"There were the Romans, a bowl of pasta, and soccer..."
Have you ever considered what affects your family’s journey and history has had on your identity? Could understanding those layers provide a deeper appreciation for who you are today?
Aldo, a 2nd generation Canadian from Italian descent, gets pretty introspective about his family’s story and how that has shaped his sense of self. Instead of trying to understand the culture of a societal whole, Aldo wanted to dig into the stories of his individual family experience when connecting with his background. We also hear from Vicky, a guest from our first episode and she has a super interesting answer to a super interesting question.
If you’d like to tell us your story, or chat about your thoughts on culture, family, and heritage, we always love to chat. Share any comments below, and please subscribe for our newsletter to never miss a Root & Seed moment.
Hey, my name is Anika Chabra and you are listening to Root & Seed, a podcast about tradition seekers who were sparked to explore, define, and celebrate their family and cultural identity.
It's our third episode, and we couldn't be more excited about it. Last episode, we spoke to Danielle who has just returned back to Toronto, Canada after living abroad. Danielle has collected what she loves about each of the places that she has called home over the past 12 years... and along with her family of origin cultures, she has stitched together a beautiful tapestry that is unique to her. This cultural tapestry is something she holds near and dear to her heart and one that she fosters and honours every chance that she gets. Her family encouraged her to go, see, do and explore the world, especially because she had the safety of knowing that she could always come back. That conversation had us reflecting on the freedom and safety net that we experienced as second and third generations. It's one that we've earned from previous generations who are often forced to leave their home countries, move across the world and not always have the safety or ability to return. This still happens today. North America is often the refuge for war stricken countries, home countries with unfit conditions and a place for those seeking a better life. It left us wondering why do people immigrate? How does that movement and experience impact the values of future generations who are not directly involved in the move? Are there latent effects? With curiosity in tow, we spoke to dozens of people in and out of North America and chose to focus today's conversation on those people whose current lives are shaped by the immigration of their parents.
We were inspired by our conversation with Aldo, an Italian Canadian, whose family immigrated to Canada in the mid 1960s. Aldo has recently embarked on a journey to understand his family story instead of being an arbiter of the Italian culture as a whole. It had us contemplating, if we dig into stories of our individual family versus generalizations, can we earn a deeper appreciation for who we are today? Sit with that notion as you listen to Aldo.
When I was younger, my parents showed me the importance of being connected with your family's heritage... and I really got a deep sense of how important that was through my parents, even my name, like they, they chose a very Italian name, from what we ate to, even the way we saw...the world was from that immigrant culture.
And I think for me, growing up, I did have, at least it was instilled in me that it was an important thing. And I think as I got older, it evolved in a way where I think for a lot of first generation, second generation Canadians, as you acquire your own life and you have friends and there's this pull to assimilate and be part of a larger community and so I think that's where I saw the importance of seeing the value of where my family came from, but also how that's going to evolve in my own personal life and how I'm going to integrate the diversity that I have in my life. It was obviously because I was younger, it was maybe a bit more simplistic on how I saw my culture. Maybe it was, I, you know, based just on language and food and things like that. But as I got older, I was able to delve into it a bit more and to unpeel the layers, and kind of see what's a bit deeper. It's kind of interesting because I think when you're an ethnic minority and in the larger community, you sometimes feel like you have to be a representative of that community and it's on you to explain, and you may not have all the answers.
It's interesting because I think it is a burden that a lot of people feel. I think, you know, a lot of people who are from ethnic communities feel when you are even when you are speaking to another person of another ethnic community, it doesn't have to be a majority. So for me, I think it's evolved. I think I'm more specific now with how I explain how I'm connected to my community.
I try to be more specific and tell my family's story instead of generalizing how I view my community or how I explain my culture. It relieves me of that burden of saying I'm not the spokesperson for an entire community. I only speak for myself or my family story. I started with my own family's history. So where did they come from? What were the factors that made him want to leave or need to leave the place that their families lived in for generations? It was basically looking at that history and even with more modern things that we have now, like something as simple as Google street view, and I'm able to do that with Italy and go around and tour these tiny little villages and remote places you realize that there's this branded culture, when somebody's asking you and you feel like you have to represent your culture, you kind of have to deliver something that's easily understandable. It's like the Italian culture: there were the Romans, there's a bowl of pasta and soccer. Or almost a caricature of what your culture is to some degree to kind of easily present that and I think that for me, looking into my culture, I basically realized that it is layer over layer. It was just layers of history that involve conflict and it involves migration of different people and different civilizations and assimilation. My life here in Canada is something that many of my ancestors in the past had done assimilating into a larger group of people and then creating culture and changing that culture and turning it into something else, experiences that I'm having now are those same experiences that many of my ancestors in the past have had.
It's not a new thing because you always think as an immigrant, you're a pioneer, your family's history is fragmented somehow. Right. But really. There's a.. in many cultures, there's a long history of that.
As one second generation to another, I completely understood where Aldo was going with understanding his family story. I also super appreciate the idea of uncovering themes and family histories so much is being written about breaking generational curses, leaving generational attributes in the past. But what if there are some really cool and positive things that are unique to your family that you want to take forward and own? Something to think about...
Next, Aldo got really introspective about the dimensions that have influenced his sense of self.
For me, there's an ethnic genealogical part of myself. There's a cultural heritage of myself and there's my present self (laughs) who's here in a North American city who I am today and how those other two things affect who I am today and how my own personal life experiences being in this place and the day-to-day experiences I have make me the person that I am.
What a cerebral conversation. I told Aldo that I was looking forward to his book launch after all this research and documenting, he was pretty non-committal but what an interesting book that would be.
Before we wrap up, we wanted to share an excerpt from our conversation with Vicky, a guest we featured in episode one. While Aldo spoke about the various influences of his selves on his self identity in theory, Vicki paints a beautiful picture of her genealogical past and what effect that has had on her. She had a really insightful answer to the question: Who would you invite to a dinner party to learn more about your culture?
So, this is a really tough one for me, because for me to, I guess, truly connect, it would have to be somebody who came from the village where my parents grew up.
So my parents grew up in a small, rural Southern Chinese village. Very poor. There was no running water, no electricity and this was the predominant group of immigrants who came to North America in the sixties and seventies. And they were the ones who built the Chinatowns we know and love today. But today's immigrants don't come from that area. It's more the Chinese who have money, tend to come here and so I don't, I don't see, or I haven't found a lot of people who come from the same part of China as my parents. That is what I really feel like I need, you know, if I could get a drone to fly out to that village and just like a movie, just watch a day in the life of, in that village. That for me would be the most enlightening. But again, I guess subset of Chinese immigrants is so rare today that, um, I don't know who I would invite to be honest.
Ah, how Technology like Google street view and drones, even if only in our imagination have allowed us to get closer to generations before. Can you imagine how magical that would be?
If you didn't get a chance to hear Vicki in episode one, you can hear more about what sparked her interest in her culture in the first place.
A big thank you to Aldo and Vicki, second generation members of the Chinese and Italian Canadian communities. They both have been asking questions, both direct and indirect in an effort to dig deeper into their family's history and to have a deeper appreciation for who they are today.
Next episode, we'll dig into this topic a little deeper and share stories of keeping memories alive. We hope you'll take a listen.
Go forth and ask the questions of your family that you've always wondered. What would be the first thing that you'd ask or try to uncover beyond a family recipe? We'd love to hear from you!
Root & Seed is hosted by me, Anika Chabra, Executive Produced by Jenn Siripong Mandel, and edited by Camille Blais.
Hosted by: Anika Chabra
Brought to you by: Root & Seed
Executive Producer: Jennifer Siripong Mandel
Edited by: Camille Blais
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