Émigrés sometimes down
but never out: resilient

Seventh chapter of the publication, in ten chapters both in Italian and English, of the academic presentation that our periodic collaborator Goffredo Palmerini held in L’Aquila on November 3rd, on the occasion of the CRAM Assembly (Regional Council of Abruzzesi in the World). The report is entitled “Historical notes on Italian emigration” and traces the history of the Italian Diaspora.

L’AQUILA – (continued… part eight) In a manner not discerned in other countries, after the Second World War, emigration to Canada increased significantly. It appeared that Canada welcomed Italians with open arms, in part because of a pragmatic practice of multiculturalism, a political philosophy later enshrined in law and afforded protection under the Charter of Rights.

Ed.’s note: The Multiculturalism Act, 1971, Law and interpretations of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982, after it, have had the effect of bestowing constitutional protections to the diverse origins and identities of cultural and ethic groups.

There was one unhappy, even nefarious exception to an otherwise happy relationship between Italian immigrants and the host government. That took place during the Second World War, when men of military age and eligible for military service were detained in concentration camps out of fear that they might be sympathetic and loyal to the Fascist regime in Italy.

This was a serious and grave wound inflicted on our emigres, for which there was no apology or reparation until very recently when the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, took responsibility and apologized to the Italian people. Nonetheless, Italians have always been well received because it has always contributed to the country’s growth and been pleased to do so.

Today in Canada, especially in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, there are numerous individuals from the community who play a prominent role at the political and institutional organizations of the country. Whether in government or administration or the private sector – at the federal, provincial or municipal level – Italians are testimony to the important roles and positions they have earned for themselves in that country.

And finally, we have the post-World War II emigration (labour mobility) to European countries. There is a strong presence of Italians in France, Germany, Great Britain, Switzerland and Belgium, in the latter, drawn especially by the mining sector.

One may well remember the great tragedy of Marcinelle, after which the legislation on workplace safety changed in that country and in almost all of Europe. The tragedy especially affected our emigrants. In the Bois du Cazier mine in Marcinelle, near Charleroi, on August 8, 1956, 262 miners died in a fire in a shaft about a thousand meters deep.

Of 262 victims, 136 were Italian, and of these, 60 were from Abruzzo. After the tragedy, relations between Italy and Belgium also changed, with the signing of a pact recognizing workers’ rights against ownership of resource rights. Prior to that there had been no job security, no social security nor workers’ rights. However, everything changed after that tragedy.

What is the situation of our emigration today, what are the conditions of the Italian communities in the world? Today, Italian emigres have earned respect and prestige, with roles of primary importance wherever they have taken residence. Those who had emigrated from Italy, often leaving places with the most oppressive of life’s difficulties, were among these who turned adversity to redemption (just as an example, the large construction companies in South Africa, many from the Rocche plateau: Rocca di Mezzo, Rocca di Cambio, Rovere). They have ensured well-being and progress for themselves and their family, but equally for their own country and the host country as well.


Translation in English by the Hon. Joe Volpe, Publisher

The pic at the top of the article is ” “Bimbi con la madre prima di partire” from the book “La Merica. Emigrazione dei Monteleonesi verso gli Stati Uniti dal 1882 al 1924” by Antonio De Vitto

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