Antonia & Agostino Cordi
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“Non aprite i bauli. Torniamo in Canada.”
In response to the Canadian Government’s call for agricultural workers, Agostino Cordi arrived in Halifax’s Pier 21 in 1954 on the S.S. Saturnia. He was not alone. Among the thousands of families and individuals on the ship, Agostino’s cousin—who had originally planned to migrate to France to join his older brother—joined him on this transoceanic adventure.
A native of the ancient Roman town of San Martino di Taurianova in Reggio Calabria, Agostino inherited his paternal family’s skills in agricultural farming. The work of pruning trees, tending year-round crops and gardens of other Sanmartinesi families was plenty for the popular Agostino. But the drive to seek financial opportunities elsewhere, coupled with a profound search for tranquillity away from familial injustices compelled him to respond to Canada’s calling.
Following three years of working on farmlands in Québec, Agostino finally wrote to the mother of his first cousin, Antonia Caruso, a beautiful young woman in San Martino di Taurianova whom he had never forgotten. In this letter he declared, “if you are looking for an interesting man who would make sure that you’ll be happy, and accept to live in Canada, that would be me.” With her parents’ consent, a marriage by proxy was arranged, and Antonia Caruso travelled to Montreal via New York on the S.S. Augustus in July of 1957. Three years later, their first child Giuseppina was born, followed by Girolamo (Gino), and Rosa.
A Return to Italy and Canada
Over the years as the family grew, Agostino’s and Antonia’s relatives in Italy persisted in advising them that their homeland had returned to a state of prosperity, and that the time was ripe for the family to return. In 1965, Agostino and Antonia Cordi packed all their belongings, and boarded the S.S. Leonardo Da Vinci for Naples. Within minutes of their arrival at San Martino di Taurianova, Agostino immediately became aware that nothing had in fact changed, and that ultimately, Italy could not provide a future for his children. He then quickly stopped Antonia from unpacking the bags, and voiced the words: “Non aprite i bauli. Non è cambiato nulla.” Three months later, Agostino was on his way back to Montreal to resume work, and Antonia and the children followed nine months later.
The Value of Education
Similarly to other migrant families who returned to their home in Italy, and then back to Canada, the future of their children was a key motivator. It did not take Agostino and Antonia long to conclude that Quebec and Canada offered substantial career opportunities for their children. Agostino’s and Antonia’s unity and their enduring love drove home their words of advice: “go to university so you can be financially stable, so that you owe nothing to anyone, and you are free to make your own choices.” Giuseppina, Gino, and Rosa listened hard to their parents’ words, completed their university degrees, and each followed success via the path of their choice.