The Yellow Line: Italo-Canadian Oral Histories from Montreal’s Backyards and Schoolyards
by Cassandra Marsillo
The Yellow Line is an oral history project that was presented as a pop-up exhibit at the Casa d’Italia in March 2019. The exhibition plays a 19-minute audio clip over speakers, as viewers walk through the co-curated exhibit space, which is divided into 3 sections symbolising the home, the classroom, and the backyard. Our stories, objects, and memories came together in the shared space to tell a multi-generational story of the politics of the personal, through language, education, and belonging.
The project initiates a conversation between the stories of six Italo-Canadians growing up in Montréal between 1950 and 1977, the story of a young girl growing up in the Italian community twenty years later, and the present. The project narrators — Angela and Francesca LoDico, Tony Ludovico, Ida Marsillo, Marie Moscato, and Rosa —remember their rejection from French Catholic elementary schools in Montreal. The yellow line is a symbol that came from my own experience; in my shared elementary school playground, a thick yellow line separated the space and the students from one another, divided according to enrolment at the French school across the yard, or our English-instructed school. This project centres on the literal and metaphorical yellow lines their stories of identity and community cross.
We weren’t aware of the implications of this seemingly Anglo-Franco meeting point, the yard, where confrontations so often happened. We did not know the history. We did not know that the fact that our maternal or dominant spoken language spoke to a long colonial history that began before our grandparents or parents landed at the ports of Halifax harbours or at Trudeau airport. We were not yet aware of our role in that colonial history or of the implications of the accepted textbook narratives that shaped our collective consciousness of the spaces and place we inhabited. We were not yet aware of why we were on separate sides of the yellow line.