South American traces in the Cilento
At first sight, Marina di Camerota seems to be a typical Southern Italian fishing village like all the others in the Cilento: Pizza, pasta & co. dominate the menus of the ristoranti and trattorie, in the narrow alleys of the Centro Storico you listen to discussions in Italian, more often still you will hear the local dialect.
Every now and then, however, Spanish syllables slip into the conversations. The main road is not – as in many other Italian towns – the "Corso", but "Via Bolivar", and the main square is adorned by a statue of Venezuela's "libertador", Simón Bolívar. In the "alimentari", you will discover, next to Italian products, imported goods from Venezuela, Ristorante Il Muketo serves the dishes prepared from these goods. Salsa classes are booming and every year in early summer, the inhabitants of Marina di Camerota organize the largest Latin America festival of Southern Italy "chévere" (in English: "fantastic").
What is this connection to Latin America and especially Venezuela based upon? Nowadays, Italy is a country of immigration for guest workers mainly from South East Europe and North Africa. Not too long ago, however, many Southern Italians emigrated –not only to Germany.
During one of our stays in the Cilento, we had a detailed conversation about the times of the "emmigrazione per la Venezuela" with the owner of Casetta Mandorlo, Signor Antonio Esposito, and his mother.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Southern Italy was stricken with severe poverty. Industrial development took place only in Northern Italy. Agricultural produce was meagre; up to the present day, the Cilento area is widely rurally oriented. That is why many Cilentani and particularly the inhabitants of Camerota tried their luck far from home.
Time and again, between 1940 and 1949, Antonio Esposito's grandfather went to work for several years in Venezuela. His family, meanwhile, stayed in Italy, the tickets for the crossing were too expensive. In 1949, his grandfather finally had his wife and his children join him. Aboard this overseas liner alone, which crossed in weekly intervals, there were altogether 50 people from Camerota.
Most of the Camerotani settled as established merchants in Caracas. Italian groceries were very popular not only with the emigrants but also with the local inhabitants: The hardworking Camerotani imported salami, pasta, wine, tinned tomatoes and cheese from the Cilento and thus supported their relatives back in Italy not only by money transfers. Family Esposito, too, ran such a "negozio di commestibili".
Antonio Esposito, like many of his contemporaries, was born in Venezuela in the 1950ies and spent much of his childhood there. Although his family kept in close touch with the other Cilentani, there was no ghettoisation of the Italians, a "Little Italy" like in New York, for example, never came into being.
The ties with their home country were never cut: Letters and visits to their homeland helped keep the longing for "Bella Italia" at bay.
The emigrants in Venezuela were better off than those back home and quite a number achieved hard-earned prosperity in South America.
From the mid 1960ies on, however, the political situation in Venezuela became increasingly unstable. "Non si capiva più niente", in English: "You didn't understand anything anymore", as Antonio's mother said. Besides, she dreaded "l'amore": Her anxiety that her children might find Venezuelan partners and her family might thus be torn apart, was surely not the crucial factor for their return to Italy, but it did play a role.
These thoughts crossed not only Signora Esposito's mind, but also the minds of many Camerotani. In the 1950ies, Camerota might have been a "paese fantasma", a ghost town, which was filled only with old people, but from the 1970ies on, the coastal town was once again filled with vibrant life. The fortune accumulated in South America was to a great extent invested in real estate. Most of the houses on Via Bolivar were built with Venezuelan money.
South American atmosphere at the annual festival "chévere"
The Camerotani have brought back from Venezuela not only material values. South American relaxed attitude and joy of living have left their imprints: Compared to the inhabitants of other villages in the Cilento, the Camerotani are more easy-going and communicative regarding strangers … and at the beginning of July at the latest, when the festival "chévere" is due again, you can experience a touch of South American exotic in Europe.