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Abstract: by Meaghan Jaimes Hymers
On a warm Friday evening, nearly 53 years after she arrived in Canada for the first time, Rosetta Puzzo invited me to sit down with her at the home of her daughter, Ida, in Bolton, Ontario, to share with me her experience as an Italian-Canadian immigrant.
I was warmly welcomed into Ida’s home and invited to sit at her kitchen table while her daughters and their friends, whipped past me on their way to play in the backyard. When Rose arrived, she greeted her family with kisses and hugs, and sat down with me to share some of Ida’s homemade pizza. Surrounded by three generations of Puzzo women, I asked Rose to share her story.
Rose’s narrative began with the long journey from Calabria to Toronto in August of 1966. When she arrived in Toronto with her family, Rose didn’t know a word of English. She struggled at school and endured teasing from the other children, but had a fierce resolve to learn the language and adjust to her new life.
Rose spoke about the pressures her family endured as new immigrants, specifically recalling the focus on repaying their mortgage. When Rose was a teenager, she dropped out of high school to help support the family finances. As she reflected on her experience, Rose described that decision as her only regret in life.
Today, Rose lives in Caledon, Ontario, happily married to her husband Frank Puzzo. She is a young grandmother and deeply values the time she spends with her family.
Interview with Rosetta Puzzo, July 12th, 2019, interviewed by Meaghan Jaimes Hymers
MH: Were you born in Italy?
MH: Yes. So, what first brought you to Canada?
Rose: Um… My parents, we came as a family. Um, my uncle called – they, they… sponsored my parents and, uh, we came as a family.
MH: Um… Were you already acquainted with anyone in Canada before you arrived?
MH: Yes. Your uncle?
MH: Um, How old were you?
MH: Twelve. Um… Where did you first arrive and when?
Rose: In Toronto, we arrived, um… August – I would have to say – August 26, 1966.
MH: Um, and how? Like, means of transit?
Rose: By, from – Well I’m from the South, Calabria. So, from there we took the train to Rome, and then from Rome a plane to Montreal, and then again from Montreal to Toronto, a different plane.
MH: Um, and who did you come with? It was your family?
Rose: The family.
MH: Um, are you willing to share your immigration experience?
MH: Okay, um, so just kind of any… Um, anything that stood out to you, any memories that you have…
Rose: Well, the memories were that when I, when we first came, not a word of English. There weren’t too many – at school – too many people that spoke Italian. No teachers that spoke Italian, and um… It was very hard, at first. I would go home every night crying that I wanted to go back to Italy. And um… Then I knew that wasn’t the case, so I started to really work hard to learn English… and once I started to understand the language, you know, I adjusted. Yeah…
MH: Um, are there any other obstacles or barriers that you encountered as a new immigrant to Canada?
Rose: Yeah, the kids would pick on us, that we were W.O.P.s (laughing). Um if, uh, if we went out, we didn’t understand or know where we were, with my brother especially, and, uh, all the streets looked alike. All the houses looked alike. We lived down on, um, in Toronto, Rogers and Oakwood, and, um, the language – the language was the, the hardest thing.
MH: Um, okay these questions are about photos, so we can skip those… Um, did you exchange any letters with relatives in Italy?
Rose: Oh, yes.
Rose: My sister, I have a sister in Italy, so we did exchange letters. Phone calls weren’t, at the time… If you called each other maybe every couple years, you’d get so excited and nervous that you didn’t even – you couldn’t even make a… you know, a conversation because both parties would be crying (laughing). Yeah, but, um, we kept in touch with my sister.
MH: Um, do you have any of those letters still, or?
MH: No? That’s okay. Um, and then looking back on your experience, um, is there anything you would have done differently?
Rose: (pause) Yes. Um… I dropped out of high school and that’s, that’s the only, really the only regret in my life… that I, but because it was, um, there was a, we went through a very difficult time, my mom got sick, my dad got sick, and it was, we had a mortgage to pay. I had a part-time job, they hired me full-time, and just to help out to pay for the mortgage I dropped out of school. That, I would definitely do different.
MH: Um, do you have anything else that you would like to share about your experience?
Rose: Oh, just how I was so determined to learn English quick. So, within a year that I, that we came to Canada, I would go with older people that had doctor’s appointment, I would go and be an interpreter for them.
Rose: So, the determination to learn English was… beyond – I, I – when I think back, I surprise myself. Yeah, but um… It was, it was too, the hard thing was as well that my dad and my mom being, coming into a strange country, uh they were very strict. Um… we weren’t allowed to have a friend over or to go over a friend to… you just, you didn’t do that, so that… that was hard as well, so… But we moved on. Got married young, I had kids young… and, uh, but like I said, my only regret is not going to, to university. To finish high school and go to university… But, uh, it was hard. For all immigrants, um, that came in the fifties, sixties… It, it was hard because you, you had to start from, from basically nothing. So, all the focus was on buying a home and paying off the mortgage. There was no such a thing as going out for dinner or going to a movie or… the focus was on paying off the mortgage. Hand, hand-me-down tables, hand-me-down chairs, whatever that worked. And, uh, we made it work! Yeah…
MH: Um, well that’s all the questions that I have… Um, if there’s anything else you’d like to share, then you can, but…
Rose: I think that’s about it… Like I said, got married young, had kids young… I’m a young grandmother now, so (laughing) it’s all good, right?