ITALIAN AMERICANS IN THE SANTA CLARA VALLEY, the exciting exhibit at the Martin Luther King Jr. main public library, located at San Jose University, in partnership with San Jose State University (150 E. San Fernando Street), has been extended until June 30!
Ken Borelli, President of the Italian American Heritage Foundation says while it was a lot of work to put the 3 month exhibit together, it only touched upon a small part of the contribution of Italian Americans to the South Bay area. Ken suggested that for the benefit of readers who cannot attend, I share some notes with you: Each local Italian American community is distinct, based upon immigrant patterns, historic experiences, and interaction with mainstream America. In Santa Clara County, Italian American roots and contribution to the life of the community go unusually deep, resulting in a very rich heritage that is such a part of daily life, that the vitality of the community is often ignored or under appreciated.
Just consider the role of A.P. Giannini in the development of the Bank of Italy/America, along with the Agribusiness of the South Bay employing literally thousands of people of all ethnic groups in the canneries, truck farms, and agricultural distribution centers for the Nation centered right in Santa Clara County. Perhaps because the South Bay replicates theclimate of their immigrant homeland, the early settlers found an environment that was understood both in potential and productively responding to their hard work (a common denominator of all immigrant communities)!
Along with their productive lifestyle came a bustling community of small businesses, churches, and fraternal organizations that fostered the culture and arts of a collective heritage. One of the continuous owned deli’s, Chiaramonte’s, over 100 years old is still located in one of the original Italian American communities in San Jose, around the Italian National Parish of Holy Cross Church, where Mass is still celebrated in Italian even today. Interesting, too, is the vitality of various Italian immigrant communities, such as the Arbaresh or Albanian Italians whose origins go back to the 1500’s and became part of the migration to San Jose, the Sicilians of Trabia, the Materese of Basilicata and Tricarico, the Molise from Campobasso, and the villagers from around Parma, Genova and Lucca of Central and Northern Italy.
The exhibit itself is being held at the Jennifer and Philip Di Napoli Gallery on the second floor of the library. It was a coincidence but highlights the major contributions of thisAgribusiness Family (food processors and canneries) not just to the economic vitality of the community but its cultural life as well.
This goes back to why we really need to highlight, document and preserve this rich tradition. In addition to the historic slices of life included in the show, a special section on “Italian War Brides”, Jazz, and the World War Ii internment gives us many more glimpses into this dynamic South Bay area. The most important thing Ken notes is not so much “talking to ourselves” but getting the word out to the entire community as to who we are as a people and heritage. Many of the photos are on permanent exhibit at the I.A.H.F. For more info: Italian American Heritage Foundation (425 North Fourth Street, San Jose, California, 95112. Tel. 408-293-7122).