Thursday, October 11, 2012

Guest Post: Author of Bella Fortuna - Rosanna Chiofalo

Rosanna Chiofalo is the author of Bella Fortuna (my review) which tells the story of Valentina Deluca, the daughter of Italian immigrants who ultimately travels to Italy to change her fortune when life deals her a blow. Like Valentina, the author is the daughter of Italian immigrants. Rosanna graciously agreed to guest post on my blog about her own mother's immigrant experience in conjunction with my Immigrant Stories Challenge. 

 As a child growing up, my siblings and I were constantly reminded of my mother’s emigration from Sicily to the United States. For she still longed to live in her native homeland and be surrounded by her large, tight-knit family. Her depression and yearning for Sicily, hung like a dark cloud over my family and me, and as a result, my siblings and I grew resentful of this foreign place that had occupied my mother’s attention and stolen her happiness.

Though my siblings and I were also proud to be of Italian heritage and loved many of the customs my mother brought with her from Sicily—the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, Easter bread, her impeccable seamstress skills which enabled her to sew whatever clothes we desired—we often spoke derisively of Italy when we were among ourselves. It wasn’t until I went to Sicily for the first time and spent the entire summer there, that I started to understand more of my mother’s sadness over leaving her country.

Sicily (Credit)
The island of Sicily is a paradise with temperate weather, verdant soil, majestic panoramas that include mountains and pristine beaches, volcanic islands that are just a ferry ride away, amazing architecture of its many churches and cathedrals, ancient Greek ruins, and a host of culinary treasures. As our airplane approached the island, the aerial view left me awe-struck and brought tears to my eyes. Finally, I had caught a glimpse of what my mother had left behind. She had traded the beauty of Sicily for a life that would be filled with struggles, especially the first few years after she and my father emigrated to the U.S. and resided on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in a rat-infested tenement. Money was scarce as my father worked whatever odd jobs he could find, and my mother often skipped meals so she could feed my older brothers. She had traded mild winters for ones where the temperatures dipped close to or below the freezing mark, and snow, instead of the grass she walked barefoot through in Sicily, blanketed the streets. Everything in America was foreign to her, and she soon realized, immigrants were often treated like second-class citizens.

Despite her trials, eventually my mother did come to embrace her new home. Years later when she visited Sicily, she proudly defended America to her sister when they got into a heated political debate. I remember my aunt saying to my mother, “Why are you so upset that I’m badmouthing America? You’re not from there.” My uncle replied, “She’s now lived in America for more years than she has in Sicily.” My mother acknowledged this fact years later, after my father died, and my siblings and I implored her to return to Sicily so she could live out the rest of her days there. She said, “This is my home now and you’re my family.” Sadly, I couldn’t help wondering why this epiphany had eluded her throughout my childhood, when my brothers and sister and I would have given anything to see our mother smile. But once I became a woman, I grew to understand just how difficult it was for her to adjust to life in America.

 Four years ago, my husband and I relocated to Austin, Texas. While I knew it would be hard being apart from my family whom I was very close to, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. From the moment I said goodbye to my mother before we left New York, I was grief stricken. While Texas is not oceans or continents apart from New York as Italy is, the thought that I couldn’t simply hop in my car and see my mother whenever I wanted to devastated me. Having lost my father to cancer when I was just sixteen-years-old, I was more sensitive to having my loved ones absent from my life. I thought about my mother a lot, and finally, I was able to empathize with her more as well as understand the emotions she had after she lost her family.

Unlike my mother, my own story had a happy ending. My husband and I decided to return to New York after only living in Texas for one year. And my ambivalence over my mother’s homeland faded a long time ago. Now, I am not only proud to tell everyone I meet for the first time that I am a first-generation Italian America, but I also chose to highlight the Italian culture in my debut novel, Bella Fortuna. And if my mother ever voices doubts regarding her decision to emigrate with my father to America, I tell her to read my book’s dedication to remind her she did make the right choice: “I vostri sacrifici non furano vani” or “Your sacrifices were not in vain.” 

  Rosanna Chiofalo is the author of Bella Fortuna, (Kensington Publishing).You can visit her website at: www.RosannaChiofalo.com 


Thank you Rosanna for sharing your and your mother's story with us.  Your debut novel is quite a tribute to the sacrifices made by your Mom and her unique story!  

7 comments:

  1. Sicily looks like paradise! It is hard to leave a place you know and love and I admire the people who do it so easily.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I think it's hard for many non-immigrants to fully understand what it is like to leave one's native home. They're very courageous for doing so.

      Delete
  2. Immigrant stories are always interesting to me. And Sicily looks beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
  3. It was so very interesting to read your " real life" story Rosanna. Now I understand why your book is so full of family and love! Of course beautiful descriptions of Italy as well.
    Can't wait for your next story!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Pat! I enjoyed writing this piece and sharing a little bit more about myself and my family.

      Delete