Passing the Torch: My Family’s 100-year Journey Is Now in My Hands

The shift from Sicily to Buffalo was one of hardship, and of hopeful new beginnings that extend to today. 

By: Felicia LaLomia, ISDA Contributing Editor 

When I think about where my family was 100 years ago, the first thing I feel is grateful. Although not much is known about their history before emigrating, I know the journey was hard and full of sacrifice. Here is that journey.

In the winter of 1914, my great-grandfather emigrated to the United States. He settled in Buffalo, became a farmhand and worked the land like he did in Sicily.

My grandfather was born in 1935, and came up in New York’s rural landscapes. His extended family was always around, like most Italians, and his community and neighborhood were filled with more of the same.

It is rumored, though not confirmed, that the generation before my great-grandfather decided to emigrate to Argentina. They took a ship, made the long journey and began a new life. But, the story goes, they changed course and returned to Italy.

I’ve seen all the movies—the ones that depict immigration as this immensely difficult, life-changing decision. One where you must leave your family, friends and the only life you’ve ever known for a country you’ve never seen to start anew.

So it’s even harder for me to imagine embarking on that pilgrimage twice! (Plus, I think of how different my life would be in Argentina, if I were to even be around).

But back to Buffalo. Growing up, I would ask my grandfather what it was like having parents as immigrants, who spoke Italian and had accents, who cooked hearty meals from the homeland and had aunts and uncles constantly around.

To me, that sounded fascinating. The idea was so foreign (literally), but seemed so immersive, to have that close of a connection to heritage, to have a beautiful language spoken constantly, and to have your ancestry always within arm’s reach.

Unfortunately for my grandfather, and his brother and sister, having parents as immigrants wasn’t always celebrated. They came from a generation where to be American was to be contemporary, and so they wanted to Americanize as much as possible. They asked their parents to speak English at home, so they never got the chance to learn Italian. And then my grandfather went on to college.

After attending Erie Technical Community College, he got a job working for Corning Inc. as a draftsman. After a few years, he wanted to go back to school.

“Back to school?” His father said. “Why would you want to go back?”

After some convincing, my grandfather earned his bachelor’s from Bradley University and worked as an engineer for the same company for 32 years. Safe to say, it was a good decision, one that has impacted my parents’ generation and mine. Now, my dad, uncle and brother all work for Corning Inc.

After that experience and what it meant for his career, my grandfather always placed a good deal of importance on college. He passed away almost a year ago now. But I know he, and the many generations before him, would have been proud to see me walk across the stage this December as I earned my bachelor’s degree.

To all those who preceded me—thank you—it’s now my time to carry the torch for my family, and my culture.

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