Anthony Riccio (Writer)

Una storia originale: le donne italiane nel Connecticut

Apr 30, 2014 4833 ITA ENG

Always around the 50 States searching for traces of Italy, today our trip stops in Connecticut. Among the things important to remember about Italians in Connecticut, we cannot fail to mention Ella T. Grasso: the daughter of Italian immigrant parents, in 1975 she was the first female to be elected governor of a US state (all three previous female governors got the job to replace a deceased husband or being elected as surrogates for husbands who could not succeed themselves).

So, it seems perfect to us to meet Anthony Riccio, author of "Farm, Factories, and Families: Italian American Women of Connecticut". This is not his only book: his previous ones are "Portrait of an Italian American Neighborhood" (1998), "Boston's North End: Images and Recollections of an Italian American Neighborhood" (2006), "The Italian American Experience in New Haven" (2006), "Cooking with Chef Silvio: Stories and Authentic Recipies of Campania" (2009). He'll be touring Connecticut and not only to present his book: if any of our readers is interested in meeting him, please go to www.anthonyriccio.com and find out where and when.

Anthony, you are the author of "Farm, Factories, and Families: Italian American Women of Connecticut". Tell us something more about this

I have written several books before this one, about Italian Americans, and I realized that there was another story to be told – one that have never been told before – the story about women in this community.

The Italian American women never had a voice, they almost always operated in the background -in families, at work place - but they were really the ones who helped keep together the Italian American culture. They would manage the family economy, give the children that behavior that they had inherit from Italy, nurture the family. During the depression, when the men were out at work, they were the ones who opened up their own stores, becoming entrepreneurs to help the family economy.

Women were the ones who first organized their effort for the Union – basically a female movement, as I have learnt in the studying of this book: women were very creative, heroine coming from a patriarchal society, with men deciding for women and basically dictating what should have happened to the family. When they came to America, I think that the American dream for them was the ability, the chance to speak out for justice; and the book is so important because it gives women their own voice.

These are all stories and interviews about women who were in Connecticut, that I sometimes translated from the Italian into the text of the book. But I had more or less the same pattern of answers in New England, with women coming especially from the south, most of them with no chance for formal education. The book is very exciting in that sense, because history is usually written by men. Probably this is what also happened in other countries that welcomed Italian emigration: like Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil, and Australia too.

A lot of people who live in Connecticut has an Italian heritage: some say that 19.3% of Connecticut's population claims Italian ancestry, being this percentage the second in the US, just after Rhode Island. How would you describe the history and the present of the Italian American community in the Constitution State?

Well, many Italian Americans are still living in Connecticut, but the culture is fading because no one is saving and documenting it or preserving it in any way. I think that the only way to preserve Italian culture, at least what we have inherited from our history, is to write it: but there's very little written about it, because we are not writers, we descend from a culture of oral traditions.

I have done a lot of research in literature and a lot of comparisons in this book: so my study is basically about capturing our oral traditions because most women and men who came here at the turn of the century, all over Connecticut, they did not write about them or their experience. Their traditions lived because they orally passed them from father to son, from mother to children, telling proverbs, or wisdom tales, or stories. But if you don't capture that, you lose part of your history, at least as far as the Italian American culture goes here in Connecticut; and so that's what I've done, I've tried to save it in their words, in their expressions, from the bottom up ... our peoples history, more or less.

The book has photos too, right?

Yes, some of them come from families albums: some of the women I interviewed had photo albums. We call it "slights of life photographs": everyday photographs of themselves, maybe at work, their first communion, wedding photographs, student graduation pictures ... the others photographs come from the portraits I took of my storytellers.

Which are the most important places for the Italians in Connecticut?

I think that almost every city in Connecticut had its Italian section. Norwalk or Middletown, New Haven or Hartford, there always was an Italian section, and at the center of it there probably was a church, or a green place, or a the main street or boulevard where everyone lived. So there are many many places in Connecticut that I think were important. As an example, in New Haven the most important place for the Italians was Christopher Columbus park, and that's exactly in the heart of the Italian neighborhood.

Were this sections officially called "Little Italy"?

No, they all had their own name. Maybe some other people from different cultures used sometimes to call one or two of them "Little Italy"; but among the Italians every one of these places had a different nickname, just no "Little Italy". For instance, in Naugatuck there was this place called "The Hill" because it was just on top, overlooking the city; in Hartford the Italian section was the North End.

Is there an anecdote or a story, maybe not particularly known, that you would like to mention from your book as something interesting about being an Italian woman in the US?

Well, there are so many stories that I recorded, but I think that the most poignant story of all is the way the book ends, the epilogue: is the story of a woman, she was Sicilian, from a little town called Melilli. In this one section of Connecticut there was one town called Middle Town: the immigration was huge from Melilli to Middle Town, kind of a chain migration. Probably in Middle Town there is more people descendant somehow from Melilli, than in Melilli itself in Sicily. So this woman was a 102 years old when I interviewed her, and she told me stories of Sicily of the early '20s, what life was like in those days: and it was fascinating because she basically reconstructed and a bit even relived her life in Sicily by talking to me. Then she told me about her journey to America.

At the very end, when I finished to write the book, I had no epilogue. So, when I finished my interview with her, we were supposed to meet again: she promised me that she'd tell me all the Sicilian proverbs that she remembered as a child, coming from that very rural, agrarian area ... that was her culture, where she grew up.

Suddenly she became sick, and we could not meet, I got a phone call of her daughter, telling me "my mother is fading in another consciousness, we don't think she is going to live; but she keeps telling me to call Anthony because I have to give him the proverbs". The last day that she was conscious, she dictated those proverbs to her daughter, and her daughter told me that in the last conversation she really had with her mother, she reported her that Anthony said that her life story will never die. And then she lost consciousness and died.

This is in the book. This story is very important, because it's a metaphor for the entire generation, her life to me represents the whole generation of those women, who were passing away: and if you don't document it, you lose it. Her name was Lucia Falbo Fulim: she married a policeman from Veneto, they met in Sicily and later they decided to come to the United States together.

In the beautiful Ravello, Naples, there's a wonderful photo exhibition called "From Italy to America. Photographs by Anthony Riccio", with some of the photos you shot to Italian men and women in representation of those who left their little villages of the southern Italy to end up in the Little Italies in the United States. Please tell us something more about this exhibition

Officially the exhibition was supposed to end on april 6: but I'm happy to say that it's going to continue to be there. The mayor just decided to put it in their archive room, permanently.

It's really the visual journey of the Italians from the southern provinces to America. It's a visual documentation of the condition in the south that I photographed when I was a very young man, many years ago. I was a Graduate student in Art History in Florence, and in those years I went to the south many many times, to take photos about the conditions: we're talking about the mid '70, and that became the base of my work.

The exhibition is divided in three parts: Italy, Boston and New Haven. Images of the people who came, what they did when they got here in America, and that's why it's called "From Italy to America". It is a visual journey.

So, in the exhibition you have also a few people who actually did not travel from Italy to America, but remained here in Italy, right?

Yes, in some photos there are people that I met there, in the south of Italy.

Visually, which differences did you experience between those who stayed here and those who went to United States?

To tell you the truth, visually, the people that came to America and lived the same lifestyle that they had in Italy, changed very little. You know it's funny, I have met people that have seen the show and the photos I took in the south years ago, and they said that people don't even look like that anymore in Italy. Men and women that I have documented back in the days, in Boston and New Haven and in the southern Italy, now they don't look that angry anymore, they don't have that visual expression anymore. The typical physiognomy of the farmer, la "fisionomia del contadino", has changed for good, it simply doesn't exist anymore.

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