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Sam Allevato is one of San Juan Capistrano’s most esteemed city council members, a past mayor of the city, and a full-time Italian-American family man.
After a career in law enforcement spanning 33 years, Allevato attained the level of Detective Commander for the Irvine Police Department in California, before becoming mayor of San Juan Capistrano in 2010, and city council member in 2014.
Looking back, Allevato remembered that his father “always [reminded] him that [he] was ‘Italian-American’ and that we live in a great country.”
His grandparents separately immigrated to West Virginia from San Giovanni in Fiore, Reggio Calabria, Italy in the early 1900s. They were so in love, by October 1902 they were married.
Allevato’s grandfather worked in the coal mines trying to make money for his new family, which soon included Allevato’s father, Salvatore who was born in 1904.
When his parents split up, Salvatore moved back to San Giovanni with his father, who soon remarried and made the Allevato family even bigger.
Unfortunately, when Fascism spread through the country, Salvatore’s father did not want him to join the Italian army. When he turned 18, he travelled back to West Virginia to reclaim his American citizenship, and to find for his mother, whom he had never met as an adult. When he found his mother in Clarksburg, West Virginia, he was met with many open arms because she, like his father, had also remarried and had children. Salvatore now had multiple half-siblings in both Italy and the United States.
Salvatore immediately got to work and entered in the coal mining business, same as his father. Allevato relayed what harsh conditions in which his father worked.
“You worked twelve [hour] days, six days a week for [five dollars per week]. You had to pay for your own shovel, pick ax, helmet, boots, etc. and you were only paid in company script called “Dawson Dollars” [from Dawson Coal Mine Company] which could only be used in the Company Store. You lived in Company housing and paid them for your rent. You owe[d] your soul to the Company Store.”
Salvatore was only 19 at the time, and it was a hard way of life. He lived with other coal miners in an all-male boarding house, until he met the woman he would marry, Sam’s mother, Ms. Mary Bitonti. She was also born in Clarksburg, but the young couple had more in common than West Virginia. Her family had also immigrated there from San Giovanni, making nearly all of Allevato’s family from the same small town in Italy.
After they were married, Salvatore and Mary settled in Dawson, West Virginia, where they had two children, Allevato’s brothers. The depression hit Dawson hard, though, and they had to move the family to Akron and Cleveland, Ohio. After a few years, they eventually made it back to Clarksburg, West Virginia to open a grocery business.
It was then that Sam Allevato was born, on Halloween, October 31st, 1947.
When the Korean War began, Allevato’s brothers were stationed in California as soldiers in the army.
“They told my dad that they weren’t coming back [to West Virginia] after the war because California was so beautiful with… more opportunities,” Sam relayed.
So, in July of 1950, Salvatore sold his grocery store and moved Mary, Sam, and himself to California to settling in the East Los Angeles area.
Sam stayed in sunny California and married Vicky in 1967. They moved to San Juan Capistrano in 1976 and they have two children, Sam Christopher and Tiffany, two grand-children Zoey Isabella and Maxwell Liam, and a son-in-law, Michael Martinez.
Upon discovering he still had family in San Giovanni, Allevato flew out to visit them in 2008.
“They are second cousins that own businesses in the town. They are very warm and welcoming to their long lost relatives from America!”
Some things never change, and in the Allevato home, Italian heritage can be found around every corner. The Allevatos are devout, practicing Roman Catholics, and appreciate the ties Catholicism has with San Giovanni.
Even the meals in the Allevato home are right out of Italy.
“We always have the large family dinners, usually on Sundays, where we all sit around the table and catch up on all the family happenings.”
Allevato also has hopes that his children and grandchildren continue appreciating their heritage. He and his son are currently trying to obtain Italian citizenships, and he plans on encouraging his grandchildren to do the same. His grand-daughter, Zoey Isabella, attends Holy Family Cathedral School in Orange, California and is in the school choir. They will be performing for the Pope in Rome next year, and Allevato hopes that this will inspire a love for the country he holds so dear to his heart.
Throughout his life, Allevato reveals that his biggest inspiration, has been his father, Salvatore Allevato. Allevato believes that his father “personified the American dream” and “was a steady influence on [his] life until his death in 1995.”
“He came to America with nothing in his pocket and was able to build a wonderful life for my mother and my three brothers through hard work, thrifty values, [and] strong family cohesion… heritage is something to be proud of and celebrated.”