By Michael Cusenza
Nino Pace is a hardworking family man living in Macomb, Michigan. His family is everything to him. His wife Francesca owns her own business and Nino works for Ford Motor Company. They have two children together, Norella (6) and Giuseppe (4). Nino and his family never hesitate to help those who are in need.
But Nino didn’t always have what he has today. We asked him some questions about his life living in another country and the decision his father made to change their lives for the better.
Michael Cusenza: Describe the place or places where you grew up. What was your life like there?
Nino Pace: I was born in May of 1984 on the island of Sicily, in the beautifully medieval historical town of Erice. At that time Erice was the closet major hospital near my parents that had a supportive floor for maternity. I wasn’t supposed to come out on that day but my mother was rushed to a C-Section because the umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck.
We lived in San Vito Lo Capo, which was about an hour from Erice. Which is up in the mountains literally. The house we had in San Vito was a beach town, a popular summer break destination for families all over Europe. I have memories of meeting kids from Germany, Spain, and Northern Italy. It was excellent. Everyday felt like a vacation, but obviously when you’re a kid that’s how it usually feels in a normal household with a decent upbringing.
All the daily necessary items were within walking distance by just a block or two. It was a small town with big-dream feel, because the sea was close with white sandy beaches and the mountains overlooking San Vito giving us a feeling of natural protection. Plus, every mother was all over every child to keep them in check from trouble. I vaguely remember neighbors calling my mom to say if I was wondering, lost, or hanging out with the wrong crowd. 24/7 surveillance. This was before Wi-Fi connected wireless cameras.
MC: Why and how did you leave? Where did you go?
NP: It was my father’s choice to move. His family had already left long before to start a fresh life in Detroit. Every Sicilian back then left for Detroit because the Big 3 were hiring by the thousands in a short time to keep up with global demand. The ’80s were a time of massive dreams, it was all about American Excess. Every immigrant has the same story: “Come to America. There’s money, there’s work, everything you want is here,” said someone somewhere, to cause this to go viral by the standards of back then.
My mother didn’t want to move because, at that time, her parents’ health had turned for the worse. I think she resented my father for years growing up. Every summer break my sister and I would go back for the whole 2-3-month break to be with our grandparents so my mother could tend to their aid while also building a relationship with our extended family form the “old country.”
MC: Who came with you? Who did you leave behind? Why?
NP: I was very young when we left Sicily for Michigan in the mid-’80s, so naturally it was on plane with my mother and father. My sister was born here, in Michigan, not long after we moved here. Most of my father’s family had already been in Detroit making a new life here, mixing both Sicilian and American culture, learning the language and way of life. Bowling became a big deal.
We basically left behind my mother’s side. Her parents, her only sibling, a brother, who had his life in San Vito with his own young family. My uncle had been well known in Europe as an up-and-coming young artist in paint and sculpture. Later in life he became a college professor, he even made furniture as a means of creative expression and extra income.
MC: What did you bring with you? What did you leave behind? Why?
NP: We didn’t bring much more than clothing and jewelry and other small keepsakes. Also, lots of photos and a number of my uncle’s artworks. My father had left Sicily months before us to build a home, save money, and have everything ready for my mother and I to have an easy transition into life here. I think it took her several years to get comfortable.
At first for a few months, we lived with my father’s parents until the new house was finished. The items left behind were furniture pieces, normal household items because, still to this day, we have that same home by the beach. We knew we would spend every summer there to make it easier on my mom who had the rest of her family there.
MC: How did you feel when you left?
NP: I was too young to remember how I felt when I left Sicily with my mother. I can remember how she felt. It was heartbreaking; she was incredibly close with her parents, her brother. Technology has made it possible for us to stay in touch and, now more than ever, to see each other in real time on a laptop or phone.
For the first several years my parents argued a lot because of the move. Both my mother’s parents’ health turned, but we were able to spend an abundance of time with them until it was their time to go. I think now my mother sees how much better our life was able to work out, especially because so many young Italians and Sicilians are coming here because there is a massive unemployment issue there long before this pandemic.
MC: Describe how your life is different where you live now.
NP: Life is a huge difference here compared to if I were to stay [sic!] back there. I know I would’ve struggled a lot for work, for a reliable income. I don’t blame my father for wanting more for his young family starting out. He wants more for us to this day – I’m 36 now with a family of my own; I understand more than ever his decision.
My mother eventually also came around seeing us kids grow up, making friends, playing sports and music. As I said before, we still have the house back there. Last I went was 2016 when my cousin got married and asked my daughter to be the flower girl. She was two at the time. It was a beautiful time. It had been 14 years since my last visit. And we had intended to go again this past year (2020), but COVID[-19] ruined it. Hopefully we get to go back soon and see our family and friends.