Share your family roots here at ORAL HISTORIES. Explore your fascinating family stories with a post in this specially designed family roots section.
Contact me here to share your Italifornian history with other Members.
Part of the vision included in the development of The Italifornian was to establish a forum to explore family roots and how they tie into the greater Italian American experience in California, hence, Italifornians. We all draw on a vast set of family experiences originating around the globe. When shared, they collectively weave a fascinating tapestry of community life. Family histories also offer a glimpse into how "big" events translate into "ordinary" human endeavors.
Those are the gems that offer amazing insight into how our families have coped and even succeeded in the face of adversity. I recall a recent note in an obituary of an Italian American woman, who had included in her final observations, how she felt wronged and emotionally wounded as a child, by her father being arrested as an "enemy alien" during World War II. On a more personal note, going through my father's papers after he died, I found a crumpled notarized document, stating my father did not participate in the famed 1936 San Francisco Waterfront strike, in order to try to enlist in the merchant marines. Trying to get a job in the midst of the Great Depression was a survival task little understood in today's world, and yet without a doubt was a part of family stories and lore, now long gone.
We all share these common life experiences but sadly we are rapidly losing connections with this sense of history and what it means to be an Italian American. Of course, one can say this about all ancestries, but that is not the purview of this website, and really this work must be done in the gardens one knows best. So we hope you take advantage of this precious opportunity and share some choice family tales, and contribute to our common pageantry as Italifornians.
Executive Editor & Co-Founder
Conducted on July 11, 2023 by Agustin Pace & Madeline Damiano
TO LISTEN TO ROSE'S INTERVIEW, TAP THE ARROW
The Italian American Heritage Foundation has been collecting oral histories to better illuminate the roles being played by Italian Americans in the area. These interviews document how they came to be here and their roles in the community. Unfortunately, we are losing this unspoken history with time, so this interaction was important to preserve some of it. In July of 2023, we had the opportunity to meet with one of our valued members in the community - Rose Crimi. We were graciously invited into her home, where she shared a collection of family photos, paintings made by her son, and, most notably, a suitcase filled with numerous valuable mementos, documents, and personal letters. A particular thank you goes out to Rose Crimi’s caretaker Steve Bennett. Without his suggestion and assistance, it may not have crossed Rose’s mind to share these with us. Truly a “treasure trove,” this case contained many original family certificates, medals, personal letters, and applications. Some of these were close to over a hundred years old, and it was fascinating to see many of these correspondences, particularly about her father. In a sort of “Show-and-Tell,” Rose told us her stories as we delved into and documented the artifacts. The audio recording of our conversation is linked, but here is a summary of what we learned from her early life history. Rose Crimi was born in Rochester, New York in 1928 to two Italian parents, who both emigrated to the United States from Sicily in the early 1920s. Before emigrating, her mother was a local Postmaster, a job passed down within the family for generations. Her father visited the United States various times in his youth but was once recalled during World War I and the war in Libya to work as a telegrapher. His two medals and military documents (including a commendation) were shown to us. In 1933, Rose briefly lived in Sicily with her mother and relatives when her father went to work in California. At her school, she wore a “balilla,” a uniform to show support for the Mussolini regime. The balilla consisted of a white shirt paired with a black skirt for a girl, and black pants for a boy. She was also given a school textbook (Silibario), a copy she graciously provided (the digital copy may be viewed at https://tinyurl.com/2fa9j7bm ). After returning to the United States, her family moved from Rochester to San Jose in 1946, where she lives to this day, 77 years later. Once more, we would like to thank Rose and Steve for their time and for providing us with this wealth of information. Many of the documents and correspondences are being translated and they will be incredibly useful to the IAHF Library.
For anyone interested in adding their own material to the IAHF archives, we invite you to reach out to Madeline Damiano, IAHF librarian, at librarian@IAHFSJ.org.
Agustin Pace, Rose Crimi, and Madeline Damiano at Rose's home in San Jose.
INTERVIEW WITH MARCO MONTEVAGO
Italian Brothers Restaurant
Interview conducted by Joseph Caruso at Italian Brothers Restaurant on July 14, 2022
Why did you choose to leave Palermo?
I chose to leave Palermo because I was looking for better opportunities, and I have friends around here, and I wanted to get experience. That’s why I came to the USA.
Did you have any family here before?
No, no family, I’m the first one. Just friends.
Were they working in the restaurant business too?
Yes, they mostly came here to work in the restaurant business.
When you left, did your family encourage you to go and find more opportunity, or did they want you to stay in Palermo?
Of course my mom was trying to keep me in Palermo, but my dad, since he also had friends here, said “Try your best and to find your way, and if you don’t find it you can always come back home”.
What drew you specifically to this area even though it’s very expensive?
Honestly my first stop was Las Vegas. I had friends there who helped me to go there and I lived there for 8 months. My friend is also in the restaurant business and I worked for him. He showed me where to live and where to work, but after 8 months I realized that I didn’t learn any English. I had a good time but after I realized that I didn’t make any money, I was just having fun and I decided to move to California where my dad’s friends were. Sicilia in Bocca, Toto, he helped me. We were helping each other. At that time he had 2 restaurants, so he was looking for someone for Toto Trattoria. He said “You can work here. There is a school, there’s your house. You need to learn English before you can make money”. To come here and talk with Italian people was really easy. Spanish was also easy for me, but I realized that if I didn’t learn English I couldn’t earn good money. That was my motivation.
Did you know when you left Sicily that you wanted to open a restaurant, or did you just want to come and do anything?
I adopted my dad’s idea that if I found something wrong I would go back to Italy. So when I came I didn’t have any idea. I just tried to learn and find my way. But after a couple years I saved some money. My brother called at that time after two years and asked if I thought we could do something here because he lost his job in Italy. That was the time when I was thinking “Hey you can come for vacation, see if you like it. If you like it, I have some money and we can open a bakery”.
Do you currently feel any sense of belonging to an Italian-American community?
I see Italian-American groups that come here to the restaurant and try to make me feel like we are in the same boat, and I like that. They love to come here. But at the same time I don’t feel one hundred percent American because I’m the first generation. Maybe if I was like you and was born and raised here I would feel Italian-American. That’s what I want for my son, but I don’t feel that way.
How would you describe your current relationship with Palermo? Do you still feel like it is home?
Yes, I feel like it is home. I am here because I like the opportunity that California gives to me but I don’t feel like it’s my hometown, because it is super expensive. I’ll go back to Palermo next week, and I feel that it is still my home. But now since I have an American wife my goal is to show her the new food places in Palermo. For sure I don’t want to go back right now, but I’m hoping to when I’m retired. But I don’t know what’s happening here in another twenty years, and I know that if something goes bad I can go back home. I don’t feel like this is actually home because if something happens nobody will help me.
I saw your father the other day when I was here. Does he live here or was he just visiting?
Since we opened the restaurant he’s lived here, but my mom lives in Palermo. She comes to visit but she can’t live here because I have a sister and grandmother that she needs to take care of. My dad is always on business trips in Palermo. He’s a big help in our business, so we want to keep him here with us. Right now at the restaurant there’s me; I take care of the front, and take all the headaches from the front. My brother takes all the headaches in the kitchen. My dad is the handyman, he does everything. He can’t be a waiter because his English isn’t good, but he does all the rest. I believe that in a restaurant you need these three people. For just one person it is too much of a headache.
Has Giacomo learned English since he came?
He can understand some things but he doesn’t know how to speak really well. For me it was crazy because he came in 2018 and was around 40. He moved his whole family. His wife, daughter, daughter’s boyfriend, and my nephew. He just came without any English. They came with the idea that if something happened they could go back. We got through everything together, and now we have a restaurant in California. When you come without anything and then you end up in that position, you can say “Okay, my sacrifice was worth it.”
What was COVID like for the restaurant?
We opened in January 2020, and closed on March 17th. It wasn’t easy, but at the same time I can say that it helped us. Italian restaurants and American restaurants are a little different. There people are chill and quiet. Here, you have to go fast. So that was the first problem that we had in the first months. People were happy, but asking “Hey, where's my food?”. So we had time to fix these things for ourselves. Now, I think we are one of the best Italian restaurants in Los Gatos. We are fast and have good service. We also extended our restaurant. I don’t want to say that the pandemic was something good, but in our case it actually helped a little bit. In the pandemic time when it was just to-go, we didn’t take any salary. My brother was in the kitchen, I was in the front, we paid the bills and survived. When they allowed outdoor dining, we were the only restaurant open the next day, because we weren’t looking for employees. We just looked at the rules and the next day we were out on the street. Everyone else was looking for employees and weren’t ready to open. After one year, you don’t have employees and it’s not easy to find them again. That was our power.
Who would you say are your main customers at this restaurant? Do you think you attract more Italian immigrants than other Italian restaurants?
For sure our main customers are Italian-Americans from this city. Maybe they don’t speak Italian but they know about Italian food. If you do something that isn’t good, I feel that they know. About the Italians, it's not easy to have them as customers always. The Italian customers that we have are mostly those who want to do an anniversary or some occasion because they know how to make food at home, so they don’t come every day. We have customers that come every day, but for sure they are not Italian.
You were mentioning how important it was to you to learn English when you came. What do you think about the importance of dialects? Did you grow up speaking Sicilian?
Yes, because I was born in a little town outside of Palermo. Most of my time was spent playing soccer out in the street. All of my friends were from Sicily. I can say that my first friends from northern Italy I met in Las Vegas. If I started speaking my dialect at some point they didn’t understand me. I saw a big difference. Before coming to the USA, I never visited the north. When I had a chance to leave for vacation I went to Spain or other parts of Europe. In Sicily we are mostly just from Sicily. It’s not easy to find someone from the north who moved there. Even my nephew comes from the town where we live now because he was born in Carini. He has his own dialect and sometimes when he speaks we don’t really even know what he is saying.
Is it important to you to keep the dialect alive in your family?
Yes. For me speaking regular Italian is the norm. But to keep the dialect is important because it makes a difference for who you are. My sister in law can’t speak Italian, just straight Sicilian. Sometimes my wife doesn't understand her, because she is learning normal Italian.
What do you think about the opening of Eataly?
The first thing is that I haven’t been there. I’ve heard from people what it’s like and I’ve seen some pictures. I think the concept is cool, because in America you don’t just go to a salumeria. They want to do the same thing and try to give the same feeling but it will never be the same feeling. It can be the same idea, but it’s in the mall with a bunch of people. If they want to give people an idea it’s cool to do because they bring the culture, but it can never be the same.
The following interview with Sam Carlino was conducted by Joseph Caruso during The Italian Family Festa on August 20, 2022 at History Park San Jose
Please allow time for the audio file to load
Joseph: What motivated you to write Colorado’s Carlino Brothers?
Sam: 2010 is when I got motivated to write the book. 1985 is when I found out the truth about my family’s history. Going back to the motivation question, there were a lot of books and history that was being written about my grandfather that was actually untrue. There was a lot of speculation and things that were just kind of absurd, and I wanted to set the record straight with someone from the family who knew the inside story of how things really happened.
Going back to 1985, I was working at my sausage stand at the San Jose food market. Friday nights I’d make Italian sausage, and Saturday and Sunday I’d sell it at my stand out there. I was about 18 years old at the time. This old man came up and tried the sausage. He was probably about 75, maybe close to 80 years old, back in 1985, so that puts him being born around 1905 or 1910. He recognized the flavor of the sausage and he goes “God, I haven’t had sausage this good since Time Market,” and I said, “Well that’s the Time Market recipe”. He asked if I was a Carlino and I said “Yeah”, and he asked “Who’s your dad?” I said “Sam” and he started to name all my uncles. He goes “I remember when they were just boys. In fact I used to work for your grandfather”. I go “Really?”. And he says “yeah I remember the day he was killed”. “Killed? No, no my grandfather died of pneumonia.” “Pneumonia? Yeah right”. And he starts laughing at me. When you’re 18 years old and you have a 75 or 80-year-old guy laughing at you, you know you’re gonna be wrong. He goes “Pneumonia my ass. He died of lead poisoning. They shot him up. He was Colorado’s biggest bootlegger. He owned that state”. I’ll never forget that part: He owned that state. “I remember when he was killed”. And from that point on, that’s when the truth really came out about the family. My dad and his brothers were ashamed of where they’d come from. 180-degree turn from the time they came to California in 1932. They came out in October of ‘32. They were here in San Jose. By 1938 they had their first business up and running. They had a fruit and vegetable stand on Monterey Highway, and they ran that until the beginning of WWII. My other uncles went and built liberty ships in Oakland once the war started. My dad was drafted out of high school and he served in the army air corps over in the Pacific Theater. When they all came back they opened up Italian Market in 1950, so it was a nice turn of events for the family. They went 180 degrees from my grandfather, who was born in Sicily. My grandmother was born here in 1893, but they were only here for 5 years in New Orleans before she was born. My grandfather was born in Sicily in 1887. My dad was born in ‘24. But there’s a lot of interesting true crime. The book is not a novel at all, it's ten years of research on just true crime.
Sam Carlino is the grandson of Pete Carlino. Born and raised in Campbell, CA, Sam has been working since the age of 12. His father, Sam Sr., instilled in him a hard-work ethic, a love of family and country, and the importance of following through on every task at hand. Sam has been a journeyman butcher, restaurant owner, realtor, TV food show producer, director and host, avid outdoorsman, and amateur Mafia historian.