Italian teacher compiles tales from Nonna

Author Vera Corradini-Cleary (centre) with Clara and Mario Commazzetto, of Tarrawanna, at the launch of I Nonni: La Storia Nostra, which carries migration stories across generations. Picture: GREG TOTMAN
Author Vera Corradini-Cleary (centre) with Clara and Mario Commazzetto, of Tarrawanna, at the launch of I Nonni: La Storia Nostra, which carries migration stories across generations. Picture: GREG TOTMAN

Illawarra Italian teacher Vera Corradini-Cleary was determined to remind Illawarra descendants of Italian migrants of sacrifices their ancestors made for future generations.

"The first lot shed blood, sweat and tears to help their children but as the next generations succeed, they sometimes forget the efforts of the past," she said.

Her book, I Nonni: La Storia Nostra, is a compilation of 120 interviews and storytelling between Italian grandparents and grandchildren inspired by Ms Corradini-Cleary's time teaching Italian at high school.

"When I teach, I ask how many people have Italian grandparents and the hands go up every time, so I would ask where their grandparents were from and what their name was and they wouldn't know," she said.

"In only two generations that had been forgotten and that's when I thought we needed to get a conversation happening between the grandparents and grandchildren."

The interviews focus on tales of leaving the homeland, migrating to a foreign country and starting a life in the Illawarra.

Students from Holy Spirit College, Wollongong High and Tafe submitted interviews, with some taking on a sad significance.

"Because the book took five years to put together, many of the grandparents have passed away so we have lots of students saying how glad they were to have learnt more about nonna or nonno and how grateful they are that their memory lives on in the book," Ms Corradini-Cleary said.

Some entries are personal tales of migration hardship written in Italian to preserve authentic expressions and a sense of humour that may be lost in translation.

"A few chose to write in Italian because otherwise they would have to write it in simplistic English, while some didn't want to translate it because they said if my grandkids want to find out what my life was like, they should learn the language first," she said.

The book is also meant to serve as a reminder of the cyclical nature of migration, with each generation contributing more thanks to the sacrifices of the last.

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