Massimo Paolillo (Italian Honorary Consul in Phoenix, AZ)

L'Italia in Arizona, da Padre Eusebio Kino fino al giorno d'oggi

Apr 03, 2017 944 ITA ENG

Today we go west, to the Grand Canyon State: Arizona. The story of the Italians here starts with an important explorer, Father Eusebio Kino: we will learn about this incredible hero, another Italian explorer who helped many people, included a lot of Native Americans.

Our guest, the person who will lead us through Italy in Arizona, is Massimo Paolillo, the Italian Honorary Consul in Phoenix. Once again, in thanking him we want to thank the whole consular system all around the US: a precious, efficient network of committed competent Italians that allows the population to manage the Italian bureaucracy and represents our country everywhere in America

Last year Jesuit Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, an Italian missionary to the American Southwest known as the "Padre on Horseback," was honored Jan. 10 at the Tumacacori National Historical Park with Kino Legacy Day. Can you please tell our readers the story of father Kino?

Father Kino was a Jesuit missionary and an explorer. He was born in 1645, in Italy, in the village of Segno, near Trento. He's very well-known for everything he did here in the area of Pimerìa Alta, that is practically the area of the southern Arizona and northern Sonora in Mexico.

He was actually a mission builder, a farmer and also a peacemaker: that was the main focus of the person of Padre Kino. He founded 24 missions, including the beautiful San Xavier in Tucson, a fantastic cathedral sited today in the Native American Indian Reservation. He is also famous because he introduced in Arizona horses, cattle and other type of animals that could be raised in the farm, all of them and all the crops coming from the then "Old World".

Mainly, Father Kino was defending the Native American people from the claims and the powerful interest of the Spanish: it was the period of Spanish dominion here in this area, the “Conquistadores”.

He was also a gifted scientist, a great historian and a map maker: he studied at the University in Germany, where he got his ability as a map maker and he was the first one that really had defined the area of Arizona and Baja California, the southern part of California. California then was assumed to be just an island, not a peninsula like it is, and thanks to him and his maps people in Europe finally discovered that California was actually attached to the mainland. He also built a lot of missions, in the southern part of Baja California.

He died in 1711, at 66 years old, in Magdalena, in the area of Sonora in the northern part of Mexico, bordering the Arizona State.

To give an idea of what he did in his life, he went around this southern part of the United States and Northern part of Mexico for almost 50,000 square miles, by horse: I've been told that he used to ride his horse more than 18 hours a day! He was phenomenal: just to give a dimension, 50,000 square miles is around 130,000 square kilometers, it's practically just a little more than half of Italy! Back and forth, back and forth, all his life!

That's why he's so important: he was a kind of diplomatic in his way, he brought peace between the Spanish with their interests in this area and the Native American people.

Great gentle charisma, strong mental and physical courage, he was also recognized by the state of Arizona, that dedicated him a statue: the only statue from Arizona that is standing in the US Capitol Building in Washington. So he absolutely was a phenomenal, fantastic person, recognized in Arizona and in the United States. Let's say he was a bridge maker instead of a war maker!

In these last years, the indigenous communities all over the United States are fighting against Columbus Day, and therefore against the Italian Americans who feel represented by Columbus. Can Father Kino represent a positive factor in the research of how to bring the two communities on a common ground and make them find a solution?

It's a different perspective, I would say: Father Kino had a completely different mission idea, and actually he came after Cristopher Columbus!

I know that there is a lot of concern on this matter. But instead of fighting against Columbus, the focus should be more on the concept of what Columbus represented: that period of colonization and the conquistadores all over America.

It wasn't only Christopher Columbus that brought what the Native Americans call here "the exploitation of America". I think it's not correct to say this, because actually his purpose was completely different.

Today we analyze the discovery of America with our eyes, with our mentality, with what we know today. But we need to reconnect everything to the context of what was that period. There were Spanish explorers that were brutal, violent and perverse men that did for sure atrocities. Columbus is the first name, the symbol, that comes up to mind of everybody: but it’s not his responsibility, in my opinion, what happened during his discovery and immediately after. So we need to look at things in perspective, especially with that period: he was a man of a different time and I think he cannot be judged properly with our modern standards.

There are two other factors to be considered while profiling Columbus. First of all, he never discovered the northern part of America: actually, Columbus focused his attention on the Central and Latin Southern America, he arrived in San Salvador, in the Bahamas, and the rest of all his discoveries were what today is Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Latin America. Second, today in some parts of America we celebrate in the same day, the second Monday of October every year, both Columbus Day and Indigenous Day. I think it's a kind of compromise, after all these years, so that everybody can recognize the importance of the Native Americans here and what happened after Columbus came.

Let's find a compromise, not blaming this man only. Besides, Columbus Day still remains a very important day, even if nowadays not all the cities celebrate it.

Father Kino is for sure a positive connotation in the relationship with the Native Americans, balancing what happened with Christopher Columbus. But theirs were two different ways of doing exploration, in two different periods, with two different missions. Father Kino came here to bring the word of God, to evangelize the people in the respect of the Native Americans; Columbus came here to find gold for the Queen of Spain. So, two different realities, but for sure Father Kino's figure is the one that is the representation of a bridge between the two worlds, between the powerful and the rich on one side and the poor, the ones that worked the land day after day, on the other. A global figure, not only an Italian figure, who gave the opportunity to the Native Americans to be respected as what they are: human beings!

What’s the story of the Italian emigration to Arizona?

Of course, Arizona wasn't the first port of entry, like New York or Boston. So I would say that the first group of Italian came here a few years later than mass emigration from Europe.

I read a story about an Italian that came here and explored the northern part of Sonora and what later became Arizona, after Father Kino, of course: his name was Marco da Nizza, around the year 1539.

After that, actually, not that much until the second part of the XIX century, when we have a really strong presence of Italians in Arizona, especially in the mining areas: I'm talking about the central-southern part of the State, what today is the cities of Globe, Bisbee, Montezuma, Metcalf. Italians went there to work in the mines, but also in construction projects and in lumbering.

Especially between 1900 and 1910 we have a rise of Italian population in Arizona: but again, the majority of the concentration was around the Colorado River and Yuma.

Around the year 1930 the Italian Alessandro Rossi became very, very famous because he opened several restaurants in Prescott, Tucson and Nogales: he came from Cremona and really built here a food empire. He did very much for the community, and he was also famous because he was one of the founders of one of the first Fire Department in Tucson. He also built a Casino.

The Italian immigrants to Arizona came especially from the North-East of Italy, and also from Piedmont, Liguria and Calabria: as I said, a bit later than the mass emigration to the East Coast.

Are there places, personalities or facts with a particular importance in describing Italy in Arizona?

There is not, nor ever been, a Little Italy here in Arizona, as far as I know. It is such a big territory, so much spread out, that it's difficult to concentrate population of any kind of ethnicity in a certain place.

There are festivals, trade shows, events, several clubs that see Italians and Italian Americans celebrate Italy: but not a real neighborhood to be called Little Italy.

There are, though, constructions and symbols that remind us Italy and the Italian people that came here. The biggest that I can mention is the Hoover Dam, a dam built between Arizona and Nevada on the Colorado River in 1930. It's the largest water reservoir in the USA and it was built by a lot of Italians, several of whom actually died during the construction.

A very important person for what he did in Arizona is Architect Paolo Soleri, that came from Turin and built the town of Arcosanti and founded also the Cosanti Foundation. Soleri also worked with Frank Lloyd Wright, and he's really famous in the United States, especially in Arizona, as one of the most famous architects ever, with the most innovative idea on a new town, a new city, and how to live in the new cities of the contemporary world.

Another important Italian American in Arizona is Jerry Colangelo. He is a businessman and sport executive. Colangelo is the former owner of the Phoenix Suns, the very famous basketball team; of the Diamondbacks, the Major League baseball team in Arizona; of the Phoenix Coyotes, the Hockey National Team; and also of the Mercury, the Champion Women Basketball Team.

Going back again to Father Kino, an important place is the mission of San Xavier del Bac in Tucson: the mission was founded by Father Kino, of course, but several Italian experts came to help and to fix the cathedral, from the paintings to the structure, for free!

Another famous Italian name is the Zoppè family: it's an Italian Family Circus who came from Venice in 1842 and brought the circus here in town, exporting an old Italian tradition. They go all over in the United States, but especially here in Arizona.

Another important "Italian" location was built by Alessio Carraro, who came around 1900 in Arizona to make his fortune and he did, especially in sheet metal business, even if he was also a big land developer and a gold miner. He built what is known today as the Carraro Castle, in the middle of Phoenix. If you're coming in Phoenix you can't miss it: it's on a little hill and it's a real castle, that he did for his wife. He actually envisioned it as a resort destination, but in the end it remained his home!

We also have had some Italian American Senators: the most famous is Dennis DeConcini who was Senator between 1977 and 1995, and his parents were both Italians.

What can you tell us about the actual Italian presence in Arizona, nowadays?

There are a lot of Italians and Italian Americans in Arizona today. It is difficult to quantify how many exactly, but recent statistics say that there are around 10,000 Italians of first generation, like me, and probably around 200,000 Italian Americans, maybe more.

I know that recently there has been an increment in the Italian presence in Arizona, Italians that left Italy with a one-way ticket and established themselves in Arizona. Of course these are not the typical Italian immigrants described by the stereotype of the cardboard suitcase: there are investors, entrepreneurs that relocate to Arizona from Italy, researchers in different fields that come to Arizona Universities and to laboratories to work, maybe because an American Company called them to come here.

Also, a lot of Italian students are coming in our Universities to study or to finish their MBA or their PhD.

I would say that some of the brightest Italian minds are coming to Arizona to look for new careers and new opportunities!

How are things about trade of Italian products, or exhibition of the Italian art, or teaching of the Italian language in Arizona? Is there something Italy could do to improve those factors of cultural promotion?

There's always room for improvement. Recently we saw a growth in trade shows of products coming from different regions and exhibitions of Italian Arts. For example, recently we had a Stradivari exhibition with unique pieces coming directly from Italy, from the Cremonese Institute and Foundation; we had the Ferrè exhibition at the Phoenix Museum of Contemporary Art; we also had exhibitions of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci art.

We had the Italian Film Festival at the Arizona State University and the International Film Festival in Scottsdale, Arizona. And we had Operas.

There is a very important trade show called the "Gem Show" in Tucson every year, with all the precious gems and stones, and every year there are a lot of Italian exhibitors.

Italian courses are offered in all major Universities in Arizona and in some Colleges, and there are several Italian associations and clubs that offer Italian courses too.

In this sector, for example, I think there is a lot of room to improve on high school, elementary and mid-elementary school level, where with the help of the Italian government we could improve the teaching of the Italian language.  The help I'm talking about is the economic help to support the Italian teachers that already live here, starting to teach to the youngest to bring interest in Italy and in our culture.

Arizona has a strong potentiality for Italy in several sectors: it's probably one of the best kept secrets in Italy, but Arizona already saw business development coming from several nations. Italy needs to understand the "First-come, first-served" rule: Arizona welcomes any nation, but it trusts especially those who come and take the risk in the first place.

For instance, British Airways took the risk of opening a direct flight London to Phoenix back and forth, around 20 years ago. Today they increased from one to two flights a day: B.A. has practically the monopoly to and from Europe, which means that all Europeans who want to come to Arizona, fly from London with British Airways. It means a lot of business for Great Britain, including tourism: many people take this flight, go directly to London and after they go all around Europe.

In conclusion, let me stress again that Italians should take stronger initiatives to publicize and to push our Nation and our business, our creativity, our capabilities and our potentiality in Arizona. There is less competition than other States and believe me, Italians here are always welcome!

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