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An Italian Canadian Immigrant Narrative: Yolanda Fantini Piccoli.
The purpose of conducting this interview is to further the knowledge and engagement in the community regarding Italian Canadian immigrants as studied in HUMN3800 Italian Heritage and Digital Applications with Dr. Teresa Russo. In documenting narratives and encounters of immigration from Italy to Canada, it will encourage historical anecdotes in documents, letters, and photos that capture the memories of Italian Canadians. The intent is to establish relations with immigrants while creating awareness of the in-depth narratives of immigrants who want their story to be told. This serves to preserve both my grandmother’s personal experience and the immigration experience of Italian Canadians in general. Our intention in this course is to link historical events with the experiences of real individuals by recording these artifacts and preserving them on the Italian Canadian Narratives Showcase (ICNS). We appreciate Yolanda Fantini Piccoli’s involvement, desiring to add hers to our collection.
I was given the opportunity to conduct a semi-structural interview on September 26, 2023, in Guelph, Ontario. This interview was regarding an Italian immigrant that has come to Canada, my Nonna, also known as my grandmother Yolanda Fantini Piccoli. The methods in my oral history include asking ten predetermined questions along with follow-up questions that enhance the details of the interview that I previously conducted. In addition, I have recorded this interview to ensure that the anecdotes and authentication were accessible, upon permission from Yolanda. The interview’s purpose was to illustrate an oral history that not only helps researchers but also allows the awareness of an immigrant’s story to be told with consent. Secondly, the purpose was to document a personal archive of Yolanda’s story within her encounters as an immigrant. The recording includes her departure from Italy, how she traveled to Canada, and her progress in adapting to Canadian culture. In choosing my Nonna, this interview process has allowed her story to be recognized and has highlighted my understanding of my family’s development regarding my Italian heritage and family history. This has taught me the importance of storytelling about one’s life. It is significant to my own life as it narrates my position in society and how I came to be through a rich history that has contributed to Italian immigration as a whole.
Yolanda Fantini Piccoli was born on March 28, 1942, in Abruzzi Chieti, Torricella Peligna, to her parents, who had seven children. Yolanda immigrated as a newlywed at age 17 to Canada in 1960. This is the story of Yolanda Fantini Piccoli, an Italian woman who immigrated to Canada. Her Italian heritage impacts her life as well as the rearing of her family raised in Canada. Yolanda’s passage as an immigrant, along with the process of entering Canada, displays her courage.
Introduction Interview To An Italian Immigrant Narrative: Yolanda Fantini Piccoli.
Offical Interview An Italian Immigrant Narrative: Yolanda Fantini Piccoli.
Official Interview Transcription
Date of Interview: Tuesday, September 26th, 2023.
Name of Interviewee: Yolanda Fantini Piccoli from the SIlent Generation.
Yolanda: Ciao, Sono Yolanda Piccoli
Mya: What first brought you to Canada?
Yolanda: Well my husband was in Canada 1959, he came back to Italy and we met eachother then we got married in 1960. After we got married we came to Canada with the boat
Mya: So what brought you to Canada was your husband.
Mya: So what made Canada a better place to live?
Yolanda: well canada nice place to live because everything here
Mya: There was more accessible resources?
Yolanda: Yeah lots of nice thing but we do what ever we do in Italy to but here was different thing than there. I like here now.
Mya: Did you know anybody before you came here to Canada?
Yolanda: No I didn’t know anybody before I came to Canada, just my husband and then my husband brang me to a place that he was before so I met everybody there and I tried to help everybody that had kids so I did lots of work for them
Mya: When you came to Canada what city did you go to?
Yolanda: Well when we arrived in Monteral we go see some people in Monteral because we have friends there so we stayed there three days there and then we we took the train and we came to Guelph.
Mya: What year was this?
Mya: And you got here by the boat, so how long did the boat take you?
Yolanda: The boat took 16 days
Mya: And you came here with Nonno so how did he convince you to come to Canada? What made you say yes to come to Canada?
Yolanda: Well because he said it was a different life here. A different life then there and we would have a place to work. So we work, we make some money there. You don’t have a place to work [in Italy], you work in the field and nobody pays you but here when we came when i went to work at biltmore hats I made 65 cents an hour so it was good, I was happy and the end of the week I have money.
Mya: How old were you when you immigrated to Canada?
Yolanda: I was 17 years old.
Mya: What part of Italy did you come from?
Yolanda: From Abruzzi Chieti, Torricella Peligna
Mya: What was your journey like to Canada? Like how was it on the boat? Like it what did it make you guys feel? Did you get sick on the boat?
Yolanda: Oh yeah yeah yeah the boat make me sick. I stayed in bed maybe 4 or 5 days because when you go on the water the boat started
Yolanda: Yeah bad so it was bad when we went on the boat. The first day no but after a few days oh my God.
Mya: When you came to canada what was your first impression? Like what did you think when you came to Canada?
Yolanda: Well I think that it was different than everything [in Italy]. I liked it, I had a good impression but I came at night and in the morning a lady came and saw me and she brought me to work right away, the day after [she arrive in Guelph] she went to work.
Mya: After you came to Canada?
Yolanda: Yeah, I came at 10 o’clock at night and at 9:30 [in the morning] this lady came to see me because she knew my husband so she came to pick me up and brought me to Mcgregors, John Rainies to sew shirts so I work there for one year till I have my first child, and then I go to Biltmore hats.
Mya: What was hard about coming to Canada? Was it hard because you couldn’t understand english? Was it hard because they wanted you to listen to what they wanted for you here in Canada like there rules?
Yolanda: No no it was hard because we did’t speak english. We don’t understand nothing english and you know we talk by hand all the time but was nice people but then I make lots of friends. I have lots of friends now, I have to and it was really nice and was enjoy. We have a really good time.
Mya: Why did you guys talk with your hands?
Yolanda: Always we talked with our hands. Italian people talk with there hands all the time, I don’t know why.
Mya: When you came to Canada what were the important things that you brought?
Yolanda: I brought the picture of the boat you want to see [shows picture]. This is all my friends on the boat and then they stopped in Montreal, some stopped in Vancover, and I came to Guelph. Then this is me and my husband when we went to Niagara Falls to see the the water and we take a picture there, me and my husband [shows picture]. That’s the paper when we came here [shows identification]
Mya: Your identification?
Yolanda: My identification. And that’s the passport when we came. This is the passport when we came [shows passport], here and we have to show everything when we came.
Mya: When you first started a family in Canada was it hard for you? Was it hard for you in the hospital to give birth in Canada?
Yolanda: No we have alot of, we have everybody when they have kids they have a little bit of problem but we have doctors, nurses, they took care of us, good.
Mya: Can you tell us about your experience as a new mother and recent immigrant to Canada? So being new in Canada what was it like raising your kids here?
Yolanda: Well it was good to raise your kids here because the kids were nice [in our neighbourhood]. You taught them good things. Taught them how to live and how to respect everybody. You taught them the good way to live. Good way to survive.
Mya: When you were in Canada for a long time, did you send letters to people that were still in Italy?
Yolanda: Yeah, we sent letters to my brothers, my sisters, my mother, my father, everybody.
Mya: To you where is home? And why do you think that it is home?
Yolanda: Well this is home because I have my kids here, my grand kids, now that’s my home. I live here for 63 years, so now this is my home.
Mya: When you look back at this experience of you immigrating to Canada is there anything that you would have done differently?
Yolanda: No, I don’t think so.
Mya: And because you had your kids here in Canada did you feel more Canadian because you had your kids in Canada?
Yolanda: Well you feel Canadian because you take the Canadian citizenship but still your child is Italian heritage but now in Canada I like it here.
Mya: When you raised your kids in Canada, do you think that it was similar to how you were raised as a child?
Yolanda: Yeah well no, here you raise differently, there it was different there was seven different children. My mom had seven kids so my father was sick so she [my mother] do the best she can but we lived in the farm so you don’t have to stay all the time nice, have shoes, have this, we live in a different way.
Mya: Can you tell me what you remember about the war? I know you were young but do you remember anything about how your parents were hiding your whole family?
Yolanda: Yeah, I don’t remember but the things but my mom would tell me, my father, they have to hide some place because the war, the soliders come and killed everybody, you know shoot everybody so sometimes we go to one house, another house in the basement, where ever we can hide. We have, my parents had a hard time but we survived.
Mya: Now your final question is going back to your experience in Canada, so your work life? Can you tell us about what you have accomplished in your work in Canada? I see that you were in the news paper, you made a hat for Oprah Winfrey, and you created a hat called the Piccoli. Can you tell us about your work, and how it was important in Canada?
Yolanda: Yeah, well I like the sewing, the machine, you know, and I learned fast, and I tried to do the best for the company. And even though I did not write english, I speak english the best I could but the owner like me so much because I worked so hard, and I produced in the company, so the company like me always so whatever chance they give me, they give me lots of chance to do better and so I worked there for 44 years, the owner, the news paper come, they took pictures of me, they took pictures of my hats, they take [documented] everything. When I sew, I do things you know, [how] fast I do. Alot of people came and saw. What ever work I do, it was hard because I do with my hands, everything with your hands.
Mya: Can you show us the newspapers you were in?
Yolanda: This one, this is the news paper I was on, and I was in here when we do the cake here.
Mya: And you made a hat for Oprah Winfrey?
Yolanda: And I make hats for Oprah, I make hats for Say My Name.
Mya: Well all this information that you have shared with us is so helpful and it’s going to be put into our research. I am really thankful for the time that you put in to this interview this evening, so thank you very much.
Yolanda: Oh, thank you to you too okay.
Poster of Yolanda Fantini Piccoli’s Work in Canada
This academic poster was created after the creation of the video of Yolanda’s interview. The poster describes aspects of Yolanda’s work in Canada, where readers first learn about her ambitions for working in Canada and how sharing her story will reach larger audiences while encouraging people to share their immigration stories. Please note that all images on this poster are from Yolanda Fantini Piccoli’s private collection, and permission was granted for sharing her pieces with the archive. Then the materials and methods describe her work and accomplishments as a hat maker for the community of Guelph. The materials and methods section also describes how the information of Yolanda Fantini Piccoli was collected in the type of interview and the semi-structural interview approach, including the number of questions and follow-up questions. In the Piccoli Hat Line section, it describes the hats that she has produced for the company and the opportunities she has been given in the hat industry. Following are recommendations for further research for readers, and then the conclusion and acknowledgements discuss the importance of her story for the archives and the community as a whole. Content information is located in the bottom right corner for those who wish to follow up with the author.
During the interview, my Nonna Yolanda Fantini Piccoli, shared many aspects about her immigration to Canada which relates to primary sources and topics in Italian Heritage and Digital Applications. Yolanda immigrated to Canada to have a better life and more economic opportunities. This migration was common for Italian Canadian immigrants because they came from less fortunate agrarian areas which resulted in immigration to Canada (Harney 5). The importance of family and education were described in the Enigmatico documentary which reminded me of how my Nonna would write and receive letters to her Italian family members and how all the Italian immgrants in Canada were seen as family; as a result, she had to help other immigrant families (Enigmatico). In Filippo Salvatore’s article, he talked about how Italians had to prove themselves in Canadian society, and in doing so, my Nonna was expected to conform to Canadian society and had to work in a job that was considered a woman’s job (Salvatore 168). Though my grandparents only knew Italian culture and language at the beginning of their integration period, they had to learn the English language and adapt to the climate in Canada. Like Salvatore describes, mass migration affected the english language. Therefore, the english lanuage was a barrier for Italian people leading to their mistreatment due to their ethnicity (Bressani 21-22; Salvatore 168; Russo). I remember in my interview, my Nonna talked about how she struggled with the language barrier; however, she was able to pickup on learning the english language.
In terms of education, Yolanda Fantini Piccoli had wanted her children to be well educated so that they could obtain a well established career. As seen in other stories, such as the one in the Enigmatio documentary, the artist’s mother, Angela, urged her son to pursue his passion for art (Enigmatio 20:54).Work was significant to Italians because these people wanted to be able to provide for their families when settling in Canada. Yolanda also valued a reputable job and hard work. The work ethics emulated by Yolanda, just as other Italian immigrants were dissussed in the Montreal’s Little Italy article, which highlights the second Italian immigration cohort. My Nonna came to Canada with hardly any money or possessions and worked hard to achieve a happy life. However, she had to gain a reputation in her work place as a woman in order to be accepted in Canada. She maintained her reputation by learning English as quickly as possible and mastering her job as a hat maker (Sabourin and Lambert 5). Additionally, in Charles Taylors article, he describes that Italian people were known as aliens (Taylor, 36). Similarly, my Nonna described previous to the interview that she was discriminated against because of the way Italians were seen as aliens by the public. This is an unfortunate view of Italians by Canadian’s because Italians made Canada their home even celebrating Canada Day, and Victoria day becoming Canadian themselves. My Nonno when asking the question of where is home said Canada. In the same respect my Nonna maintained the cultural values in this new country.
Consequently, in class, we discussed a topic from Harney’s article that differs from Yolanda’s story. This article discusses Italian ethnocentrism and correlates to her Italian heritage and success in Canada. Despite Harney’s description of “Italian ethnocentrism” through a masculine lens, this experience applies to Yolanda’s narrative as a woman. During this time and even recently, there is a lack of research regarding the accomplishments of women’s work and how they contributed to society. (Harney 3). However, it was less noticeable because their work was neglected because there were other Italians that were considered to have made greater accomplishments such as artists and discoverers (Harney 3-4;14-15). It was even more difficult for Yolanda because she was a woman, and jobs for women were not well documented in the history of immigration. In Italian Canadian studies, when men came to Canada, there were more opportunities to have a job in comparison to women (Harney 3).This analysis highlights the contributions women made, and that is my objective in this project. Yolanda was the first in her family to create products that were important to society; her interview documents the contributions of her work. It was not until later in her career that she was recongized for making a hat for Oprah Winfrey, as well as creating her own line of hats, and producing hats for Say My Name. Additionally, as discussed in class, Italian parents thought of education as highly valuable. My Nonna always encouraged her children to become more educated so that they could have a better life than she did, and so that they would be well established with reputable careers (Russo; Harney 4). In comparing my Nonna and Professor Russo’s lecture, I noticed that they both shared similar and yet different ideas on financial stability. Thus, as Professor Russo indicates, Italian parents desire that their children go to school in order for them to pursue careers (Russo, 2023). While, Yolanda’s perspective focused more on valuing the importance of enjoying their work. My Nonna acknowledges that she did not have a proper education or as many privileges as her children had, but she considers her hardships to have made her stronger which helped her shape her life as well as her families life in Canada. Yolanda goes on to state that she is proud to have a Canadian identity because this is now where her family resides. Finally, Yolanda talks about how she would have not changed anything about her life because to her, hard work resulted in success and a well respected life.
In my role as an interviewer I learned about my position in society. I learned more about how my life is more privileged than that of my Nonna’s because as a woman, it is now acceptable to obtain a job I enjoy, and I am able to play sports. I learned more about cultural gender beliefs, and how my Nonna was treated immigrating to Canada as a woman. Additionally, I learned about my ethnicity as a person about my ethnicity with Italian community belonging to the Italian community. I realized more in this assignment that my values about education, work, and with people are a mirror to my Nonna’s values; my morals descends from Italian beliefs, and what my culture celebrates. I notice that I have similar views to my Nonna’s from her anwsers to my questions in the interview. For instance, when she talked about her Canadian identity it reminded me of what makes me feel Canadian, but also of what makes me feel my Italian heritage. I think my abilities are also motivated by my Italian culture because working hard is important, and like my Nonna, I work hard academically and professionally, especially in my passions. For her it is sewing and making hats, while for me it is my writing and creative abilities. I think that my English major also reflects this as I work so hard to write papers and poems that I want to someday publish. In relating this to my Nonna, she made many trial hats before creating the perfect hat for Oprah Winfrey.
I believe that there was development in my professional, academic and personal life during this assignment. Professionally, I am learning how to present the story of an Italian immigrant woman who has sacrificed more than I have as I was born in Canada. I now understand how I have to represent my findings in how they were shared with me rather than creating my own opinions. Academically, I would say I learned more about my heritage and the importances of sharing immigrant narratives. In what I have learned about the difficulties of Italian immigrants, I now understand the barriers of language and self-presentation that she faced in becoming a Italian Canadian citzen. This interview allowed me to understand my academic, professional, and personal development because it helps me to become more educated. However, personally learning more about her story has been the most impactful to me. This is because I learned more about where I came from, where my values, morals and beliefs derived from. After the interview, my Nonna and I discussed the sacrifices she had to make to gain her achievements as a person in Canada. However, in my interpratation of this interview, the significance is knowing the opportunities that I have received due to my Nonna’s sacrifices and her fight to be accepted as a woman in Canadian society. It matters to me because it helps me better understand my position as a woman that is always supported, and how I need to be more grateful because, unlike my Nonna coming to Canada to build a life for herself with less than most people, I was given everything that I have. Though I have to work hard to get my career I always have help when I need it unlike my Nonna who had to work for everything she needed and wanted. The consequences and meanings of my findings are that I realized how lucky I am to be born in Canada and to have a stable household. I also relate to the course content because this is where my family started and made a life through their hard work and determination. I relate because I am developing my knowledge and learning more about my Italian heritage.
My assignment followed my initial thoughts because I knew that I would be immersed in more information provided by my Nonna. I knew how she was going to answer questions because I find that she speaks like a storyteller. I knew what I wanted to know more about, and that my Nonna would respond to the questions that would allow me to capture her immigration experience and encounters in Canada. The impact of this interview process and my interpretations positively affect my future actions and thoughts because I understand the teachings in stories told by my Nonna, Yolanda Fantini Piccoli better. As a result of this interview I am able to recognize the differences between what was accessible when my Nonna was growing up, as a opposed to my rearing in Canada. I am going to ask more questions that will provide me with greater awareness of how I can better educate those around me about people who had to do so much to have the life they desired. Therefore, the work I have done is contributing to Italian studies.
After conducting my interview with my Nonna, Yolanda Fantini Piccoli it was clear that her responses communicated her narrative as an immigrant to Canada. She had many encounters during her journey before her arrival in Canada and when she got to Canada. It was interesting to have learned in-depth details to her life as a young woman and the sacrifices that she had to make in order to have a better life for herself and family. My Nonna, Yolanda, was chosen to be my interviewee particularly because she is an immigrant from Italy and I felt that her in-depth narrative was important to share, as she accomplished a lot given beginning her journey as vulnerable immirgant who had to work hard to achieve the life that she now lives.
The private collections of Yolanda Fantini Piccoli’s photographs and documents have been approved for sharing.
Bressani, Francesco Guiseppe. The Anthology of Italian-Canadian Writing, edited by Joseph Pivato. Guernica Editions Inc., 1998, pp. 167-170.
Harney, Robert F. Italian Immigration and the Frontiers of Western Civilization. The Italian Immigration Experience, 1988, pp. 1-24, 36.
Mortin, David & Fogliato, Patricia. Enigmatico. National Film Board., 1995.
Piccoli Favretto, Mya. HUMN*3800 Italian Heritage Project: Introductory Interview of Yolanda Fantini Piccoli. YouTube, 26 September 2023. https://youtu.be/QjsQ8pH9dTs
Piccoli Favretto, Mya. HUMN*3800 Italian Heritage Project: Interview of Yolanda Fantini Piccoli.” YouTube, 26 September 2023. https://youtu.be/kjXMsnYZGhI
Piccoli Favretto, Mya. “An Italian Canadian Immigrant Narrative: Yolanda Fantini Piccoli.” In Italian Communities in Canada: Heritage, Cultural and Ethnographic Studies, suprv. Teresa Russo. University of Guelph: 29 October 2023, Guelph (academic poster, www.italianheritage.ca).
Russo, Teresa. Lecture on Italian Canadian Immigration II. HUMN*3800 Italian Heritage and Digital Applications, 16 September 2023, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario. Sabourin, Diane & Lambert, Maude-Emmanuelle. Montreal’s Little Italy. Published Online., 2012, pp. 1-6.
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Piccoli Favretto, Mya. An Italian Canadian Immigrant Narrative: Yolanda Fantini Piccoli. Italian Heritage and Digital Applications, instructor, Teresa Russo. University of Guelph, 2023.