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Italifornians of Note

The Third Wave

 

The Third Wave was part of In Cerca di Una Nuova Vita, a Museo Italo-Americano retrospective exhibition, the three waves of Italian Immigration to California since the middle of the 1800s. In Cera di Una Nuova Vita was co-curated by curators Mary Stainer, Alessandro Baccari, and Paolo Pontoniere. Paolo Pontoniere curated The Third Wave. It retraces the experience of the last historical Wave of Italian Immigration to California, explores the contribution of Italian technology talents to the mystique of Silicon Valley, and the affirmation of the California Dream. Nowadays, a new wave of Italian immigrants, the 4th Wave, is arriving in California enticed by the immense potential for innovation and the technological IQ offered by the Greater Bay Area of San Francisco, and the digital lure of Hollywood. 

 
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TECHNOLOGY

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ARTS

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BUSINESS

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MEDICINE

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SEXY BEFORE APPLE

This documentary was produced  for Sexy Before Apple an exhibition that the Computer History Museum hosted in March of 2013 for "The Year of Italian Culture in the United States." Curated by Paolo Pontoniere with the collaboration of Alex Bochannek and Kritstern Tashev. The exhibit explored the Italian contribution to the creation of the Silicon Valley Mystique, and the rise of California's technological dream.

 
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ITALIANS BY THE BAY

Italians By The Bay examines how immigrants' lives have changed from leaving their homes in Italy to moving to the Bay Area. With the current events in Italy and Italian being the fastest dying language in the United States, this documentary touches the cultural dynamics, motivations, and difficulties of uprooting their lives and starting anew. The rich history of Italian immigrants in the Bay Area is celebrated, looking into their astonishing contributions to our current society."

Film director Annalisa Siagura states, “This film weaves together the stories of Italians here who have pursued their dream and taken chances that may not have been possible for them back in their home country. The Italian spirit fully shines as our subjects takes us through their reasons of a new life in America, the difficulty of uprooting their lives and starting anew. I made this film because I wanted to offer fresh insights into the lives of Italian immigrants. I have done this by revealing their complex and inspirational stories as they create a more just world for themselves, their families, and people around them. Italians By The Bay offers a new angle on immigrants, finally feeling at home after taking enormous chances to start a new life.

 
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PICTURES FROM OUR LIVES

A parallel photographic history of Italy and California

Is this a project? A game? A collective collage?... It is all three things put together. 

Dear visitor, the photos that you will encounter in this section of the Almanac relate to salient historical events that took place in Italy between the last 30 years of the 20th century, and the first decade of the 21st. We aim to construct a parallel historical line, visually, comparing what life was like in Italy during those years and what it was like for the Italians who had migrated to California. We hope that this section will come together over time with your participation. Reader, please play with us…

Contribute images of what you, your family, your friends, your loved ones were living during the same years after your arrival here in the US and California.

The photos of Italy’s historical events contained in this section were kindly provided by Italy’s news agency ANSA to Paolo Pontoniere on the occasion of In Cerca di Una Nuova Vita and to be used for the realization of other exhibitions dealing with the Italian American epic like Sexy Before Apple.

 

The 1980s

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The 1990s

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The 2000s

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The Fabulous Fior -

Over 100 Years in an Italian Kitchen

by Francine Brevetti

    Here is a tale of cookery and passion, as lived by Italian-American immigrants in San Francisco from the Gold Rush through Prohibition, the 1906 Earthquake and Fire and world wars to the 21st century. It includes thirty classic recipes.

    It was my aim to chronicle the lives of the immigrant families who created the Fior D'Italia, America's oldest Italian restaurant, I attempted to bring life to the difficulties of operating a restaurant during Prohibition, the trials of conducting business under the upstairs brothel, and the challenges of pleasing VIPs such as Richard M. Nixon and Luciano Pavarotti. 

    When the then Fior proprietors, Bob and Jinx Larive, commissioned me to write this book, they reasoned that they were not connected to the restaurant’s origins as previous owners had been.

    This was why they wanted to write the history of this beloved eatery. “We didn’t want to lose all those stories,” Bob said.

    This commission was a gift for me. I had been out of the country for many years, returning yearly only to visit mamma. But with this project I was immediately put back to my roots and my past, delving into the history my mother had recounted throughout my childhood. Oh the characters I met!

    Thank you, mamma.

Click the cover to read or download this fabulous book

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Sadly, I recently read of the passing of Diane Di Prima. She was a Poet Laureate in her adopted City by the Bay, San Francisco.

 

She was born in New York City, not in a melting pot, but a bubbling pot in the Italian neighborhoods of old Brooklyn. While coming from a relatively middle class Italian American stock, she was influenced by her Italian Anarchist grandfather to literally live her life her way.  And she did, and quite brilliantly too.  A fascinating biography of her life can be found, as written by Sam Whiting, in the San Francisco Chronicle, October 29, 2020, Section B2, for those who are curious about her amazing journey.

 

She was already on her literary career path when she moved to San Francisco in the 1960s drawn to the exciting artistic vibes of the unique San Francisco Renaissance. She literally became a voice for feminism by just being a major voice in a very male-dominated legendary "Beat Movement" centered in 1950-1960 San Francisco. 

 

Interesting and maybe ironically, the heart of the Beat Movement was among the Italian neighborhoods of Old North Beach and upper Grant Avenue.  Eventually, she even bought a home in the very San Francisco Italian neighborhood of the Excelsior District which was not really that far from her cultural roots in Brooklyn.  Like North Beach, some of these East Coast neighborhoods were bastions of Italian Americana.

 

Even so, when I was a tyke and visiting family in North Beach, I was warned against visiting the beatnik area of upper Grant, which was only a couple of blocks from the old home. Of course, that is where my walks took me.  North Beach at the time was also in transition and many of the inhabitants, including my family, wanted to move to the country, Marin, San Mateo, and Santa Clara County so there was that transition going on at the same time. 

 

Reflecting now on the Beats, I don't think it was an accident that they became ensconced in our old neighborhoods.  It always was a Latin Quarter settlement, full of clubs, bars, excellent restaurants, and social centers.  It truly was an exciting urban village within The City.  If it was not always welcoming, it was very tolerant of the diversity of the time with an a-live-and-let-live attitude that fostered and nurtured a very creative lifestyle. And that is Italian too.

 

Italian Americans were also well represented in the multi-cultural Beat movement too. Aside from Diane, the last holdout was Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the owner of the legendary City Light Bookstore.  Between City Light and the bar Vesuvio's, on Columbus Avenue (dare we use that name!) and across from the Tosca Caffe was a little bootblack stand run by my grandfather Luigi Borrelli, 

 

My ramblings in North Beach took me to Caffe Trieste on Grant Avenue where I first tasted machine espresso, as opposed to the Neapolitan Style. I can still smell the coffee roasting establishments along Green Street.  Some of the Italian American Beat exiles that found refuge in North Beach included Gregory Corso, Philip Lamantia (related to a part of the Lamantia clan of San Jose), Jay De Feo, Robert LaVigne, and (technically not a beat) Benny Bufano and of course Enrico Banducci and his place on Broadway not too far from the very wild Finocchio's.  A little south was the old Barbary Coast, which was the limit of old North Beach and my meanderings. Most of the "beats," Diane Di Prima included, were beyond the box thinkers and even today, while we celebrate the Beat movement in the abstract, we still keep our distance from their social experiences.

 

As Italian Americans, there is a lot about our history that goes under the radar and Diane Di Prima's passing is a timely reminder of this observation.  It also underscores the need to preserve and document our roots. You are not going to find these tales in any California history book unless we share them. "Omaggio a Diane!" 

 
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The 150th Anniversary of the establishment of the modern state of Italy has got me thinking lately about our own Italian American Heritage and some of the major differential experiences between Italians and Italian Americans. 

 

Assimilation aside, the rich and varied Italian American experience has had some very unique outcomes which have contributed to the forging of a distinct Italian American character. Those dynamics share a commonality of process with every other group in this land of "e Pluribus Unum” (out of many one). What differs is the twists and turns of history and how the responses of each community impacted its members and their place in American society in general. 

 

As American history relates to Italian Americans then, I want to highlight 3 crucial epochs and their influence upon the forging of an Italian American identity. Those epochs are: 1) The Age of Discovery; 2) The Volstead Act (prohibition); and 3) the World War Two years. 

 

THE AGE OF DISCOVERY

 

While the general consensus is that Native Americans did not need to be discovered, (read for example, 1491, the national bestseller by Charles Mann) Italian Americans strongly identify with those sons of the Renaissance who hired out to the major western powers of the time, in their explorations in the new world. Columbus takes on iconic stature amongst many Italian Americans, but equally important was the role of John and Sebastian Cabot (Caboto), Amerigo Vespucci, and Giovanni di Verrazzano, amongst others. Fast-forward to the 1880s when the great Trans-Atlantic migration from Italy to the USA began the role of these larger-than-life Italian explorers became vital links and associations between the immigrant and their new homeland. Those times were very difficult for these new immigrants. Language, religion, cultural barriers, and misunderstandings created a very difficult social climate for many of our contadini ancestors, culminating in widespread discrimination and hostility.

 

Columbus et.al. were powerful reminders to the host country that at least as individuals, Italians were part of the founding and or development of the Americas. As a people there was some sense of being part of the tapestry of the country, and that our roots in the new world even predated the Mayflower. Ironically, today, 500 years later, regretfully, you would be hard-pressed to find very much content in a US history text about the contribution of Italian Americans to the development of the country -- save "the age of discovery", and the saga of Christopher Columbus.

 

THE VOLSTEAD ACT

 

The 18th amendment to the US Constitution prohibited the sale and distribution of intoxicating liquors. The legislation was froth with unintended consequences for Italian Americans, many of which we are still dealing with today. To say there was a major sociocultural gap between mainstream American and Italian American values regarding the use of alcohol is an understatement. The reaction by Italian Americans to the 18th amendment verged on incomprehensibility to passive resistance. Alcohol, especially in the form of wine, was an important part of our culinary traditions, and an easy leap into sharing and selling surplus wines and spirits to mainstream America. Italian American reaction to Prohibition, also spawned or reinforced a number of stereotypes about Italian Americans especially as it related to bootlegging, organized criminal activities, and gangsterism. All to the thrill and advantage to the emerging Hollywood film industry, along with grist for pulp novels and the media in general. While many other ethnic groups were equally opposed to Prohibition, the late 1900 s had large Italian American communities, which exhibited very little sympathy for the Volstead Act. As Italian Americans, the "gangster and Mafioso stereotype" created a strange niche for perceptions of Italian Americans for mainstream America. One major and serious unintended consequence for both sides of the Atlantic regarding prohibition was to make the sales of liquor very lucrative and provided an opportunity for petty criminals in many ethnic groups to accumulate large sums of capital and more effectively improve their criminal businesses and expansion. While much of mainstream America was also involved in the prohibition experience, Italian Americans definitely lost the image war! It was no accident that the clash in cultural values also saw the same Congress upon passing the Volstead Act in 1919, severely limit immigration (1921-1924) from Southern and Eastern Europe (but at least we had Columbus)!

 

WORLD WAR II

 

This is the last epoch to be highlighted. It created major conflicts between Italy and Italian American consciousness. Up until war was declared in 1941 between the USA and Italy, the community's opinion of Fascism and Mussolini's Italy was very divided. Navigating the political issues of the day became a very painful experience, especially for those with family in Italy, and remained so throughout the war years and beyond. Even local Italian American organizations could not transcend these divisive issues. Once war was declared, any perceived umbilical cord between Italian Americans and Italy was cut. Italian Americans were the largest single ethnic group serving in the US Armed Forces. The war also hastened the assimilation process, the migration out of the “old neighborhoods" and a widening cultural gap between Italy and Americans of Italian descent. One of the first victims of the gap was the use of the Italian language itself, along with Italian American media and institutions. Italian became the enemy's language, along with a general identity with things Italian. What became particularly important for Italian Americans was the extended family support systems and their rituals which became the building blocks of reconstructed institutions. The war years also saw many families with roots in Italy completely severed. During the post-war era of the 50s, newer Italian immigrants came to the US, from war-devastated  Europe. Not necessarily sharing the same baggage (especially from the 1920s to the 1950s) that the pre-war Italian American communities experienced, they assimilated in a different way especially regarding their connectedness to things Italian and contributed in their own way to a cultural healing and promotion of a more modern Italian image.

 

Many of the areas we touched upon in this superficial overview of an Italian-American identity are the subject of research, dialogue, and many publications. Some of these issues are still not fully assessed nor understood. This article does not even assume to do this subject justice.

 

Hopefully, however, the article can engage your interest, and serve to increase your appreciation of Italian American life in all its complexities, as well as transcend some of the myths and stereotypes that have become part of mainstream Americana. I also want to point out that for the month of April, one small part of this saga, La Storia Segreta, the internment and sanctions against Italian Americans during World War II, will be highlighted in a special exhibit at the Martin Luther King Main Library and a discussion too at the IAHF on April 10, 2011. We encourage you to be a part of this ongoing dialogue and welcome your thoughts and opinions on this and similar subject matter of Italian American Heritage. Happy 150th Year Of Italian Nationhood and Italian American History!

-- Reprinted from IAHF NEWS, April 2011

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The Real Da Vinci Code
by Caroline Cocciardi

Caroline Cocciardi discusses the wonders and secrets of Leonardo Da Vinci’s hidden messages in his paintings. It’s a remarkable conversation that will have you scrolling online after looking for these secrets and learning about the humanity within the art.

Caroline Cocciardi is a filmmaker and writer. Her book Leonardo’s Knots is a fascinating read and available here: https://www.amazon.com/Leonardos-Knots-Leonardo-Vinci/dp/B07MB8BBMT

 
 
Winding Roads
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"You know what,

two of the birds just died

Mi doli propriu u cori, amariceddi

(I can't tell you how sorry I feel, poor things)"

 

"Did the frost kill them?"

 

"No, they'd made it through

the frost

And then I went and fed them

lettuce.

 

You know, I made a salad

Used the inside leaves for us,

Washed and dried the ones outside,

(as I used to do all the time)

and gave it to them.

Some of the birds didn't want them,

but Gina and the canary ate them.

Next morning  I found them

belly up dead.

Cu sapi quanti porcherii ci mentunu

(Who knows what kind of crap they put on it).

It was so sad...... the canary

had just started to sing,

and I can't get another one

'cause now they cost 90 dollars."

 

She told me this

almost blushing

Like it wasn't important enough

for her daughter with lotssa education

who wrote and taught things she didn't understand

and argued until she stuttered

about things that seemed extreme.

 

This she told me as we walked

through velvet green hills

on a path snaking away from the street

where 100 Sunday hikers parked their cars,

winding away from the wounds inflicted on the hills

where every day 1000s of tons of rock were drained

and turned into cement and gravel

for other cars to drive on.

 

Pina Piccolo, 1995, from the unpublished collection “Avatars in the Borderlands”

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

This story is based on my experience as an interpreter in the 1990’s in Northern California, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area.  My work led me to become familiar with many aspect of working class Italian American life especially of people who had immigrated to the US from the 1950’s on because in legal or medical situation they required a qualified interpreter to translate the questions and answers of lawyers and medical personnel for official records.  So I was privileged to  have access to a wide array of the Italian American experience of that generation.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

Pina Piccolo is a bilingual writer, translator, and cultural promoter born in California from Calabrian parents who immigrated there in the 1950’s.  She has lived between Italy and California, spending big chunks of time in each country.  She publishes poetry, essays and short-stories both in Italian journals and in English, internationally.  Her Italian poetry collection "I canti dell’Interregno" was published in 2018 by Lebeg Edizioni and her unpublished English language poetry manuscript “Avatars in the Borderlands” awaits any sign of interest from publishers. She is editor-in-chief of the digital journal “The Dreaming Machine” and one of the editors of “La macchina sognante”. She blogs at pinapiccolosblog/ilblogdipinapiccolo

 
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“Quick, stop her, don’t you see she is bringing him a cappuccino?”

Ma si può essere così sceme da entrare lì dentro con il vassoietto di cartone da due tazze, cosí in bella vista? Roba da commedia all’italiana e scena con garzone da bar, mica la giusta entrata di una competente seppur ancillare macchina converti-lingua, a cui non si chiedono moti cerebrali propri. Ed eccomi all’ingresso del lungo corridoio, costeggiato da carrelli metallici con vari oggetti di scena riposti sui ripiani, eccomi lí a scusarmi con l’aria da cervo accecato dagli abbaglianti: “Oh, he can’t drink it? I thought it would cheer him up, remind him of his country.” Questa mia apologetica affermazione con richiami alla nostalgia del proprio paese viene accolta con sguardi di commiserazione. Vade retro dilettante, lascia fare agli addetti ai lavori! Loro invece sí che la sanno lunga sui reconditi sentieri cerebrali, su quando s’ingarbugliano e ti portano per selve oscure, loro sì che sanno aiutare la gente a districarsi.

 

Comunque me la perdonano (vista anche la difficoltà a trovarne un’altra competente nei dialetti gallo-italici). Un’inserviente strappa dal vassoio una delle due tazze di carta e la rovescia nel cestino indicandomi l’uscita se voglio andare a bere il mio. Decido lí per lí di non arrendermi. Faccio cenno che esco a bermi il mio cappuccino, e trascorso un lasso di tempo credibile rientro con aria compunta chiedendo come stia John oggi. “The usual. At least he didn’t cry all day. Why don’t you go get him and walk him to his group?” Preparata da questo quadro poco allettante della situazione psicologica del “Cliente” dell’agenzia di traduzioni che mi ha assunto, mi avvio, busso e mi richiudo la porta dietro estraendo dalla borsa il cappuccino clandestino, “Ma u l’e’ freidu, ti m’e’ purtou in cappûcciu zeou.“ “Mi dispiace Giovanni lo so che il cappuccino è gelato, ma mi hanno intercettato, devo essere più cauta la prossima volta. E adesso bisogna andare a fare la terapia di gruppo’’. “Quella bagascia de mè cugna’, se nu mi nun saieva chi. Appena u l’e’ mortu mè frè, a nun vedeiva l’ua de liberase de mi.”  Sempre la solita solfa, la sua situazione è colpa di “quella puttana” di sua cognata che non vedeva l’ora di liberarsi di lui non appena morto suo fratello. Gli sorrido e gli prendo il braccio guidandolo verso la sala della terapia.

 

Bella collezione, una specie di ONU della demenza, tutti i gruppi etnici rappresentati in varie fasi di “disagio”. Nel mezzo un biondino smilzo ed occhialuto dall’aria comprensiva e la sua giovane assistente cino-americana dallo sguardo dolce e rassicurante. Ambientino allegro, pieno di luce, morbida moquette giallastra, poltrone rivestite di tappezzerie dai colori vivaci, riviste tipo anticamera del dentista, qualche libro con fotografie di luoghi esotici. Poi un’infinità di locandine con orari degli autobus, programmi di palestre e piscine, attività dei senior center, le varie offerte dei Community College, le attività e i servizi delle biblioteche di quartiere. Alcune delle brochure sono in spagnolo e in cinese. L’hanno appena ristrutturato Herrick Hospital. Fino all’anno scorso c’erano i pavimenti di linoleum e la parte incerata andava fino a metà parete. Pare che venisse considerato più igienico. Più facile da pulire. A quell’epoca anche il personale sembrava più incazzato. Adesso invece perfino lo staff sembra rinato: hanno sguardi cordiali si muovono con dinamismo come trascinati da un élan vitale che elude i ricoverati, che invece si muovono con passi pesanti, inzavorrati dagli psicofarmaci. Forse sono ancora così pimpanti perché molti li hanno assunti da poco; dagli ancora qualche anno e vedrai…

 

Lo Smilzo solare scambia qualche battuta con quelli più svegli, poi, una volta raggiunto il quorum incomincia il suo lavoro*: “Good morning. Good to see you all. And now let’s see how everybody is doing… Jason, you seem cheerful today. I see you have picked up some schedules. Do you wanna tell us what you plan to do when you leave here?” Il ragazzo si guarda intorno impacciato, come se tradito in un suo piano segreto. “Oh, nothing much, Mr. Woods. You know I can’t drive with the medication. .. it’s hard to get around. My friends are all in school and my mom works”. Il suo vicino, un signore sulla quarantina dall’aria superiore bofonchia: “Why am I here? I don’t want to be in this group!” “Please be patient, Dr. Samuelson, we’ll address your concerns later. Rose, you are good at taking buses. Do you want to tell Jason how he can get around in Berkeley?” Poi mi fissa per vedere se sto facendo il mio lavoro. Io sussurro nell’orecchio di Giovanni, per non disturbare il resto dei partecipanti, ma so benissimo che è duro d’orecchi e per di più non gliene frega niente. Rose, una vecchina giapponese sorride. Si sente prescelta, lo Smilzo l’ha strappata alla sua invisibilità, la fa sentire utile. “Mr. Woods, I use to take rail everywhere. You know I live in Berkeley a lon time. Near where now Ashby Bart station, there was rail cars, Lorin station, you go everywhere: to Oakland, to San Francisco, to the bay. So fast. But when I come back from internment camp, you know I was there four years, I was 18 years old when I come back, station no more there, they put buses and then Bart, now the buses don’t work so good. You have to wai a lon time.” Una lezione sulla storia dei trasporti pubblici di Berkeley… per non parlare delle possibili polemiche su come avevano trattato i giapponesi. Non esattamente quello che voleva sentire, ma lo Smilzo non demorde. Nel frattempo una ragazza afroamericana si alza, non ce la fa a stare seduta a sentire queste chiacchiere insulse, con la scusa di fare pipì se ne va a fumarsi una sigaretta. C’è una stanza in cui è ancora possibile farlo, lì c’è anche il tavolo da ping pong, magari riesce a rimediare una partitina. Potrebbe ancora esserci Ramona se non l’hanno dimessa. Quella sì che è una in gamba. Era riuscita perfino a farsi portare del fumo da suo fratello. Difficile da mascherare quell’aroma. Allora Ramona, quella furbastra si era inventata di essere buddista e che per ricreare un’atmosfera consona alla meditazione doveva bruciare almeno tre bastoncini di incenso. Si erano divertite da matte la settimana scorsa, la roba era anche di ottima qualità, Mendocino Gold, al fratello di Ramona la forniva il postino che aveva un fratello coltivatore diretto nella California del Nord.

 

“So John, how are you today? I understand that Dr. Holbrook said you can leave next week after he speaks with your sister-in-law and your nephews. Have you thought about what you want to do when you get out? You are doing a lot better now.“ “Giovanni, il dottore vuole sapere se hai pensato a quello che vuoi fare quando esci da qui. La settimana prossima, dopo che vede tua cognata e i tuoi nipoti, ti dimettono perché adesso stai molto meglio”. Udite queste parole Giovanni scoppia a piangere. Ora interviene l’assistente. L’hanno assunta anche perché oltre a essere brava appartiene a una minoranza e “potrebbe quindi ottimizzare il rapporto con gli utenti” di Herrick, una buona fetta dei quali appartiene a gruppi etnici non caucasici. Infatti, mentre lo Smilzo parlava, si era messa a ripassarsi possibili approcci per gli utenti. Guardando John cercava di mettere a fuoco –Ma gli italiani sono una minoranza etnica? Loro sono un po’ in mezzo, in Ethnic Studies ci avevano fatto la storia dell’evoluzione del concetto di bianco, e secondo loro per molti anni gli italiani non ci rientravano, specialmente quelli del sud. Ah, sì tra le cose paradossali c’era il fatto che i contratti di affitto avevano condizioni diverse per immigrati italiani a seconda se erano meridionali o settentrionali. Ma Genoa dove diavolo sta: al nord o al sud dell’Italia?– Si avvicina al nonno e comincia ad accarezzargli le spalle e gli fa**,”But John, think how much better it will be out there. You can take walks. You can take the bus and go to Strawberry Creek, to the Botanical Garden. You live in the Temescal area, right? You know at the library they have all sorts of interesting programs. You know, the Colombo club is right there. Sometimes you can go and visit with your old buddies. And then, if you have a problem, you can tell your sister-in-law, she can help you.” Non l’avesse mai detto. Per quanto la scheda clinica ricordasse che “in seguito ai trattamenti effettuati, il paziente presenta un accresciuto deficit nella padronanza della lingua inglese”, quella parola – sister-in –law – è impressa indelebilmente nella sua mente. Giovanni reagisce, raccoglie quelle poche forze che gli restano e tira su dal profondo quelle striminzite parole di inglese che gli sono rimaste dopo la terza serie di “trattamenti”. “My sister-in-law, she hate me. I no take the bus. I fall. I no cook, I cry all time.” Lo Smilzo e l’assistente adesso mi guardano incerti. Vorrebbero che intervenissi, che lo convincessi che fuori è meglio, che ce la può fare. Ora dovrei smettere di fare la macchina converti-parole e trasformarmi in una specie di wonderwoman dall’eloquio suadente, per tirarli fuori dal pantano in cui si sono cacciati. Spiacente, cercatevene un’altra e auguri. Io sono paralizzata. Sono giorni ormai che non faccio che pensare a Giovanni chiuso in quello stanzino, le braccia e le gambe immobilizzate e gli elettrodi sulla testa. Cervello fritto e non siamo in cucina. Negli ultimi cinque anni gli hanno fatto ben tre “courses” di questa meraviglia tecnologica, unico prodotto del Made in Italy di cui avrebbe volentieri fatto a meno. Trattamenti necessari perché bisognava scuoterlo. Perché era sempre triste, non aveva voglia di fare niente. E pensare che, per quanto mi aveva detto “la cugnà” Irma, durante la sessione di briefing per l’interprete, si erano sforzati a portarlo qui da Genova. Gigi, il fratello maggiore aveva trovato lavoro in una cava a Pleasant Hill e lì avevano sempre bisogno di mano d’opera. Poteva portarci anche suo fratello, che forse non era un genio, ma era forte ed un gran lavoratore. Tutti i lavoratori della cava li avevano sistemati in un quartiere, a quell’epoca un po’ squallido di Oakland (ma ora ricercatissimo), il Temescal. Lì c’erano già tanti altri italiani. Tanto stavano bene tra di loro. Avevano aperto due o tre delicatessen dove potevano comprarsi gli alimenti da WOP (WOP cioè without papers = senza documenti, termine derogatorio appioppiato agli italiani immigrati, spesso alternato al termine Dago, di incerta etimologia). Prima della globalizzazione, per alimenti da WOP bisognava intendere le pallide imitazioni che si potevano ottenere usando ingredienti MADE IN USA, quindi il pane industriale tipo sourdough bread Colombo (che almeno aveva un minimo di crosta), il caffè bruciato denominato Medaglia D’Oro, la pasta fatta con la farina di grano tenero che si scuoceva subito. La mozzarella veniva dal Wisconsin e non era più un formaggio fresco. Del salame meglio non parlarne. Però erano le cose che più si avvicinavano ai loro sapori. Sempre meglio delle porcherie che mangiavano i “mangia-checcha” o “cake eaters” mangiatori di torta americani. C’erano due o tre pizzerie, ma in realtà ci andavano gli americani perché gli italiani mangiavano meglio in casa. Quei soldi che facevano se li mettevano da parte per tornare al loro paese. Ogni tanto magari potevano andare al Colombo Club, al club La Fratellanza, ma il guaio erano quelli di seconda o terza generazione, gli italoamericani. Una parola d’italiano non la sapevano e non facevano altro che bere. Ormai si era trasformato in un club per ubriaconi. E in tutto questo Giovanni che c’entrava? Aveva imparato l’essenziale, quel poco di inglese che sapeva gli serviva per farsi capire quando entrava nei negozi o prendeva l’autobus. Tanto sull’autobus per la cava di Pleasant Hill erano tutti paesani, piemontesi o genovesi, quindi era come essere a Zena. Il mare però non c’era. L’aveva fatto tutti i giorni, alzandosi alle cinque e mezza, per quasi trent’anni. All’inizio aveva abitato da suo fratello, poi con i soldi messi da parte si era comprato un appartamentino e viveva da solo. Ogni tanto sua cognata lo aiutava, gli stirava le camicie, o gli faceva le grandi pulizie in casa, ma lui si era abituato ad andare alla lavanderia a gettoni e a cucinarsi da solo. A sessantacinque anni era andato in pensione. Il quartiere nel frattempo era cambiato. Gli italiani che avevano i soldi si erano trasferiti nei sobborghi, terrorizzati dal crimine e dalla vicinanza dei neri con cui ormai dividevano il quartiere. Fino a quando Gigi era vivo le cose avevano in qualche modo funzionato. Quando gli prendeva la tristezza facevano una passeggiata insieme. Andavano al porto di Oakland o a China Basin, a San Francisco. Certo che lavorare 30 anni in una cava per gente di mare non è proprio il massimo. Ma quando erano arrivati loro non era semplice entrare nel sindacato dei portuali, e, visto che senza quella tessera non c’era speranza, avevano preso quello che passava il convento. I due fratelli, ormai pieni di acciacchi qualche volta andavano a vedersi le corse dei cavalli al Golden Gate Fields e se proprio gli andava bene, prendevano quegli autobus organizzati per pensionati e si facevano una capatina ai casinò di Reno, nel Nevada, non c’erano ancora i Casinò degli Indiani dietro l’angolo come ci sono adesso. Giocavano alle macchinette, per ore a inserire cinquini o quarters. Quando proprio gli prendeva la nostalgia si mettevano ad ascoltare i vecchi dischi di Carlo Buti e Claudio Villa e dopo un po’ gli passava. Il guaio era venuto poi, quando era morto Gigi, la tristezza non era piu’ andata via e la cognata disperata l’aveva portato dal medico per quelle cose di testa. Le avevano promesso che lo potevano curare, che con qualche scossa sarebbe tornato normale, (quasi nuovo insomma)…

A me invece la scossa arriva dalla voce dello Smilzo che mi riporta al presente, *“Ms Piccolo, please tell him that tomorrow morning we want him to come to the meeting with Dr. Holbrook and his family.” Per fortuna non aveva pronunciato la parola fatale, “sister-in-law”. Glielo comunico, Giovanni mi guarda e non mi vede, risucchiato nell’orbita della sua tristezza.

 

*Italiani, popolo assuefatto al doppiaggio, non temete, adesso vi aiuto con le didascalie così non dovrete arrovellarvi il cervello per capire le lingue del potere. Putroppo di questo servizio i malcapitati migranti non ne hanno potuto usufruire e si sono dovuti arrangiare capendo forse una parola su tre. Questo naturalmente ha poi dato pane a gente come me, italiane acculturate assoldate dalla legge per eliminare ambiguità e malintesi nelle interlocuzioni a sfondo ufficiale.

 

Dialogo a pagina 3:

 

Smilzo: Buongiorno . Sono contento di vedervi tutti qui. E adesso vediamo un po’ come vanno le cose. Jason, oggi mi sembri di buon umore. Vedo che hai preso delle brochure. Vorresti dirci cosa intendi fare quando verrai dimesso?” […] Ragazzo: “ Oh, non potrò fare molto Sig. Woods. Lo sa che non posso guidare dopo aver preso gli psicofarmaci… è difficile spostarsi. I miei amici sono tutti a scuola e mia mamma lavora” […] Signore distinto “Perché sono qui? Non voglio essere in questo gruppo!” Smilzo“ Abbia pazienza, Dott. Samuelson, più tardi prenderemo in considerazione il suo caso” […] Smilzo “ Rose, tu sei brava a prendere l’autobus. Vuoi spiegare a Jason come ci si muove in autobus a Berkeley?” Rose “Sig. Woods, una volta prendo tram tutte parti. Sai vivo a Berkeley molti anni. Dove ora c’è stazione metro Bart, una volta tram, puoi andare dove vuoi, a Oakland, San Francisco, baia. Velocissimo. Ma quando tornata da campo internamento , sai sono stata lì quattro anni, avevo 18 anni quando tornata, stazione non c’è più, messo autobus poi Bart, e ora autobus non buoni, devi aspettare tanto tempo.”

 

Dialogo pagina 5:

 

**Psicologa “Ma John, pensa a quanto sarà più bello fuori da qua. Puoi fare passeggiate. Puoi prendere l’autobus e andare a Strawberry Creek, all’Orto botanico. Abiti nel quartiere Temescal, vero? Lì in biblioteca hanno tanti programmi interessanti. Sai il Colombo Club è proprio nel tuo quartiere. Qualche volta puoi andare atrovare i tuoi vecchi amici. E poi se hai qualche problema, puoi dirlo a tua cognata, lei ti aiuterà.” John: “Mia cognata, odia me. Autobus non prendo. Cado. Non cucino, piangere sempre”.

 

Dialogo pagina 7:

 

Smilzo“Signora Piccolo, la prego di dirgli che domattina vogliamo che venga ad una riunione con il Dott. Holbrook e la sua famiglia”.

LITTLE ITALY HISTORIC DISTRICT
Recognized in East Sacramento
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Reprinted in part from The Italian Cultural Society & Italian Center & Museum October 2021 newsletter

After several years of community effort by the Italian American community, the Sacramento City Council passed a Resolution on September 21, 2021, officially recognizing Italian East Sacramento as a “Little Italy Historic District.”

 

Sacramento now joins other California Cities with “Little Italy” districts including San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles/San Pedro and San Jose.

 

A special Recognition event was held in East Portal Park on October 9, 2021, to celebrate the new “Little Italy Historic District.”   East Portal Park is the neighborhood park in the district and is the location of the areas Bocce court complex where Bocce Leagues are conducted.

 

The Festive event was attended by members of the city council, the mayor and members of Sacramento’s Italian Community.  Leaders of the Italian American organizations of Sacramento attended as well as past and current Italian American residents.

 

One of the highlights of the event were the performances by the Italian Cultural Society Folk Dancers.   It was a great way to celebrate Italian American Heritage Day in Sacramento.

PHOTOS BELOW: (Top) Balliamo Dance Troupe performance, (L) Vincenzo Cerruti pours vino for guests (R) Italian immigrant  and ICS Director Patrizia Cinquini Cerruti visits with guest Ottavio Luchini, a 96 year old Italian immigrant who resides in the Little Italy Historic District.

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The organizing team for the Italian Community, Bill Cerruti, Fabrizio Sasso and Steven Maviglio were thanked for their effort in being the driving forces behind the “Little Italy” project.

 

City Councilmember Jeff Harris, who represents the area and who was instrumental in sponsoring the Resolution, was presented with a plague recognizing his role in the creation of the new “Little Italy” District

 

Future plans for “Little Italy” include the placement of signs to designate the district which runs from 48th street to 59th street bounded by J street and Folsom Blvd., a 24 square block area.

PHOTO BELOW: Fabrizio Sasso and Family

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ITALIAN HISTORY COMMITTEE

 

Other plans include establishing an Italian History Committee to collect the history of the people and places of “Little Italy Sacramento.”  Already a number of residents have come forth to offer their family stories.

 

Anyone who is interested in being part of the history project should contact the Italian Cultural Society at 916-482-5900 or by email to Bill Cerruti at: italy1@surewest.net

 

Click on this link for a video of the Little Italy Sacramento Historic District Celebration: 

https://italiancenter.us7.list-manage.com/track/click?u=417c5f470c2898c8b738eea23&id=3cfd8c8b72&e=58ba50a859

ITALIAN HISTORY OF SACRAMENTO'S LITTLE ITALY

 

Italian Americans were the largest immigrant group to come to the United States through Ellis Island and one of the largest immigrant groups to settle in California. By World War II in 1941, they were the largest immigrant group in California.

 

Italian roots run deep in Sacramento. Italian Americans were among the earliest pioneers of Sacramento and have been settling here since the Gold Rush. They settled in many parts of the City with concentrations in South Side, Oak Park and East Sacramento.  In the 1930’s and 1940s almost half the households in Oak Park had come from Italy, particularly along 39th Street then called Carmello Boulevard.  Many moved to East Sacramento with the building of the St. Mary’s Church there in 1948.    

 

East Sacramento was originally a rural area but by the 1920’s the East Sacramento area was home to many Italian immigrant families and truck farmers who developed the area.  The stone farmhouses of the past - “The Stone Sisters” – built and lived in by the early Italians still stand out as they border the districts neighborhood park.  

 

The high concentration of Italian families throughout the district gave the neighborhood a distinctly Italian flavor and identity. Many streets in the area have been predominately Italian from the start such as the two blocks of 48th Street between J Street and Folsom Blvd where some two dozen Italian Families lived between 1920 and 1950. Many Italians continue to reside in the district.

 

PHOTOS BELOW: Italian Cultural Society Dancers; (BELOW) ICS Director Bill Cerruti and Family (R) Councilmember Jeff Harris and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg

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The geographical heart of the "Little Italy" neighborhood is identified as the zone located between 48th and 59th Streets, and bounded by J Street and Folsom Blvd. 

 

Here the Italians established a thriving social community and business district to serve their needs as a community. Folsom Boulevard and J street became the main business streets for the Italian businesses in the area.  Italian businesses, including grocery stores, nurseries and restaurants, funeral home, barber, hardware and auto shops and others continue to operate in the zone along Folsom Boulevard.  

 

The Italians also created social, religious and community institutions that continue to the present. In 1948, the Italian church, Saint Mary’s, was built in the district by the Italian community as an Italian National Catholic Church to serve the needs of the Italian people with Italian priests conducting masses in Italian.  Later the Italians built Giovanni Hall adjacent to the Church for parish events. 

 

Italian community organizations from the past including the Italian Catholic Federation, the Italian Cultural Society, the Piemonte Reale, the Dante Club, the Marsala Lodge,  the Sons of Italy, the Arberesh of Sacramento, and the East Portal Bocce Club,  still operate in the area. 

       

The St. Mary’s elementary school and St Francis High School in the district are among the few city schools that have offered Italian classes.  Popular Bocce leagues are held in the neighborhoods East Portal Park Bocce court complex.  The office of the Italian Vice Consulate of Italy for Sacramento was located in the zone at 54th Street and Folsom Boulevard to serve the needs of the Italian immigrants until as recently as 2015.   

 

The Italian presence in the historic heart of East Sacramento represents over a century of Italian American history embedded n the roots of the area.  Generations of Italian Americans have grown up and lived in the area. The Italian presence in the historic “Little Italy” district continues with longtime residents and businesses.

 

Italian Americans have played an integral role in the cultural and economic landscape of Sacramento since its inception. The enterprise and contributions of these Italian pioneers and their descendants is a unique legacy and one shared by us all.  It is important to  preserve the  local memory of Little Italy and the Italian history of the neighborhood.  The story of East Sacramento’s “little Italy” neighborhood and the Italian people that made that story deserves to be kept alive and recognized.

 

The designation of the “Little Italy Historic District” highlights the culture and history of the Italians in East Sacramento and promotes the area’s historic identity and still living part of the heritage of the City.  It also creates a wonderful opportunity to develop and protect the neighborhood quality of life.

If you have questions or would like information about the Italian Cultural Society or the Carmichael Italian Cultural Center please contact Executive Director Bill Cerruti by phone at 916-482-5900  or email at italy1@surewest.net

 

Or VISIT OUR WEBSITE AT WWW.ITALIANCENTER.NET FOR MORE INFORMATION.

 
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Little Italy San Diego

Starting in the early 1990s, after my arrival in San Diego to teach at UC San Diego in 1986, I started to explore further into the local Italian community. Having read Lorenzo Madalena’s Confetti for Gino, which I then had republished by my publisher, Guernica Editions, I was eager to find out more about what had once been a thriving fishing community. To that end, I began to communicate with various individuals, families, and with Father Grancini at the Our Lady of the Rosary Church. Out of those meetings grew a series of events and collaborations with the Columbus Parade group, the Trinacria association, with the Italian American Community Center, etc. In addition, community events like the Festa Siciliana, the Madonna del Lume, and Madonna Addolorata processions and celebrations, all contributed to my research into the history of the community. I photographed most of these events with the idea of accumulating a Community Archive. Something that Little Italy deserved to have in order to provide a point of reference for future generations, and recognition of those who had worked hard to make it a success. This attracted the attention of the local television station, KPBS, who in the person of Alisa Barba, asked me to act as a historical consultant on a documentary recording the trajectory of SD Little Italy. In addition, the then Director of the SD chapter of the California Council for Humanities, Ralph Lewin, contacted me for a collaboration on a project highlighting a number of SD neighborhoods. In order to carry out the latter, I carried out a number of interviews with long-time residents of Little Italy, organized (with the SD Historical Society) a community photograph gathering session at Our Lady of the Rosary and, in collaboration with others, presented a play based on the interviews at the local Washington Elementary School that many from the community had attended. All the while I continued to photograph events and the neighborhood, photographs to which Father Grancini and others allowed me to copy and add other, older, historical photographs. During a short-lived attempt to constitute a physical location for such an archive, I worked with Roberto Marino to found and open the Italian American Arts and Culture Association. During our three years at that location on Kettner Street, in Little Italy, we held presentations, talks, panel discussions, and photo exhibitions. Unfortunately, we were unable to continue such a venture. Nevertheless, I plan to gift my photographs and other archival material to UC San Diego upon my retirement, in order to provide a point of reference for the community if ever anyone might be interested.

— Prof. Pasquale Verdicchio, University of California San Diego