Born in Italy and raised in Canada, I often felt unsure about my place between these two cultural spaces. During my first trip back to Italy as an adult I realized that I was not Italian in any sense of the word. Except for the language, nothing about the country and its people felt familiar to me. I’ve never felt quite at home in Canada either. My preferred space was the Italian cultural ghetto of my Canadian upbringing. This too, it turned out, didn’t provide me with a firm cultural footing. The cultural rituals and practices of Italian Canadians, I thought, were nostalgic for a time and place now long gone. Current practices in Italy bear little resemblance to the cultural rituals of Italian Canadians.
In these portraits are Italian Canadians in their “cantina” or cellar. The cantina is a space that symbolizes many of the fundamental values of the Italian Canadian Immigrant mentality. At a functional level, the cantina is a cold-room located almost always partly underground in the basement of a home, and used to store food and drink such as dry-cured meats, canned vegetables, cheese, and wine. As a general storage space the cantina is also often cluttered with a home’s overflow. At a more fundamental level, the cantina reflects attitudes of self-sufficiency and frugalness. These are attitudes that served Italians well in the harsh economic environment of post-World War II Europe, when most of those photographed immigrated to Canada in search of opportunity.
Rather than resolve my ambivalence, making these photographs further fixed my ethnic identity somewhere between here and there.