In October 2014 Diana Manbriani and her partner Francesco Mion were planning a trip to Mexico when, by chance, they discovered in an Italian magazine a short article about Chipilo. They learned that in this Mexican town, many of inhabitants spoke a specific dialect that had descended from the language spoken in Veneto, in northeastern Italy.
They were intrigued since both of them hailed from the area and because Diana had already worked on projects concerning Venetian identity. They decided to investigate more. On the day they arrived in Chipilo, the Mayor of the city, together with the treasurer and a historian, were waiting for them at the main entrance of the City Hall. The greeting party was holding two pennants of Chipilo as a gift. Needless to say, the project was warmly received by the locals.
Chipilo is a small Mexican village with 4,000 inhabitants. What makes it unusual is that it was founded in 1882 by immigrants from the northern Italian region of Veneto. Most of the people who live there, even today, originally came from a single town in Treviso, named Segusino but some also came from the province of Belluno.
At that time in northern Italy, the region was experiencing great economic hardship. So, the down-on-their-luck Venetians emigrated to Mexico to leave behind certain poverty and search for a new life. Meanwhile, Mexico was in great need of immigrants to repopulate the country after its independence. In particular, Mexico was searching for people with agricultural skills who were Catholic. The Venetians perfectly fit the bill. In the years that followed, they developed a renowned production of cheese and also founded a thriving furniture industry.
After 130 years, they are still speaking a Venetian dialect and keep alive some of the Venetian traditions. For example, bocce is popular in the town and on the 6th of January, they burn a puppet filled with paper and straw in the main square.
Even the arrival in Chipilo is incredibly similar to the arrival in any contemporary Venetian villgage. From the window of the bus you can see Italian names of industries and shops, such as “Mobili Segusino,” “Nave Italia,” “Casa Italia,” “La bella pizza” and so on. The only hotel in town is called “Albergo Strada Stretta” and decorated with Italian flags. There’s a big, modern church in the square, which is the heart of Chipilo and, in front of it, under the portico, many cafes where people meet and drink caffè espresso. Even “se vedòn,” which means “see you” in Venetian, is the way locals say goodbye.
The inhabitants of Chipilo are very proud of their origins, but they acquired, over the years, many Mexican traditions too. The result is a strange mixture between the two different cultures that you can see in the above photographs.
— Diambra Mariani and Francesco Mion