Monday, April 20, 2009


I wanted more stories from my father, but my mother would have none of it. I asked him the same questions years ago, when he was unwilling to answer. Perhaps because we have so little time, he is now ready to talk, but my mother is uncomfortable with his past, and intervenes. I wonder if I will ever have the chance to talk to him alone, without her editing or halting the conversation.

My father was not allowed to talk, instead she reminisced about Naples, and her father. She remembers the air raid sirens each evening at 9 PM when the Americans started dropping their bombs. Her father oversaw the families in her apartment building and made sure everyone went to the cellar for the night. When we were children, she would dive for cover every time a siren screamed in the distance, and we were curious and did not understand her. Her father finally decided to move the family to South Tirol, where his family still lived. It was a difficult transition for my grandmother, who did not fit in and was jeered at because she was Italian. My mother describes adjusting to her new life without apparent difficulty and has since preferred to be German than Italian. As children we never understood that. We were in love with Italy and all that was Italian, and half the family was Italian, so it made no sense to ignore that part of her. Perhaps it was because she had to redefine herself in her new home and had to deny her past to be her new self. When she moved to Canada at 22, she threw herself fully into her new identity and has been fiercely Canadian ever since.

As children however, we have always been confused about who we are, never really Canadian, and always displaced and foreign in our chosen homes. One sister lives in France and married a Swiss man and carries a Swiss passport and yearns for Italy. My other sister married a French man and lives in San Fransisco and Boston but has a French passport and describes herself as French. I still have my green card after twenty years in the United States and struggle almost every time I go through US immigration, but never consider getting an American passport, and always know I am a foreigner in a strange country that I do not understand. Curious that each of us has left our country of birth and do not feel Canadian most of the time, but hold on to our Canadian passports. I feel foreign in Canada as much as I feel foreign in the United States or Ecuador or France or Japan. My parents on the other hand left their countries of origin and feel home in Canada and do not understand their displaced children. Perhaps that is why I am so eager to hear their stories and understand why they left the lives they knew and found comfort in a new country and a new culture and a new language. It is curious that again in my life I am starting a new life in a new country too.

I think it makes sense that my father left Germany after the war. He had lost his home and much of his family and the 'new world' offered opportunities. But why did he leave and the rest of his family stay? What was different about my mother that she could board a boat at Naples and travel alone across the Atlantic and then across all of Canada to meet my father in Vancouver and start a new life with him? Neither spoke English and they still seem European today. What was it about their three children that instead of taking advantage of all the good things about being Canadian, we all left and started lives in other countries with partners of other cultures and languages and experiences? And why is it that I did not hesitate to leave the life I know in Baltimore to start this new life in Ecuador?

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