The curious case of returning to your non-birthplace

My grandmother’s birthplace holds a kind of mystique.

Not only is it the place in which she was born, a village frozen in time and therefore timeless in its simple beauty.

It is also the place she left, and the place in which the rest of her family remained.  It is distant from our immediate family history, but the affinity we have with that little village is something innate which sits under our skin and runs in our veins.  We are inherently drawn, despite our distance, to the village in the mountains.

Meeting people who were raised with my grandmother, strangers who know my family almost as well as I do, is surreal.  It is an incredible thing to be stopped in the street and introduced to someone who knew your mother as an infant.

These daily interactions also made me realise that coming from a family which has migrated away from the village and to a country abroad has a certain currency.

Just as the little village nestled in the mountains holds a mythical wonder for those of us abroad, there is a certain mystique surrounding those who moved away from Italy in the post-war period, and this extends to the families they created in their new countries.  Particularly for those who remain in the village and never moved out to Rome or other large cities, Australia is an almost fantastical idea, far out of reach.

As a result, I was proudly introduced to everyone as l’australiana (the Australian) and la nipote di Licia e la figlia di Daniela (Licia’s granddaughter and Daniela’s daughter).  I was someone to be introduced to, and while my familial connections to the village drew me close to its inhabitants, my family history also set me apart.

Walking into the village, I felt like I was coming home, to a place in which I have never lived.  Those streets, those homes, those fields – all are inherent aspects of that undeniable Italian heritage I carry with me each day.  The geography of that village and all who live there is etched in my heart; I know those streets, and I know that terrain.

However, although I will always be welcome, I will forever be marked as a visitor.  I cannot ever shake that status of l’australiana who should be introduced to people and invited for lunch and for coffee.

Each time that I return and feel that I am home, I will be greeted with the status of ‘guest’.  It is a curious thing indeed.



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