Sardinia has a total population of around 1.6 million inhabitants (roughly the same amount of people that Sicily has in the county of Palermo alone) and the majority of its inhabitants are concentrated around the main city Cagliari (approximately 300.000).
For a series of historical, social and financial reasons many left the island to find fortune on the Italian mainland or further afield.
My family is a perfect example of this. My father moved to London aged 19, my great uncle moved to Rome with his family in the 60s and lived there until he died, my grandfather and his brothers all studied in mainland Italy and a generation before them my great grandfather went to work in mines in Belgium and after that moved to mainland Italy, my other great grandfather instead worked in Argentina for a few years and then they both returned to Sardinia.
There have been different waves of migration but some things have not changed through time such as the strong sense of belonging the islanders feel towards their homeland.
Even moving to Rome or the north of Italy is a big deal as ‘continente’ (= the continent, name given to mainland Italy by Sardinians) is not Sardinia. The reasons are many; partly geographical due to differences in scenery mainly the lack of stunning beaches and big green areas but also climatically as the 300+ days of sun per year, hot summers and mild winters are hard to live without once you have been used to them all your life. Lack of sun can deeply impact ones mood. The main differences however are cultural and linguistic as Sardinia has its own language which is quite different from Italian and the colourful expressions and unique words that characterise it cannot really be translated into any other language.
Today, many of my friends have left Sardinia either to continue their studies at a postgraduate level or to find work. The vast majority of them lives in Milan, followed by London, Bologna (the biggest university city in Italy), some in Rome and others abroad (many of whom live in Germany which historically has always had a strong Sardinian community).
Before leaving there are a series of rituals most Sardinian youths will observe. First of all, you must drop by to say goodbye to Nonna. After that, in the evening, you say goodbye to your close friends who live on the island, one more aperitif or espresso coffee and you don’t leave before they reassure you that they will come and visit you at some point.
You get back home, pack the last things including the all important Sardinian food which has been kept in the fridge until the last minute including Bottarga (dried fish roe, typically Sardinian), pecorino cheese, cured ham or sausages that all get added to the previously packed Mirto and Limoncello.
A few hours later you are at the airport checking-in your suitcase and praying that all the heavenly goods packed do not surpass the baggage weight allowance.
Time for goodbyes: one last hug to mamma and babbo who usually tell you to look after yourself and keep in touch.
You go through security checks and look around, many others are in your same position with heavy bags and heavy hearts preparing to leave the island. Job opportunities in Sardinia are scarce, the local universities are very limited in what they offer and the ‘Sardinian mentality’ tends to drag you down making it very hard for an ambitious, international-minded youth to stay in his or her homeland.
After all Life is Calling, no time to linger or feel nostalgic, one must take to the skies in order to fulfil ones aspirations and potentials leaving Sardinia to spread across Europe and beyond.
The dream however remains to one day maybe return for good to Sardinia perhaps to start a family, set up a business to benefit the local economy or retire in the sunny slow-paced corner of paradise in your golden days.
The hope is that maybe, at that point, things will have changed for the better: the local political elite will have more sense and be in touch with the reality that surrounds them and actually care about the people they supposedly serve. Maybe the Sardinians will have lost their ‘characteristic mentality’ that tends to prevent anyone from being successful by filling anyone who dares to try something new with envy and pessimistic vibes as fear of change rules their provincial way of thinking.
That said, looking back at my family, after nearly 10 years in London my father managed to return to Sardinia and his grandfather before him after years in Argentina so there is still hope.
As long as there is hope and the will to return and change things there will be the possibility that the Sardinian diaspora may reverse its course and that many of the talented people who fled the island may return to change it for the better. Perhaps when this will happen, Sardinia will truly reach its full potential which for now is a goal which seems light years away.