Third generation Italian-Canadians return to their roots

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This research may provide insight into the relationships inside other diaspora groups.

Using an online survey entitled “Being Ethnic: Third Generation Italian Identity in Vancouver,” SFU research associate, Eva Sajoo, has moved one step closer to understanding the implications of being a third generation Italian immigrant in Canada.

Sponsored by the Institute for Diaspora Research & Engagement and the Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures, the research project conducted various interviews with Italian-Canadians in order to better understand how they describe their identity and sense of community.

Sajoo’s preliminary results indicate that third generation immigrants may have an increased interest in their lineage than prior generations, who often distance themselves from what they see as their parents’ old country.

Sajoo initially observed her brothers showing an increased interest in personal roots, and after expanding into other ethnic groups, began to see a trend. When she spoke with Mauro Vescera, the director of the Italian Cultural Centre (Il Centro), he noted the same phenomenon in Italian immigrants, which sparked a collaboration on the study.

Sajoo told The Peak that the study involves a brief online survey. “We are asking third generation Italians — anyone whose grandparents came to Canada from Italy — what Italian identity means to them,” she said.

Sajoo continued, “The most important question is how they describe themselves. Do they think of themselves as primarily Italian, Italian-Canadian, Canadian, or something else?  We are trying to understand what factors affect how a person relates to their family history in constructing their own sense of identity.”

Prior generations often distance themselves from what they see as their parents’ old country.

She also noted the variety in immigrant communities across the country, saying that “this study attempts to provide some insight into how identity evolves over time in one community.”

The Italian Cultural Centre will use the research to adapt to the changing needs of their community. Sajoo said, “Ultimately, the results will not only tell us something about Italian-Canadian youth in Vancouver, but will be a point of comparison for future studies of other communities.”

She concluded, “The research is important because we live in an increasingly mobile, globalized world. Diaspora groups — communities which live in one country but retain some kind of connection to their country of origin — are going to be increasingly common.

“As a result, understanding how individuals preserve parts of one identity while also participating and belonging to their local community is going to be of ongoing interest.”

The online survey will be open until the end of September, with results likely published by the end of the year.