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Hidden Goldmines

by Giovanni Sonego last modified 2008-08-12 14:41

Over the last 150 years millions of Italians have emigrated to countries all over the world in the hope of improving their lives or finding fame and fortune. People who have enriched their adoptive countries with our culture and style of life. Could this be the Italy that deserves to be discovered? Could this be our hidden goldmine?

What I am about to tell you really happened. Looking back now it seems like a nightmare. It is one of the reasons why I chose to develop ItaliaPlease, our new Portal dedicated to Tourism.

June, 1997. Silvia was five month's pregnant. "The baby's due in September," she said, "if we want to go on holiday, now's the time. The girls have finished school for the summer and it's still not too hot. If we wait any longer I'm afraid I'll get too tired.” As always she was dead right. Silvia went to the doctor for a quick check-up to make sure she was fit to travel then we packed our bags and headed off. “A week in Paris is just what we need.”

Paris is such a wonderful city. It was the children's first visit, and exploring it with them was like discovering it all over again. The bookstalls along the Seine, la Villette and all its attractions, the Eiffel Tower, the street artists at Montmartre, Beaubourg . . . our week's holiday was flying past, like holidays should. Then, while we were at the Louvre, Silvia asked us to wait while she went to the toilet. We waited as she had asked, in front of David's "Consecration of Napoleon". But there was no sign of Silvia. No sign. Then we saw her. She was in tears: “I'm in labour, I'm in labour.” “You can't be in labour, you're only five month's pregnant. It's too early.”

We headed for First Aid where we were whisked into an ambulance and off to hospital. Silvia lay on a stretcher in tears. There was blood on the sheet under her. The girls asked: "Daddy, is the baby really dead?" She was examined by doctors. "We've stopped the contractions, but the baby is still in danger. Your wife will have to stay here, confined to bed until the baby is born. Until the end of September.”

I had to go back to Italy, bring the girls back home, gather all the papers and certs for Silvia's long stretch in hospital. I had to leave Silvia behind in France. She couldn't speak French, she couldn't move from her bed, she couldn't count on anyone.
What could I do?

On my way back to Italy I got an idea. I could ask the Associazione Bellunesi Nel Mondo - Bellunese around the World Association (ed.) - for advice. Okay, so I'm not an emigrant but I am from Belluno, maybe they'd be able to help. I went to their web site [ita], then made a quick call to explain the situation and voilà: “No problem, the President of the Associazione Bellunesi e Veneti in Paris, Mrs Giacomina Savi, will be able to help you. Part of our job is to help Italians in difficulty abroad, even is they are only on holiday. Anyone who has emigrated knows what it's like to be alone in a foreign country, without knowing the language. Give her a ring, she'll be delighted to help you.”

This aspect of Italians abroad was a total surprise to me. An effective support network that reached throughout the world. A life line with their home country. Living as an Italian abroad is much more than celebrating national holidays or traditions. It is about making an active cultural and social contribution to both your host country and your homeland.

While I was in Italy Mrs Savi visited Silvia in hospital. She kept her company, comforted her and taught her some French. Stuck in her hospital bed Silvia had never eaten anything quite as nice as Mrs Savi's peach tart. Francesco was born safe and sound two months earlier than expected.
Thanks Giacomina!

Giacomina Savi Tramontin, President of the Associazione Bellunesi e Veneti in Paris:

There are three things lacking in Italy before we can create a climate of togetherness: a tradition of hospitality, the awareness of diversity, proper laws for integration. For example, in France migration is regulated by the rhythms of retirement and people choosing to come back. There's no need to force people to integrate. Integration happens when individual differences are perceived as enriching the entire community.

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