Author’s note: This is the first installment of a serialized story that recounts my return to Italy and my grandfather’s journey to the U.S. My...
Fifteen years was the time of an investigation around the migrations of the Calabrese people. The final thoughts and insights can now be found in a book called “Fuga e ritorno di un popolo” (Escape and Come back of a Population), written by Professor Francesco Filareto and introduced to the American audience at the Italian Cultural Institute in San Francisco.
As explained by the Italian Professor, who was born and raised in Rossano Calabro, the region in Southern Italy has been one of the most affected in terms of exodus towards other countries. “For years - he stated - local people have made the decision to leave their land to find opportunities somewhere else. But this phenomenon has changed over time. Most migrations in the past were two ways and people used to go back to their homeland, especially during the elderly age: they arrived with a luggage full of new experiences, professional skills, open minds, and also some money, that also helped Italy recover after the unification.”
On the other hand, the current migrations are usually one way only and people who leave are not willing to go back. From an economic standpoint, while the past migrations involved a relevant circulation of money, today’s flows are not beneficial for the economy of the region. What does make a big difference in the process then? “People feel that the country where they grew up has no future and no efforts are made in order to change. In the past, it related mainly to farmers and artisans, today it involves high educated people, who attended top schools in Italy and are now qualified and talented professionals.” In his experience as Mayor, Professor Filareto faced the problem of immigration and learned that, especially for younger generations, better actions need to be taken, in order to keep them in the region. Nevertheless, the Calabrian immigration is unique in the way it relates to historical and social reasons, as well as psychological and cultural motivations that are connected to their mentality and identity.
Professor Filareto, why did you choose the immigration as topic of your book?
The immigration is a relevant topic in my town’s history both as a fact and as a problem. I have been elected as mayor thanks to young people’s support. I rewarded them by giving active roles in the management of the local politics. Having them in my team was good but not enough. We needed more structured plans and ideas to improve their lives and give a better future in order to prevent them from leaving the region. My investigation started from there and tried to explain where it comes from and where it was taking us.
What is so interesting about the Calabrian Immigration?
Historically, Calabria is the region that paid the highest price of immigration because of the local economy and the unfair wealth distribution. After 1861, almost 27 million Italians moved abroad, among them 5,5 millions to the US. Worldwide, almost 110 million people have an Italian last name. Nevertheless, Calabrians are different from anybody else, as they have always felt the “need” of migrating somewhere else, and that’s what I try to explain in my book.
Who should read the book?
I would like all young people to have a look at it: those who decide to stay; those who leave everything behind and start a new life somewhere else; those who leave but plan to come back. I would like them to understand how important is to keep their memory alive both as individuals and as part of the community. “Memory is the present of the past”, Umberto Eco stated: memory gives the opportunity to understand the history of Calabrians, their courage and their dignity throughout the centuries. The book does not want to bring out the feeling of “nostalgia”, that belonged mainly to the first generations of migrants and it always expressed itself as “torment” generating from the impossibility of going back. On the other hand, I wanted to explain how the memory of the past can help build a better future starting from the present.
Which future can we expect for Calabria?
I believe that each Calabrese should make an effort to understand the past and work for the future. That’s why I launched the project called “The land that we want”, that represents the world made of our dreams, our projects, our plans for the future. We should understand that this region has a lot to offer to improve people’s life: Calabria is not a poor land, but better economic decisions are needed in order to maximize what we got. The region should also be ready to accommodate tourists throughout the year and not only over summer. The land is beautiful, the products are unique, the people are warm and welcoming, that’s why I believe we should count on this industry to support its economic growth.