Italians Of The Bay Area: Lorenza Graziosi

“If it weren’t for my husband, I would still be in Umbria. Who knew that after two months from the day we met, we would be getting married in San Francisco?”

Photo: Franco Folini

“If it weren’t for my husband, I would still be in Umbria. Who knew that after two months from the day we met, we would be getting married in San Francisco?”

In this second interview of the series, we meet Lorenza Graziosi, a woman who was born in Italy but who has lived most of her adult life in the United States, specifically in San Francisco and Oakland. You can learn a bit about the unique trajectory of her life below.

When I first spoke to you about this project, you mentioned that you taught Italian for 9 years. Could you please tell me more about that?

In 1998, I began teaching Italian Language Classes in South San Francisco, a lovely Italian Language and Culture school where Italian families of immigrants (second or third generation) represented the majority of the student body. The school offered classes for all ages and levels, creating a strong experience of authentic Italian community.

I was juggling being a new mother in a new country, while trying to build some type of career; I felt that the promotion of the beautiful Italian language and culture could be a great path to follow. After an introduction to Francesca Gaspari, Director of Italingua Institute in San Francisco, I began teaching more and more classes, leaning into culture courses, as they were the most gratifying. A worldly and sophisticated student body welcomed the courses with deep immersion into diverse cultures of the 20 regions of Italy. I absolutely loved crafting these courses; each class packed with details on history, local food, dialect, folklore, and unique regional beauty. I had students wanting to jump on flights for an immediate, in-person experience. I have good memories of my teaching years; I have always considered teaching more like a cultural exchange, given that while teaching, one is inevitably enriched by the students’ own different cultures.

I mainly taught adults, with the exception of a few years dedicated to helping establish what is now known as ‘La Scuola’, started in 2002 as La Piccola Scuola Italiana, born from the desire of Italian-American families to have a full Italian immersion program for their preschool age children. I taught children aged 2 to 3 years old, loving that particular age for all its curiosity.

Could you tell me about your life in Italy? Where you were born and grew up, and what it was like?

I was born in Spoleto from Roman parents. My entire ‘Italian’ life was always split between Rome and Spoleto. A 90 minute car ride between two regions, Lazio and Umbria, Central Italy.

If it weren’t for my husband, I would still be in Umbria, at the foothills of one of the most picturesque Borghi Italiani, Trevi. That’s where he found me, working for Cartiere di Trevi, representing three generations of packaging paper producers. Who knew that after two months from the day we met, we would be getting married in San Francisco? He was like a tornado in my life: arrived, proposed, swept away to California!

I had a relatively easy upbringing: a sweet, dedicated mother; an absent father; wealth, health, opportunities. I attended primary schools in Spoleto and college in Rome. I have an acting degree from La Scuola di Teatro La Scaletta. For many years I worked as an entertainer for Vacation Clubs, around the world, however, I felt like my destiny was leading the family paper mill, which I joined in 1992. When love knocked at my door in 1996, I sadly had to renounce my position at the paper mill to follow my soon-to-be husband to San Francisco.

So what was it like being a wife and mother in the United States?

It was March of 1997 when my first son Carlo was born in San Francisco. A year had not passed since I first set foot in California, and there I was, at the mercy of a Russian-American doctor and a newly-wedded husband, each holding one of my legs, both screaming the same word in two languages: “PUSH” went the Doctor; “SPINGI” followed the husband. I can surely attest that my sons were born and raised in a multicultural/multilingual environment from their very first breath.

The utter life change I experienced did not intimidate me, on the contrary, it exhilarated me! I was thrilled to have the stunning opportunity to start a family in an interesting city like San Francisco.

Looking back, I only remember the enthusiasm in savoring my new life abroad. I always felt very welcomed by Californians, fortunate to have a decent knowledge of the English language. I often received flattering compliments about my Italian accent and style. I acknowledge my privilege in having had an easy and welcoming immigration process, from obtaining the green card to being naturalized, while deeply empathizing with the millions of immigrants who are treated otherwise.

The natural duality of living abroad while maintaining a full Italian home environment is also something I consider a privilege. Raising bilingual kids is effortless when parents speak their native language at home. It took almost a century before Italians were socially accepted in America. I recall many stories from my older Italian students who weren’t given the opportunity to learn Italian from their parents. Italian immigrants in the early 1900s were considered “dark skinned, short and dirty,” hence, the importance of being able to blend in and absorb the new culture as much as possible. This consideration gave me one more reason to feel ecstatic about raising an Italian family in San Francisco at the beginning of the 21st century.

I always wore my italianità with great pride, I continue to be attached to my roots despite 24 years of life abroad, in balance with the local culture, laws and etiquette. I believe the key to a happy life abroad is finding the perfect equivalence between two worlds, in harmonious integration and preservation.

Obviously, even the most positive experience has its downside. It wasn’t exactly a breeze building a new life from scratch. I am a resourceful person who tenaciously faces challenges, and yet, despite all efforts, I had a hard time being so far away from my family of origin, especially my mother, who was also dying to spend time with her grandchildren. The absence of relatives and the long work hours that kept my husband away from home, convinced me to dive into the whole motherhood experience in the city. I signed up for numerous play groups, parenting classes, and other various activities, as a way to fill my schedule and compensate for the lack of relatives and friends. Thanks to this direct approach, I was able to meet people and build lifelong friendships.

I would love to know one feature of Italian life, language, culture or art that you really love and value.

To answer your last question on a particular Italian feature I particularly love and value. Well, there is more than one, therefore choosing becomes tough. Perhaps I can try to enclose these many aspects of Italian life I am so fond of by placing them under a general definition: conviviality. Italians are social creatures, we have a natural disposition for spontaneous gatherings. From the traditional family meals, to the leisurely aperitivi in the Italian piazzas and the Sunday pastarelle (small assorted pastries usually only bought for Sunday lunch dessert). Italians don’t need two weeks’ notice to meet friends: we assemble together casually and create memorable moments without too much planning. We are not perfectionists, poor individualists, at times emotional messes, very often passionate beings. I would surely like to see more impromptu gatherings, casual meals among neighbors, and an overall sense of conviviality that would make every city warmer and more jovial.

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