In the heart of Mexico lies a city that seems to have been transplanted from Italy.
Mexican restaurants and supermarkets make way here trattoriaspizzerias and shops deli Italian.
Many of the 4,500 inhabitants are “light-eyed, güeritos” and speak Veneto, a language from the region of the same name in northeastern Italy.
But here in Chipilo de Francisco Javier Mina, as this town 15 kilometers from the city of Puebla is called, Veneto sounds different.
It’s ‘unique’ because It is mixed with Nahuatl and Spanish.
He has the nickname “chipileño veneto”Chipilean anthropologist and historian Miguel Esteban Kadwrytte Dossetti tells BBC Mundo.
Dossetti’s ancestors, along with dozens of other Venetian families, migrated to Mexico and founded Chipilo in 1882.
Today, more than 140 years after its founding, Chipileños proudly boast that they have kept their tradition virtually intact and speak in the country with the most Spanish speakers in the world.
And although this Veneto from Chipile is not recognized as an official variant of Veneto, Linguists who have studied him recognize his authenticity and argue that his history is not sufficiently understood.
a ristretto under chipiles
Chipilo welcomes the traveler surrounded by imposing views of the Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl volcanoes, which do not stop emitting smoke and ash on the day of our visit.
The city center is dominated by a small parish and an adjacent square where the Casa de Italia cultural center and the Italian Migration Museum were built.
Along the main street are many Italian eateries (always with some Mexican classics on the menu) where locals enjoy an early breakfast.
Since it is a small town, most people here know each other.
And while many taste of one ristretto -the classic short and strong Italian coffee- they bring a Gia mano, the status has come (Hello how are you?).
At first it is difficult to understand the language in which the people of Chipile communicate, and to this day they continue to use this language as the main language to speak among themselves.
But after a while the ear gets used to it and starts detecting words.
“Of the 4,500 inhabitants, 3,800 are direct descendants of the founders who emigrated from Italy. 90% are still learning Veneto from home,” Arturo Berra Simoni, whose great-grandparents were part of the dozens of Italian families that founded Chipilo in 1882, told BBC Mundo.
“Today that happens less, but in my time, when we went to school as children, we knew very little Spanish and could hardly understand the teacher,” he says, laughing.
The first Chipileños
At the foot of the main church, Kadwrytte Dossetti shows the ‘Italian’ details of the temple.
“Unlike the Baroque churches that surround the area, this church is neoclassical in style and the bell tower is at the back and not the front. Inside is also an image of Saint Anthony of Padua, a saint highly venerated in Veneto,” he shows BBC Mundo.
The first Chipileños leave an Italy in crisis and arrive in a Mexico that wants to transform itself.
“After the reunification of Italy in 1871 Veneto was in conflict with several neighboring regions and the Piave, an important river, suffered serious flooding that affected many residents,” said Berra, who founded the Italian Migration Museum in Chipilo.
“In Mexico, the government of Porfirio Díaz wanted to modernize the country and attract European migration that brought modern production techniques,” adds Kadwrytte Dossetti.
Between 1881 and 1882, approximately 3,000 Italians arrived at the port of Veracruzwho settled in several colonies in the country after signing land purchase contracts from the Mexican government.
Chipilo was founded on October 7, 1882 by dozens of families.
De Berra, Dossetti, Colombo, Carnelli and dozens of other Italian surnames survive in the city.
What is now Chipilo was then an almost empty and barren expanse.
The founders, who had been promised fertile lands in exchange for promoting European crops, were frustrated upon arrival.
Neither the lands were fertile enough nor was it possible to plant Mediterranean vines or olive trees.
But they reinvented themselves, bought cattle and… They started an export industry of cheese and other dairy products that sustained the economy for decades.
Today, dairy production is more for local consumption and the city is mainly supported by the production of rustic furniture exported mainly to Canada, the United States, Europe and Saudi Arabia.
The “Chipileño Veneto”
Veneto is a Romance language with multiple variations threatened by its minority status.
In addition to Mexico, it is still spoken in Latin America among Italian descendants in countries such as Argentina, Venezuela or Brazil.
But Chipilo is an unparalleled example of how it is preserved across an entire communitywhich incorporates Nahuatl and Spanish words to name foods, plants and technologies that did not exist in Italy at the time of the migration.
“In Chipilo they talk about variety basso bellunees (Belunese bass). It’s very unusualgiven that economic and social forces push migrants to abandon their language heritage after a few generations,” Caroline MacKay, a linguist who researched Veneto in Chipilo, explained to BBC Mundo.
“In other parts of Latin America where Veneti migrated, they did not find a cohesive and homogeneous community that could maintain its identity and language among the majority cultures.”
The curious thing is that despite the evolution into this Veneto Chipileño, when today’s Venetos in Italy meet Chipilos, they remember the way they talked about their grandparents.
“It is like that because in Chipilo grammatical forms and words are still used that are no longer common in Italysays MacKay.
The linguist adds that this preservation is due to the “relative isolation” in which Chipilo has lived for many decades, reinforced by his economic independence and business success.
Chipilo, between his past and his future
Mount Grappa It is a small hill full of history in Chipilo.
Here the Chipileños took up arms and defended their city during the Mexican Revolution.
From above you can see the relentless growth of the city of Puebla, which threatens to overwhelm its surroundings, a situation repeated in the major Mexican conurbations.
The residents of Chipile had a complex relationship with their neighbors for decades.
“For years we were the outsiders, ‘the thieves’, even though our ancestors bought these lands,” says Berra Simoni as he walks to the cemetery.
Among the graves engraved with Italian surnames, one stands out. It bears the fascist symbol.
“Mussolini, in his attempt to boost Italy’s image around the world, sent emissaries to seek support in Chipilo. And here were many who embraced fascism more as a way to reaffirm their identity in a Mexico where they often felt displaced,” says Berra Simoni, who laments this “short” chapter in Chipilean history.
A lot has changed since then.
Many people from all over the area come to Chipilo to work and marriages to foreigners are becoming increasingly common..
Although this does come at a price.
“In recent years, the number of children who stop speaking Veneto has been very high, because many of their parents are not originally from the city,” acknowledges Kadwrytte Dossetti.
“I am concerned that the gentrification Chipilo is suffering will affect our way of life, our culture and our language”completes Dossetti Mazzocco.
These are some of the future challenges of this unique culture in a country as diverse as Mexico.
But the people of Chipile have been resisting for 140 years. It’s in their blood. (JO)
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