Tuesday, January 27, 2009


(Please 'clicca" on newspaper article for enlarged image. Then this very special article will become very readable.)

MRS. HELEN SONNEBORN taught many of the Italians (and others) 'su per la costa' about our Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and other important documents and historical events pertaining to theUnited States of America. The Italians loved her and much of their success of becoming U.S. Citizens they attributed to their much admired teacher.

IN 'LA NOSTRA COSTA' (P. 225) I WRITE: "While Bronco was telling his stories Valentina was having a real good time. She was very happy that she had passed her examination. This was the only time that I would ever see Valentina even halfway intoxicated. She had had quite a few drinks and was singing and dancing. This was indeed unusual. The Valentina I knew usually did not drink and was quite the serious lady."*

AFTER READING the above article everything (for me) falls into place. The party at 'Serafina's" must have come at the end of a very long day of celebrating. No wonder Valentina was "halfway intoxicated".

*Copyrighted by Ivano Franco Comelli --as it appears in "La Nostra Costa" (Our Coast), A Family's Journey To and From The North Coast Of Santa Cruz, CA. (1923-1983) published by Authorhouse 2006. Please visit Ivano's website: http://www.lanostracosta.com-a.googlepages.com/


Reno Cantarutti said...

IVANO Read your wonderfull article on your Dad's (mother's) citizenship graduation party ,it was great and brought back many memories about my dad's (Guido Cantarutti). It took a supreme effort for these two men who had little schooling habits to "hit " the books to study for this exam. Not that it was any easier for our mothers.
I did visualize your dad ,with his hat cocked, arm up in the air and singing .

My dad"s hardest guestion to learn was what is the constitution ? If you would reverse the question , and ask him what is the supreme law of the land , he would go blank . (Then)he would
get mad and go to bed ,period . I was super proud of him because he used to get up at 4:00 in the morning. This was quite an effort for him, but he made it . RENO

Anonymous said...

Hi Ivano,

I couldn't find your e-mail so I thought I would leave you a comment. My name is Scott Stephens. I am currently renting the house formerly housing the Filipino farm workers in il buco. My landlord Andrew Hsu generously let me borrow your book and I just finished reading it. It was amazing going back in time and imagining everything you wrote about. I can almost see the horses grazing across the creek and smell the delicious food coming from the cookhouse. Thank you so much for your contributions to the history of this property and the north coast.Living in this special place has had a great affect on me as a person and allowed me to experience life the way it should be. Walking across the old gulch ranch and going surfing isn't too bad either. I am currently a student at UCSC studying agroecology and have began work building a beautiful organic vegetable garden on the ocean side of where the four redwood trees stand in il buco. Thanks again amici.


Ivano Franco Comelli said...

SCOTT: THANKS FOR CONTACTING ME. I believe that I met you last November when I was with two Italian tourist from Friuli (the same region my parents were born.) I am glad that Andrew and Jean gave you the book to read. It is persons such as yourself that I want to reach. Persons who have limited knowledge of the almost forgotten History 'su per la costa' during the time period covered in the book. I am glad that you are enjoying your stay in "Il Buco". Although it was a symbol of hard work and some disappointment to my parents, I certainly had fun growing up there. I will never forget Charlie and Prince and my adventures in the old barn and the 'cookahousa' . BTW: I am trying to get Alverda Orlando who is the narrator of Coastal History on the SC Community Channel to arrange for a TV tour of the Coast. "Il Buco" certainly would be a major stop.

Please pass the word along to your friends and fellow students about "La Nostra Costa". I believe the book is available at the UCSC Library. If not the Santa Cruz Library has a couple of copies and the Porter Memorial Library in Soquel has a copy. Certainly your fellow surfers would be interested in the 'sexual awareness" class that Mario Rodoni and I attended at the Beach on the Gulch Ranch. Sempre Avanti. Ivano

Ivano Franco Comelli said...

I sent an e-mail to Aldo Penniman regarding Amadeo Costella whose name appears as the Master of Cermonies in the "Mrs. Sonneborn" article. Aldo has Costella relatives on his Mother's side of the family. He responded in kind.

I checked with my Mom. Amadeo Costella and his family are from Gravago, the same small village that my Costella family came from.
Amadeo is part of the Costella family that owned the old Garibaldi Hotel over by the river. (ED: Front Street, Santa Cruz)
Amadeo and his brother Norman had a clothing store on Front Street called Costella Bros.Clothing. I remember as a kid, my Nono shopped there and I'd go in with him
They'd all talk in Italiano and play jokes on each other.
So according to Mom.. they are not exactly related but are somehow. They are not as close relationship wise as the Costella Family that owned Costella's Chalet in Felton.
That's Elaine Costella Del Chiaro's family.
Thanks for taking the time to ask about this. This sort of thing is always interesting.



Hey Kap,

Thanks so much, Ivano; coincidentally, in the last few days, Aldo (Penny) Penniman and I have been discussing getting together for lunch; we were both members of Active 20-30 Club back in the early 1960's, and had some great times. This will give me some background material; I'd love to meet his mother some day, and maybe we could establish some kind of Costella family tree; you see, Elaine's grandmother, Regina Bach Costella, and her grandfather, Louis Costella, had some involvement/ownership in the Garibaldi Hotel too.

I used to shop at the clothing store on Front St. too; and of course, attended a number of wedding receptions at the Garibaldi; one in particular sticks in my mind; the waitress, as she walked behind me, tipped the bowl of soup, and it all ran down the back of my neck.........HOT soup. I can still feel the sting, even though it was about 65 years ago. (Remember the rattlesnake skins on the walls?)

And if I remember right, there was an officer involved shooting in the doorway to that clothing store (Costella's), in the early 50's; don't remember the details, but I do remember the incident. Always gave me an eerie feeling when I walked into that store. They had some great work clothes, though. Good quality merchandise.

Marv Del Chiaro

Jerry Mungai said...

Re citizenship classes, I recall going to the Garibaldi Hotel for my grandparents' citizenship celebration; so the newspaper article about your mom's party was extra special. I read where my dad's uncle, Giovanni Tambellini, was one of the "vocalists". I do recall he enjoyed singing a bit a wedding receptions after a few drinks.


gino said...

Hi Ivano,

I think I already told you of the time I was asked to play my accordion for a women's club of some sort at the Garibaldi Inn.

With my spindly folding music stand in place, and wearing my power-blue suit with Baffi's (my father) maroon tie with the paisley pattern, I played a few songs.

Along came a waitress with a large tureen of soup. She tripped on the music stand and the tureen landed face down on the floor, splashing minestrone all over my suit and the accordion.

The suit came out of it OK after a trip to the cleaners. The accordion still carries the brown spots on its white folds. The tie went back to my father, who wears it to this day as he lays at rest at Holy Cross Cemetary in Santa Cruz.

Migliori auguri, Gino

Janis Rinaldi Robinson said...

Ulisse Rinaldi (mentioned in the article as one of the singers) was my great uncle. Brother to my grandfather Joe Rinaldi. The Rinaldi brothers who sang? any idea who that was? the older generation? My Dad Vasco used to sing at just about every function we went to. At the time I didn't appreciate it and tried to slide under the table whenever he'd belt out O Solo Mio. :)
Janis Rinaldi Robinson

Janis Rinaldi Robinson said...

Ulisse Rinaldi (mentioned in the article as one of the singers) was my great uncle. Brother to my grandfather Joe Rinaldi. The Rinaldi brothers who sang? any idea who that was? the older generation? My Dad Vasco used to sing at just about every function we went to. At the time I didn't appreciate it and tried to slide under the table whenever he'd belt out O Solo Mio. :)
Janis Rinaldi Robinson


Hi Janis,

About the Rinaldi singer, according to Bob, there were 4 brothers, Your grandfather Joe, Ulisse, Rinaldo, and Pete.
The one with the best voice was Uncle Ulisse according to Bob. There is a story that was told to Bob by Ulisse, that Ulisse,was riding on the Giant Ferris Wheel at the Santa Cruz boardwalk; he was singing while on it and they stopped it at the top.He continued to sing and people on the ground stopped to enjoy the singing. ( Bob thinks that perhaps a little vino might have helped)

Bob remembers that at alot of the weddings that your dad along with Reno Rinaldi,son of Rinaldo would join forces and sing but again with some help of a few high balls. They also had great voices.

Deanna and Roberto

Ivano Franco Comelli said...


GINO said...

Ciao, Ivano,

.....(Today) I decided to straighten the small
collection of books on my computer desk.

I found one interesting small booklet, about 5 x 7 inches, with 77 pages in a green paper back cover, slightly moth-eaten,
and with faded stains, possibly from spilled vino. It is Twenty-Five Lessons in Citizenship by D.L.Hennessey, printed at
Berkeley, California in 1942.

Opening to the front page, I was surprised to see the familiar signature of Ada Campioni in pencil. No doubt I had seen
this book before, but had not looked inside. There were pencil notes all through it, such as, “the president is elected in
november, every four yer”. (sic) and pronunciation aids: Charter --“Ciarter”. All through the book are underlined the
answers to the most important questions for the citizenship test.

No doubt your parents used the same book. I remember the times I attended the class with my parents, and listened
to Mrs. Sonneborn’s lessons, or read my school book. These were the only classes my mother ever had the chance to
take, besides her third grade education in Italy. These were the only classes my father ever had.

The result was that they both gained citizenship, and I learned something too. They became good citizens and I also
increased in my appreciation at having been born in this, the Promised Land.

Saluti, Gino

THELMA said...

What a remarkable article about Mrs. Sonneborn. I definitely remember her and I too attended the citizenship classes at Pacific School in Davenport. My mother, Giuseppina, was a student. I remember the booklet that the students were provided. I used to go over all the questions with my mother that each student was expected to know before the examination. I'm surprised that she wasn't listed as an attendee at the banquet; however, I do know that she attended a banquet for the graduates who had acquired their citizenship. It truly is memorable to read about those times.

Gino is quite a historian. He has provided you with a lot of the information regarding "Su Per La Costa."

Sempre avanti, stai bene.


Ivano Franco Comelli said...

Thanks Thelma and Gino for your latest comments. These citizenship proceedings made such and impression on me as a boy, that in my fictional screenplay "Turbulent Quest", I have included a scene
where "Bronco della Costa" a fictional character based on my father, is taking his examination before a judge to become a US Citizen. In the scene, I have a 'Mrs. Sunnybrook', a fictional character, based on Mrs. Sonneborn,
stand before the court and give a poignant 'speech' defending "Bronco's" character which has been called into question by an overly zealous US attorney. This scene was based on
true events as related to me by my father during his examination.

BTW: It is somewhat ironic that I named the fictional presiding Judge in the scene, "Leo Giusti". In examining the list of successful canditates in Mrs. Sonneborn's Class of 1945, I see the name Anacleto Giusti. Perhaps a relative of the the Judge??

Sempre Avanti. Ivn0


Just would like to add my comments on that " famous " little booklet
on Citzenship , that I am sure all our parents , after a very long days work studied so hard to get their papers . Now days' immigrants
arrive here and they demand the right to have Citzenship immediately.

In my opinion, they don't even make the great sacrifce ,like our parents did. They just have learn it on the computer .

My father was a garbage man who got up at 4:00 AM , so when he came home at night it was a super effort to make the school (like all our parents ).
When I helped my father with his studys, I remember that his greatsed problem was answering the question,
"What is the constitution ?" Sometimes his answer was correct , however; when I would reverse the question , and ask him, "What is the supreme law of the land?", he became confused and couldn"t come up with the correct answer. However, like ALL our parents he never gave up,and he was so proud the day he became an
AMERICAN citzen -- the earned way. I cried for him I was so proud .

NORMA said...

Thank you for sharing this "sweet" tale of one my father's journey to become an American Citizen...I love to hear Reno's stories, he has so many!!!
norma(Cantarutti) Reiter

ZESTA said...

Hi Ivan, Just a note about my Nonna Pasqualina Caviglia's citizenship papers. She had them framed and they hung in her living room. She also had great respect for her teacher, Mrs. McCucheon. She got her papers after the war, probably 1945 or 46. She also was one who had to move from her home during the war because she was classified as an alien.

ED P said...

Thank you, very touching and so true. Having immigrant grandparents was one of the best gifts of my childhood. Rich, colorful, flavorful and STRONG! Tante grazzi fratello.

JERRY M. said...

What a far cry from today's citizenship tests. Today, they are administered in multiple languages and our pretty simple.

Worse, in order to vote, you only have to certify that you are a citizen under penalty of perjury. And who is going to investigate to verify citizenship? Nobody. Who wants to face charges of racism?



my latest take on the citizenship issue was published in Italian Americana in its Winter 2011 issue. it's called "Derived Aliens: Derivative Citizenship and Italian American Women During WWII." it deals with 2 subjects: american-born women who lost their citizenship when they married Italian immigrants; and Italian women who thought they had derived citizenship through their husbands, but who, after 1922, had to apply for citizenship on their own. many did not know this, and became enemy aliens when the war broke out in 1941.


Ivano "mio caro Furlan Amico"
This I can visualize as if I were present, the feast that followed the official ceremonies of your parents becoming US citizens. And especially for your Father "Branco" who waited such a long time since originally arriving to the US in 1923.
I recall my parents going through the same process when they became Canadian citizens back in 1957 . My parents always feared for their status if they did not have a Canadian Citizenship. This fear of being deported back to Italy. But this was not a fear brought on by others, it was their own fear as immigrants in a foreign country.
Since my Father's passing I have found many documents that he retained when during the late 50's he made provisions to work in Buffalo New York. He had affidavits made from a lawyer in Buffalo so he could legally work in the US. I recall him telling me that he could have worked in Buffalo for almost $1 more an hour than in Canada. But for some reason never follow through with it. All I can say that my Father was a very proud Canadian and he always made it clear that he earned his living here in Canada and that his roots were still in Friuli. After all there was a reason why they left their home land and family ! The opportunities were much more abundant here in North America (Canada and USA). I recall one of my Father's friends saying when he heard that people were returning back home to Italy to live...... "All that's left in Italy is History" .... and this very same line was phrased in the movie Big Night refer to site http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115678/ Directed by Stanley Tucci and Scott Campbell , excellent movie.

THELMA said...

Very interesting note from the Prof. Distasi. I didn't know all this in detail but I did know that Maria Caiocca from Davenport became a citizen after her marriage to Gilbert Caiocca in the early 20's after 1922. I can't remember the exact date. Just a comment.

Sempre avanti

LaNorma said...

The articles and input on Mrs. Sonneborn and our parents and their studying And getting their citizenship have been so interesting and we can all relate to that. We really are all proud of what our parents accomplished. It was very difficult for them, but they studied hard and did it so proudly!! What an inspiration
for all of us. My Dad got his citizenship in l939 as he was nervous about the war going on in Europe and definitely wanted to be an American!

My Mom started studying in l957 and I took her to Mrs. Sonneborn’s house at 38 Baldwin St. every week and like many of us read or did homework until she was done. Mrs. S. was very proud of her “pupils” and as in your Dad’s case when he was asked that so unfair question by the judge – she was there to help and defend them.

I know Gino should add this to his “Italo-American” dictionary: and we can all remember this:

Our parents could not say Mrs. Sonneborn - they said “la Mis Sanibo”

Ivano says: The question that LaNorma is referring to was (paraphrasing), "If you were in the American army fighting for United States against
Italy, and you saw one of your brothers on the battlefield, fighting for Italy, would you shoot and kill him".
Bronco refused to answer stating that he didn't understand the question. Mrs. Sonneborn stood up from the audience and protested to the Judge that this was an unfair question. The Judge agreed, and my father did not have to answer the question. This is recorded in my book, "La Nostra Costa" P.224

Anonymous said...

Signora Norma,

You are right about the way our parents said,"La Misse Sonibo"

There was a time when my parents asked me to help them with their English. I began by giving them the word "boy" for the Italian word, "ragazzo". This they could handle, though boy sounded much like the slurred word "buoi", meaning "oxen". Next was the word "girl". This they could not handle. It always came out "girol". Unfortunately, this boy 12 years of age, did not have the patience to continue. However, they learned all they needed to learn on their own. They could shop and do whatever was necessary, even without my help.

Saluti, Gino