On Italian immigrants Day, a tribute to Valentino and Elvira

Even the town of Torreglia, located in Veneto, adds history to that book named Italy in which my great-grandparents Valentino and Elvira were also co-authors. Keeping the memory alive, we rescue our past.
This is a retelling of farewells and meetings, a short paragraph of this story written by those who left, and unknown to the ones who today live and build the Torreglia of the future.
I feel fortunate for having the opportunity of bringing back, with Valentino ed Elvira, a remote and forgotten story and by finding in it my roots. There is not a better date than February 21st, Italian immigrants Day in Brazil, to publish this tribute to the many “Valentinos” and “Elviras” who left in search of better opportunities for life and work.

Everything started when …In America

It all started when the need to replace the slave labor grew in Brazil and the authorities became aware that a group of European immigrants were leaving their countries in search of a better life on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The siren’s song came as many pamphlets as possible full of irresistible promises that said: “…in America. Land in Brazil for Italians. Ships leave every week from the port of Genoa. Come and build your dreams with your family. A country of opportunities. Tropical climate and housing for everyone. Mineral wealth. In Brazil, you can have your castle. The government gives land and equipment to everyone.” Thus, on February 21st, 1874, the first Italian expedition arrived in Brazil.

Valentino and Elvira were not the first ones to land, but certainly, they grew up with that dream. Yeah, they dared, and in search of that dream, they left at a young age (he was 25 and she 21) from via Vallorto, amidst the hills, for a long and unknown journey. Having been married for just four months, in that April of 1896, they embarked on the steamship Rosario, at the port of Genoa. In Torreglia, they left their families, friends, and their hearts. In the baggage, they only took with them hope for a better life, and when the steamer moved away from the port, they didn’t know, but they had waved Italy goodbye forever.

Those were difficult years in their homeland, and many were the promises of a new life overseas. Valentino and Elvira were only two among thousands of Italians who answered that call. The decision to emigrate was not a free choice but came from necessity, so there had always been the hope of returning home. For Valentino and Elvira, it was not any different. After a month-long journey, on May 2nd, 1896, more precisely 124 years ago, they arrived at the port of Rio de Janeiro. They had succeeded, together with 953 other third-class passengers, in overcoming the trip’s roughness and diseases. Juiz de Fora (my hometown), in the state of Minas Gerais, was their destination. Valentino and Elvira did not know that from their decision they had also begun to shape my history.

Beyond borders: hard work, family and “saudade”

Firstborn of six children of the couple Giuseppe Fasolato and Antonia Pravato, Valentino Fasolato was born on June 20th, 1870. Besides his parents and relatives, he also left in Torreglia his sister, Angela who had later married Agostino Bernardi, and his brothers Adamo, who married Domenica Gallo, and Luigi. Elvira Pressato was born on February 4th, 1874, daughter to Giovanni Pressato and Scolastica Neri. Together, Valentino and Elvira started a big Fasolato family that broke the boundaries of two countries joining different cultures. Soon after they arrived in Minas, the couple established in Sarandira, a district of Juiz de Fora, where Valentino worked the land, as he had learned to do in Torreglia.

Later, after moving to Juiz de Fora, Valentino established himself as a gardener. He started a small garden where he used to cultivate small plants to sell and bring gardens to life in the most elegant houses in the city. Life was hard, there was plenty of work to do, and like all Italian immigrants at that time Valentino and Elvira also learned to deal with saudade, nostalgia, which continuously tormented their hearts. At this point, the thoughts of returning to Italy, finding their families and friends, resuming their habits, revive the flavors and smells of their country were left behind. The economic situation, the work, and their children, eight in total, made them go ahead and commit themselves even more to improve and consolidate the stability of their family.

Currently, in Brazil there are hundreds of Fasolato descendants, and, overall in the country, the Italian-Americans add up to about 28 million.

It’s necessary to retell to not be forgotten

Some with better luck, but each one with their own fate. In fact, that “paradise” that made our great grannies and grannies dream was far from reality. As soon as they arrived, the immigrants were taken to the Hospedaria dos Imigrantes, a kind of hostel where a screening to evaluate their health conditions was carried out. After that, they were loaded onto trains and transported to remote villages. The “castles” were old and primitive shacks or a roof above their heads yet to be built, away from the cities. They felt confined, isolated, and prone to tropical diseases. They had no transportation, could not communicate with their homeland, did not speak the local language, had neither medical nor religious assistance. They were in need of everything. The wine and cheese gave way to manioc flour. Habits and traditions were violated, and family ties were broken.

To retake their lives, Italian immigrants had to cut heavy ties placed by those who exploit them. They fought against greed and  selfishness,    raised    families,   developed   new   habits,  planted,      

harvested, built cities, recovered traditions, learned, taught. Wine and cheese returned to the table and many, like Valentino and Elvira, dared again: they survived. Valentino lived 45 years in Brazil, and Elvira 49. They were years of hard work and saudade. Years spent dreaming of returning to their country; years of joy and tears. When they left for the spiritual world, both were 70 years old. Valentino and Elvira may not know it but, their mission was certainly accomplished. From them, I inherited the blood, the values, the citizenship, the interest in Italy, the language, culture, music, and not only, but I also inherited the dream. I made for Valentino and Elvira the trip that they were never able to make. Within me, they returned to Italy, and maybe one day I will be able to take them back home to their dear Torreglia. Living in Torreglia is still a dream.

On this February 21st, 2020, Italian immigrants Day in Brazil, and when the Italian migratory movement completes its 145th year, receive this story as a declaration of love!

Primitive urban center in Caxias do Sul, “Sede Dante”, 1876-77 circa. (Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Mark 1.0)


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