by DANILA DI CROCE
DISCOVERING THE ITALIAN LANGUAGE
“I wish my children knew how to speak Italian.” This sentiment is heard all too often from children of Italian immigrants who feel that their culture is diminishing with each generation.
Anna Di Meglio, though, is being proactive. After realizing there was a lack of Italian language programs at the libraries in her native city of Vaughan, Di Meglio set out to help create them. “When I originally got the response that there was no interest, it actually motivated me to go out and prove that there was,” said Di Meglio. Through her research, Di Meglio came across an Italian language program within the Toronto Public Library System, at the Richview Branch in Etobicoke. “I drove down from [my current home city of] King to attend the program and found that others were coming from Kleinberg, and other distances. I figured with the huge Italian presence in Vaughan there should be something offered within our libraries as well.”
Using information from the 2016 Census, Di Meglio wrote to Vaughan Public Libraries’ CEO, Margie Singleton, explaining that Italian ranked highest in the area of ethnic origin for the population in private households and as the mother tongue for the total population in Vaughan (excluding institutional
residents). Di Meglio also encouraged friends and family with small children to write to Singleton and express their interest for an Italian program. Her efforts did not go unnoticed. After receiving the community’s feedback, and a follow-up call from Di Meglio, Vaughan Public Libraries’ director of customer experience, Linda McDonough, became interested in pursuing the matter further. “In my opinion, when someone makes the effort to reach out to you personally, you want to pay attention to what they want to say. We want to listen to our customers,” explains McDonough. One of the first things McDonough and her team set out to do was research how the Richview Branch program was run.
Designed by service specialist Jennifer Lio, the Children and Youth Richview program is made up of 40-minute sessions for children aged two to five, which incorporate Italian songs, rhymes, stories and interactive games. Most importantly, the program is based on the Toronto Public Library’s Early Literacy Initiative. “Seeing as the program is not only for Italians, as we welcome all cultures, we present everything in both English and Italian,” explains Lio. “For example, if we sing a nursery rhyme, we will sing it in Italian and then in English.”After two years of running the program, the participation has grown from a handful of attendees to a minimum of 15 to 30 or more individuals per session. Daniela Gabriele, an attendee of the program for some time, explains her interest: “I want my children to retain some of the cultural traditions that we were taught growing up.”
Using the same bilingual format as the Toronto program, the Vaughan language program is being offered at two locations: Pierre Berton Resource Library and Bathurst Clark Resource Library. Italian will be offered from September to December between the two libraries on a rotating basis with Russian, while Portuguese and Korean will be offered from January to March. Di Meglio is pleased with the results of her efforts. “I’m really happy that there is something now. I’m just really hoping that people will take advantage of the program and that they will recognize that by going, they are doing so much, not just for their kids but for the longevity of our culture. We shouldn’t let these things die. It’s our responsibility to continue advocating for our language and culture.”