Brandon Burnside from Florida
Brandon Burnside from Florida

When the Love for your Italian Roots runs ‘coast to coast’: Brandon story, from Florida to Canepina

We all know that w.w.w. stands for World Wide Web, but we often forget just how close a virtual connection can take us to a real, live person.

Which is what happened to me a few days ago, when I stumbled upon a Facebook post from a fellow American who’s living his best life, at least part-time, in my very own small Italian town of Canepina, near Viterbo. Curious to find out how, in all the years that I myself have lived in Canepina, I could have failed to run into Brandon, either on-line or in the streets of our village, where everything is comfortably within walking distance, I got in touch with this other devoted fan of Canepina who also an American background.

It turns out that Brandon is a native Floridian who lives in Tampa with his wife and his beloved English bulldog. He works as an auto dealer by day, though at heart he’s an author, having even self-published, among other works, a novel inspired by his Italian roots “The Detailer”, or better yet, his Canepina ancestry.  

If you have never heard of Canepina, it is a small town in the Tuscia zone, an area which covers the province of Viterbo, even extending a bit further north, into the Marche and Tuscany regions, or what was once the land where the ancient Etruscan people lived and thrived.

Canepina is the closest town to the city of Viterbo, the provincial seat. Surrounded by the lush forests of the Colli Cimini hills, it is famed for its history and architecture. Today, the town has also made a name for itself with the extremely popular festivals it holds in the autumn months, including the “Giornate delle Castagne”, or Chestnut Days, one of the area’s oldest celebrations and an event that runs for more than a month.

Brandon from Florida to Canepina

But what exactly is the connection between Brandon’s native Florida and Canepina?

“I knew I was Italian on the side of my mother, Shelly. Her Grandfather had come to America from Canepina. But by the time I was born, he had already passed away. A few years ago, an Italian cousin whom I had never met got in touch with me. It was through her that I learned I had relatives in Canepina. I began exchanging messages with them, and the rest is history. We became one big happy family”

So what started with Brandon’s great-grandpa coming to the United States in search of a better life, as so many Italians had done before him, came full circle with the great-grandson’s almost chance encounter with his Italian family, followed by his very first trip to Canepina, in 2021, a moment that left him feeling “beyond thrilled to recover my Italian heritage,” and even inspired him to start the process for obtaining Italian citizenship.

Since then, Canepina has become something of a second home for Brandon, whose every word, when he speaks of the time he has spent there, makes clear the warm, loving ties he has established with the town.

“This is my second visit. There are over 50 relatives in my extended Italian family, and I always have a great time with them. We speak in Italian, and they treat me with more love than I could possibly have imagined. I can’t get enough of the food, the culture and the warmth I shown to me not only by my relatives, but by the rest of the town as well. I love walking around Canepina. I feel safe and comfortable here.”

He gives me an idea of just how close he is to his Canepinese family: “Almost closer than to my American family. We always hug, kiss and have a great time together. Meals are my favorite moment of any day with them, a great bonding experience. We talk all the time, and they are even planning to come to America to visit. I feel like I’ve found a whole new family here in Canepina”.

As if applying for Italian citizenship weren’t impressive enough, Brandon is also putting himself through a full immersion learning process to get to know everything possible about his new-found Italian heritage. “For a year now, I’ve been going to a school to study Italian, and I take part in all sorts of Facebook groups having to do with Italian ancestry and Italian-American relations”.

But the real question is:  when will he learn the dialect of Italian spoken in Canepina and Canepina alone?! Though no doubt, thanks to all his conversations with his relatives, he will surely have started to pick that up too.

Those of us born and raised in Italy - including American-Italian me - tend to forget how much other people love this country.  And if we add the fact that, at times like the present, drawing strength and comfort from our ancestry can prove especially important. It is easy to see how even a small village like Canepina can make a huge difference in the life of someone living in a whole different part of the world, thanks to nothing more than the power of family and love. Those of us with the good fortune to experience such moments on a daily basis should cherish them.

So, while reflecting on my own experience as an American-Italian living in Canepina, I had to ask Brandon one final question: what exactly does being Italian mean to you?

“It is what I am, and I am what I am. I even have a tattoo on my heart with “Ti amo” and an Italian flag. I’m always speaking Italian with people, and I let them know where my family is from. I’m a very proud Italian”. To which he adds: “I want to help others discover their roots while promoting Canepina, this beautiful place where I will be living in a couple of years, a move that I can’t wait to make.”

Brandon Burnside from Florida to Canepina
Brandon Burnside from Florida to Canepina

Written by:
Benedicta Lee

Born in Rome from an Italian mother and American father, she works as a freelance communications manager and designer in the tourism sector, a career and interest which she is pursuing with a...

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