My Mother’s Story Through My Eyes by Maria Fantasia

What an honour to launch this book. Thanks Teresa for asking me.

I have organised many events, but Ascolta is close to my heart as a daughter of Italian migrants. All of us have similar experiences, like we are looking in a mirror; a ricochet of our stories, setting momentum of place and space. Our collective experiences a powerful medium of identity and belonging.

My Mother’s story through my own eyes by Maria Fantasia, tells of Maria’s relationship with her Mother Angela Varrichio.

Very rarely do we celebrate the life of the ordinary woman, who in our eyes is extraordinary. Angela’s life reflects the lives of women of this generation.

The impact of migration felt by generations. We too are impacted. The Mother/daughter bond is testament to the way we continue to carry the needs of our parents. They had little opportunity for education, low level English and did not fully integrate for fear.

The family and our place in it is significant- how did we manage in a more individualistic society? 

In this story there is expectation for a woman’s future, work and role. At age 11 Angela learnt to sew, look after her family and waited to be married. This was a major event in every woman’s life, that determined the rest of her life. Until then the daughter must obey her parents. If Angela had married Umberto instead of Francesco, we may be reading a very different story.

Angela saw a new life away from the ‘oppression’ imposed by her strict parent’s. 

We have all been there in our youth seeking adventure, weighing up the obligation of family and the desire to chase ambition. Every decision and choice met with consequence. Angela did not imagine the impact, no life experience to deter her, just her parents persuading her to stay.

Her parents approached by a broker seeking her hand to  Franceso Fantasia in Australia. Angela sent a photo of herself, but it took two years before her proxy bride status was official. In 1957 a few days after her 20th birthday with a suitcase, a white wedding dress, a few clothes and a sewing machine, Angela boarded the Sydney, alighting at Port Melbourne, greeted by strangers, her husband and Mother in Law bound for South Australia.

Fantasia, reveals issues faced by many Italian women of this time. Marriage marked the beginning of a relationship, and the trials, that a woman was expected to submit, endure violence and heartache. She must serve her husband and family. 

The photos might tell a story of love and happiness. We want to believe the fairy-tale. 

We too experienced the blows and the verbal abuse experienced by our mothers. Though our religion taught us the notion of love. We came to think it was just what happened in families. As daughters we became their shadows and believed this was normal. 

Today we collectively proclaim that we no longer allow ourselves to believe this lie.

My Mother’s Storyis a chronology of family life, the importance of celebration, food, births, deaths, faith, living with illness and dying with grace.  Maria keeps Angela alive in our hearts and minds. We own the story because it mirrors our experiences. It also reveals how hard it is for seniors in our community to have a say in their care. Maria’s unrelenting support for her Mother’s illness demonstrates outstanding dedication and love.

This is ajourney of healing and strength in the act of writing, draws together a life lived well.

 Of our Father’s Machiavelli’s The Princesums them up:

“ It is much safer to be feared than loved because love is preserved by the link of obligation which owing to the baseness of men is broken at every opportunity for their advantage. But fear preserves you by the dread of punishment that never fails.

 Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved”.

Of choice, our mothers accepted it as their destiny, for fear of saving face. What would people think if they left their husbands? Women were blamed and blamed. Blamed for giving or not giving birth or just blamed because “she is the Mother”. The ‘condition of the mother’ 

Maria Fantasia writes:

“ page 212

My Mother is the most important woman in my life

She loved us and protected us and graced us with her presence

She was a giant amongst us and loved her deeply; we laughed; we cried, we argued, we travelled, we shared thousands of moments together as mother and daughter and woman to woman. She was my hero, tenacious, brave, adventurous- like thousands of young Italian proxy brides, she pinned her hopes and dreams to the promises of a photograph on the other side of the world, leaving her family and her paese forever to start a new life in a distant land hoping it would be far brighter than the life of post war Italy. I can only dream of such courage.

But my parent’s story is not a love story. They did not fall in love. They did not even know each other when they got married and they certainly did not love each other when they lay down as husband and wife. It was a story built on a sliding door moment, a rebellious decision, that rearranged the stars and changed my Mother’s destiny.

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