Written by Kiya Fujimoto Nolan
Table of Contents
On September 30, 2022, my aunt Michelle Alfano, was interviewed regarding her Italian descent. She was thrilled to share her family’s immigration story and heritage.
Michelle Alfano grew up in Stoney Creek, Ontario, with her brother, sister and parents. Her parents owned a cheese shop that operated within the local market. This shop became an integral part of the community. She moved to Toronto, Ontario to attend the University of Toronto where she met her husband Rob. She now works for the University of Toronto and is also a writer. Michelle remained in Toronto where she lives with her husband Rob Fujimoto. She and my uncle raised an amazing child who is now about to graduate from OCAD University. Both Michelle and Rob’s parents have unique histories. Rob’s parents were raised in the Japanese internment camps in British Columbia. Michelle’s parents immigrated to Canada in the 1950’s. Once transitioned, they faced their own obstacles such as settling into a new environment and getting accustomed to a new culture.
During this interview, Michelle connected with her roots, thinking back to her wonderful upbringing, and she shared parts of her parent’s life. This semi-structured interview created an oral history of her family’s past. This efficient method of collecting information was able to bring her joy as she loves sharing thoughts of her family and Italian descent. An archive of images from Michelle has been collected from her private collection to complement the verbal story she shared.
As I interviewed my family member, I was already comfortable with conversing and asking her questions which made for a more pleasant interaction. I prepared myself by being organized with clear questions and intent. I had all my questions lined up and practiced. My follow-up questions were appropriate and furthered the conversation. After the interview was conducted, I felt happy and successful as I was able to share this special moment with my aunt.
I was eager to learn more about my aunt’s background and how her family immigrated to Canada. I had never thought to ask her any of the set questions so I knew I would be learning lots of new content. I did not know much about her upbringing and was able to gain more personal information. It was interesting to learn about the community she lived in and the timeline of the languages she spoke.
After conducting the interview and soaking in all the new information, I was able to conclude that the
Alfano family was very lucky to have immigrated in the 1950’s. While learning about Italian immigration to Canada, a big portion of this story was based on world war II and the internment camps. Here is when Italian Canadians faced many traumas and inequalities. Michelle’s parents were thankful to immigrate after the horrific internment camps in Canada. As the Enemy Alien Protection Act was lifted after the war, they were able to come to Canada for more of a fair and fresh start unlike those who came just one decade ago.
Michelle also mentioned that when her parents moved to Canada they settled down in a community with
many other Italians and even some from the same Italian village. This greatly helped them have a smoother transition into the country as they had a community that spoke the same language and shared the same culture. This type of settlement occurred because, at the time, a record number of Italian immigrants entered Canada.
Michelle mentioned that when she moved to Toronto, she found herself as a minority and had to grow accustomed to a new urban culture. She was able to keep a large part of her Italian heritage with her; however, she also gained a new identity. She was able to develop a sense of self away from home. This in turn felt less Italian and more Canadian. This new connection to Canada would not have been as prevalent if she had stayed in Stoney Creek. Michelle’s siblings, for instance, stayed near the community they grew up in, and they kept more of their Italian traditions.
An archive of images from Michelle has been collected from her private collection and shared here to accompany her oral history. These photos aim to provide a deeper understanding of the lifestyle in which she grew up.
The documentary, Saturnia, casts a complex historical shadow over the once-remarkable ship that brought more than 260,000 Italian soldiers, aristocrats, and immigrants to North America. The documentary follows Michelle as she tried to find out more about her father Francesco’s trip from Italy to Canada. Rosa, Silvano, and Antonio, who are three additional passengers on the Saturnia, are asked to assist Michelle in her search for the information. The captain, Bruno, who lives in Italy, recalls difficult journeys and exits. Through the passengers’ distant memories and vivid accounts of their personal experiences, the story of immigration is told.
Above are some of Michelle’s published books. The Unfinished Dollhouse is a memoir to her child, who she calls “Frankie”. It shows the path that Frankie takes in finding their gender and identity. This memoir is full of emotion as Michelle shares her feelings throughout this vital change. Made Up of Arias is a novella that won the 2010 winner of the Bressani Award for Short Fiction. It is a dramatic and captivating novel that shares the lives of three children and their parents. This piece is loosely based on Michelle’s childhood memories in Stoney Creek.
All photographs included have been approved for sharing from the private collection of Michelle Alfano.
Dell’Omo, Ferdinando and Lilia Topouzova, directors. Saturnia. Saturnia – Documentary Preview, Still Ocean Films, 2012, https://vimeo.com/22632593. Accessed 28 Nov. 2022.
Nolan, Kiya. “Interview Project Part 1: Michelle Alfano”. Youtube, Kiya Nolan, 3 Oct. 2022, https://youtu.be/-QQoWYdcO_Y; access at Italian Communities in Canada: Heritage, Cultural and Ethnographic Studies as of November 2022, www.italianheritage.ca.
How to cite this page:
MLA STYLE: Author. “Title.” Title of container, Other contributors, Number (vol. and/or no.), Publisher, Publication Date, Location (pages, paragraphs and/or URL, DOI or permalink). 2nd container’s title, Other contributors.
Kiya Nolan. “Michelle Alfano’s Family’s Journey to Canada.” In Italian Communities in Canada: Heritage, Cultural and Ethnographic Studies, suprv. Teresa Russo. University of Guelph, 28 November 2022, Guelph (https://www.italianheritage.ca/2022/11/29/michelle-alfanos-parents-journey-to-canada/). Italian-Canadian Narratives Showcase (ICNS), Sanda Parmegiani, Kyra Bates, and Gurpreet Kaur.