Exploring Her Roots: Brianna Mancuso’s Story
By Madeline Casalino
“I feel very lost,” said Brianna Mancuso, a student at Marist College. “No one speaks English.”
Mancuso has recently made the trip to Frosinone, Italy, a quiet town that is about an hour east of Rome to visit her mother’s older sister, Antoinette, a woman she has never met and whom her own mother has never lived with due to their twenty-year age difference.
Mancuso has a unique upbringing. Her grandmother gave birth to three children in Giglio, a small village within Frosinone, and then to another three children, including Mancuso’s own mother, Lucia, in the city of Caracas, Venezuela. Mancuso’s grandmother, the woman who traveled across the globe to help her family, tragically passed away in her early 40s due to ovarian cancer.
She has always felt as though she had a missing piece to her life, thus, she chose to take advantage of the opportunity to meet new family members while studying abroad in Europe.
Mancuso is currently studying at Lorenzo di Medici in Florence and has done most of her traveling outside of Italy. Barcelona, Split, Amsterdam, London, and Dublin are just a few of the breathtaking cities she, along with many of her classmates, have spent their weekend getaways at, making this trip within Italy a nice break from packing, flying, and dealing with customs.
“If I could take a train anywhere, I would,” she joked. “It is so easy in Italy and the views from the train are incredible.” Mancuso’s Italian train rides are certainly a big change from the scene she is used to looking at while riding on the Metro North from her hometown in Westchester, N.Y., to Marist College in Poughkeepsie.
While approaching her aunt’s apartment, she was not sure what to think. “All of my cousins have been here before and they told me not to expect much,” Mancuso explained. “They live in a one floor apartment above a pizzeria and a stationary shop that they own. They drive little cars and they do not speak English.”
Luckily, she had another aunt visiting from Canada who speaks both English and Italian. She helped Mancuso communicate with her relatives, people that, although she is related to by blood, seem like distant friends or “something else”.
“Compared to Florence, I actually felt like I was in Italy. It was authentic,” reflected Mancuso. The only time she practices Italian in Florence is with her Italian teacher. Anytime she goes to purchase her morning cappuccino, an afternoon panino, or a late-night indulgence of gelato or a chocolate croissant, she does so in English. Florence is an incredible metropolitan city, but, as most people who visit will agree, you can be there without knowing basically anything about the Italian language.
Mancuso and her cousins toured Rome, made homemade pasta with their aunt, and took a bike ride through the village where their grandmother had her earliest memories. “I’ve met cousins I never knew existed. I ate amazing food that is truly authentic Italian cuisine.” Besides the food and the history, this trip was especially significant to her because, with everyone’s occupied lifestyles and the demanding needs and requirements for travel, her immediate family is unable to visit her this semester.
Although the area was beautiful, Mancuso elucidates that a part of the visit felt disappointing, a feeling that is challenging and heartbreaking to admit. “I am so close with all my family in the states. My aunts feel like second mother’s and my cousins feel more like siblings. It was difficult to realize that I may never get to experience that sort of special bond and relationship with these relatives because they live so far.”
In addition, with many students having their family members visit for upcoming weekends and the fast approaching Thanksgiving Day, her time abroad, as incredible as it is, has begun to feel rather lonely. However, she knows that going through this endeavor alone will only make her more independent and allow her confidence to grow in unimaginable ways. Mancuso also hopes to someday return to the town of Frosinone with her mother so they can experience the power of family with each other.
As sad and bittersweet as it was to leave her aunt and uncle in Frosinone, she ends with a pleasant tone by adding, “I finally got to explore my roots, which was something so worthwhile.”
For the remainder of her time in Florence, Mancuso is traveling within Italy. She plans to visit Monte Carlo, Milan, and the Statue of David.
Mancuso will be returning in the spring to finish her Business degree and Sociology minor in the hopes of one day working with Human Resources or another field that allows her to make the most of her honest and pure personality, one that never fails to comfort the ones closest to her heart.