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«je suis le dernier émigrant à avoir quitté le tessin»
Last year I was at the Swiss consulate in San Francisco as part of a solo exhibition dedicated to the Moghegno-Monterey project, a series of portraits dedicated to family members of emigrants from Ticino. An elegant, elderly man approached me and proudly said:“I am the last emigrant who left Ticino”.
Gianfranco Consolascio wanted to tell his personal story of emigration, and I wanted to understand what he meant by that sentence, since people had left Ticino after him and continue to leave. I think he was referring to a generational issue: people who left out of necessity, rather than out of a desire to change their lives in another country. Gianfranco, however, wanted to see America.
Flavia Leuenberger Ceppi
He was born in Brione sopra Minusio, a municipality overlooking Lake Maggiore in canton Ticino, southern Switzerland, in 1938. In his early twenties he worked for various watch companies in La Chaux-de-Fonds in the French-speaking part of the country.
Now 85, he says he has fond memories of that period, both professionally and personally. He talks about how he took part in several evening courses, wanting to broaden and hone his skills. Being able to master several areas, for example chronometers and spirals, was a great help when applying for jobs in the various factories.
He had no car, lived in a new neighbourhood and walked to work. He used to get together with colleagues – several from Ticino – with whom he spent much of his free time going dancing or drinking coffee.
In 1969 he was in Ticino when he saw an advertisement in a Swiss-French newspaper: one of the companies he had previously worked for, Universal Genève, was looking for people willing to work in its New York office.
Gianfranco jumped at the chance and decided to cross the Atlantic. In New York his life changed completely: he met his Venezuelan wife, Alicia, on the job, and after a few years they moved to California, where he opened a watch repair shop in San Francisco and the couple raised two daughters.
Flavia Leuenberger Ceppi
Feeling of nostalgia
Their home in San Rafael contains many references to Gianfranco's life in Switzerland: books on Ticino and the rest of the country, photographs depicting panoramic views of the Locarno area, the family coat of arms, and a faded, sepia-coloured postcard. Filled with emotion, he explains that one of the two women in it was his grandmother, Maria Sciaroni, at the market in Locarno. She used to walk there from Brione to sell fruit.
Although he never knew his grandmother, a bond comes across that would suggest otherwise, perhaps the same bond he maintains with Ticino, which he always visited regularly.
When he lived in Ticino, Gianfranco used to go on holiday to Italy, Spain, and Portugal, but now he would go nowhere else than Ticino. As the years went by, he learnt to appreciate it more and more, he says.
Alicia says this feeling of nostalgia is palpable and his love for his homeland is constantly present – in his words but also, and especially, in moments of silence.
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