How have the generations of women in your family changed, from one generation to the next?
My paternal grandmother Josephine lived the classic American immigrant experience: her parents emigrated from Italy to America and left her behind, only sending for her years later. She was not allowed to continue schooling beyond the age of 13 because her father was concerned school was inappropriate once the ‘the boys started paying attention’ to her so she started working as a seamstress. She married at the age of 19, and by the time my father came along the family had moved out of the Italian neighbourhood in the Bronx (New York) to the Irish neighbourhood – a sign of assimilation. Her children and grandchildren all benefitted from secondary and tertiary education, and our generational story is one of upward mobility and taking advantage of opportunities for equality as they arose.
While lots has changed for the women in my family from educational opportunities to more equal relationships, I’ve managed to repeat my grandmother’s trajectory of leaving the country I grew up in for a new home – in my case becoming a British citizen last year after 16 years in the country. And while I’ve benefited from a far less traditional and restrictive upbringing and many more opportunities than were available to Josephine, I have always struggled to fully feel assimilated in my new home and know my children will feel far more assuredly British than I ever will.
Pictured: Josephine before her marriage (age 19) and holding me as a baby in 1979.
Julia Paolitto is Head of Communications at Trinity College.