The stories in Donne Italoscozzesi will be recognised by everyone who’s lives straddle multiple societies and cultures. The women discuss the belief systems, customs and language which reinforce their everyday experiences amongst unfamiliar surroundings and conflicting senses of belonging.
The story of the Italians in Scotland is mostly of successful assimilation into Scotland’s society while retaining a distinct cultural profile. The routes of exchange between Scotland and Italy stem much further back than many understand – in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Italians and Scots enjoyed fluent cultural exchange, well before Italy’s ’Great Emigration’ began after unification in 1861. Italians coming to Scotland did so with knowledge and bold expectations of a fair and welcoming society where honest labour would be respected. Chain migration from the communities of Filignano and Picinisco and their surrounding areas was originally motivated by hardworking entrepreneurs earning money to buy their own land in Italy, with no intention of permanently settling elsewhere. The natural bounty of these isolated mountain communities and Italians’ re-investment in their property and land continues to sustain the duality in the identity of the Scots-Italians.
Belief systems, custom and language are the evident components of any ‘culture’, shared by overlapping generations of immigrant families who remain loyal to one reality while embracing another. The transition of these rituals reflects the process of assimilation from the old world into a new, unique society.
My own experience as a ‘half-and-half’, part Scots and part Italian, was of riches on each side, but I struggled to gain a sufficient understanding of my two distinct heritages in order to make meaning of my own, unique cultural identity. My mother, Giuseppina Coia Salvatore and father Ronald raised five children at a time when notions of championing Scotland’s cultural diversity would at best, have seemed fanciful. Much has changed and today we accept that Scotland has established itself through routes of inward and outward migration; William McIlvanney’s term ‘A Mongrel Nation’ is recognised as a positive metaphor for our diverse cultural heritage and our own First Minister, Alex Salmond, refers to Italy’s contribution as a vibrant thread in the fabric of our nation.
In order to gain from this cultural diversity, we must provide opportunities for people to express themselves on their own terms, confident of their own cultural origins. Sandra Chistolini’s visionary work started in the mid-1980s with the first volume of Donne Italoscozzesi and continues to provide a rich resource from which women, families and communities can confidently explore their evolving realities.