Saturday, September 26, 2015


The newly arrived Italian-American Luigi was about to apply for his citizenship at the court. He fretted about his answering questions from the judge, since the man knew such little English. The moment arrived and in walked the distinguished jurist, white hair and moustache, and long black flowing robe. Nervously Luigi stepped forward to the bench and looked up to the judge and said: Hyur honor, I’m a no speaker English very good. Ima read and I know hall a da answers you aska me, who’sa the first presidente, a how manya states a dere hiza and Hi canna recite the pledgea of alligeance, but I no getter the citizenshipa because I no speak well de English.

The judge was taken aback by the man’s plea, and sternly pointed down at Luigi, Old Glory behind him and says: “Solonga I’ma da Judgea, you gonna becoma Hew Hess Citizena!”

At the turn of the century, Italian-Americans were very conscious of the prejudice displayed against them. They lived in tenements overcrowded with people, clustered in enclaves with other Italian-Americans. That factor alone must have had a major impact on their survival as a whole. The prejudice began at the top, the White House and the President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt.

Coming to America, they expected the streets to be paved with gold. Instead they found nothing but hard work, and their response: they rolled up their sleeves, and all that gold? They took on jobs as sanitation workers and swept all that gold!

My grandmother Mary, a single mom with three young girls, every morning put on the radio back in the 1920’s and the first thing to play was the Star Spangled Banner, and all her children stood up around the kitchen table, with their hands over their hearts!

Grandpa Joe came here to America at the turn of the last century stowed away on a ship, where he avoided political persecution in Italy and customs in this country and then somehow joined the army to fight in the ‘Great War’, where when he came home, he caught Spanish Flu and was hospitalized. Anxious to see his son and daughter, he jumped out of a hospital window and into a large snow bank, in his hospital gown. A few days later he died at home with his wife, and children at his side from Pneumonia. Between the ship and the army, he helped grandma establish a fruit and vegetable stand in Brooklyn.

Grandma loved America, she worked hard and organized flights to Italy and bus trips to upstate religious shrines, where she took the profits and gave the money to build an orphanage in her hometown after WWII. They named it after her but she did the money raising, after hearing stories about the many orphans that populated Italy from the constant bombardments and battles fought there. Many a sponsorship was she behind of people coming to this country from Italy.

Grandma’s older brother Felix or ‘Uncle Zio Felice” had 19 children as I wrote a while back, and one of them laid down his life for our country, or his country at Anzio Beach. Investment was heavy in this country.

What I would give to see and speak to all those relatives from the past one more time. To hear all the stories they could tell about coming to America and what it meant to them, but I did get a lot of it.


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