My trip began with picturesque Palermo. From every view, the blue Mediterranean extended infinitely beyond the horizon while the mountains seemed to touch the sea on the outskirts of the city. Several basilicas and cathedrals towered over the vast array of buildings as if they were asserting their architectural dominance. From our hotel rooftop patio, I could clearly make out the medieval, baroque, and classical architectural structures that visually exemplified the city’s volatile history.
The island is my great grandfather Salvatore’s birthplace but as a teenager raised in Maryland I’ve known Sicily only through family stories, photos and history books. This trip would transcend my expectations of a world foreign to my upbringing in the States but would eventually lead me home to where it all began, in a village outside of Licata.
As I stood next to my great grandfather’s Salvatore’s home, I felt the touch of my ancestors. While my grandfather Charles’s memory can still conjure up the voices of his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles speaking in their native tongue and the sights and smells of their Sunday family meals, I, on the other hand, have no such memories, being born after most of my relatives who immigrated to the U.S. were long gone. Being in Italy, standing in front of the family home and meeting with relatives still there, it was a full-circle moment. I finally understood our Italian culture. Like the roots of a tree, my spirit was now firmly planted in the rich, volcanic soil of this island.
I realized that even though my great grandfather has passed on, his dream of a better life was still real. It lives on in me. I stand on the shoulders of brave, courageous pioneers who sacrificed their comfort and stability to give our family opportunity not afforded by his generations.
Sicily has revived my interest in my Italian heritage and broadened my intellectual horizons with more knowledge than I could possibly imagine. While our vacation had to come to an end, I will proudly carry back to the U.S., and wherever I go in my adult life, the traditions of my Sicilian roots. Whether it be in making homemade pesto, preparing a Sunday sauce, reading about the Punic wars, or just being passionate and curious about life, my ancestors will be present in my life.