As far back as I can remember, my dad always used to say that once he retired, he was going to leave New York and just take off for Italy to go indulge in la dolce vita and find all of our Sica relatives. Throughout the years he would tell me the little bits he knew about his ancestors, but I was very young and always thought that we would have time to get into the details one day. I was fascinated at the idea of imagining a family that shared our blood and lived in the mother land! Dad would joke with me that I couldn’t come if I wasn’t a good girl and it was probably better that he just goes on his own. It was an ongoing game between us and he would tease that he was going by himself, and nobody could say a thing about it, and only if I was lucky would I get to go too one day.
Anselmo Sica, my great-grandfather
Years passed, life went on, I grew up graduated from college, worked for a year in New York City then moved across the country to Los Angeles. Unexpectedly, out of nowhere, one day I got a call from my brother saying dad was in the hospital and to get on the next plane back to the east coast. My heart sank. He wasn’t sick, there hadn’t been an accident. I couldn’t think straight…and couldn’t stop imagining the worst. Devastatingly, the moment I arrived at JFK airport I could see the look on my brother’s face. I had lost my Dad. He suffered a severe heart attack that took his life. He was gone. Just like that. But I wasn’t going to let his dream fade away.
After a few years of trying to wrap my head around the fact that Dad was no longer with us, I kept thinking about his dream to go to Italy. How amazing would it be if I could go and find the family and make his dream come true? I had no idea where to start. I remembered that my great grandfather’s name was Anselmo, but I didn’t have much more info. Where were they originally from? Dad had mentioned the south of Italy and said that he thought his mother’s family was from somewhere near Naples. Hmm… With little to no information, and just 1 name to start my search, I decide to take off on the mission on my life: to go to Italy and find my Italian family.
The Sica Family
Having grown up with an Italian last name, I felt Italian. It was something to be proud of. Most people called my brother by his last name and so I automatically became Sica’s sister. There were tons of Italian-Americans in my hometown and we always thought it was so cool to be Italian. Yet I was constantly wondering what Italians were really like. Were they all loud and vivacious? Did they all speak with their hands and flip each other off like you see in the movies? What did real pizza taste like?! Do they smash grapes with their feet to make wine? Unfortunately, my grandparents had already passed away, my grandmother before I was born and my grandfather when I was just a few years old, so I didn’t grow up with them and didn’t know much about real Italian culture or traditions, other than the ones my dad shared with us from his childhood. I didn’t have an Italian nonna cooking pasta for us on Sunday afternoons or a big, giant family who gathered together to celebrate every holiday. I felt Italian, but I had no idea what that meant. I had to go there. I had to go to ITALY. I had to see it for myself, experience what it felt like to be surrounded by Italians, taste the food, see the Vatican, swim in the Mediterranean Sea and find the Sica family. I felt in my bones that the only way I was going to find them was if I went there myself. Alone. Sure, I could have started doing some research online or paid a lawyer to help me track down people that were part of my family tree, but I strongly felt in my gut that I had to physically come to Italy myself and I believed things would all fall into place.
After I had made the move to Rome, I started to live my life here and without being able to speak the language, that was no small feat. I took a 1-month course to become certified to teach English as a second language and started working straightaway. It wasn’t until I was talking to one of my roommates one late night, that I decided to really begin my search. She was Italian and spoke English fluently, and she was really inspired by my story to find my relatives. She promised to help me and this was the motivation I needed. So, we started writing to people on Facebook who had the last name Sica and seemed to be living in or from the south of Italy. There were hundreds!! I tried not to feel discouraged, but how in the world were we going to find the right Sica family amongst all of these people! We came across a guy who had the same name as my great grandfather, and my roommate was convinced that we were somehow related, since Italians usually keep the same first names in the family. She helped me write him a message in Italian (since I still could not speak the language very well, let alone write in it!) and I continued telling my story to everyone I met, hoping in one way or another I would find this family that I had been imagining my whole life.
Nonna and I
Then one day, almost a year later, I received a message from Anselmo Sica. He said that wasn’t 100% sure, but that we might be related! He told he that he would check with his Zia (Aunt) and get back to me soon! I couldn’t believe it! Sure enough, about 2 days later I got a phone call from Nonna Antonietta and one of her grandchildren Annalaura. They were ecstatic, saying that we are in fact related! Nonna had the same mission years ago, to find her relatives that had left Italy for America. She found cousins of mine who were also from New York, but she never found me. And then, there I was, here in Italy to find HER! She was just as shocked and excited as I was! “Che gioia! Che gioia! Un altra parte della mia famiglia!” she said. I was crying the purest tears of joy. It was one of the most incredible moments of my life, and I felt my father standing right by my side. Antonietta explained that her family was quite large and her uncle (my great grandfather) was her father’s brother, and that she used to be very close to him. She was a Sica, like me! How miraculous! I couldn’t wait to learn more about the family history and my great grandfather.
Soon after that call I went to meet her in Imola (a city outside of Bologna) and she introduced me to her enormous family! There were so many beautiful people! She had 5 children herself, and they all had families of their own, and even some of those children had children. What a whirwind!! I met so many smiling faces that first day, and cried so many happy tears, it was overwhelming. Every person I met welcomed me with open arms and treated me like they had known me my entire life. Such joy. So much love!
The next day Antonietta took me to meet her brother Orfeo and his son, Anselmo, her nephew who I had found on Facebook. We all sat together, ate together, shared wine together (we are in Italy!) laughed together, and cried together. Then I received the most amazing gift, old photos of my great grandfather and his 3 sons (one of which was my grandpa) at the very first SICA Paint store in New York. I started to have an out of body experience. I had only heard stories of this store and my grandfather and his brothers starting a business with their dad all those years ago and now the images I had only imagined in my mind, were in photo form right in front of my eyes! My Dad had explained how important it was for the family to start that business, and then his father continued it with his three sons. Sica and Sons was my grandfather’s company for decades, and when he passed on my father continued the business after the two previous generations before him. Now, there I was looking at pictures of that first store and my grandfather and his brothers with their father Anselmo, my great grandfather who I had never even seen a picture of before that moment. It was unreal, no surreal! I couldn’t believe my eyes! Che gioia indeed!! I had to go outside for some air and to get a hold of my emotions. I actually felt my Dad above me. I know he had been there all along guiding me on this journey, but now I could feel him there, smiling with pride and showering me with love. Flashes of the past few years and all the time I had spent thinking about this moment, all the times I had felt discouraged and wanted to give up my search were running through my mind. Everything I had done had led me to that house, at that moment, surrounded by our Sica family. There I was standing next to our living Italian relatives, our blood. And they were all so kind and gentle and loving! I did it Dad, I made your dream come true!
Nonna and her son Ernesto explained the family tree to me, and gave me a copy of it, along with a copy of the pictures of the first Sica paint store. These two things are two of the most precious gifts I have and probably will ever receive. Che gioia!
I am still in touch with Nonna, who is almost 91 years old now! I spent Easter with them that first year I found them and I try to visit them at least a few times a year. I visited my great grandfather’s hometown, Colliano, which is a tiny village about 45 minutes outside of Salerno, in the south of Italy. Nonna and a few of my cousins came to my wedding in Sorrento and met my brother and my mom for the first time. Another incredible encounter! I feel so deeply lucky and blessed to have these extraordinary people in my life. I cherish each one of them and I am so grateful that I followed my instincts, took a chance, changed my life and moved to Italy to fulfill my Dad’s lifelong dream. La vita e’ davvero bella se la guardi bene.