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Venetian Emigration to Latin America

I arrive to Bento Gonçalves at night. It rains. The contact I have doesn't answer the telephone. What can I do? I go to a Hotel and I ask for a room. All booked, except a sort of rat-hole in the basement. I take it. I remember that in Santo Ãngelo, I called the radio of Bento Gonçalves and, fortunately, a certain Isidoro, a parish priest of the diocese of Santo Antonio, answered me, and with him I had some talk in the Veneto Dialect. I ask the hall porter if he know him. He answers me that in the country everyone knows Padre Isidoro and he tells me where I can find him. I go to his place. Padre Isidoro is a person with this kind of energy, vitality and enthusiasm that in the following days the idea of becoming a priest entered my mind time after time. The day after, thanks to him, I'm a guest in the best hotel, situated in the center of the country, and I have a list of people to meat and many things to do.  VERSIONE IN ITALIANO - VERSIÓN EN ESPAÑOL

Here in Bento, the welcome has been one of the warmest. The arrival of an Italian person represents to people around here the opportunity to tell their story as migrants and progenies and to demonstrate their preserved love for their faraway Country. All of them care for getting me acquainted with their origins and for telling me the history of their grandparents or their emigrated parents from Italy. Bento GonÁalves is a city of 80 000 inhabitants, situated on the East part of the region Rio Grande do Sul in the south of Brazil. Anything has to do with the landscapes we are used to see of Brazil; here we are in Serra Gaúcha, hill landscape, it seems like a country around my place which is called Valdobbiadene. The likeness with this placed is also marked by another detail: Bento Gonçalves is the capital of wine.

Just out of the center, a stretch of vineyards of the most common qualities of around my place. Besides, everyone here speaks Veneto dialect. Bento is a city built from 1875 by the first colonies of Veneto immigrants who, when they arrived (not finding any living soul), continued to speak their dialect and so the idiom has been handed down and kept in the course of time. I did 15 thousands km to come back home!

The map of the city speaks out, here we are in Italy: la Via del vino, Posada Casa Mia, Hotel Imigrantes, Primavera, pasta, pizza... on Radio Viva and on Radio Bento one listen only to Old Italian music. They are waiting for me for an interview. I say that I donít speak Portuguese. No harm done! Here they speak dialect, a strict and archaic dialect, with some very funny words like "cusita, catár, mistieri". So I take part, with some winemakers, to a program of wine and food, with lots of bottles of wine and glasses on the desk of the radio. The following days will be dedicated to parties in a Veneto-Italian style, characterized by a strictly live performed sound track, typically Italian. The most popular piece is the hymn of the migrants: Merica Merica Merica.

I met Elena of Coral Terra Nostra. She is a really turmoil of words. Her husband Nelson is the director of the chorus, they invite me for a Churrasco. On the wall of their house many Italian references are hanged: plates assigned to the chorus by Italian political personalities, the marriage act of the emigrated grandpa, emigrantsí letters, and maps of Italy. After lunch Elena and Nelson invite me to participate to an exhibition of the chorus in the "A Maria Fumaça", a train of 1908 with a steam locomotive which take a very suggestive touristic route. During the tour the various folkloristic Italian groups and the gaúchos perform. Then the tourists get off and in the train only the artist and I remain; so the Coral Terra Nostra performs for me singing Veneto songs which I haven't heard long since, others which I have never heard before..

The director of the hotel "Vinocap" Tarciso Michelon invited me to see the surroundings of Bento Gonçalves one day to get a sense of how our first emigrants got organized and what kind of difficulties they had to deal with when they arrived, hopeful, in the Brazilian land. The "Caminhos de pedra" is today a touristic rural cultural project which has the aim of preserve the wine and food tradition, the architecture and the memory of our first emigrants.

Nestor José Foresti came with me in this path. The more we carry on the path we have the opportunity to admire and visit the houses built with the rocks that the emigrants had to remove from the ground to cultivate it. They are very pretty and totally handmade with an unbelievable ability. Or there are houses built with precious wood planks of a particular pine which grows around here. Nestor tells me that emigrants were attracted here with the illusion of meeting huge fertile fields and richness, when on their arrival they crashed with the plain truth: there was the field, but before cultivating it, it was necessary to deforest it. Having a walk to join the falls of Bento we had to fight our way among thick and matted vegetation. This is the scenery which was presented in front of the eyes of who left a whole life to arrive thus far. Besides all this green there was nothing else; immigrants were abandoned to their selves, without heath care, without education, without a home. They had to do everything by their selves, trying to survive to the dangers of this forest. Observing the present landscape I realize how much work has been made and of what is able the hand of man. Nelson tells me other worrying anecdotes which have to do with the "market of emigration".

IN Bento Gonçalves Anna Tedesco Varian lives in great shape, age class 1910, she arrived here in Brazil, Porto Alegre, in 1927 straight from Solagna di Bassano del Grappa: It seems she is the only native Italian in Bento. Anna, in the morning, works in a nursing home for old people, in the afternoon in a material raising center for poor people of which she is the president. She lives on her own and she drives a beautiful orange Beetle of 1973. Anna tells me her story as emigrant: the fascism in Italy, the postwar and the Italian poverty, the choice, the long marine travel on the ship "Giulio Cesare" with other 2400 emigrants, the arrival at night in Rio de Janeiro and the first emotions and doubt: «with all these light there has to be some white people too». the transport to Porto Alegre last 7 days in a hold of a ship among the bananas, then the choice in 1937 to move to Bento Goçalves «It has been a great thrill arriving to Bento and meet in my imagination there where I lived in Solagna». Anna speaks Italian, her mother spoke dialect but she has always wanted to speak the "grammatical Italian". She performs for me an Italian song, learnt at school for the arrangement of a musical play organized by her teacher. The book in which are written the words of the song is named "La Scuola". This is the only Italian song she remembers. She was 12. (MP3 below)

Thanks to: my friend Padre Isidoro, the parish center of Santo Antonio, the director of the hotel VinoCap Tarcisio Michelon, Radio Viva, Radio Bento and Radio Conegliano, Nestor José Foresti, Coral Terra Nostra especially to Elena and Nelson Franceschini, Agenzia Giordani Turismo LTDA, Beto Valduga who sings a beautiful old Italian song "Abassa la tua radio", to Remy Valduga, who gave me his book "Sonho de um imigrante". TO THE WHOLE BENTO GONÇALVES. (20070617)

Subtitles and Translation by: Barbara Di Fede


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