La questione dell’identità in Dominic Marsella da Belfast     


Emigration entails a rift between one’s self and their roots. For the first generations of emigrants, after the terrible clash, such a rift is made less traumatic by the certainty that it is a temporary condition, by trust in the fact that it is the price to pay to improve life expectations for one’s self and loved ones, by the conviction of having made a difficult choice, without alternatives but determined. For first generation migrants, identity is never a matter for discussion, one’s own birth culture is preserved and that’s it. The issue becomes more subtle and piercing in second and third generations. When one’s constantly swinging between the original and arrival culture, when after decades the very name unequivocally spells origins. This means always having something that marks you out: you are Italian in France, Germany, Canada, etc, and you are French, German or Canadian in Italy. Therefore, it is within the second and following generations that the identity issue becomes real: when the culture of origin hasn’t been cut off completely and the integration in the arrival culture is not completed. As far as Europe is concerned, the creation of the European Union has laid the basis to solve this contradiction, building up the concept of European identity for a new man, as a natural outcome of the different cultures that make him: making travelling easier, integrating economies, leveling out laws, promoting each other’s knowledge etc. This is all very clear for Dominic Marsella, born, brought up, educated and for more than half a century living in Northern Ireland, who has chosen to take on this double identity: British citizen in Belfast (with an Irish drive..), Italian citizen in Casalattico.

Valcomino senza confini

 "Who and What I am?"…  

As a descendant of Italian emigrants, first generation on my mother's side and second generation on my father's side, growing up in Belfast, I often struggled with understanding my sense of identity.

With my father Pietro Marsella and my mother Porzia Forte

I often asked myself, "Who and What I am?"

Only in my later years, did I realise that apart from the four great freedoms espoused by the great American, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that the most precious freedom is to possess a sense of identity.

This sense of identity is to know intimately from where we originate, not only in familial terms but also geographically and therefore historically and culturally.

Here in Belfast, I am thoroughly Irish. In fact I consider myself "more Irish than the Irish themselves. I am pleased to consider myself "Irish / Italian".

My father Peter Marsella with his sister Francesca in the kitchen of the shop on York Street

In Valcomino I am thoroughly Italian and pleased to consider myself "Italian / Irish.

Growing up in Belfast, Italian was my first language learned from my mother's knee. On beginning my school days, I was therefore at a disadvantage. On leaving home in the morning I left an Italian speaking home with my Ciociara,Montattatecese/ Mortalese dialect from the Ottocento  and entered the English speaking world of learning. Mathematics, which is an abstract language proved a challenge. Learning to read came easier. 

Nevertheless I perservered with the academic challenge until my late teens when the advantage of having a second language overtakes the disadvantages. I progressed to studying at university to become a teacher and over the years added to my academic successes with further study.

With my mother Porzia Forte in front of Queen's University in Belfast

I pride myself on being the first in my family to have ventured so far academically in my chosen profession as a teacher.

Returning to Valcomino restores my precious sense of identity familialy, culturally and personally. I still remember the first time in April and May of 1954 when my father Pietro and I embarked on our three day overland journey to Italy. I remember the boats, the train journeys through France and Italy in a Europe still recovering from the ravages of the Second World War, travelling through the newly built Simplon Tunnel to emerge into the plain of Lombardy and onward to Piacenza and Milan and then finally Termini in Rome.

I remember the Albergo Torino in Via Dei Mille, the Coloseum and the Vatican.

I remember the first night in Mortale/ Monforte when my father opened the luggage to reveal chocolates, cigarettes and even Irish bacon to my grandmother Teresa and a delighted uncle Elio and family.

There are many more memories of sights and smells and the people.

Like the day Marcuccia slapped my face for stealing apples from her tree.My father helping me to shoot his 12 bore and him comforting me in tears after the shot. Playing football in La Soda. Watching women collect water from i puzzi and seeing them gracefully carrying the water jugs on their heads, their long black skirts swaying from left to right as they walked.

Perhaps dear Franco and Paolo, I will recount them to you later.

Saluti da Belfast,

Dominic Marsella

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