Rolling up our sleeves  

by Adam Zara

Last issue, we discussed the financial and societal threats plaguing the teaching and retention of the Italian language in Canada. Since then, Montreal’s Italian language Saturday school, PICAI, received funding from the Fondazione Comunitaria Italo-Canadese (FCCI) to continue all scheduled Italian classes for the year and the two organizations have said they’ll meet again at the end of the year to discuss the future of their partnership. A small (but relevant) success in the midst of the much larger battle to preserve Italian culture in Canada. This topic stirred many reactions amongst our readers, but we chose to share one particular impassioned letter.

RE: Editor’s Letter, Teaching Italian to Our Youth

Mr. Zara,

Your February/March editorial inspired us to write in and tell you about the great effort, time and dedication of three individuals who tried to protect against the “slow disappearance and heritage of the Italian language” 14 years ago. Exposure to la lingua Italiana simply fell short and with limited resources available, we feared it would be lost to the next generation. At that moment it was very clear to us that something urgent had to be done to salvage this language. In 2005, a survey was sent out to measure the community’s interest in a private Italian language school. The results were overwhelmingly in favour of it. Meetings with fellow Italian-Canadians about the project continued up until 2008. Our generation was ready and willing to pay whatever it cost for their children to be able to communicate in their parents’ mother tongue. We contacted the minister of education to strategize on a plan. We even went so far as to name our future school, establish our school’s mission statement and create the school motto. We also communicated with other private cultural schools to learn about their curriculum and even researched the different locations around greater Montreal and Laval that would best accommodate our potential students. Unfortunately a lack of perseverance from some and a lack of funding prevented us from going further with the project. It was comforting to read in your editorial that you did not agree that such a school would “ghettoize” our children, as this term was actually used many times in our meetings with the public and served as a hindrance in moving forward. The Germans, Chinese, Greeks and Armenians have their own schools, but the Italians have unfortunately opted for the disintegration of their mother tongue leaving future generations without the necessary tools to learn the Italian language. It was a reality then, and even more so today!

Mr. Zara, I’d like to echo your sentiments and say without doubt that our language will slowly disappear once our generation has passed away and our children will have integrated so completely with Canadian culture. Time is of the essence.

Chapeau to Adam Zara for acknowledging the importance of safeguarding the Italian language. It is critical that we as a community bring to life this project that has been tossed aside for way too long.

Viva la lingua Italiana!

Angela Gentile, Franca Ragusa, Josie Tortorici

There is little doubt that for certain individuals within our community, the topic of private Italian heritage schools (English or French curriculum with one hour of Italian instruction per day) brings forth a certain level of ambivalence, maybe even disdain.

If we’ve learned anything over the years (decades), it’s that we cannot count on the Canadian and Italian governments for substantial funding, or any other community organization for that matter. If this project were to take flight, the only way would be through grass roots movements and private donations.

Through surveys, emails and countless conversations, we know that most of you feel it’s important to retain the Italian language in our country. Here’s the million dollar question (no pun intended): Are parents, grandparents, people of wealth and influence willing to put in the time, effort and money necessary to make it happen?

Send us your input!