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Being called an 'enemy alien' humiliating for Italian immigrants

Compared to the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War, the story of similar treatment for Italian-Canadians is not as well known.

That’s because once the war ended, many of them “wanted to get on with their lives, integrate back into Canadian society,” says Julia Murray, the curator at Il Museo At the Italian Cultural Centre which is hosting the launch of Ray Culos’ new book documenting B.C.’s Italian enemy aliens and will display artifacts from that time through the end of August. Among those artifacts are Lou Moro’s naval service medals, his rum ration jug, a brass cigarette lighter and old photos.

Almost half the Italian-Canadians living in the Lower Mainland during the war were designated as enemy aliens, says Murray, and getting them to open up about their experiences was a challenge.

“It’s a sensitive subject,” she says. “A lot of them found it very humiliating. They were upset to be treated as the enemy.”

But time and the curiosity of subsequent generations has started to soothe those wounds, says Murray. She suspects the launch of the Question of Loyalty project will further break down barriers.

“The more you talk about things like this, it does slightly take the sting out of them. People are rediscovering a pride in their community and in their family, and it’s making them feel more willing to talk about it.”

Unlike the redress won by Japanese-Canadians who were interned during the war, Murray says she’s unaware of any such initiative by Italian-Canadians. But the Question of Loyalty project is funded by the federal government as part of a program to address and acknowledge issues under the War Measures Act that were legal at the time but discriminatory in hindsight.

 

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