Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli: “Part of a tapestry”

Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli: “Part of a tapestry”

Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli’s life is as vibrant as a tapestry of old: her stories finely interwoven with her strong sense of social justice and her desire to include the ones society tends to forget. 

She is a tireless activist, well known for her defence of indigenous, gay and multicultural communities.

An all-round overachiever, Pallotta-Chiarolli is also an award-winning researcher and writer, whose works include Tapestry and Someone You Know – A Friend’s Farewell.

The daughter of a migrant family, she understands all too well the discrimination faced by the groups she fights for.

Her grandmother once told her: “Men don’t want you to have an education, because if women know too much, they question every decision.”

Despite this sage advice, Pallotta-Chiarolli continues to ask the hard questions.

She often recalls images of her parents, deeply fatigued, but always optimistic; committed to imbuing their children’s lives with happiness.

“They worked at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and on their one day off, we always went out on a trip,” she says.

“They wanted to give us every joy, and to not stay at home to take care of the housework.”

Pallotta-Chiarolli’s parents were born in Benevento, in the region of Campania, and migrated to South Australia, where they surrounded themselves with fellow Italians, who also spoke their dialect.

“I was born into a working class family,” she says.

“At the hospital, my father worked as a cleaner and my mother served lunch in the canteen.

“They never abandoned the key characteristics of their own culture; in fact, my mother served heartier dishes to the nurses because, according to her culture, ‘they were too thin!’

“Of course, because of this, she was repeatedly pulled up by the supervisor.

“My father, on the other hand, was very different from the men of his generation.

“He devoted himself to cleaning and cooking, which made him an excellent husband.

“He was a kind man, and I often saw him in tears.

“When he screamed in the house, no one paid him any attention, but when my mother screamed, that’s when everyone was on high alert!”

Pallotta-Chiarolli notes that her parents have always set an admirable example for her.

“My mother has always been a true feminist,” she says.

“Even as a child, she was scolded because she wanted to ride a bike alone!”

Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli. (Photo supplied)

Faced with the difficult journey of studying in an Australian primary school without fluency in English, Pallotta-Chiarolli was part of a cohort of children from multicultural families that experienced discrimination, even from their teachers.

“In primary school, we had a very arrogant Italian teacher who was originally from northern Italy,” she says.

“She called us ‘peasants’ because we came from the South.

“My peers and I thought we were Italian and we just couldn’t comprehend the differences she alluded to.

“But I rebelled and spent a lot of time attending classes from the corridor.”

Regardless of her time spent in corridors, Pallotta-Chiarolli went on to publish three novels: Tapestry, a whirlwind tale that follows five generations of women and men in her family; Someone You Know – A Friend’s Farewell, the story of an extraordinary friendship and a longing goodbye; and Love You Two, a novel that gives a voice to those in desperate search of their own destiny.

Tapestry offers an intimate insight into her family life:

“I was born in Adelaide, Australia; but the Maria that was to be, had already come into existence in the villages of the Campania region of Italy. Their names were as familiar to me as the name of my own street. I grew up as part of a tapestry, rich with the colours of many realities, woven with the threads of many places, spaces and times.”

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Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli:
dare voce agli esclusi

È un arazzo, la sua intera esistenza, finemente intessuto di frammenti di storie, di persone escluse, culture in collisione, esseri umani avvinti, affini. Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli non ha mai distolto lo sguardo dalle ingiustizie aberranti, dalla ricerca di un’inclusione di valori.

Lontana da sempre dai privilegi della gerarchia, ha vissuto le rinunce e le privazioni dei suoi genitori in una terra nuova e sconfinata, ammantati dall’eterna magia dell’esperienza migratoria e dalla percezione comune di non aver mai lasciato il Paese d’origine; oggi, invece, osserva sua figlia riconoscere impressioni e dettagli nel cammino che involontariamente ha saputo indicarle.

“Gli uomini non vogliono che tu abbia un’istruzione: perché se le donne sanno troppo, mettono in discussione ogni decisione”, le diceva sua nonna. Continua, infatti, nonostante il tempo che scorre inesorabile, a porsi domande, “a sostenere, amare, ballare”, tenendo sempre ancorate nella sua mente le immagini dei suoi genitori tormentati dalla stanchezza, ma mai sconfitti.

“Lavoravano al Royal Adelaide Hospital e nel loro unico giorno libero, uscivamo sempre in gita; volevano donarci ogni gioia e non restare a casa a occuparsi delle pulizie domestiche”, mi racconta.

Ci incontriamo in un piccolo bar a Brunswick, mi saluta mostrandomi un sorriso affabile, mentre ripone immediatamente tre romanzi sul tavolo, una piccola parte di un’attività proficua e infaticabile.

Sono Tapestry, il vorticoso intreccio di cinque generazioni di donne e uomini della sua famiglia, Someone You Know – A Friend’s Farewell, la storia di una straordinaria amicizia e di un arrivederci sospirato, Love You Two, che dà voce a chi è alla ricerca disperata del proprio destino.

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