INTERVIEW & PHOTOGRAPHY BY GEORGIA HILMER
Your necklace features your grandfather's name Felice. How would you describe the role of family in your life?
EMMA: Part of my upbringing was being mindful of my past. I think family is complex and can be difficult at times whether it's your immediate family or your chosen one. Sometimes its not necessary to be attached to particular aspects of your history. Despite this, it is what makes you who are. It is fascinating to dissect the particles that make up your history.
Place seems to be a significant factor for you too, much of your extended family lives nearby where you grow up. What was it like to grow up with the stories and legends of your grandmothers and other relatives so present in your life?
I think about how my great grandmother would unspool an entire bobbin of thread and send it in an envelope to her family in Italy. She never saw them again after she migrated to America, but literally did everything she could to give them a better life. I think this mentality is special. I am lucky to have grown up with both my grandparents in the Bronx. More closely to my grandmothers since both my grandfathers died in the early 2000’s. I think overcoming hardships, wars and poverty have inspired me to be grateful for what I have. My paternal grandparents fled from Germany as Jewish refugees. Life was much more dire. Their choices and sacrifices shaped my own generation's possibilities for a better life.
Why did you choose to highlight Felice for this project?Why did you choose to highlight Felice for this project? How did his wife, your grandma, react to the necklace? What is it like to make a “new” (potential) heirloom?
I actually haven’t spoken to her about it. I think it's going to be hard to talk about. It’s difficult to see a name of a person that no longer exists. The weight of just a couple letters strung together feels heavy. I think my Grandmother will feel prideful that I made this choice. “Felice” was partially chosen because he is a big part of my maternal family that hasn’t been acknowledged for a while. His impact is not forgotten but he is not always at the surface of our family discussions. Constant stories and remembering give his name life, nearly two decades after his passing. My grandmother thinks of him in everything she does. In the food she cooks and the daily routine she follows. Maybe that is why she does not want to move out of her third floor walkup apartment where they shared a life of fifty years together. It is a piece of him she can hold onto. I like to imagine what it would be like knowing him as an adult. He died when I was ten years old. The memories I have of him are small but choosing his name would make me remember all that I can make up of him. All that I can envision of him.