October has historically been recognized as the Italian History Month here in the United States. Over the years several web sites have dedicated themselves to encouraging Italian Americans to bring information to organizations and primarily public schools to raise awareness that Italian are known for more than just overworked Mafia references and pizza. I prefer the wonderful list compiled by the Italian Historical Society of America (http://home.earthlink.net/~31italians/id65.html). I would encourage all of you to read through the great list but I am going to include some of the thoughts and names generated there.
October 1st is the day to remember and honor the Italian immigrant. Immigration is a hot button topic right now – and I am right there with all who are frustrated that we cannot find a solution here – or many places in the world today. Italy like the US faces her own threat of illegal immigrants sweeping into their land. France is in the news for dealing with the Roma right now. Here in the US we deal with many nationalities – mostly at our southern-most border. But there was a time not so long ago that Italians were the group America dealt with as immigrants. The Irish had gone through their tough times as immigrants and then the tables turned to the Italians hoping to find a better way here. One little known fact is that along with Japanese, Italians were also rounded up into internment camps during WWII. It was an offence to speak Italian as you were suspected of not being a true American. Indeed even after WWII ended many family members refused to teach their children Italian for fear of retribution. American Italians often speak a mish-mosh of slang and dialect – a mere smattering of words and phrases.
Our family was among those eager to come to the US. We have copies of letters accepting the VISA requests of some while denying others. The post WWII era saw many of the immigrants hoping to gain a VISA to escape the harsh realities of a war ravaged Italy. Itri itself was bombed with more than 65 % of the town destroyed. Valentino was not allowed to emigrate with his parents – he was too old to come with them as a child but too young to remain alone in Italy. He settled living in Germany with his brother for a year until the US would allow him entrance! Within weeks of his arrival he was expected to report for the draft! Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view) he was not fluent enough in English yet so they passed him over. He came to the US an unsure young teen and learned the language and embraced its freedom and culture.
October 2nd is a great day to think about Amadeo Pietro Gianni. Born in 1870, he was raised in California. His parents had immigrated from Italy. After his father died when Amadeo was seven, his mother remarried and he went to work to help his parents in the produce business. Later he would join a group of businessmen serving on the board of a small bank that catered to the Italian American community. He then began his own bank that suffered severe damages in the San Franciscan earthquake. He set up a small bank out of his home to again help folks rebuild the city. When he realized folks traveled to him, he opened branches to accommodate them Eventually he bought out Bank of America and continued with his theory of helping the average individual instead of just the wealthy.
October 3rd is for Guglielmo Marconi. Most will recognize his name as he was the father of wireless transmissions. Born in Bologna, Italy, he traveled around both Europe and America to prove his inventions. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his accomplishments and discoveries.
Hopefull next week I will bring more short biographical notes