Loving all things Italian may come naturally to most Canadians of Italian descent, but increasingly more of them look beyond ethnicity to find love, marriage and happiness. This reflects a larger Canadian trend. Young Canadians, regardless of ethnicity and origins, are mixing and matching as never before. While the U.S. has been the proverbial “melting pot” of diverse cultures and ethnicities, with assimilation the aim, Canada has distinguished and prided itself on a multicultural model that seeks to maintain and empower diversity. But when third and fourth generation children of immigrants – born, raised and educated in Canada – come into their own, personal choice and fulfillment supersedes ethnic or parental pressure to “stay within the tribe.”Professor Michael Del Balso, who teaches sociology at McGill University in Montreal, has studied available data on this subject, and reports: “Census numbers show a distinct rise in Canadians of multiple origin. And among Italian-Canadians, there are strong indications that intermarriage is on the rise.”This should come as no surprise. The idea that marriage to a fellow Italian – reinforced and girded by a homogenous upbringing, language and traditions – would be a citadel against the scourges of the new world may have held water when early immigrants arrived to a cruder Canada. But it achieves the status of myth or quaint fable among generations raised and educated here who speak English, French or both, and who play or are inculcated in the national religion– hockey.
“We gathered from church data,” Del Balso says, “that before the First World War, Italian immigrants commonly married someone from the same region in Italy. Gradually, they married people outside the region.” That included marriages by proxy, when single Italian men in Canada sought out sturdy partners from the homeland. “Inevitably,” he adds, “new generations start mixing. Even if they live with Italian parents and grandparents, they attend school and work and meet people of many ethnicities and backgrounds.” Laila Kodar, elite matchmaker/director of It’s Just Lunch, a Toronto dating service catering to professionals, has seen a dramatic shift over the years from a predominantly Caucasian clientele to a very mixed one. “It reflects the city as a whole,” she says. More people are more open. You have to be. Even with specific preferences checked off, success is never guaranteed.”
In the end, Kodar concludes people are just looking for a happy match. “Parental pressure may have prevailed at one time,” she says, “but ethnicity doesn’t determine if the match will work. Most people are looking for a best friend and lover.”
Nancy Rossi, a Montreal entrepreneur originally from Molise, Italy, offers a unique perspective on immigration and mixed marriage. Rossi met her Quebecer husband 17 years ago in Strasbourg, France, while working on her thesis. “Mine isn’t the story of coming to Canada with one piece of luggage to find a better life,” she admits. “Life in Italy was good. But I fell in love with my husband Justin in Strasbourg and when he suggested living in Montreal, I agreed to try it for six months. Compared to Campobasso, where I’d studied in Italy, Montreal felt like a fable. It grew on me.” Marrying a non-Italian presented no issue for Rossi’s family. “Sincerely,” she says, “it never mattered. We’re international. I have an uncle who is German, another Polish and a cousin married to a Russian. My nonna was of Slavic origin, from Montenegro. So I really felt no strong Italian allegiance. Last August, my nonna turned 90 and we held a festival for her with 45 persons speaking seven different languages.” Rossi, who has two daughters, is fully trilingual and jokes that she speaks French to her husband and Italian to her daughters.The question remains if Italian-Canadian cultural identity is denuded by intermingling with non-Italians. The question itself may be driven by an older generation’s nostalgia. No longer in survival mode, a younger, more educated and metropolitan generation of Italian-Canadians seeks wider choices and freedoms. Assimilation, even in multicultural Canada, is inevitable over time. While perhaps retaining Italian last names, with a nod to the past, newer generations will inevitably become more Canadian than Italian, reflecting the maturity of the country at large.