La Vita ITALIANO; an Italian-American publication preserving our heritage
Winter 2009óMember Spotlight; Francesca Fortunato
IAM: Welcome Francesca to La Vita ITALIANO. Typically, we interview members born in Italy who immigrated to America. Your storyís the opposite. Tell us about your family history.
Francesca: Absolutely. My parents are from Calabria. In 1949, they immigrated to America, settling in NY. Papa worked hard, quickly learning English. They lived in an Italian neighborhood, but couldnít find many foods they missed. So eventually, they opened an Italian grocery and bakery.
IAM: Were you born in NY?
Francesca: Yes, the third child of five.
IAM: Thatís a big family.
Francesca: Yeah, but not because of my siblings. Over time, Papa brought his entire family to America. We all lived in the same neighborhood, attending the same schools and Italian church. Holidays meant lots of family. It was great.
IAM: Sounds like it. How did you wind up in Italy?
Francesca: Well, my maternal grandmother was a missionary to Sicily. For my high school graduation, she sent me a ticket to visit her. That trip changed my life. I feel in love with the lush rolling countryside, the markets, long lunches, slower lifestyle, and rich culture. Italyís amazing. Working with Nonnie at the mission helped me find my heart and calling.
IAM: How did you go from Sicily to Milan?
Francesca: Oh, I didnít stay in Italy. I returned stateside to attend Bible College. Then Nonnie became ill, returning to America. A guy she knew from Sicily was visiting America. He came to see herówe met, fell in love, and married. We saved for a year before moving back to Italy. That was thirty-years ago.
IAM: How romantic! What did you do after you immigrated?
Francesca: First, we returned to Sicily since his family and Nonnieís mission were there. Itís a beautiful providence, charming villas, sprawling vineyards, bountiful orchards, and pristine beaches. Unfortunately, my husband was struggling to support our growing family. In Italy, those in ministry must support themselvesónot like in America where congregants support their ministers. Itís difficult here.
IAM: But, arenít all Italians Roman Catholic?
Francesca: Not at all, the Vatican is still strong, but itís losing its influence. Young people especially are leaving Catholicism. Theyíre rejecting the institute of marriage, living together instead. They want birth control and believe in abortion. Drug use is rampant, as well as alcoholism. Protestant congregations are slowly increasing, but not as quickly as the growing number of Muslims.
IAM: Muslims? In Italy?
Francesca: Oh yes, Italy isnít just home to native Italians. Immigrants arrive daily from Romania, Asia, and Africa. Theyíre draining our economy, which is raising our taxes. Remember, we have free medical care in Italy and government housing, which attracts refugees. We have a multi-cultural society. In fact, the best Chinese food Iíve ever eaten was right here in Italy.
IAM: Fascinating. I wasnít aware of that.
Francesca: Anyway, we heard there was work, and ministry opportunities, up north around Malpensa airport. We choose a smaller country village though to live in. Weíre close enough to the train station to commute to Milan but enjoy our close-knit community.
IAM: What kind of work do you do?
Francesca: I teach English to executives with business dealings in America, often translating their documents.
IAM: Did coming from an Italian speaking family help you?
Francesca: It made it harder! We spoke Calabrese at home, not the proper Italian. And my in-laws speak Sicilian. Plus, the Italian government wouldnít recognize my American education. I had to attend state schools to become certified. Growing up we didnít really use medical terms at home. When I went to the doctors here, Iíd bring my dictionary. The nurses giggled, calling me ďAmericana.Ē Grocery shopping was difficult too. Once I meant to buy baking soda but came home with salt.
IAM: I never thought about that. Tell us about your ministry.
Francesca: We oversee an outreach to homeless immigrants. We gather and distribute food, clothing, and furniture. I also assist with their official documents, help them find work, and teach them Italian and English.
IAM: Thatís wonderful. After thirty-years in Italy, will you ever move back to America?
Francesca: My children and I do maintain dual citizenships, and I miss my family in America, but our life is here. We love our work and ministry, the Italian lifestyle, and gregarious people.
IAM: Sounds like a great life. Thanks Francesca for sharing. Buona fortuna!
Francesca: It was my pleasure. Ciao!
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