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Jana Filipovic
00:00 / 13:05

Audio Transcript:

so my nonna...both my grandparents are from Sicily um my nonno is from Grumento Mare

which is in Messina, I believe um and my nonna is from Vizzini which is

where a lot of Italians in Victoria are from

it's a really really small mountain

town near Catania

so nonno came here when he was 15 um and nonna came here when she

was quite old actually, I think she was in her early 20s

yeah right

but um both of them like you know suffered huge amounts of trauma

from the war and they were both coming here cause there was...there were no

opportunities in Italy, it was horrible

not a horrible place to be but there was just nothing, like you worked

for nothing and your boss was already set like nonno said

you'd work and then at the end of the week he'd like, ask for him for his pay and he'd have to say

to say I'm sorry we don't have any money we will pay you when we can he was

still working so yeah how is that... it's not it's a reasonable life

what about your dad's family?

that I don't know so much about um he's an only child and

his parents... so his mother was Polish and his father was Yugoslavian

Serbian Yugoslavian

um dad always referred to him as Yugoslavian


but they left for Australia at the same time as my grandpar-

I think that left here in the 50s


nonno... I mean my dad was born in Australia so that makes sense


but they met on the boat coming to Australia

together pretty romantic

that's so romantic

and they spoke...they didn't have a common...their common language was German

that's right

yeah and they both learnt English in Australia from watching SBS haha

the similarity between like my father and my mother's families' is they both

moved back to their country of origin um when my parents were like around three

like mum was three dad was six yeah they both moved back in my mum's

case I think they went back and conditions were still pretty terrible

like working conditions were pretty terrible and they just had a better life

in Australia and kind of felt torn between two homes


so decided to go back to Australia because it was just you know things were

progressing there, whereas Sicily was still pretty you know

even even ten years later, it was still pretty...still in ruins

so yeah that's what they did whereas with my my dad's family they moved back

and things had progressed so much so they were living... I think they were living

under Communism and my dad always said... his father... my dad says his father said

it just wasn't his country anymore it wasn't the same it wasn't the same so

they moved back to Australia where maybe it was all new and strange


as opposed to a place which they used to know

and was now um unrecognisable

I can imagine that would be really hard

yeah absolutely

yeah so they moved back here

there is like the contribution of culture to, you know, your identity and sense

of belonging um but it is also like an influence of migration and being like

you know the child of a family of people who have migrated and I guess I'm

wondering how you feel like migration has impacted you as a person?

even though you haven't migrated personally

hmm well I grew up in Elwood which is a very

beautiful suburb in the southeast it is also very white

so funnily enough like we were the only Italian kids... like Italian Serbian kids


in our year level um there were two Greek boys, the Pelitidis family,

but um you know, apart from that, there weren't very much....I've always felt like an outsider

so even though like I... I'm not from there and I don't really have like I'

primary school it was strange because I felt like I had a lot of claim to that

culture but it wasn't accepted

yeah okay

and as I grew up, you know I don't speak Italian, and until I was 16 I've never been there so I

didn't feel like I had claim to that culture and was told that I didn't as well


my experience of being from a migrant family and not migrating myself is a feeling of being not really comfortable in any kind of, you know, racial or ethnic group other people you went to school with?

yeah, or people asking like if you if...

- "oh do you speak Italian?" - no

and you can see the look on someone's face like

well then you can't you can't claim

you can't claim that then, that sort of thing

but at the same time, you're not Australian

yeah and that would be made very apparent

so my experience of being a migrant family

and not migrating myself is a feeling of being not really comfortable in any, in any kind of, you know

like racial or ethnic group and that being quite uncomfortable so

like for a really long time, you know I think a lot of teenagers are like this

you want to be more cosmopolitan but like "I hate Australia, it's like such an

awful place to be it so uncultured blah blah" and I really like clung to that and

thought like I'd be very happy living in Europe and I thought of myself like

not as Italian but like as a, like a European person, yeah and wanted to be

over there um but when I visited my family in Sicily I was like fucking thank

christ I wasn't born here...this is great like you know it's a beautiful place but I

going overseas made me feel Australian and kind of feel a

little bit more comfortable kind of straddling those two identities

oh my fucking mum, god damn it, so everyone got Bega stringers

and I said to her "mum can we have bega stringers, all my friends have them"

and she's like, "no you shall not eat that disgusting food"

so she fashioned us Bega stringers out of mozzarella

like she kind of just cut them into like rectangles and like maybe cut a little bit round, where she could

as an adult, I'm like, oh mum she tried so hard, and was so beautiful


when I say like oh you know my cultural heritage is Serbian and Sicilian they're like

"oh you must be fiery"

like ugh, well I am but it's got nothing to do with that haha

I think another thing about coming from a migrant family is

I can't speak for everyone but for me it's made me... I think I'm empathetic because

because of being around my incredibly strong grandparents because of... I don't

speak the language so I've had to, you know, listen a little bit harder or ask

more questions like demand that my mum tell me what's going on

um or just be comfortable with not understanding and just sitting and

listening to them speak because it's nice to be in someone's presence, you know


being able to appreciate differences between cultures instead of

expecting it to be homogenised yeah I'm now, I'm glad to be I'm glad to be

who I am, whereas in the past I have not been so happy about it

do you know much about your grandparents' experiences coming here?

or the way that they've experienced being in Australia?

hmm um my grandparents were pretty lucky, so I heard this fascinating fact from a

book I'm reading, it's called 'Secret Country' written by John Pilger um and

he was talking about how whole villages in Sicily were essentially asked

'would you like to come?'

so these whole villages were taken and then just dumped in suburbs

around Melbourne and Werribee and Hoppers Crossing and Geelong were some of

those places so there's a massive... and that was in the in the 40s... so my nonno

came here in the 50s umm and they were part of like, you know,

back then they were sort of ghettos but for my nonno and for my nonna they were just...

it was like their town again, just in a new place so they were incredibly

protected by their yeah by their culture

he told one story like I've

never heard my nonno be like this before it was really intense

someone called him a 'dago' and my nonno's not... like my nonno's is a rude man

but he's not a violent man... he's gentle

he's a gentle...he's a gentle jerk...and he said he grabbed the man by the shoulders and

said "if you ever call me that word again I will cut your throat"


um and so I thought

for the longest time that nonno experienced a lot of racism and just

never spoke about it but then I did a similar interview like this with him

oh wow

so what was your experience like with racism in Australia and I

you know said that I've heard that story that you told me and was it all like that?

he's like "no that was the only time the only time anyone has ever spoken to me like that"

yeah okay

so he was in a good position

I think it really comes down to location

um I have a friend who's mum is Greek and I

think she was first generation as well um but they grew up in Carlton and she

had a horrible time and was you know was constantly bullied for not being Australian

that sort of thing, where as mum has the same experiences as nonno, like no

discrimination whatsoever yeah as so I've heard like these

different stories of depending on where you are

experiencing at that sense of safety or rejection

or rejection, yeah

like I was saying before I just feel a lot more settled here

I've been to Europe a couple of times and life is pretty hard there um so I

have a greater appreciation for Australia and I always do feel more

comfortable around people who have like um some sort of different

cultural background...Syrian or Iranian or Greek or whatever it doesn't matter like

what their cultural background is it's like "oh man yeah how weird is

it not being Australian but being Australian?"

navigate these two worlds but not really

understanding either of them

where do you think that Italian Australians fit

in terms of in Australia, in a social and political sense?

we do benefit from, from white privilege


um and our grandparents came here during a time of assimilation, a policy of assimilation so they

really did, not everything they could, but um they did a lot to kind of become Australian

yeah they didn't they, there's often this talk of assimilation

well that's, that was the policy and that's what was expected so I think a

lot of, a lot of Italian people had to give up a little bit of themselves to

be allowed to exist here


um the only reason Italian people were

allowed to come was through the racist racist policy of populate or perish

yeah so it was almost begrudgingly...well it was definitely begrudgingly that they

let Sicilians come over because their skin was too dark

how do you feel about the word 'wog'

haha, it's a funny one, I feel like I use it um, quite sparingly

with only other Italian people and I do not like when white people use it, I think it's

very offensive...I don't know, I think yeah it's to be used sparingly and by

the right mouths


do you feel like your connection to culture has changed over time?

as I make more friends who have a migrant

background, just like particularly Italian migrant backgrounds, it's made me feel

more connected as an Australian, like second-generation Australian

and that's been that's been really, really nice and also like to recognise

as we were saying before, to recognise that you know, you feel more comfortable around people

with that experience and then, not necessarily like seeking it out, but

recognising, like recognising it, and being able to kind of strengthen

those connections once you make them

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