When leaving is an act of love: Sicilian emigration between memory and redemption

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Leaving behind one’s beloved and habits requires a great courage, but also an unconditional passion. In fact, as the Sicilian writer Vincenzo Consolo once said, the act of leaving reflects the civilization level of a people. Sicilians who leave their land are neither disdainful nor disappointed, but eager to grow and do some good elsewhere. Their hope is to come back, one day, and complete their work from where it began

To move away from one’s own land can be an almost sacrilegious thing to do. In the act of leaving and abandoning one’s beloved, memories and habits, a profound drama begins with a perennial regret. This pervasive perception, which undoubtedly unites all wayfarers, is of particular intensity when the one who leaves is an islander. This happens because the geographical dimension of an island, so wide and familiar the same time, so remote and yet so central, gives the impression of never being able to be abandoned, of being separated from the rest of the world by a risk too high to be taken. At the same time, however, in parallel to this fear an intimate impulse flows in the veins of every departing person, as they understand that in such a suffered and risky act a decisive game is played for their life. This reflects the human need to move, to find one’s identity in contact with the unknown, to safeguard one’s affection for certain places. Vincenzo Consolo was one of the great interpreters of this declension of Sicilitude, as he knew the ambivalent oscillation between the desire for contact and the pursuit of detachment. This ubiquitous trend towards emigration, this melancholic dance of distances, seems almost a fatal imposition.

The writer, in fact, once said: “I believe that emigration is the path of every people, as all the great civilizations were formed through emigration, starting from the Greeks». Leaving is an opportunity for growth. Desired or forced, sought with desperation or accepted with resignation, the act of decentralizing oneself to become autonomous, throwing oneself into the whirling flow of life and away from one’s safe native place, can forge a human being for all their life. With this in mind, Consolo re-evaluated the theme of emigration, a plague that has gripped the South for generations. You can fight for your land by staying there, investing time and resources in it; but you can do it even from afar, looking at it with compassion to go and seek help elsewhere. In other words, if a land struggles to survive, its inhabitants have the duty to support it as far as possible, building from within the foundations of its rebirth. If these conditions do not exist, however, they must preserve what they have received and proudly take it outside, because a land also lives through its inhabitants, is reflected in their nostalgia and their desire to return. And it hopes, like the ones who leave, in a future reunion, as soon as coming back will be less painful. In here we observe the maturity of a people: in the courage to pursue happiness wherever it is, giving up a part of themselves with the certitude that they can make some good elsewhere.

There are boundaries that will never cease to define our actions, that extend well beyond geographical ones and that we carry in our suitcases and hearts, without the possibility of erasing them. The loss of so many Sicilian young people in recent years is, on the one hand, a social scourge, a hemorrhage that should be contained with determination, an inevitable impoverishment that puts at risk the survival of the region. On the other hand, however, there is a light at the end of the tunnel that should cheer us up, a guarantee of the vitality of Sicilian people who never give up. And this because even in the act of leaving lies a great love: abandoning Sicily bears witness to a not yet weak will, to a virgin fighting spirit, to the desire to upset the coordinates of the contemporary. Abandoning Sicily is not, in many cases, synonymous with surrender, disinterest, or with a perverse and disappointed revenge against it. It is rather a stoic act, a good-bye for an indefinite period, in an attempt to acquire some useful tools to go back there richer morally speaking and more useful from an operational point of view. Thus, to use Consolo’s words, Sicilian civilization has progressed for centuries and continues to do so. Maybe someone still lives far away, someone else may be the son of a mini diaspora, but without doubts everyone remains in love with what they have lost. Besides, someone once said that we understand the importance of something only when we have lost it.

Translated by Eva Luna Mascolino

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