So you want to be Italian? Afra Saskia Tucker

photo by Despina Loandis

by Laura Guzzo (IT)

Considering Italy’s enormous influence on history and culture, it’s no wonder so many people of various backgrounds are ardent admirers of all things Italian. In this issue, Panoram Italia spoke with one such admirer: Afra Saskia Tucker. Afra, who is part Jamaican, is the current fundraising development coordinator at the Montreal Diocesan Theological College – the city’s historic Anglican seminary. She has a degree in East Asian Studies from McGill University and has worked and studied in Taiwan and China. After returning to Montreal, she teamed up with a group of social entrepreneurs to co-found Le Milieu, a community art studio and café.

Panoram Italia: When did you first become enamoured of all things Italian and why?

Afra Saskia Tucker: I lived with a host family in Milan from 1999 to 2004 while studying at the Università degli studi di Milano. I also taught English, did some translation work and generally soaked up northern Italian culture. I guess you could say the enamoured part hit around the beginning of 2003 when I met my now-husband, Federico. After a while, we moved back to Montreal to continue our studies, but Milan will always have a special place in our hearts. Subsequently, Federico has adapted well to Montreal life. He is the music director at the Church of St. John the Evangelist in the Quartier des Spectacles. He’s also finishing his PhD in music theory at the University of Toronto while collaborating on a project at McGill.

PI: What was your favourite experience when you last visited Italy? 

AST: I was in Milan last fall to visit my husband’s family and friends. Spending time with loved ones is always a highlight, as is the pulsating energy of Milan. There’s so much to take in everywhere you turn!  

PI: If you could live in an Italian city, which would you choose and why? 

AST: I’d probably start with Rome because it combines layers of culture and history. It has all the features of a large metropolis but with the proximity to warm seascapes.

PI: If you were a famous Italian personality (dead or alive) who would you like to be? 

AST: Maria Montessori. I first knew about Montessori in relation to Montessori schools and their alternative pedagogical method, though the term was little more than a name to me. Several years ago I connected with some people who were dedicated to educating their children from a learner-directed discovery perspective, which is essentially what Montessori pedagogy encourages, and developed an appreciation for it. Besides her influence on education, Montessori is inspiring for her choice to train and practice as a medical doctor in an era when such professions were mostly out of reach for women. Just for context: Montessori graduated from the University of Rome in medicine in 1896. McGill University only started admitting women into the faculty of medicine in 1910! 

PI: What does your cultural background have in common with Italian culture?

AST: Although I was born in Canada, I was greatly influenced by my father’s Jamaican culture growing up. I think both Italians and Jamaicans thrive on lively conversation and like to speak their mind!

PI: How well do you speak Italian? 

AST: Mi trovo a mio agio con la lingua e parlo con una certa fluidità, anche se riconosco che faccio alcuni errori. Inoltre il mio volcabolario non è abbastanza sviluppato.

PI: What is one difference between Italians in Italy and Italian-Canadians? 

AST: Italian-Canadians seem a bit more optimistic generally. I think it’s part of the North American worldview.  

PI: What is one Italian product (made-in-Italy) that you own? 

AST: My Bialetti caffettiera. I use it every morning!