top of page

writer, editor, translator

With Your Words in My Hands: The Letters of Antonietta Petris and Loris Palma
With Your Words in My Hands: The Letters of Antonietta Petris and Loris Palma. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2021.

Sonia Cancian

A new perspective on migration from the pages of love letters.


Following Antonietta and Loris's first kiss in the shadows of the Italian Alps barely a year after the end of the Second World War, the couple was divided by a distance far greater than could ever have been imagined. With Antonietta's family moving to Montreal, migration entered the couple's intimate worlds, stretching the distance between them from the two hundred kilometres separating Ampezzo and Venice to the ocean between Montreal and Venice. Throughout their transatlantic separation, the young lovers fervidly wrote to each other until they were reunited in Canada in 1949.

With Your Words in My Hands tells a story about love and migration as written and read, idealized and imagined, through daily correspondence. Sonia Cancian recovers a rare complete epistolary record of an immigrant experience defined by love and sustained in writing, translating the letters with deftness and an ear for the immediacy of emotion and longing they embody. Cancian gives context to these exchanges dating from the beginning of the largest migration movement from Italy to Canada, showing how love, frustration, fear, sadness, and empathy were palpable elements that inflected the quotidian – bureaucratic processes, employment, family life – and defined the experiences of migrants and their transnational families. 

For the countless couples whose love is fragmented by separation but woven together with envelopes and stamps, or onscreen in today's instant messaging, these letters remind us how the experience of distance and proximity, absence and presence, can be reconfigured within the world of intimate correspondence.

"Sonia Cancian has discovered and translated a remarkable set of letters -- eloquent, passionate, detailed -- that speak powerfully to the need to foreground emotion, a still underappreciated theme in the history of migration." Jordan Stanger-Ross, University of Victoria

"A collection of letters by two Italians, Antonietta Petris and Loris Palma, who, letter after letter, weave a hymn to love, lived with the intensity of every feeling, despite the insuperable distance." Francesco D'Arelli, Director, Italian Cultural Institute, Montreal, in conversation with Sonia Cancian. You can listen to the interview below.


Emotional Landscapes: Love, Gender, and Migration
Emotional Landscapes: Love, Gender, and Migration. Urbana, Chicago and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2021. 

Marcelo J. Borges, Sonia Cancian, and Linda Reeder, eds.

Love and its attendant emotions not only spur migration—they forge our response to the people who leave their homes in search of new lives. Emotional Landscapes looks at the power of love, and the words we use to express it, to explore the immigration experience. The authors focus on intimate emotional language and how languages of love shape the ways human beings migrate but also create meaning for migrants, their families, and their societies. Looking at sources ranging from letters of Portuguese immigrants in the 1880s to tweets passed among immigrant families in today's Italy, the essays explore the sentimental, sexual, and political meanings of love. The authors also look at how immigrants and those around them use love to justify separation and loss, and how love influences us to privilege certain immigrants—wives, children, lovers, refugees—over others.

Affecting and perceptive, Emotional Landscapes moves from war and transnational families to gender and citizenship to explore the crossroads of migration and the history of emotion.

Contributors: María Bjerg, Marcelo J. Borges, Sonia Cancian, Tyler Carrington, Margarita Dounia, Alexander Freund, Donna R. Gabaccia, A. James Hammerton, Mirjam Milharèiè Hladnik, Emily Pope-Obeda, Linda Reeder, Roberta Ricucci, Suzanne M. Sinke, and Elizabeth Zanoni.

Migrant Letters: Emotional Language, Mobile Identities, and Writing Practices in Historical Perspective
Migrant Letters: Emotional Language, Mobile Identities, and Writing Practices in Historical Perspective. London and New York: Routledge, 2018. 

Marcelo J. Borges and Sonia Cancian, eds.

The migrant letter, whether written by family members, lovers, friends, or others, is a document that continues to attract the attention of scholars and general readers alike. What is it about migrant letters that fascinates us? Is it nostalgia for a distant, yet desired past? Is it the consequence of the eclipse of letter-writing in an age of digital communication technologies? Or is it about the parallels between transnational experiences in previous mass migrations and in the current globalized world, and the centrality of interpersonal relations, mobility, and communication, then and now?

Influenced by methodologies from diverse disciplines, the study of migrant letters has developed in myriad directions. Scholars have examined migrant letters through such lenses as identity and self-making, family relations, gender, and emotions. This volume contributes to this discussion by exploring the connection between the practice of letter writing and the emotional, economic, familial, and gendered experiences of men and women separated by migration. It combines theoretical and empirical discussions which illuminate a variety of historical experiences of migrants who built transnational lives as they moved across Europe, Africa, Latin America, and the United States. This volume was originally published as a special issue of The History of Family.

Families, Lovers, and Their Letters: Italian Postwar Migration to Canada
Families, Lovers, and Their Letters: Italian Postwar Migration to Canada. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2010. 

Sonia Cancian

Families, Lovers, and their Letters takes us into the passionate hearts and minds of ordinary people caught in the heartbreak of transatlantic migration. It examines the experiences of Italian migrants to Canada and their loved ones left behind in Italy following the Second World War, when the largest migration of Italians to Canada took place.

In a micro-analysis of 400 private letters, including three collections that incorporate letters from both sides of the Atlantic, Sonia Cancian provides new evidence on the bidirectional flow of communication during migration. She analyzes how kinship networks functioned as a means of support and control through the flow of news, objects, and persons; how gender roles in productive and reproductive spheres were reinforced as a means of coping with separation; and how the emotional impact of both temporary and permanent separation was expressed during the migration process. Cancian also examines the love letter as a specific form of epistolary exchange, a first in Italian immigrant historiography, revealing the powerful effect that romantic love had on the migration experience.

You give me words, you deliver them, dispensed one by one, my own, while turning them toward yourself and addressing them to yourself.

Jacques Derrida

bottom of page