The story of my grandfather is one of the millions—the immigrant story. As a child, he witnesses some of the most horrific war scenes. His family dressed him as a girl just so the Germans wouldn’t send him to Germany to dig trenches or be worked to death. After the war, malaria and unexploded bombs killed more people than bullets did during the war. Having survived that, he helps his family rebuild their home. Five years after adapting to life after the war, my grandfather seeks to support his family by finding work in North America. He boards a ship alone and travels across the Atlantic with little change in his pocket, not knowing what waits on the other side. Imagine how desperate a person has to be to take on such a journey. 

He comes to Canada as an agricultural worker. The living conditions were deplorable. He would need to eat vegetables straight from the ground he was working on to maintain himself because the rations they were fed were pitiful. Water would drip on his head from the leaky ceiling when it would rain at night. Finally, he would find a family member to sponsor him, and he was able to find himself a factory job. This same family would arrange for him to marry their young niece, who was making the same trip across the Atlantic that he had made. My grandmother. At 17 years old, she was put on a ship alone and sent to Canada to marry a man she had never met. She always said, “thank god your grandfather was a good man, handsome.” From nothing, two souls from the south of Italy found each other in a strange land. But like all other immigrants, the Chinese, Ukrainians, and Italians did not have an easy run in Canada, but their handwork and family values helped them excel.

My grandmother would eventually get a job as a seamstress in a factory. She remembers the neighbours having a little girl who always looked like she was Malnutrition. My grandparents didn’t have much, but sharing a plate of pasta with a hungry neighbour was an obligation to any Italian. One day after a long shift at work, my grandmother invited this little French Canadian girl to join her in a plate of pasta. She recalls that the child ate as she had never seen food. Once she had completed her meal, she ran out the door. Instead of thanking my grandmother, she yielded, “moderate Italian, mange la pasta,” which translates to a hateful, stereotypical remark against Italians. My grandmother would often cry about how the French Canadians treated her. She said she always felt like she wasn’t welcome in her home.

A man once told me that the Italians who immigrated from Italy after the war had it more accessible than the ones who stayed behind. After the battle, malaria and unexploded bombs killed more civilians in Italy than bullets did during the war. People like my grandfather lived through this post-war nightmare and helped in the rebuilding process. People like my grandfather suffered through nearly a decade of rebuilding Italy until realizing there weren’t enough paying jobs to sustain the family. With little money, he came to Canada as an agricultural worker. The living conditions were deplorable. He would eat carrots from the earth he was working to stay fed. Rainy nights were the worst, as water would drip on his head from the leaky ceiling. All this suffering was without the support of his family, who were eagerly awaiting any earnings he could send back home. No cell phones, FaceTime, or social media, just a picture in his pocket to remind him why he was doing all this. This is not a film about his story. This is a record of how “easy” it was for Italian immigrants.

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