Saturday, April 14, 2007

PEOPLE OF MAGGIA INTERVIEWS - PART II

(Above) Letter from Sophie Poletti Costella to Poletti relative in Italy (1959), courtesy of Corrado Poletti. [Click on letter to view enlarged image.]
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THIS IS PART II OF THE INTERVIEWS OF THE PEOPLE OF MAGGIA. PART II AND PART I BELOW, CAN BE READ SEPARATELY AS THEY PROVIDE SOMEWHAT DIFFERENT ACCOUNTS OF THE IMMIGRANTS. AGAIN, THE INTERVIEWS WERE SENT TO ME BY PROF. CORRADO POLETTI IN THE ORIGINAL ITALIAN AND WERE TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH BY SIG. GINO CAMPIONI. PROF. POLETTI HAS HIS OWN BLOGSPOT AT:







THE PICTURE ABOVE IS OF MY FATHER GERVASIO "BRONCO' COMELLI, DRESSED IN HIS RANCERE OUTFIT; WITH VIRGINIA BROVIA. THE PICTURE WAS TAKEN CIRCA 1937 IN NEW TOWN, A "SUBURB" OF DAVENPORT, 'SU PER LA COSTA'. THE PICTURE - TOP RIGHT, WAS SENT BY PROF. POLETTI. ACCORDING TO THE PROFESSOR, LOUIS POLETTI IS STANDING IN FRONT OF HIS STORE.









In the centuries past the people lived mostly by agriculture and raising of animals. They worked as farmers, but were forced to emigrate anyway because there was no work available. Every patch of soil was worked assiduously, and the farmers pieced together bits of gardens among the great boulders of glacial or flood origins which we find here in Valle Maggia in order to plant something. Hunger was always present and our people lived out their lives even in danger.

In letters of Ticinese emigrants who left for California we have found that to be able to leave for the trip (emigration) they asked their parents for funds. We left at about the age of 18 years. Some emigrants, in their letters, have recounted and explained their lives.
They said that even in California, the life was hard. The people, parents who remained in Ticino waited with anxiety for letters and funds from America. In particular were the wives remaining at home, having to raise their children and busy themselves caring for animals and doing work in the fields.

There are aspects of these letters which are most interesting. Letter no. 390 sent by Felicita Leoni says: "Sad happenings, that is great droughts that are occurring in these our towns are incredible. All are lamenting, all say that if this keeps on, we can do nothing." This phrase indicates that here in Ticino there was no water and this rendered the work even more difficult.

However, this letter (no. 730) is written by a gentleman, whose name is not given, sent to brother Pompeo: "In whatever time you wish to come, you need not do any more than let me know, and I shall forward you the money necessary for the trip, and if you need to keep it for some years, I will ask no interest on it." Herein we note how the emigrants aided those that were still in Ticino to prepare them for the departure.

The trip to California

The emigrants left Valle Maggia for a long and tiring trip. From Valle Maggia, they went to Locarno by stagecoach, took the train for Bellinzona, traveled the Leventine Valley, the tunnel of Gottardo, crossed Switzerland and arrived at Le Havre, France. Once reaching Le Havre, the emigrants embarked toward America. They took about 13 days to make the Atlantic crossing. The thirteenth day they arrived in New York and then by train continued their trip to San Francisco. (California)

The trip from Locarno to San Francisco cost about 400 Fr. in third class and lasted two or three weeks. To the emigrants on the steamship were assigned some cots with straw for bedding and small and prickly blankets. All found themselves in the same compartment. This made the trip uncomfortable and tiring.

At times the trip was stormy, others more tranquil. When there were storms and gales the trip became perilous and the people were gripped with fear: "The sea from that day was most agitated. I believed that it was truly the end of the world." (Letter no. 853, Beniamino Tomasini)

At California

The Ticinese emigrants, on arriving at New York, found great differences: They were impressed by the very wide streets, by very tall buildings, by the perfect order. "Everything was colossal, grandiose city blocks, wide streets in straight lines and very long, great and luxurious trains with every imaginable commodity." (letter no. 730)

At New York they took the train for California. The Ticinese emigrants, immediately debarking, found at their arrival parents, friends, acquaintances with whom they sought hospitality. They were happy but had problems with banks and language: they had to learn English and find jobs at once. Furthermore, they had to adapt to the climate of the place and obtain clothing adequate for the rain.

The life in the "ranches" was most difficult. "When finally the first rains began, the work life became even more heavy, here a weak cow was stuck in mud, another caught in some ditch, another in muck up to her belly and they needed to go with horses to free them from the dangers with ropes and chains." (letter no. 730) Almost all worked in ranches but some remained in cities and worked in restaurants, hotels or stores. In the cities were hotels with names such as: "Hotel Gottardo", "Ticino" and thus they found themselves at once with a sense of home.

Life on the Ranch

The major part of the Ticinese arriving in California went to work in ranches that were large farms. We have read some letters of Ticinese emigrants, in one is written that in their ranch were more than 90 animals, 29 or 30 cows, a large number of chickens, 2 goats, 2 dogs and some horses. The work in the ranches was most time consuming, having to arise very early:"In the morning we must awake at 4 am and must saddle the horse and go round up the cows, then milk them. Having done that we must go cut wood until it is milking time again." Letter no. 226 Venanzi)

They also had to mow hay, cut wood, plow the fields, clean the horses, feed the pigs, and toward evening round up the cows to milk them again. At the end they had to clean the stalls. Not all the Ticinese did these peasant jobs when they emigrated to California: Some worked for travel agencies, others as watchmakers, or worked in stores, some were artisans, bakers, vintners or opened restaurants, trattorie and small hotels.

The Letters

The emigrants of California communicated with parents remaining in Ticino by letter. The letters were written with many spelling errors; but in those times many had only the opportunity of attending the elementary schools and some had no schooling at all. Also in these times we spoke mainly in dialect. In the letters which were sent asking about the health of their parents, they related their own health and living conditions, which animals they had, if they earned well, and the natural disasters happening in California.
"Suddenly I saw a huge flash of light above me, and a thunderbolt landed right on the fork I was holding on my shoulder, smashing it, and even the hat I was wearing was completely burned and I remained safe only by a miracle. I think I was indeed saved by a miracle by Our Madonna of The Graces to whom I pray you to have a painting made by some good artist to put into our church with all the others. I send you $50 to have this painting done, and if perchance more is requested, let me know in your letter." (Letter no. 634, Luigi)
They also would write about how much money they would send to Ticino. They also sent cashiers' checks. Some funds also served to pay the debts for the trip: they had to refund parents that which they had borrowed to go to California. In California we earned more, and there was more work available. The nephew, the son or the parent would always send funds to support the family remaining in Ticino or to have some house built.

We have noted that the letters of the time sent to emigrants and families are written with many errors of spelling and syntax, there are many words in dialect and some in English. However, they are most interesting letters telling of the life that the emigrants from Valle Maggia led in California.

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6 comments:

Jerry Mungai said...

Thanks, Ivan. The immigrants who come here today, "seeking a better
life for themselves and their families", have no idea how hard the
earlier immigrants worked when they came to the U.S.

In those days, immigrants learned English and assimilated quickly;
unlike today.

Jerry

LNC: Thanks Jerry. I don't know about learning the language quickly. However, as demonstrated by Gino's Dictionary, they did assimilate English words into their own dialect. Ivn0

Reno Cantarutti said...

Cant tell you how much I enjoyed the letters of VALLE MAGGIA, and the stories of the people of TICINO .I actually felt these stories , because I heard them of course from my dad (Guido Cantarutti), and other emigrantes ,and the reason for leaving the safety of there
little villages,where all the same , FOR A BETTER LIFE. There was only one differnce in my dad's story.He was young and had to work hard, but he always had plenty to EAT. However, as he used to say, he never had the desire to go back to ITALY for that reason.

However beinging the only son in the family , he did like was expected of him and sent, 99% of
what he earned back to his parents , like I am sure your dad did also. Right? RENO


LNC: Reno, as I write in "La Nostra Costa", Bronco, my dad was single when he came over. He did not have a family here in the US. From 1923 to 1931 he worked on the "rancios su per la costa". I am sure he sent some money back to Italy, however, by 1931 he had $5,000 in his savings. At that time he went back to Italy and paid off all of my Grandfather's mortgages and debts, and even added a second story addition to his house. Then he married Valentina (my mother) and upon returning to the US, they started their own family. Valentina made sure that the bulk of their money went for the care of their newborn sons, Giovanni Primo and Ivano Franco right here in the good old USofA.

ivano said...

E-Mail discourse with 'Figlio della Costa Jerry Mungai who has some interesting opinions.

Jerry. Your folks seemed to have learned English quicker than mine.
Weren’t they born here in the US? Ivn0


Yes, but your parents came as adults; look at Bobby & Fabbie--they came
here as kids and learned English very quickly. Older folks tend to stay
with there own kind because of their similare experiences, so it's
natural that they will learn English a little later. My grandmother Mungai never did learn English. Why should she? All her kids took care of all her needs and did so in Italian.

Today, with government emphasis on multiculturalism and bi-lingual
education and government forms in a gazillion languages, there is little need to learn English. This situation leads to balkanization, in my opinion.

Jerry



Right Jerry. Davenport and 'La Costa' were Italiano (For the most Part). No need to learn English. Santa Cruz was American (For the Most Part). When they (my parents shopped in SC they went to places where Italians ran the store. It
wasn't until after the War that they started shopping at Purity , Safeway,and, Penny's to get the better prices. When the Degli-Esposti boys came over (circa 1949), not only did they have to learn English, they had to
learn the new Italian Dialect that we had created 'su per la costa'. I,remember, my brother and I, taking English words home from school and teaching
them to my mother. She would try to pronounce them, but often "Italianized" the words.. Like: trouble= 'trobolo'. My father didn't bother until much
later .ivn0

jerry mungai said...

Ivan, your comments reminded me of what my mom told me when I was
younger. My parents spoke Italian at home; and when my brother started school, he insisted on speaking English, because he proclaimed, he was an American. What a contrast to today's immigrant families!

I, by the way, apparently was confused between Italian spoken by my parents and English by my brother. English won out; and I had to learn Italian in college.

Jerry: I guess in your family you could get away with that, since your parents spoke English. It would have been pretty quiet in my household if we didn't speak Italian. As an aside, my mother was always proud of us for speaking Italian. She always referred to it as the "Lingua" that she had thought us. ivnO

Corrado Poletti said...

Salve carissimi.... no...non sono sparito.... sono solo stato molto impegnato e ora mi sono preso un attimo di tempo per salutarVi di cuore e mandarvi un articolo che riguarda tanti italiani in California e anche il mio parente Louis Poletti.

Sono riuscito ad avere anche una copia della lettera che scrisse nel 1959 la Poletti Costello Sophie a mio padre Renato.
E' stato molto emozionante... e quindi torno alla carica .... he he he-....... siamo fatti così noi gente di montagna... è difficile che molliamo la nostra mèta (i nostri obiettivi).

Per il momento vi saluto tanto

Poletti Corrado

Ivano Franco Comelli said...

Nice to hear from you again, Corrado. I have posted Sophia Poletti Costella's letter to your father on the 'Blagga' Another interesting addition to the Poletti Family history. Mille Grazie. Ivano