By Rose Devicha
I’ve learned to embrace my culture a little more lately. Moving back to Hamilton has helped. My first walk through Bayfront Park I was surprised by the number of languages I heard spoken as I meandered along the paved path. I enjoyed hearing the Sicilian dialect of my youth most of all. It was at that moment I realised I’d heard little more than English spoken in the town from which I’d come.
I struggled with my Italian heritage growing up. Like most kids, I just wanted to fit in and it seemed to me, my parents in their loud expressive language and old world standards, just made me stand out. So often they called upon me to translate the phrases spoken by teacher, or bank teller, or neighbour, my broken Italian just barely finding the words to be understood. I was forced to fluctuate between English and Sicilian even within my own home amongst my own family members. I spoke to my grandparents in Italian, my mother in English and my father in a highbred mix. As my mother nears her eighties, English is still our chosen form of communication, although I have noticed her abandon her search for English terms mid-sentence and revert to her mother tongue more and more as she ages. This does worry me a little bit. I find myself wondering if my translation skills will still suffice when called upon in the years to come. Although this time around I don’t feel the burden or embarrassment I felt as a child.
Recently, I realized just how much my heritage means to me. As I walked past a panhandler playing his accordion out in front of the Farmers’ Market, I didn’t give him much thought, not until he started playing the theme to The Godfather that is. I learned recently, this classic piece of music is also known as “Speak Softly Love”. Ironic really, since I don’t know a Sicilian who has ever been known to do so. I turned my head to look and paused to watch as he pressed buttons and squeezed the bellow back and forth. The sound pulled at my heartstrings. I turned back to deposit a loonie in the open instrument case which lay at his feet. He gave a nod of his fedora-clad head in what I’m sure was only a show of appreciation but did I imagine a hint of something else – recognition, perhaps? It’s nice to feel connected again, yet distinct at the same time; each cultural voice a different instrument in the symphony of this city.