An Italian American Homecoming – From Italy to America and Back
A ship leaves from Italy to America in April 1912 with hundreds of Italian passengers who are desperate to create a better life for themselves in America. It is the humble beginnings of an Italian American journey.
Some are men who have labored since childhood in the fields of the small villages in southern Italy. All they hope for is to give a better life to their children. Others are young teenage boys traveling alone who have been forced to sacrifice. They have been distanced from their families in Italy to find work in the coal mines or on the railroad to support their loved ones who cannot provide for themselves.
Then there are mothers with small children, going to be reunited with their husbands who emigrated to the United States years earlier. The majority of them have not had any formal education. They speak only the dialect of their small villages which they have never left before this grand voyage across the Atlantic to becoming Italian American.
They are fearful of being on the open sea for 20 or more days as well as, the anticipation of the new life that lies ahead of them in America. Their hopes for a new life are all dependent on surviving the appalling living conditions as third class passengers on board the ship. Many people fall ill, are malnourished, and some don’t survive the journey. The lucky ones that do must now face their fate on Ellis Island, known to the Italian Immigrants as “L’Isola delle Lacrime,” The Island of Tears.
A portion of the passengers is held in quarantine for illness before being allowed to leave Ellis Island. Some are detained for questioning, and others are taken into custody and then deported back to Italy for various reasons. After processing, the majority of the passengers are now ferried to Manhattan where they are free to start their new lives as Italian Americans.
Any American, who has at least one grandparent who is Italian, has probably heard a similar story of hardship and sacrifice. Even after three generations in the United States, descendants of Italian Immigrants still, refer to themselves with immense pride as Italian Americans. They have been raised with Italian family values, food, culture and the determination to succeed. However, the gap between Italy and the United States has grown wider as the first generation Italian Immigrants are growing older or are no longer with us. The generation gap has sparked an insatiable need for second and third generation descendants to reconnect with their heritage.
An Italian American story – From Italy to American and Back Again
Here is a true story of the origins of an Italian-American family which we can all relate. Their ancestors came from Italy to America, and now they have gone back again to ensure an ongoing connection with their Italian roots. This amazing group of first cousins has Italian roots in Calabria, Italy and American roots on the West Coast.
The Oliverio and the Palumbo families both originated in Serra Pedace in Cosenza, Calabria. In 1900, Felix Oliverio left his parents and brother and sister behind in Italy, and at the tender age of 13 to immigrate to the USA. Immediately after his arrival in New York City, he traveled out west and landed his first job as a newspaper boy in Portland, Oregon. In 1913 Mary Palumbo immigrated to the promise land with her father and one brother, settling in the Portland area as well.
The Oliverio and Palumbo families called for a meeting between Felix and Mary that led to their arranged marriage shortly after Mary’s arrival. They had ten Italian American children between 1914 and 1935. Also during this period, Felix’s and Mary’s siblings joined them on the West coast, except Mary’s brother Giuseppe who chose to remain in Italy with his mother who was afraid to cross the Atlantic on a ship.
In 1985, five of Felix’s and Mary’s first generation Italian American children returned to Serra Pedace to visit Giuseppe’s children. They got to know one another and took a very memorable photo together in the town square beneath a secular tree. In 2012, Felix’s and Mary’s grandchildren returned to preserve their connection with their Italian roots and met for the first time Giuseppe’s grandchildren. They were able to recreate the same photo beneath the secular tree that their parents took almost 30 years earlier.
I had the privilege of accompanying Felix’s and Mary’s grandchildren and acting as their interpreter during their day trip to Serra Pedace and Montalto Uffugo. They enjoyed a fantastic typical Italian lunch at an agriturismo with their Italian cousins and their children. After the meal, they all went back to the family home to swap photos, stories, and exchange email addresses to stay in touch. With technology today, it is very likely that the connection will continue with the future generations of the Oliverio and Palumbo Italian and Italian American families.
Millions of Italians have immigrated to the United States, Canada, and Australia. When did your ancestors leave the Motherland? What was their port of departure and arrival?