In this paper, I examine the century long Italian-Australian migration history, and compare and contrast the role of visits home in different historical periods and for diverse generations. I argue that the visit home is pertinent to processes of settlement, identity and belonging in both the sending and receiving communities. For the worker-peasant migrants of the pre and immediate post war periods, migration was a family economic strategy to achieve a successful sistemazione back home, making return a moral obligation. The distance, time and cost from Australia precluded frequent returns precipitating longer sojourns. The only motivations that justified the costly visit home were marriages(and even then, marriage by proxy was common) or parents’ funerals. Most saved up for eventual repatriation (rates were as high as 40% in northern regions). This return is characterised by themes of disappointment, disillusionment and disorientation – feeling spaesato (displaced; out of place). A watershed moment for many who, for the first time, felt ‘Australian’, were confronted with ascribed identities of australiani/americani by homeland locals but were unquestionably italiani in host country contexts. Tensions played out in economic and symbolic competition with homeland kin, in particular around notions of authentic culture and identity. Children, who had limited agency in the decision to repatriate, often hated the early visit experience, confronted by poor plumbing and limited language. Theirs was an experience of rite-de-passage, informed as much by Australian multicultural social policy as by their parents’ desire to return. Here a pyscho-social approach is valuable, with notions like familial habitus and the separation/individuation thesis helping to explain the process of leaving family to return to family as a culturally appropriate way to individuate from family. Since the revolution in travel and communication technologies and the onset of polymedia environments, migration is best understood as a set of transnational processes in which the return visit is central. The ties of the early first generations that had often fallen dormant are reactivated through ICTs and social media platforms. Now, many families from all ‘waves’ can afford to make regular return visits (annual/biennial). Feelings of displacement are still common, making the visit a kind of secular pilgrimage for cultural renewal and family obligation (especially aged care). Contemporary visits evidence circulatory mobility rather than processual stages in a linear migration process. The so called ‘new migration’ of young Italian working holiday visa holders brings a fresh dimension to this story. The visit for many is a routine way of life, rendering them transnational actors inhabiting a transnational social field. Central theoretical themes of the visit to be explored include a focus on familial/local ties on one hand – as an opportunity to develop consociate knowledges through kinning processes –and national/transnational and even cosmopolitan ties on the other – in the form of contemporary knowledges through symbolic consumption and expression. The kin work of transnational caring and imagined co-presence is a constant that has been revolutionised by polymedia.
The first 2017 seminar of HOMInG will be with sociologist Loretta Baldassar (University of Western Australia). Prof. Baldassar will give a presentation based on her well-established research on “visits home” over the course of Italian migration to Australia.
HS_1/017, January 17, 3pm: Loretta Baldassar (UWA), Visits Home as kinning and consumption: pilgrimage, rite of passage, migration stage or routine transnational life way? (discussants: Giuseppe Sciortino, Ester Gallo, Rizza Cases)