“After living abroad it was hard to go back to the ‘old’ Italian ways.”
Laura Marconi is a painter.
I was born in Rome. I always loved art. Giovanni Casadei lived in the same building and we often drew and painted together. I wanted to go to art school, but my father had a stroke so my family decided that it was best for me to choose a different kind of high school. So instead of the five-year Liceo Artistico I had hoped for, I studied to be a travel agent. Then my brother suddenly passed away. Everyone was dying or getting sick, my father couldn’t speak anymore. It was not a good place for a teenager.
I always felt different. I didn’t want to follow the usual pattern, I believed that it was not my destiny. I left everything and came to the US, alone, in 1980. I wanted to test myself in a new country, new culture, new language. I arrived in New Haven in December, I had a friend of a friend there. I had studied English and French, but American English was so different. In New Haven, I went to an ESL school for several months, then I moved to New York City. After staying in the US for nine months I went back to Rome to work.
I came to the US to see if I could handle it; it was a right of passage for me. After living abroad it was hard to go back to the “old” Italian ways; I couldn’t stay there anymore. So this time I was leaving for good. I left my apartment in Rome, my boyfriend, my cat, my family, my friends, and I moved to San Francisco where I lived for four years. My second day there I found a job at Café Puccini, and then I started taking classes at UC Berkley Extension and then at California College of Art and Craft. I came with a tourist visa and didn’t leave—so I was illegal. I couldn’t leave and come back.
Giovanni was in Philadelphia. He introduced me to his friend, a musician. We got married and had a son; we are divorced now. We lived in Wayne, and in Center City. When my son started school I applied to PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts). Finally, after all those years, I was able to go to an art school! I graduated in 2001. The Academy traditional method of teaching reminded me of Italy: the building, the sculptures in the cast hall were familiar to me. It was a way to connect to my background. It took me almost 40 years to do what I really wanted to do. I’ve done things here that I would not have been able to do in Italy.
When I first moved to this country, I was looking in from outside. It took a long time for me to change that. Not being born in US, my roots were not here; I felt subtly uncomfortable, a little apart or different. At some point I realized that I was not missing anything but instead I was fortunate to have two different points of views. I’m both Italian and an American citizen. I know now that I could be anywhere in the world and be fine.
When I go back to Italy people relate to me in the same way they did before I left, as if I were still in my twenties. Especially the older generations relate to me this way. They are living their normal lives, nothing much has changed for them—Italians are into traditions. When they come here they don’t adapt. But when I go there, I have to adapt. It is a one-way street.
To go to a new place, there’s a thin line between fear and excitement. Everything is different from country to country. It was exciting when I left, but I cried every day at first. I was looking for adventures, but it was scary too.
I remember when I was little looking at atlases. My father had been in the navy and told me about all the different places he visited. I was always intrigued. My choice to emigrate gave me strength, courage, hope for a better future. Most important it has been a way to get to know myself, and my limitations. There is a high price to pay though. Missing every day events with my family and friends. Big and smaller events, going out for a pizza, looking at a sunset in Rome over the Tiber, the wonderful monuments and squares, the smells, the colors . . .
Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.