R as return. R as Romagna

  • foto d'epoca-immigrati in licenza CC da Wikipedia

"No era mucho lo que cabía en cada valija, pero en cada valija cabía un mundo. Chueca, destartalada, atada con cordones o mal cerrada por herrajes herrumbrosos, cada valija era como eran todas, pero cada una era igual a ninguna" Los inmigrantes, Eduardo Galeano.


"I leave everything and go to South America". It seems easy to say and do it, especially in 2011.

But how was it one hundred years ago?

Deciding to leave. Doing it as your only alternative. Going far away. Leaving Romagna to reach Patagonia. An almost impossible venture, yet my relatives did it. 

1909. A cardboard suitcase and some liras hidden among the tied-up hair of my great-great-grandmother: this was what they needed to reach Argentina.

With three children and one on the way, Adele Magnanelli and Giovanni Savioli [farmers from Montescudo, a small village in the inland of Rimini] decided to embark towards Patagonia, the  "promised land" where many other people from Romagna were waiting for them.

Once arrived in Brazil, they were stopped because – it was said at that time – immigrants carried contagious diseases.

Forced to stay for an unlimited time in the land of lambada, they started to work in coffee plantations. And, few months after the arrival in Brazil, Giuseppina was born, my great-grandmother. 

After 4 years of work, the horizon changes… they were [finally] arrived in Patagonia!


In Viedma [the only built-up area and Patagonia's regional capital] there were already many people from Romagna. More than 20 families landed in the south during that first emigration in the late nineteenth century. Some of them were neighbours in Romagna [incredible but true].

Some others had brought the entire family group on different trips. Others had arrived in Patagonia alone with just 11 years of age. 

Here, a solitary land, touched by the Black River and 30 km away from the Atlantic Ocean, was waiting for them.

But Patagonia lacked something in order to call it _"home" _. The atmosphere from Romagna was missing, but someone was able to bring it in the suitcase. 

My great-great-grandparents spoke in dialect. And their children too. Those who were born and grew up in South America learned the dialect first and then Rioplatense Spanish. 

My mother remembers when her grandmother [the one born in Brazil and grew up in Patagonia] used to speak in Romagnolo dialect with a friend of her, who was from Romagna too, at the greengrocer's. 

The dialect was also a sort of protection when she wanted to talk about something secret or did not want to be understood by someone. But it also was the "national language" when Romagna citizens got angry. 

Giovanni, my great-great-grandfather, has never learned Spanish. His wife read and wrote for him. I think it was in order not to lose his identity, not to forget, and not to surrender to live in a land he didn't feel as belonging to him. As a matter of fact, he had gone to Patagonia only because her wife wanted to, and because his children would have grown up without the fear of taking part in the War. 

There were often family reunions: all families from Romagna gathered around the table.

We lacked Sangiovese wine. 

But in its place there were tons of piadina.

My great-grandmother used to make piadina for everybody. Thin and crunchy. She used to make it in winter and summer, at the beach, at her house or at her relatives' house. 

And passatelli noodles. Yummy… My grandfather still remembers them.

At the long tables people talked about Romagna, about their relatives left in the other side of the world. About the cousins of Hotel Savioli in Riccione. About that brother who became priest and was travelling around the world. Well, they talked about life…

Even I, a girl with Spanish surname belonging to the fourth generation of people from Romagna, can remember tastes and images of a time that I did not live but, thanks to others' memories, I got to know.

Yes, I am from Argentina. But I carry Romagna in my heart. 

At home, no one after my great-grandmother had spoken Italian to me, or had cooked piadina. 

I was the first one who did it, after many many years…

It feels weird. As it is weird going back to Romagna and feeling at home.

Feeling at home like I feel here, in Patagonia.

Splitting your heart in two is not easy. But you get used to it. 

Waking up in Viedma and thinking about Montescudo. Waking up in Montescudo and thinking about Viedma. It happens, but then you get used to it. 

The best thing is coming back. 

Well, for me, Romagna is a return. A return to the roots, to the memories. To the moment in which my great-great-grandparents were leaving. 

The return to my beloved land. 

The return to my roots

Returning is telling that I belong to a fourth generation of Romagna citizens while everyone is looking at me with eyes wide open [as if I was an alien]. "No way" , someone says. "Ah, you went so far away to discover your roots ", another one says.

Returning is listening to someone saying: "Nice Argentine accent".

Returning to Romagna is when someone [too kind] says "you have the accent from Romagna!"

Returning is going to my relatives [the ones recently rediscovered, to who I am tied by a thin bond of blood] who look at me trying to find similarities! "You have the smile of your aunt".

Returning to Romagna is finding someone who knows where Viedma is [not even Argentines know!]. 

Returning to Romagna is finding someone who had been waiting for you for months to eat piadina together.  

Returning to Romagna is rediscovering myself. 



Magalì Pizarro
Magalì Pizarro

She lives in Viedma, Patagonia, where she works as radio operator and journalist. Tw @magapizarro


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