In an eight-day trip to Italy filled with new experiences and connecting with distant relatives in a pair of communities that produced many of the Italian immigrants who called Greenwich home in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Emily Docimo was struck by … of all things … the cemeteries.
“That impressed me. Their respect for the dead, the way they maintained the graves — it puts us to shame,” Ms. Docimo said last Tuesday. “They are absolutely gorgeous, marble all over, lit candles and fresh flowers in a vase. It was impressive, very impressive.”
Ms. Docimo along with 10 other Greenwich residents were honored at a reception in the Town Hall Meeting Room on June 2 for their trip last month to Rose and Morra De Sanctis, both in Calabria, as part of an effort to strengthen ties with the Italian communities.
In March, Greenwich’s “sister city” relationship with Rose and Morra De Sanctis was formalized with a special ceremony attended by the mayors of both Italian cities that featured the exchange of flags and a celebration of the Italian immigrants who helped build this town.
Debbie Orrico, on her first trip to Italy, marveled at a tangible connection with her ancestors when she gazed out on fruit trees in Rose.
“The impact of seeing lemon trees, orange trees and fig trees that have been there for hundreds of years and knowing that my great-grandparents picked fruit from those trees was just unbelievable,” she said.
First Selectman Peter Tesei praised the group for connecting with their roots.
“There is nothing more important than your origins and what made you what you are today,” Mr. Tesei said. “That’s something that I think you’ve been able to demonstrate by going back to your native villages and learning about what’s transpired since your ancestors came.”
Mr. Tesei joked that while he wants to visit Italy some day, for now he will have to live vicariously through them.
“At some point I will be able to hopefully have that same experience. Right now I will live vicariously through your experiences and your photos,” he said.
The Greenwich-based Friendship Ambassadors Foundation organized the trip.
Bea Crumbine, the town’s ambassador at large and the driving force behind the sister city relationships and March’s ceremony, praised the group for traveling to the two communities to keep the links alive between them and Greenwich. She said their voyage was a “gift” to the two Italian communities.
“They have been given a gift by you because you came, you listened and you shared,” she told the assembly.
Ms. Docimo, who declined to give her age, said her mother, Angelina, was born in Morro De Sanctis and moved to the United States with her family as a two-year-old infant. Her father Joseph was born in the United States but his parents were immigrants.
She was amazed — even with the passage of almost a century — that when she saw distant relatives on the trip how much they resembled her great-aunts and great-uncles.
Franco Magaro, the chief of police in Rose, who has some relatives in Greenwich helped track down some of her relatives, Ms. Docimo said.
Ms. Docimo was filled with awe at the courage it took for her ancestors and for everyone else to undertake a trip to a foreign land in search of a better life.
“My grandfather was 14 and he didn’t know anybody,” Ms. Docimo said. “He just knew that he had to go to Cos Cob because there were people from his town here, He came all by himself. Of course it was a different age then. He was 14.”
She added that she marveled at his youth when he made the trans-Atlantic journey by himself.
“I just give him so much credit,” she said.
Eleanor Orrico, another of the group of 11, was struck by the differences between the two Italian communities. She said Morro De Sanctis is a vibrant community with employment, small businesses and people choosing to live there. Rose does have a strong spirit but she said it is losing people and it is struggling.
“There is potential there but as a sister city they could use our help,” Ms. Orrico said.
Rita Marinaro, 83, and her husband Tony Marinaro, 78, remembered the trip fondly but she joked that she would need a good pair of walking shoes if she returned because of all the walking they did.
“We did a lot of walking, up cobblestone streets,” she remembered with a laugh.