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The Immigration Story of Theresa Perri (Italian immigrant)

The Museum reviews and accepts donated personal or family memories and histories into its collection. As a learning institution, the accounts help us understand how individuals recollect, interpret, or construct meaning from lived experiences. The stories are not modified by Museum staff. The point of view expressed is that of the author and not that of the Museum.

Category: 
Culture : 
Country of Origin: 
Port of Arrival: 
Date of Arrival: 
May 16 1957
Language: 
English
Creative Commons: 
CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Accession Number: 
S2012.1493.1

Story Text: 

Carmine, Antonietta Perri and Family

I was 9 years old when I emigrated to Canada in May, 1957 with my mother Antonietta Tomaino Perri (age 42), my brothers Achille (age 14), Silvio (age 12), and Egidio (age 7). We came to join my father, Carmine Perri and older brother, Giuseppe in Sault Ste. Marie. My father emigrated in 1948 via the U.S.A. I was a toddler and my mother was pregnant with my youngest brother when my father left. We stayed behind so that my mother could take care of my paternal grandparents as they were too old and sick to travel.

We came from a small, idyllic town called Decollatura in the mountains of the southern region of Calabria. I remember feeling anxious and sad to leave my friends and relatives behind, especially my maternal grandmother Maria and our dog Fido. I recall asking my mother if we had enough money in the piggy bank to take Fido with us. I thought the trade off for leaving would be that we would be rich and live in luxury in America. I pictured myself living in a pretty house with lots of flowers and lilac trees which I got from a popular song at the time, Casetta in Canada or Little House in Canada.

My brother Giuseppe (Joe) left Italy via Naples on the ship Conte Biancamano on June 23, 1956 and arrived in Halifax on July 3, 1956. He came with a guardian, a man from our hometown, as he was only 15 years old and underage. The rest of us left via Naples on the ship Vulcania on May 6, 1957. We made stops in Palermo, Sicily and Lisbon, Portugal.

The journey across the Atlantic Ocean seemed very long. Because my younger brother Egidio (Ed) and I were seasick, we spent most of the days in bed. As a result, to this day I refuse to ever go on a cruise. My brothers Giuseppe (Joe), Achille, and Silvio fared much better. They recall the trip more like an adventure. They explored the upper deck, saw dolphins, and were treated to free movies. My mother befriended a young woman and her brother who were traveling alone and going to Vancouver. She was so attached to my mother that people thought she was her daughter.

We arrived at Pier 21, Halifax on May 16, 1957. I remember customs was a big hall and the younger children were put in another room to play. I recall that they were very kind to us as I got a doll and Egidio got a toy train. I have a vague recollection of flashes from a cameras as Egidio and I got up to sing (possibly Santa Lucia). My mother was very worried when customs opened her suitcase. She had hidden a capicollo (cured ham) given by a friend who insisted she take it and share it with my father and the rest of the family in Canada. She also had 3 liquor bottles.

Customs would allow 2 but when she motioned with hand that we were a family of five, they allowed her the extra bottle and missed seeing the capicollo. My mother recalls that other weren't so lucky. She witnessed containers of olive oil hidden in a mattress. As the custom officer punctured the mattress the olive oil spilled all over the floor. She recalls anguish on the woman's face and all the other people whose goods were confiscated. My mother also had 3 salamis hidden in her purse. The young boy traveling with his sister motioned to hand them to him and he hid them in the pocket of his jacket. We got to enjoy them later on the train when we ran out of food.

A man returning to Canada from Italy advised my mother to buy some lunch meat and bread before boarding the train. We didn't like the bread as it was soft and sweet, unlike the crusty bread that we were used to. My younger brother asked if it was real bread. As we started to run out of food and were getting hungry, my mother promised to buy some at the next train station. We passed miles of wilderness. Little did we know how vast

the country was and the long distances between towns. The only thing sold on the train were chocolates, so we ate the illegal salamis and lots of chocolate the rest of the way. The train ride from Halifax to Montreal was long, hot and uncomfortable. We sat on wooden benches. My mother and older brothers remember how inhumane the train ride was. They commented that the train was meant to carry cattle instead of human cargo. My brother Achille's most vivid memory is opening a window to get some fresh air.

People were shouting at him to close the window as everyone was covered in soot from the coal dust.

We arrived at Sault Ste. Marie on May 18, 1957. We were surprised to see snow in may and shocked to se such a small train station which resembled a shack. We were met by my father Carmine and older brother Joe, my uncle Saverio (Sam), aunt Rosina and cousins Giuseppe and Angelo Perri. My uncle Sam was about 15 years old when he emigrated circa 1914 or 1915 (via the U.S.A.). He sponsored my father in 1948 and my aunt Rosina and family in 1949. I remember arriving home and eating my first banana. I did not find a mansion and soon realized we were far from being rich.

My parents worked hard and made a lot of sacrifices so that we would have a better life in Canada. We did adjust to the long, cold winters in Sault Ste. Marie. We kept our rich, Italian culture and learned to love all things Canadian like Saturday night watching'Hockey Night in Canada', the beautiful fall colours, apple pie, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The next generation of the Perri family have thrived in Canada. They are teachers, engineers, MBA's, civil servants, marketing and media associates.

Teresa Perri