Last month Ceci and I walked over to the Constitución station and took a bus to Quilmes. After about 45 minutes on the late afternoon bus, so crowded with commuters that we had to stand for half the trip, we arrived at our destination. There we met Ceci’s cousin Ani and the two of them proceeded to give me a tour of Quilmes and introduced me to the story of their maternal grandparents – “El Nonno & La Nonna”.
Buenos Aires is filled with families descended from Italian immigrants. Many came in the late 1800s, others throughout the early and mid 20th century. The life of Oliverio D’alessandro is perhaps similar to many other Italians who immigrated to Argentina after World War II.
Oliverio D’alessandro was born on the thirteenth of January in 1913. His hometown was San Vito Chietino (pictured), which is located on the Adriatic coast of the Abruzzo region of Italy. There he married Ana Di Paolo and they started to live the lives that had been lived for generations in that small town on a hill overlooking the sea.
The German occupation of San Vito Chietino ended the tranquility and, as with so many families, would change the lives of Oliverio and Ana forever. In 1940 Oliverio was given an option by the Germans to go to work without pay in the coal mines of Germany or to fight on the front. He chose the coal mines.
The same year that he left Italy for the mines in Germany, his first child was born. She was named Italia and is Ani’s mother.
His wife, Ana Di Paolo, stayed with her family in San Vito Chietino and cared for her young baby girl. The German would loot the houses regularly, taking whatever they pleased and treated all the women of the town terribly. Ana placed the family’s valuables, including fabrics and linens, into a trunk which she hid behind a staircase. She built a wall around on the back of the stairs to conceal the trunk from the Germans.
Oliverio worked in the German mines for three years, finally returning to San Vito Chietino in 1943. Later that year, his second child, Gilda, was born; she is Ceci’s mother.
Just weeks after Gilda was born, planes of the Allied forces bombed San Vito Chietino. During the next year Germans counterattacked and the town was evacuated. During one of the attacks Ana’s brother was killed by a bomb. His wife went to his aid, trying to rescue him but she was also killed.
After the War, work was scarce in Italy. Oliverio – along with many other Italians – went to work in the coal mines of Belgium in 1945.
In 1949, after four years or working in the mines, Oliverio and four Italian friends also working in the Belgian mines decided to go to “America.” At first, they tried to obtain passage to Venezuela but visas were no longer being granted. They were told to try the Argentine consultate, where they were able to obtain the necessary documents for traveling to Argentina. The five men sailed to Argentina in 1949.
On the advice of his godfather, who had preceded him to Argentina, Oliverio settled in Quilmes. He found work in a textile factory, brought some land, and built a home in Quilmes for his family.
In 1952, three years after he arrived in Argentina, Oliverio was able to pay for his family to journey across the ocean to join him. Ana and her three daughters (another child – Maria – was born after the War) embarked on the long voyage by themselves from Italy to Argentina. Ana also brought with her the trunk of fabrics and linens that she had hid from the Germans during the War. The family settled into the house in Quilmes that Oliverio had built for them.
Ani and Ceci drove me by that house in Quilmes. Just off the plaza at the center of the town is the old school where the young daughters of Oliverio attended school after they moved to Quilmes. While the three daughters adjusted to life in their new country, their mother never learned to speak Spanish even though she would live in Argentina for more than thirty years.
After Oliverio retired from the factory in 1976, he and his wife traveled back to Italy for a visit.
La Nonna passed away in 1986. El Nonno lived a long life, became a gardener and rode his bike everyday. He passed away at the age of eighty-five in 1998.
Quilmes itself is a pleasant town. We walked around the center of town and then Ani drove us around several of the neighborhoods. Then it was a drive out to the long river front. Quilmes is centered around the huge brewery named after the city. Near the brewery is a quaint barrio of charming small houses originally built for workers of the brewery. Nearby is also a very nice park, with a restaurant that features all things Quilmes (mostly the beer, not just the town). There we raised a toast to their grandparents and the life they built for their family in Argentina.
Later, in a humorous way, we found out that Ita and Gilda, Ani & Ceci mothers respectively, were themselves on their own tour of Quilmes that very evening…perhaps hoping to accidentally bump into us…ah, Italian mothers.
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