The Arbereshe are very proud of their Albanian ethnicity, identity, and culture
Interview with Arbereshe Elena Busciacco
By Keze Kozeta Zylo
You are Arbereshe, please describe your roots and how you keep the Albanian language alive?
I come from a long line of Arbreshe dating as far as its history goes. Both my parents were of Arbreshe descent, they spoke the language and taught us children to speak it as well. For all Arbreshe people, keeping the language alive was a matter of choice and they did so by singing, telling stories, and speaking it every day. For us it’s a way of life. The people of all the Arbreshe communities for years kept petitioning elected officials to have the language protected by law and now it is.
What lessons have you learned from your parents, church, community?
First and foremost I learned to to remain true to my Albanian roots. The Arbershe are were very strong in their Christian faith and they instilled in me a real reverence for God, His power and His mercy. “ It was God’s mercy and the determination of our Albanian hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg that saved our live!” they said! I was taught to always help anyone who needed my help, to be respectful and caring to the less fortunate, and that everything we do will return to us.
Can you sing some song in the Arbreshe dialect?
After my 35 years of living in the States I had really forgotten not only to speak but all the songs I used to sing when I was a child back in Acquaformosa-Firmoza. Now that I am listening to the group Bilte e Firmozes more, I am remembering and re-learning some of them. I’m going back in my mind to when momma and nana used to sing them while they would sit on the steps outside knitting or sewing. It is such a sweet thing to reconnect that way, those were awesome memories!
How strong is your desire to speak in the Arbereshe dialect? Can you elaborate?
You know? I always felt that if I only spoke English it would be more acceptable in the American society and I would be fitting in better
I am glad I learned the English language and it was my sole responsibility doing so. It was the least I could do for the newfound land that accepted me with such an open heart. But later on I realized that my Arbereshe language didn’t have to suffer and I needed to rethink the fact that I needed to start speaking again or else I would forget completely. It wasn’t until I started using Social Media outlets, when I reconnected with many of my friends overseas and even family members that I realized how ban both my Italian and Albanian really were, and it very difficult to carry an intelligent conversation with them. So it would be very fair to say that only the last 3 years, with the help of Bilte e Firmozes I got back on the horse so to speak, and I’m well on my way to speaking much better. Seeing my family in the group be so strong in keeping our culture alive through their costumes, songs, and working so hard to teach on the Arbereshe/Albanian heritage made me feel as if I was an outsider, looking through a glass window yet I am one of them. I realized that I had thrown away everything moma and tata taught me. So, I am determined to re-learn and get back to basics and rejoice to that joyful sound of the Arbereshe language.
What were some of the initial difficulties experienced as an immigrant?
The only difficulty I experienced as an immigrant coming to the States was the language barrier of course. I did not know one word in English but I was blessed enough to have come to a city in NJ where there was a number of Arbereshe people that came from my hometown in Italy. They knew my parents and my dad had a cousin also living here for over 60 years and she was just a wonderful person, one I will always cherish in my heart. They all helped me get around and make all the necessary adjustments so I could integrate easily in the wonderful American way of living. I loved America the moment I stepped out of the plane…I knew I was home even though I was in a foreign land. America had chosen me…I felt! So to help with the language barrier I was enrolled at a nearby high school where they were giving English teaching classes in the evening.
I would attend class twice a week for two hours each class. I also visited the library every other day taking out bilingual books and video tapes to help me learn English when I had no class. So, I studied English on a daily basis and within two months of me living in the states I was able to carry on a conversation, go shopping and just getting around without anyone’s help. English had become like second nature to me.
Describe the social-political aspect of Italy at that time and what were some reasons for leaving the country?
When I left Italy in 1983 there was very little to be offered to a young person as myself but I. Continuing education here was very costly even for those who had the financial stability. Those who did attend college and got their degree could not find any jobs. Unfortunately, the Government had bees very corrupt for decades, and unless you paid ridiculous amounts of money or knew somebody in the higher ups you had no job. But I don’t know if that would have really impacted me because from a very early age I knew I wanted to come to America following the steps of my grandfather ( tatmathi ) who had come to the States in the late 1930s.
Tell me something Interesting about your family in America?
What is interesting about my family in America is the fact that here we had the opportunity to follow our dreams in becoming who we were born to be. In America we were given the opportunities we were not given in Italy. Even though we were intelligent, e could have never pursued our dreams there for the reasons I explained earlier. But in America we did. My son went to Med School and is now a Doctor, I pursued my dream in working in Nursing and Healthcare, my husband holds a degree in Agricultural Sciences and various certifications and is LPDM for a major Pharmaceutical Company and my daughter wants to study Law, and I have absolutely no doubt that she will! In America no one crushes your dreams regardless of your economical status or belief system. Here in America, everyone has a fair chance and opportunity to create and built his or her own life however they chose. God bless America!
And when did you do your research about the Albanian diaspora in America?
I actually knew about it at a very early age. When mom and dad talked about my grandfather and massive people immigrated to the States looking for work. It is estimated that more than 300 thousand Arbereshe immigrated to the States between 1920 -1960 and most of them located in NY, NJ, and PA. There are many descendants of my family who live in the States and most of them are located in PA. It was always an Albanian- Arbereshe petitioning and applying for Visas for their family members so they could come here. They also stayed within their communities and that helped them with the culture shock, find jobs, and start a new life.
What is your vision about your future, some of your goals, and what do you hope to achieve by you reconnecting with the Albanian language?
My vision, desire, and goal, is to be able to connect at a spiritual level with both Arbereshe and Albanian people everywhere, after all, they are all my family. It is truly my dream, and it has been for many years, to visit Albania and in considering myself as a messenger of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I just want to share the love, compassion, and forgiveness with everyone. I don’t want to try and convert people, I just want to share the love and energy I carry inside my heart. Perhaps as was born for such a time as this!
Tell us about your life as a child and also now as an adult?
I was born in 1965 in Acquaformosa ( Firmoza ) in the province of Cosenza, in the region of Calabria, Italy, a small Arbereshe village. I came from a very loving and hardworking family. Both my parents were of Arbereshe origins. They spoke both Italian and Arbreshe and taught us kids the same. Early on I learned the importance of family, community, and respect for our culture. Mom was a homemaker and took care of us 6 kids as well as my grandparents. She cooked and cleaned and treated my dad like a king…She loved him so much!
My dad immigrated to Germany and France, then a little closer to home in the south of Italy for work. He worked for a Textile company and many times he worked the night shift. He was a very smart man my dad, he loved to read, politics, and he loved the young people, in fact, he was called the man of the youth and was loved by all. He was a very talented accordion player and we always had music in our house creating an atmosphere that was relaxed and happy and we always smiled. As an adult, I carry my parent’s lifestyle still today. When things get tough I remind myself that there is always a silver lining to every cloud. I am rich within in with a culture that keeps on giving , great happy memories, and a very blessed life here in the USA. The most rewarding and significant achievement for me as an adult is the ability to lead and keep my kids on the right track. Becoming a parent was for sure the greatest journey I have ever been on, one filled with awe and wonder, and with great rewards. Remembering where I came from and keeping what I was taught by both my parents and the Arbereshe culture, helped me persevere through some tough times. Always remembering that there is a much higher power who directs my steps every day, He is at work always, and I need not to lose my sleep because He is always awake. I mastered some skills in nursing and healthcare and work in a Hospital.
What is something you can bring today that most people may not think of?
In my experience most people today do not think that every gesture, every action we do gets noticed. There is the natural law of the universe that has a way of rewarding everything we do, say, and even think. Everything we da has a consequence being good or bad. To receive one must first give, to live one must not kill, to gain one must work and so on.
It seems to me at times that most people just go through the emotions, doing something just for the sake of doing, not ever considering or anticipating how it might affect someone else. We live in a society that acts on impulse not out of kindness. I believe that reflecting even if for just a little while before I do or say something, or approaching a situation , giving it the attention it needs before it matures into an action is far more productive and it’s rewarding for both the receiver and myself with long term benefits. I feel so blessed having such a wonderful upbringing because my wisdom is unconventional and people often look up to me and value my opinion, this I awe to my parents, grandparents, my Arbereshe ancestors who truly lived this way!
Can you describe in short the story behind Arbereshe?
The Arbereshe are an ethnic Albanian community living mostly in the southern parts of Italy. Mostly scattered in Calabria, Sicily, Puglia, Molise and Basilicata just to mention a few. They are descendants of mostly Tosk Albanian refugees who fled Albania between he 15th and 18th centuries as a result of the Ottoman Empire’s invasion of the Balkans. They settled in Italy in several waves of migration, following the death of our national Albanian hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg. The Arbereshe adhere to the Italo-Albanian Church, an Eastern Catholic Church. They speak Arbereshe, which is an old variant of Albanian spoken in Southern Albania also known as Tosk Albanian. When the Arbereshe speak of their community as a whole , they use the term Arberia, or Nation of the Arbereshe and are very proud of their Albanian ethnicity, identity, and culture.
What is the message of the Arbereshe people for the Albanian diaspora?
Our message is simply this;
While the world and humanity is in constant chaos and division, let us remember that we as a people are linked to each other not by political or religious views but rather we are linked by blood. Always be ready to uphold one another’s values and be ready to take a stand one for another in unity. We the Arbereshe people, even though did not live or were born in the same mother land, we never forgot where we came from, and we are proud to be your family. We hold up the same flag, we act and do the same things you do, when we pray we pray for you also. We want to encourage you to keep all your traditions and way of life intact, don’t give up under pressure. We fought a great fight for over 500 years and will continue to do so till the day the good Lord calls us home. We can be citizens of any country but we will always remain Arbereshe/Albanian in our heart and spirit. Encourage unity so we never have to be divided neither in flesh nor in spirit, because our spirit is one 1.
God bless you!