Stories of Italian-American Fathers

The Pisa brothers
Dear Readers,
Father’s Day was last Sunday, so Happy Father’s Day to all you fathers, grandfathers, uncles, big brothers and father figures out there, and may happy memories bring a small measure of comfort to readers whose fathers are gone now and hopefully are with the angels.
Fathers who were widowed and suddenly left with young “bambini” to raise are most likely to be found these days resting with the angels. Signora L.F.B. recalls her father Ugo Fratto, a WWII U.S. Army Veteran and P.O.W for nearly two years, after being captured by the Germans. Ugo arrived from Calabria in 1925, when his uncle Frank Morelli sent for him. Ugo worked in his Uncle Frank’s Shoe Repair shop in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. A family story is that when he was sent to the store for soap, he came back with Lava soap. His aunt asked him “how did you get the right brand?” Daddy has asked for “lavare soap”.

Heeding the “Go West Young Man” advice, he went to San Francisco in 1929. He found work at a Shoe Repair Shop, owned by a gent from Verbicaro, Province of Cosenza in Calabria. Later he worked as a shoe cutter on Folsom Street for $25 a week. In 1930 he got a job at 20th Century Fox. He said that Shirley Temple, Will Rogers and Tom Mix kept the studio alive during the Depression. One time they had to wait 2 or 3 days for their pay, but no one was ever laid off. When he went to war, Fox held his job for him, and he worked forty-five years with the same company. You don’t see that anymore!
 Ugo, a friend of my Uncle Domenic in San Francisco was “a Prince of a fellow”. His daughter Linda recalls that her Dad and mother Mary had no relatives here. After my mother died, Daddy’s cousins in PA wanted to take my sister Lauren and me there. Daddy put his foot down. He said we’d lost our mother; we weren’t going to lose our father, too...
 The Pisa brothers

 The Pisa brothers

In the 1920’s, the Pisa brothers, Federico and Pietro along with their “cugino” Salvatore, immigrated from Villa Franca, province of Messina, Sicilia. Later they married and became fathers and grandfathers in the U.S.A. In World War II, Italo-Americans served in disproportionate numbers in the U.S. Military Services. While fighting for their country, many of their “non cittadini” parents were losing employment because of curfews, relocating because they lived too close to the ocean or even were being sent out of state to internment camps (see La Storia Segreta, the unknown internment of Italians for more info).
In the 1950’s during the Korean War, it was the offspring of these same Italian immigrants who were getting shot at, until shaky Korean Armistice was signed in July of 1953. When the two sides counted their losses, nearly 25,000 U.S. soldiers, more than a million South Koreans and more than a million Communists had lost their lives.
 To me it was these Italian immigrants and millions like them, who were the real pioneers of space travel. They left their isolated and obscure villages to begin a journey to what was for them like another planet. To a world thousands of miles away they set out with no money and the added burden of not being to read or speak one of the world’s most difficult languages.
Our forefathers, especially those without funds, friends and fluency in English were often lonely and full of a nostalgia, which was reflected in the Lyrics of their songs, which were variations of “Terra straniera quanta malinconia” or Italian equivalents of “My Old Kentucky Home” like Calabria or Sicilia Mia. After World War II, these songs of nostalgia, both in the U.S. and Italy were considered “old fashioned” and Italian hit songs, many with strong American musical influences, were “preferito” by “La gioventù” in Italy.
     Now, “Grazie” to Signor A.C. of Massachusetts, I recently learned that both in Italy and in U.S. Italo-American circles, Italian folks songs, many sung in regional dialects and backed by musical retro Bands are gaining in popularity and are drawing enormous crowds on both sides on the Atlantic.
Santo Bordonaro, born in Siracusa, on the Italian island of Sicily, is a member of an Italian Folk Band. Currently he is the executive manager and food consultant for the newly opened Rosaria Restaurant and Function Facility in Saugus Massachusetts, owned by Joe Pace who named his new “ristorante” Rosaria after his mother. Joe, born Giuseppe, in Orsogna, in the Abruzzo region, came to America with his mother Rosaria at the age of nine to join his father Nicola, who had migrated to Boston two years earlier and opened a small Italian “Groceria”.
Santo Bordonaro is a man of many talents. In addition to his love for Italian Folk Music, Santo’s background is in the hotel and restaurant business and he has been involved in facilitating numerous hotel and restaurant openings around the world.
In honor or in memory of our fathers and grandfathers here are few lyrics of Italian Folk songs that once again are bringing joy and feelings of nostalgia to those with “Roots in the Italian boot” or to those with fond memories of “La patria mia”.

Campagnola Reginella
All’alba quando spunta il sole

là nell’Abruzzo tutto d’or

le prosperose campagnole

discendono le valli in fior.

O campagnola bella

tu sei la reginella

negli occhi tuoi c’è il sole

C’è il colore delle viole

delle valli tutte in fior!
Sicilia, Sicilia, canta ‘na pasturedda

Sicilia, Sicilia, ioca ‘na funtanedda,

l’aria e lu suli inchinu, l’arma ri poisia,

Sicilia, Sicilia, tu si la patria mia!

Pensu sta terra ca, mi sta luntana,
na terra profumata sutta o suli,

ca io lassai pi jiri a travajiari*,

cu grand duluri e granni rispaciri.

Pensu a la mia casuzza ca lassai,

a li biddizzi di la terra mia.

Lassai a me matri e a tutti li me cari,

lassai l’uduri di la terra mia.

Iu cantu pi putirimi scurdari.
*I left to try to find work

Calabria Mia
Iu pregu notti e iornu a lu signori*,

ca tutti i figghi tuoi a na turnari*.

lu sacciu che tu si malata i cori,
lu sacciu che accussi non poi campari.
*I pray night and day to God that all your children will return

Simu malati d’ammuri, simu malati,

comu sti mandulini e sti chitarri.
Chiagni stu cori, di nostalgia,
chiagni pi tia calabria mia*
*I cry for you my Calabria

Quel mazzolin di fiori
Quel mazzolin di fiori,
 che vien dalla montagna,

quel mazzolin di fiori, 
che vien dalla montagna.

E bada ben che non si bagna
 che lo voglio regalar.

E bada ben che non si bagna 
che lo voglio regalar.

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