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     Part 2:  Family Data

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Before and after the Second World War, Italians tended to migrate to South America or to the United States. When asked, "Had your parents been immigrants also?", 38.8 % of respondents said yes. Aliaga's (1991)[¹] research in southern Italy revealed that for many families in the village studied, a history of migration could be traced back for a few generations.

To the question, "Is this your first marriage?", an overwhelming majority of respondent answered yes. Italian immigrants hold solid values and strong beliefs about family stability and marriage; they have held these values and beliefs even in the face of incredible difficulties in the New World. The data refute another common stereotype, that of the married Italian woman staying at home. In fact, 84.7% of immigrant married Italian women said they had worked or were still working in Calgary. What is also not well-known is the fact that wives who had been left behind in Italy in the early years of their husbands' migration to Calgary had to take care of the family, work in the fields, look after family financial affairs and conduct a wide range of activities and business that were traditionally the domain of males.

Endogamous marriages are a common feature of peasant societies the world over. It is not surprising then to find the same phenomenon among Italian immigrants. To the question, "Where has your spouse been born?", a majority answered, in my own town or region (93%), while the remaining seven percent claimed their spouses were from another region or another country.

Southern Italy still has one of the highest birth rates in the country. A combination of environmental and socioeconomic conditions helped create the need for extended families. That pattern did not change in Calgary, as immigrants continued to desire large families. Table 6 shows the number of children per Italian migrant family in Calgary.

Language is an important element in the retention of sociocultural values. First-generation Italian immigrants have retained their language/dialects Table 7. Second-generation Italian-Canadians also hold onto their parents' native dialects; over 77% of the interviewees claimed that their children could speak their language/dialect. Third generation Italian Canadians, however, are not taught their grandparents' language/dialect; only 12% claimed their grandchildren were learning the language.

Marriage patterns have changed considerably within the Italian immigrant community in the second generation. Table 8 reveals a clear trend towards integration in the new host society. 

The article is reprinted with permission of the author David Aliagu and the publisher Canadian Ethnic Studies / Études ethniques au Canada Journal, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Calgary.

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