Thirty years of traveling to Canton Ticino; journeys of a lifetime

By Jay Grossi, United States

This past summer 2010 I did not visit my cousins in canton Ticino; this was only the second time since 1995 that I have not. Since 1979 I have had the opportunity to visit them around 20 times!

In 1979 my friend Randy and I were traveling throughout Europe for the first time with a Euro rail pass, and I wanted to visit my grandparent’s village of Gudo in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino. What was supposed to be a five-day stay, turned into 15 incredible days of getting to know my Ticinese cousins for the first time. This experience completely changed my life. When I returned home, I began studying Italian at California State University, Sacramento in order to better communicate with my cousins during my next visit in Switzerland. The result was that I changed my major from business to Italian language and culture.

vi-176-4During the 1981-82 school year, I spent my junior year abroad in Florence, Italy. During this period, I visited Ticino three times: in September, in December and January, and in May. In fact, I experienced my first white Christmas when there was record snow falls in December 1981.

Cleofe, Maurizio, Tiziana and Me.  Cleofe married my grandmother’s younger brother Giuseppe.  Maurizio and Tiziana are their children (1979)

During my three visits, I had my first opportunity to use the Italian (which I had learned at the university in Sacramento and Florence) with my relatives. At first, it was very challenging, but after a short period of time, I was able to communicate quite well with them.

From 1982 to 1989 I finished my undergraduate studies in Sacramento; I finished my graduate studies in Italian literature at the University of California, Berkeley; and I was trying to get my career going as a lecturer in Italian language and culture off the ground. Therefore, I had neither the time nor the money to visit canton Ticino.

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Me my cousin Danilo, his mother Maria, my grandmother’s (Annetta’s) sister Olimpia, and my cousin Anna.  Anna and Maria are Olimpia’s daughters (1979)

However, in 1990 I spent two and a half months in Ticino and Italy. In fact, I even made it down to Sicily for ten days. This time from a linguistic point of view, my visit in Ticino was much easier; however, I still had to deal with the fact that I did not speak dialect (and still do not), and more importantly, I did not understand it (I understand it better now). Even though Italian is the official language of canton Ticino, for majority of Ticinesi, the Ticinese dialect is their first language. Yes, it is a northern Italian dialect, but nonetheless, it is much different from the Standard Italian that I speak.

I had to wait another five years to return to Switzerland, but I made it back in 1995, and from that time forward, I only missed two summers going there: in 2003 and 2010. (In 1994 after ten years of living in Berkeley East Bay area, I returned to live in Sacramento I was hired as lecture in Italian at the University of California, Davis. Davis is a city about a half hour’s drive west of Sacramento.)

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Agostino, Manuela, Giulietta  Giulietta is my dad’s first cousin on his mother Annetta Bacciarini’s line of the family.  Agostino is Giulietta’s husband.  Manuela is their daughter (1979)

I would like to mention that beginning in the late 1990s I begin using a car (a loaner from my cousins or a rental) to explore the Ticino. I had already visited many times the Valle Verzasca, and in particular the village of Lavertezzo noted for its beautiful Romanesque bridge; however with the car I was finally able to visit in the mountains above this village, two of its small hamlets of Sambugaro and Rancone. This was very special to me: my Grossi side of the family originated in Sambugaro before coming down to Gudo in the Magadino Plain in the late 1600s or early 1700s; and my Bacciarini side of the family (my grandmother was a Bacciarini) originally came from Rancone before arriving in Gudo in the 1800s.

Moreover, with this mechanized means, I really began to explore all the areas of the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland including the Italian speaking areas in the Canton Graubunden. This canton borders Canton Ticino, but is primarily a German-speaking area; however, there are four Italian-speaking zones in this Canton where Italian is spoken: in Val Mesolcina, in Val Calanca (both areas border the Ticino), in Val Bregaglia and in Valposchiavo (the latter two regions do not border the Ticino; in fact, the artist Alberto Giacometti came from the Protestant Val Bregaglia). With public means of transportation, it would have been very difficult and very time consuming to visit these other Italian- speaking areas of Switzerland.

I would also like to mention that in the late 1990s, I met by pure chance for the first time my cousin Tony Quinn. During this period Tony was beginning to do genealogical research on our family. Tony would go on to become one of the foremost experts (along with our late friend Rae Codoni) in Ticinese genealogical research. Thanks to both of these gentlemen, I was able to trace my Grossi and Bacciarini lineage back to the 1600s in Lavertezzo!

Tony and I visited together a couple of times Ticino in order to do genealogical research in the Cantonal Archives in Bellinzona and in the various archives of the small parish churches found throughout the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland (I should say that Tony did the research, and I help him with translating from the Italian to the English). During these visits we became very close friends with two distant cousins from the village of Monte Carasso: Marco Rapetti and Antonio Guidotti. I would consider Antonio one of the foremost experts in Ticino on Ticinese genealogy. Together Tony and Antonio have done much very important genealogical research! I would also like to add that both Antonio and Marco have become two of my closest friends in Ticino!

Also during this period, through Tony Quinn, I met the great Ticinese historian Giorgio Cheda who has written numerous books on Ticinese emigration in Australia and California. Rae Codoni and I translated and interpreted into English one of his early studies on Ticinese emigration from the Valle Maggia to California.

In 2007 I became director and instructor of one of the University of California, Davis summer programs in Rome, Italy where every summer I spend around five weeks teaching a group of American college students about Italian culture and history. This was a great opportunity for me; however, unfortunately it also meant that I would not be able to spend as much time each summer in Ticino with my relatives. Now I would be able to spend at the most tens days there whereas earlier during my month and half to two month stays, I would spend at least three weeks there. In fact, with great sadness, this past summer 2010, I did not even have the time to visit my cousins; I had to return right away to California to teach.

I really hope that I will have some time in the summer of 2011 to return to Canton Ticino to begin another 30-year run of visits! I really want to get to know the next generation of my cousins!

10 thoughts on “Thirty years of traveling to Canton Ticino; journeys of a lifetime

  1. Dear Jay,
    I am interested in the translation you and Rae Codoni did of Professsor Cheda’s early work on the emigration from Valle Maggia to California. I read an article back in 1994 in the Point Reyes Light newspaper about emigration from Valle Maggia to West Marin ,it can still be found online on various websites. But I have never seen the work of Professor Cheda
    on this subject. Is your translation available to obtain or read somewhere?
    My ancestors, Martinelli and Bonetti, came from Maggia to California in the 1850’s and 1860’s.
    Best Wishes,
    Marcia

  2. Hi Marcia,

    Unfortunately the translation of the book was never published, but if you give your address I could send you a copy. I will glady photocopy it for you.
    You should contact Tony Quinn concerning your Martinellis; he has done much research on this family. You can find some of his articles on this site.

    Take care,

    Jay

  3. Dear Jay,
    I would love learn how I can access a copy of Georgio Cheda’s history of the migrations from the Valle Maggia. I called you long ago as I knew Rae Codoni and he referred you to me. It is wonderful that there is a translation to English of this important work. I wonder that you did it all! There is quite a bit to do! A real contribution!
    Please let me know how I can reach you and how I can get a copy of the translation.
    Thank you,
    Sally Gale 707-765-666P
    PS I would like to discuss with you what we have done here regarding swiss rancher oral histories. If you have an interest, we can mail you the 4 books as a research tool.
    Thank you,
    Sally

  4. Dear Jay,

    My grandmother, Elvezia Brunoni, along with her parents and siblings, came to California from Intragna in 1913. I made a very brief visit there in 2007 with a tour group, but unfortunately, the town’s records had been sent out for archiving and I was not able to see anything during my brief stop. I am very interested in a copy of your translation for my mother. Please contact me for my address and any costs associated with photocopying.

    Thank you! Debra

  5. Hi Debra,

    Please send me your e-mail address, and I will send as an attachment the translation.
    You will have to take another trip to the Ticino to really see it.

    Take care,

    Jay

  6. Jay,

    I am the Granddaughter of Gudo immigrant Judith Grossi (1888-1959). I believe she immigrated about 1912. Her sisters, Theresa (Teresa) Grossi (1886-1971) and Mignon Grossi (1873-?) immigrated before her. Their parent’s were Antione Grossi and Filhemina Braget. I’ve had limited success researching this line in my family. I was hoping I could buy a copy of the records you have translated?

    -Judith Foster

  7. It is very possible we are related although distantly. I do have a small family tree of the Grossis going back to the 1600s. They originally came from the town of Lavertezzo in the Valle Verzasca.
    Please contact me at ticinobello@sbcglobal.net. and we can talk.
    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Take care,

    Jay

  8. Jay, I have sent you an e mail with photos of the first Annual Ticino picnic held at my grandfathers ranch (of his fathers, Gaudinzio Cheda 1860) in 1924 in West Marin Tocaloma. Trying to find out if Georgia Cheda from Maggio is related so I can trace family in Maggia.
    my e mail is
    heybarb@me.com
    Barbara Dillon Reilly
    San Anselmo, Marin, California

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