THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED BY THE PERMISSION OF
the Editor of the '54/'04 Cardinal, The 50th ReUnion Memory Book of the Santa Cruz High School Class of 1954. A copy is available for viewing in the Santa Cruz Alumni Association Office and in the Genealogy Section of the main Santa Cruz Public Library
(Margaret Ghio-Hartmann, a retired San Francisco policewoman, divides her time between her homes in Santa Cruz and in San Francisco.)
By Margaret (Ghio) Hartmann
World War II caused difficult changes in the lives of Italian American families in Santa Cruz. My father, Tom, a commercial fisherman who was born in Riva Trigosa, Genoa, Italy, and had come to the United States as a babe in arms, was declared an alien even though he was married to a U.S. citizen.
Most of the Italian fishing families lived in an area of the city bounded by Bay Street, California Street and Monterey Bay. For the men, the wharf was not only their source of livelihood but also was the center of their social life.
On Dec. 7, 1941, I had scarlet fever, and my mother, my sister and I were quarantined. There was an alert that the Japanese were going to invade Santa Cruz, and everyone in our area was evacuated, except for a paralyzed man and us.
My father, the so-called alien, wasn’t allowed to fish anymore but, ironically, was sent up to guard the Bay Street Reservoir . . . as if his little fishing boat could cause as much harm as someone poisoning the drinking water or signaling from the hills. He was armed with a stick — not even a baseball bat — to protect the reservoir.
My father appealed his alien status, but to no avail. He had to sell his fishing boat and move us from Mason Street to the other side of Mission Street, where we lived across from Bay View Elementary School. So we always had plenty of kids to play with.
My father found work at the cement plant, a vital industry, eventually passed the citizenship test and returned to fishing.
Our camera, radio and shotgun were confiscated, although later they were re-turned. My parents bought a multi-band radio but before it was delivered, the short wave band was removed.
There was a lot of misinformation spread during the war. At school we were told that the government was going to have all students collect milkweed seeds to be used as a substitute for kapok. Another time we were warned about balloons that would spew poisonous gases upon landing with a buzzing noise. It was really scary stuff for an 8-year-old.
There also were blackouts. I remember sitting in the dining room with all the windows covered with black paper. The air raid wardens would get upset if they could see any light. There were shortages, and food and gasoline were rationed. There were not many toys for kids.
I experienced minimal problems because my mother wasn’t Italian and I was fair-haired with blue eyes. But my cousin, Santa Cruzan Mary (Ghio) Stagnaro, wasn’t so lucky. Her mother, Emma, also was born in Riva Trigosa, and her family spoke Italian at home. I can remember Mary being teased about her grammar, for example, “foots” for “feet.”
Mary’s family also was forced to move, and they went to the East Side, as did our grandparents. Her father, my Uncle Tony who was my father’s younger brother, was able to continue fishing because he had been born in the United States.
Mary and I were very young when the war broke out (we entered kindergarten in September 1941) and have only dim recollections of its beginnings. Other than the kids teasing Mary about her grammar, which probably would have happened whether or not there had been a war, we don’t remember any personal discrimination. But we lived in an area that was predominantly Italian and attended a school with a large Italian population.
We know of some men who were interred but, fortunately, not in our family.
When my father returned to fishing, he brought home a football, a basketball and a baseball that he found in the ocean. Supposedly they had been lost when they went overboard from military ships in the area.
LNC: As I was doing research for the "La Nostra Costa" book, I came across articles in the Monterey Herald regarding the sufferings of the Italian fishermen and their families because of the imposed WWII restrictions, in the Monterey Bay Area.
For more information on the history of these restrictions read :"Una Storia Segreta: The History of Italian Evacuation and Internment During World War II, published by Heyday Books 2001. Also Chapter 2, in my book,"La Nostra Costa" (Our Coast), 'La Costa E La Guerra' (The Coast and the War).
IVANO FRANCO COMELLI WILL BE APPEARING AT THE "CAPITOLA CAFE BOOKSTORE" ON 41ST AVENUE IN CAPITOLA, ON JANUARY 17, 2007, AT 7:30 PM. FOR MORE INFORMATION CALL THE CAPITOLA BOOKSTORE AT 1-831-462-4415, OR VISIT THEIR WEBSITE: