impressions of America and asking why the Porcini mushrooms haven’t arrived in the post yet!
If you ever get the chance, go see this exhibit, take the kids it’s fun! It’s written in Italian and English too.