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Immigrant Giovannina F. MAG
Growing up in a town of barely 600 people, Giovannina F. learned that people could be very meddlesome. But she never let others’ opinions stop her from doing what she wanted, whether it was in her small town of Castel San Vincenzo, Italy, or here in America.
What did you bring when you immigrated?
I had two suitcases, or maybe three. I didn’t have many possessions to begin with, so it wasn’t hard to pack. Your father and I had very little money. We had just gotten married and really weren’t on our feet yet.
What made you want to immigrate?
Your father and I didn’t particularly like the type of people in our town. We wanted to settle down and have a family. And we knew that when we finally got on our feet, we wanted our family to have a better life than they would in Castel San Vincenzo. And I don’t mean that in a mean way … it’s just that it’s generally a poor town with very few jobs. You need to travel 30 minutes to get to the nearest “big” town that has shops and banks where people can work. We didn’t want you to have a life like that.
We wanted to give you everything you might want, even if we had to make you work for it, so as not to spoil you. We wanted to live il sogno Americano – the American Dream. Our little house wasn’t glamourous, but by the time we moved out, we had many a memory in that house.
What did you think you would find in America?
I had absolutely no idea what to think of America. It was something completely new and sort of surreal. I remember thinking, What if I don’t succeed? What will people say? and it was then that I realized I didn’t care what others said; it was my life, not theirs. They had nothing to do with the outcome of my life – it was only me, so I had better make it good.
What had you heard about America?
Not much. I had heard about Elvis and President Nixon, “Happy Days” and “M*A*S*H,” but I had no idea what life would really be like. And how could I? I decided to swallow any fears I had and give it a go.
What scared you the most about immigrating?
Not knowing the language. I didn’t know if people would know I couldn’t understand them, or if I had to communicate it to them somehow. Your father could speak English fairly well – he was nowhere near fluent, but he knew a few things to get us by – and I tried to pick up some as time went on. I might not have done so well, since I still barely know anything [laughs] … but I think I get my point across when I need to.
What were the challenges of raising your first child?
I was in our home a lot. I cooked almost all day, every day. And then when Cristina was born, I just bummed around the house some more. I didn’t like to go out to places, because your father was at work and I didn’t feel like being faced with real Americans – ones who didn’t know I was foreign unless I spoke. And a lot of times when I did go out, they’d try to speak to me. I couldn’t speak English back … I felt dim-witted. One thing I will never understand is why when they found out I didn’t know English, they’d just speak louder [laughs]. As if hearing them speak so much louder, I’d remember that I was actually fluent or something.
What were your parents’ opinions when you asked them if you could leave?
Well … I didn’t really “ask” if I could leave. I was a grown-up, you know. I was married and in control of my future. They really didn’t object though; I sometimes think that they wanted the same for me as I do for you girls – to have a better life and potential. I think they knew that I couldn’t have that in Castel San Vincenzo. They just wanted what was best for me. It also helped that they knew people in Chicago and that I wouldn’t be toughing it on the streets or anything.
What do you miss the most about Italy?
Just like in America, times in Italy have changed. I miss my mother, who passed away this August.
Don’t you think it’s sort of selfish of our family in Italy not to ever come visit us in America?
I do. But it’s a characteristic of people from our town. They’re sort of egotistical about their emotions and act as if they don’t have any. They act as if they’re always the strongest people, even when they’re not. I think that they’re just stuck in their ways.
I’m proud of your father and me for being able to get out when we knew it wasn’t the right place for us and our future family. We did everything we could to make our lives the best that we could. And, hey, I don’t think we did too badly.