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Why Italian Americans Should Take a Homecoming Trip

Anzi, my great-grandfather's town Anzi, my great-grandfather's town

Roma, il centro della storia della civiltà occidentale, è innegabilmente uno spettacolo unico al mondo. Difficile anche competere con l’impareggiabile bellezza dell’arte a Firenze o il fascino dei canali di Venezia: le più famose città italiane sono luoghi spettacolari che ogni anno attirano milioni di turisti da tutto il mondo. Per gli italo americani, però, spesso la parte più significativa e commovente di un viaggio in Italia è la scoperta delle proprie radici attraverso una visita nei luoghi di provenienza dei propri antenati, in quelle cittadine sconosciute ai più ma che costituiscono il cuore della storia della nostra emigrazione.  

Rome, the center of Western civilization’s history, is undeniably beautiful. I agree that not much beats the art in Florence. And Venice - the watery canals exude sighs just thinking about it. There are many spectacular sights to see around bella Italia, but for Italian Americans, the most beautiful and touching is a visit to the “homeland” – the places our families came from.

I’m not saying don’t hit the “biggies” that draw tourists from around the world. But, we have something more to explore; something that takes us deeper into the real heart of Italy, and the heart of our own families.

Five Reasons Why We Should Visit Our Ancestral Towns:

  1. It lets us go deeper into the true culture. Immersing ourselves in our grandparents’ towns lets us experience the daily rhythm and atmosphere of a place that most tourists miss. For most of us, our ancestors came from lesser-known towns. Going there transports us to a different realm, away from “tourist Italy” into “down home” daily life. It gives us a cultural glimpse of what kind of life our ancestors might have lived.
  2. Many towns retain their old historic centers fairly intact. That means we can walk the streets they did, see the buildings they passed every day, visit the churches where they were baptized and married, and look at the landscapes they knew well.  It’s an emotional thing to realize you’re following in your great-grandparents’ footsteps. It gave me goosebumps the first time I meandered their villages.
  3. Find family ties. You never know; there might be some descendent relatives still remaining in those towns. I found family living in my ancestral town, you might too! My first visit with my cousin was just to see the place for ourselves, so we were surprised to discover that our great-grandfather’s siblings had remained and multiplied. When we laid eyes on new-found cousin Michele for the first time we couldn’t believe it. He was a real-life, exact replica of the photo we had of our great-grandfather.
  4. Discover more about your family. Not only can you ask about the family name and do some genealogy research while you’re there, perhaps even more importantly, you can experience the place that shaped your ancestors and made them who they were. Taste the foods! You might be surprised to learn that favorite family dishes have roots right there. Gaze into the faces and eyes of the people where you may see resemblances to your own family members. Hear the language, the accent and local dialects being spoken (it may sound familiar to your ears if you heard your grandparents speaking it). You might learn why certain family traits exist. I discovered that my grandmother’s habit of cutting pizza with scissors wasn’t just a “Nana quirk” as we’d thought; it is what everyone does in this part of Basilicata!
  5. Pay your respect to your family and to the place they left. In our experience, the local townspeople are HONORED when descendants visit. It gives them a true sense of pride and makes them happy that you’d take the time to travel there. You will experience their hospitality and their pleasure in showing you the town. Being there also connects you to your family and your heritage in a tangible and heartfelt way. It reinforces your identity as an Italian American, not in a generic sense, but at a deeper, more intrinsic level.

Believe me, visiting your ancestral towns is a journey of the heart that you’ll never forget and never regret!