Ciao! My name is Christopher Forte. My paternal grandfather's parents immigated from Palermo in the early 1920s and settled in Brooklyn, New York. My paternal grandmother's parents came from Naples and before that they were Albanians who fled there to escape the Turks. Her parents immigrated to the US much earlier, in fact we have a photo of my great-great-grandmother standing somewhere in New York State in 1890. It was in Brooklyn that these two families, my grandparents, met.
There they had at least one and maybe two of their four kids, including my father. My grandparents and great aunts and uncles knew personally or knew of many famous Italians from Brooklyn before they found fame and I will discuss that in a later post. Including, by the way, a few wiseguys. And during WWII one of my relatives, who was not yet a US citizen, was told by the FBI to go back to Italy or get arrested. Wanting their independence from my great-grandparents and to escape the brutal Winters of New York, they moved out to California in the early 1960s and this is where my father grew up. They first lived in Whittier, a suburb in LA County, then in the 1970s they moved to the Orange County community of Yorba Linda. My mother was not Italian, but her background is just as interesting. Her family was on this continent before the Revolutionary War and we have documented evidence of a distant cousin that fought in the Civil War. Unfortunately he fought for the Confederacy. They eventually lived in Florida. My mother was abused horribly as a child, being found chained in a closet by the authorities, and so was eventually adopted by a conservative Christian family in Whittier, CA and that is where and how my parents eventually met.
My father was a Reagan Republican who was very assimilated and so the Italian heritage didn't really inform any part of his life. He wasn't ashamed of it, it just never really occured to him because he grew up as a middle-class White American from a conservative Republican family and was raised in a time when everyone was expected to be 100% American. (No hyphens!) Sure, there were still some Italian traditions in our lives, especially when we visited my grandparents, like the music at most family gatherings being that of the likes of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, a plate of pasta with the Turkey on Thanksgiving, lasagna and meatballs on Christmas, and my grandparents speaking Italian with friends and family when they didn't want me to understand, but I never thought I was any different from any other White kid of whatever ancestry, be it German, French, or whatever....we were just Americans...and according to all the schools I ever went to I was just a White American. No one ever called me Italian American. In fact in my late teens I did realize and become proud of my ancestral background and when a US Census taker back in the year 2000 was at our home asking my ethnicity, I answered "Italian American." She said, "Oh, you're White." I corrected her, "No, I'm ITALIAN AMERICAN." I was attending very culturally diverse schools and upon seeing all my Hispanic friends know of and show off their heritage, I asked myself what I was, where my family came from? And so on. And so it was in high school, in the late 1990s, facing a multicultural society, that I discovered my family's Italian heritage and decided to make it a bigger part of my life.
Today, at the age of 42, I am the Facilities Coordinator for the Amici House, which is San Diego's Little Italy neighborhood event and heritage center which is run as part of the Heritage program of the Convivio Society, I also sit on the Convivio Society's Little Italy Heritage Commission, am a member of the House of Italy, the Former 2nd Vice President of the Italian Catholic Federation ICF Branch #230-Our Lady of the Rosary, and am a volunteer for the Little Italy Association and am very active with my church, Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church, an Italian National Parish. I am in the process of re-joining the Sons of Italy (now the Sons and Daughters of Italy) (OSDIA) and am a former Silver Council Member of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) and a former member of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame (NIASHF). I am in the process of joining San Diego's Italian American Civic Association (IACA) but the pandemic has set them back a bit. I am also working on my own blog and hopefully a printed magazine about the Italian American community here in California that you can view at theitaliancalifornian2.blogspot.com (it is a work in progress...the pandemic and my new job I had to take because of it impeded my work on it).
My quest, my mission, the goal of my blog and of my presence here, is to preserve, celebrate, promote, and share the Italian American heritage of California with the world. I do not see my work in competition with any other Italian and Italian American publication, indeed I want to promote those publications and media, like this almanac, and help them thrive. The more exposure the Italian American community gets, the better. We have the same goals, and I want to be an additional voice and advocate achieving those goals. "A rising tide lifts all boats," so the saying goes, and I just want to be a part of that tide. So I hope you welcome me here, that I make many friends with our similar interests and learn about whatever part of the Italian heritage and story in California still missing from my research and life.