Argentina, my beloved home, is in a state of flux. I’ve only just turned 32, yet I feel as though I’ve aged 20 years in the past 12 months. I’ve seen things that I could never have imagined possible 10 years ago – families torn apart by Onganía’s men, creative thinking and beautiful creation repressed – but I was a young, naive boy then. Now, I find myself a grown man, yet never before have I felt simultaneously as disconnected and reliant on my family as now. Both my father, Giovanni di Chiellini, and mother Maria can’t relate to what me and the people of my country are experiencing, but I want more than anything for them to see why I feel a responsibility to act. A responsibility to save the country I love.
My parents immigrated to Mendoza from Napoli before I was born, and still claim their Italian heritage over their Argentinian nationality. As my father often told me when I was young, “we are Italians first, Diego, wear il Tricolore with pride.” But Argentina is all I’ve ever known. I’ve never so much stepped foot on Italian soil, how am I to claim it as my own? As with many things, this was a point of contention between me and my father. The fact is, we belong to two different worlds – and unfortunately seems we always will. My father grew up with nothing – the youngest child of 8 born to a father who worked odd-jobs to make ends meet and a mother who sold home made baked goods to earn just enough money to help clothe her children, while I was raised as the oldest of three in a home, that while never exactly affluent, always had an excess of food on its table. It’s odd though, you see, that we’ve never seen eye to eye, as there’s nothing more my father and I love than futbol and books (and maybe my mother’s indescribable lasagna). My father, now rotund from years upon years of by my mother’s cooking (she owns and runs a small bakery, and is the reason for Italian-mother stereotypes), owns a bookstore. But once, he played professionally for Napoli Foot-Ball Club. It was his talent on the pitch that got him out of the slums of Napoli and into Argentina.
Two years into his career, he met my mother, and as she has said so many times “I don’t believe in love at first sight, but when I first saw your father, it was love at first sight.” They both uprooted the lives they had (my father giving up the game he loved for the women he adored, my mother leaving behind a stand on Via Achille Torelli where she sold fresh flowers every morning), and my father took his club earnings and they both went to start a new life in Argentina. “Futbol was my first love, Diego, but your mother is my greatest,” he responded when I inquired to why he didn’t stay in Italy and play when I was 8 years old, “and if I hadn’t given it up, we wouldn’t have had you.”
Eventually though, as I grew older and my father morphed from an idolized figure to a man haunted by the life he could have had, we began to clash. Talking of futbol and the work of Gaetano Polidori was no longer enough to keep our relationship in tact, and conflict became a unavoidable part of our daily routine. I believe my father saw what he could have been in what I was becoming, and when I accepted my first professional contract to play for San Martín de Mendoza I moved away from my family and into a small flat of my own – and temporarily out of my father’s life. It is here that I now find myself- back with San Martín after having spent 10 wonderful years with the Azul y Oro of Boca Juniors. I’ve had a what many have deemed a successful futbol career, and one that has garnered me a fair amount of fame as an Argentine national in the 1962 and 1966 World Cups. But more importantly, futbol has given me financial stability and an outlet for my voice to be heard. Unfortunately, though, this is no longer the Argentina that I grew up in – the Argentina that I love – and because of this I am forced to live in constant fear. Fear of waking up to another friend dead. Fear that my mother and father aren’t safe. Fear that the next rap on my door will be the knuckles of one of Onganía’s men. And a fear that the next person in power will be even worse – and I can’t help but ask myself: is life lived in fear really a life at all?