Italian emigration lasted from the last decades of the 1800s up to the 1970s, spreading all over the world. The main factors pushing Italians to emigrate were related to agriculture – cheap imports of American wheat and other cereals, competition from various European countries in the oil and wine trade and, especially in southern regions, the extension of the latifondo (1) , together with primitive farming techniques.
The suitcase has long been a symbol for emigration. And before the suitcase, there was the so-called “fagotto” (2): a piece of cloth, or a shawl in the best case scenario, in which one could wrap up the few things to take away to the new country. The word infagottare (to bundle up) is often used in a figurative sense: to cover, to clothe, to wrap someone up in clothes, so that you make a bundle of them. In some of the pictures published here you can see women “infagottate” (bundled up), acting in lieu of the luggage they did not possess by wearing layers and layers of clothes, in order not to leave their poor but precious belongings unguarded in the hold.
And inside the fagotto, or the suitcase, there would be a whole “world”: memories of a family now far away, a ticket for a relative or for a fellow citizen, sometimes a letter of presentation for someone who could hopefully give a hand, perhaps some food, a musical instrument – seemingly little but in its way a world.
And, for the far-sighted, a sort of makeshift dictionary. In the Cresci Foundation archives is an example of a booklet with phrases and expressions in English, containing sentences such as: “Ianmen, ai nide bai santin ciu it, iu uil scio mi becher sciop Giovanotto, io abbisogno comprare qualche cosa da mangiare, voi volete mostrarmi panettiere bottega ”.(3)