Reconnecting to My Italian Heritage in Calabria

Our client, Phillip Infelise from Colorado, recently made a trip to his ancestral town in Italy. Phillip wrote about his experience in Piane Crati and was kind enough to share his unforgettable journey with us. Thank you for allowing us to play a small part in your Italian family story as researchers and guides! 

I grew up understanding that I was 100% Italian, born of a Calabrese father – Fedele “Phil” Infelise – and a Pugliese mother from Bari – Maria Vincenza Moretti – in Mother Cabrini Hospital in Chicago, as a baby boomer. My family then moved to the “All American City” of Long Beach, California where we were encouraged to act as non-Italian as possible.  I resented that; we were not allowed to speak/learn Italian, (though Sunday Gravy was a must) and I felt my Calabrese Roots were lost in the process.

Then, in early 2015, my father just casually mentioned in passing “…you know, Phillip, I somewhere still have the deed to my Grandfather’s house in Cosenza and it probably still belongs to us.”  A few months later, Fedele died tragically in a car accident. Something clicked right then in the aftermath of the Fedele’s passing, and I quietly adopted two life missions:  first, honor this wonderful, humble man by better understanding and respecting our family history and, second, ultimately, connect with and live my retirement years in Calabria.  In the process a third mission was added – become an Italian citizen.

So I hired My Italian Family to secure my Italian Citizenship AND to host my Heritage Visit to Piane Crati, just outside of Cosenza, in Calabria.

Practical and emotional apprehension abounded before our Family Trip: What if there were no relatives to be found?  What if the Infelise home was just a plot of land with just a long-abandoned pile of bricks there?  What if our modest command of Italian wasn’t enough to fully appreciate the day? The day came and my newly found cousin Franco was waiting for me with Silvia, our appointed researcher. In a small town of less than 1,000 folks like PC, the famiglia certainly extends beyond the Infelise’s as it was clear that Franco grew up with and knew everyone in town as one extended family.  As Mayor Michele Ambroggio said to us: “everyone in town knows you’re here and will be greeting you and staring as you pass.”

Of course, a highlight was our visit to the “Infelise Family Home.”  With our expanded new family, we toured the apartment – large, well-kept and ready for us to move right in.  We never discussed who actually owns or did own this property – nor does it matter – since it belongs to the Infelise family.

While not a religious person who doesn’t frequent churches much, I surely was overwhelmed feeling my dear father’s presence in that beautiful place, no doubt where my grandfather Fedele was baptized, knowing how our family connection to Piane-Crati is immortalized therein.

How does one part after such a monumental day with a new family?  In typical fashion of Calabrian men when facing emotion, little was said except deep in the heart.  But the hugs and tears flowed in lingering moments that will never be forgotten. With the help of My Italian Family, I will become a dual Italian Citizen.  We have just purchased a home in Calabria, along the coast in Pizzo, and hope to retire there.

Behind all this there are two serious lingering regrets.  First, how is it that I never pressed my father on his family and its history?  Whatever kept me from doing so can only be attributed to my own stupidity.  Second, that I never pushed and organized that Father/Son visit to the “old Country” as I know it would have been transformative for both of us.  Advice – don’t let either of these happen to you. Andiamo. Fallo adesso!!