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Heritage Traveler: Connecting a 20 Year Gap

Student Jessica DePeppo’s grandparents, Susan De Luca (second from left) and Anthony De Luca (second from right), celebrate the marriage of Margherita De Luca (center) in this photograph from June 1955. Jessica met Margherita, her maternal great aunt, for the first time when she visited Italy during the Fall 2014 voyage.

When I arrived in Naples, Italy at noon on the sixteenth of October, I had no idea what a crazy two days were ahead of me. Twenty minutes after checking into our hotel, my boyfriend Tim and I were discussing what to see and do for the rest of the day when the phone rang and the woman at the front desk had told us that a man was waiting for us downstairs. My thoughts began to race as I racked my brain for any sort of clue as to who was downstairs. Was it really my cousin Raffaele, whom I was trying to meet up with?

Vico Equense, Italy
View of Vico Equense, a small town of Naples in Southern Italy, where members of Jessica’s family live.

I reread old emails with my mother quickly that contained desires and wishes to meet the family I had never known in Italy, but there was never a confirmation of these plans. Sure enough when we walked downstairs I was greeted with a huge smile and a kiss on both cheeks from my cousin, who I barely knew existed. He was a tall man who spoke very good English for someone who hadn’t needed to use it in 20 years, and he was so excited for me to be there. He handed me the phone and I found my grandfather, who I call Nonno, on the other end. Speaking to Nonno was so heartwarming because he was so excited for me to meet his family, especially his sister, whom he has not seen since he was in Italy 20 years ago.

Jessica DePeppo and Zia Margherita
Fall 2014 student Jessica DePeppo with her maternal great aunt Margherita De Luca in Italy.

We got into the car with no idea what to expect and drove out of Naples and to a little town right outside of Sorrento called Vico Equense, where my great aunt and other cousins were currently living. Zia Margherita was a short little 84 year-old woman who looks strikingly like Nonno and is only a year older. When we walked into their apartment she wordlessly grabbed me by the hands and stared at me for a little, having lost the ability to speak at her age. When they told her who I was and how we were related, she instantly took my face in her hands and kissed both of my cheeks multiple times before pulling away with the biggest grin on her face. We sat and tried to converse, but all we could manage was to hold hands and stare at each other in amazement. It was such an incredible feeling to be able to meet someone so important in my family, yet so strange that after 20 years of my life this was my first time meeting her.


DePeppo also visited Pompeii, only an hour from Zia Margherita’s home.

The rest of the day and the next passed in a blur of amazing food and sightseeing with my cousins. Tim and I even snuck away for a few hours to tour Pompeii and that was an amazing experience in itself. On the last visit to see Zia Margherita, I could already start to feel a weird sense of homesickness in my stomach. Coming from an Italian family, being immersed in the Italian culture felt like being home. I was very sad to leave my newly discovered family. They made me promise to try to bring my mother and Nonno to Italy for Christmas, before saying goodbye and leaving me with the biggest smile on my face.

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