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“And so we left leaving Italy and all of my dear ones”

“And so we left leaving Italy and all of my dear ones”

Laura E. Ruberto (April 23, 2010)
Bordighera Press
"Such Is Life" Cover, Bordighera Press, 2010

Introducing "Such Is Life" ("Ma la vita è fatta cosi"), an immigrant woman’s memoir about her life between Italy and America.


Co-authored by Ilaria Serra and Laura E. Ruberto

 per una versione italiana di questo articolo, visitate il sito della Comunita' Provvisoria.

"my village was small, 1500 inhabitants, it was called Cairano in the province of Avellino, townspeople and farmers all worked their lands, the townspeople, even though they had a trade, cultivated their land, and the farmers sometimes worked their own land and sometimes worked the land for the townspeople in order to earn money for those things they had to buy, there were few signori rich in land who could have sharecroppers…"
Thus begins a simple memoir by Leonilde Frieri Ruberto, written when she was nearly 70 years old. This document, recently published in a bilingual edition by Bordighera Press, narrates Ruberto’s life both in the Southern Italian village of Cairano, where she was born and where she raised her children, and the Italian American neighborhood of Bloomfield (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), where she emigrated after World War II.
It is an unusual document. First, it is the only autobiography published in the United States that was written in Italian by a first-generation Italian American woman. Although there are testimonials narrated in Italian by women immigrants, as well as memoirs written in English, nothing quite like this exists. Moreover, this memoir speaks to the often-overlooked period of post-war emigration to the United States. And that it does so through the voice of a woman with a fourth grade education who never mastered English or standard Italian is in and of itself noteworthy.
Woven within this everyday story of her life are aspects of the larger narratives that pushed her and her family to emigrate; the aftereffects of the war, in particular, are hard felt. America plays a major role in her tale. From electricity to care packages, disease-free grape vines, to her husband—she describes a constant back-and-forth movement between the continents. She is forthright about her mixed emotions over place and home: “my village was poor but beautiful, don’t you think that I was happy to leave it, I’d lived there until I was 43 years old, but I wanted to leave for my children”.
The memoir was written quickly, in about two weeks. She wrote it while her husband was visiting Italy, where he had gone to see the damage caused by the 1980 Irpinia Earthquake (with an epicenter just a few miles from Cairano). It was handwritten in about 80 pages of a school notebook and is clearly the work of someone who was not used to writing. It rolls off the pages, seemingly all in one breath, making it exhausting to read. (Indeed, that there are but 50 periods in the entire story makes it a challenge at times to know where to pause.)
The memoir has been published with a transcribed copy of the original as well as an English-language translation. We say the publication is in Italian and English, but it was in fact written in a nonstandard Italian, though not exactly in dialect either.
It was translated by her granddaughter, Laura E. Ruberto, a scholar of Italian American culture and includes an Introduction by Ilaria Serra, also an Italian American studies scholar.
The book can be ordered online at: (Small Press Distribution),,, or
Such Is Life, A Memoir / Ma la vita e' fatta cosi'
(A bilingual edition, Bordighera Press/Crossings, 2010)

Written by: Leonilde Frieri Ruberto
Translation and Preface by: Laura E. Ruberto (Berkeley City College)
Introduction by: Ilaria Serra (Florida Atlantic University)

DISCLAIMER: Posts published in i-Italy are intended to stimulate a debate in the Italian and Italian-American Community and sometimes deal with controversial issues. The Editors are not responsible for, nor necessarily in agreement with the views presented by individual contributors.
This work may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission.
Questo lavoro non può essere riprodotto, in tutto o in parte, senza permesso scritto.

Laura Ruberto's Such Is Life, A Memoir/Ma la vita e' fatta cosi'

Many of us have had a friend or family member who tells their story. In Professor Ruberto's case, her grandmother, Leonilde Frieri Ruberto, not only tells a story but, upon her family's request, documents it on simple blue line paper. Though the story is short, it is not simple. It is a story that is beyond the Italian immigration experience of the early 1900's. This story is of a woman who lived through the hard times of the 30's, fascism, and having a husband who was not only off to war, but held prisoner of war, not knowing most of the time, where he was. In her story, she expresses her own personal feelings. Post war brought on more obstacles in her life, when again her husband must leave to work in Venezuela. Before the reconstruction of Europe through the Marshall Plan, many Italians went to countries like Venezuela so they could work and send money home as life during the war, and post war years brought on much poverty. Again, something rarely documented.Her story of coming to America and leaving her family behind, knowing that it would be her last time with them, made you realize this was more than words on paper. You could feel the emotions, still raw, from her heart. The book, written in both English & Italian should be shared with anyone who either has had the experience, or to have a better understanding of one who was forced to leave their family, culture, language, country for a better life in what is, many times, the unknown. Such is Life:Ma La Vita E'Fatta Cosi' finally tells the complex immigration story from another prospective, a story of personal sacrifices so future generations could have a better life. After reading the book (which I will share with family members who immigrated during the 1950's) I felt a connection to Leonilde, as she were a neighbor telling me her story over a cup of coffee.