Sunday, April 27, 2014

Four Seghieri immigrants to San Francisco all worked in family construction businesses

Monday, April 21
I recently heard from descendants of Severino Seghieri, a distant cousin who immigrated to San Francisco in the early 1900s. I wrote about discovering our family connection in a blog on April 8. I gave them information about their ancestors, and they added to my knowledge about their branch of the family. It turns out that our connection is quite distant, dating back to the 1400s.

My confusion about the family has gradually cleared up, although I still have some unanswered questions. I originally thought Severino and Alessandro Seghieri were the same person, because Severino’s middle initial was A, but it turns out the A stood for Adolfo. When I realized they were not the same person, I next assumed they were brothers, because the business was listed in 1905 as A. Seghieri and brother, and later as Seghieri Brothers. This was also incorrect. It’s now apparent that Alessandro started the business with his brother Alfredo. Severino was not their brother but instead was a cousin. When Severino went to San Francisco in 1906, along with his uncle Dante Antonio Seghieri, they worked for Alessandro and Alfredo, who were first cousins to Dante. Alfredo returned to Italy around 1910 and did not come back. What happened to Alessandro is not clear, because his business no longer appears in the phone directory after 1917, but soon after that Dante and Severino had their own cement business, so it is likely that they took over Alessandro’s business. Alessandro may have died or returned to Italy, because neither I nor the descendants of Severino who still live in California can find any records of Alessandro in the United States after 1917.

Severino’s brother Giulio also come to America in 1921 and joined his brother in business. He is listed in the 1921 phone book as a carpenter and living with Severino, so the business once again had two brothers involved. However, Giulio died in 1923 at age 30. I'm not sure when Dante died, and I don
t find any evidence that either Giulio or Dante married or had any children. Severino’s daughter Gloria wrote me, “Severino was a contractor and built a number of homes, one of which I lived in until I was married.  He also was part of a group that laid the mosaic tile in the state capitol building in Sacramento, California.  I believe the name of his business was the Bay Concrete Company. He spoke almost nothing about his family and only through my mother, Ada, did I know of his parents and siblings. I only know about Giulio and Dante because they are buried with Severino in Colma, California.”

Severino has another tie to our family. He married Ada Pantera of Montecarlo, and according to other research I have done, Ada had an uncle Narciso Sabatino Pantera who married Attilia Spadoni, who was the second cousin of my grandfather Michele.

As for the family construction business, Gloria said that Severino sold it and retired. His son Edward did not follow in his dad’s footsteps, becoming instead a post office employee, and Edward’s son Lawrence had his own business selling motorcycle parts. They are both deceased now, but Lawrence had a son Rob, who lives in Morgan Hill, California.

“I am indeed grateful to you for pursuing the genealogy,” Gloria said. “Without it, I only knew the family history as far back to the year 1906.” Her husband Stuart is putting their families’ genealogies “on the computer for our children, so that they can trace their heritage back through the years.”

Saturday, April 26, 2014

"The Francis Effect" strong in Italy: "He never ceases to amaze us"

Sunday, April 20
The number one boys name in Italy is currently Francesco, and it’s no coincidence that this is the same name that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio adopted when he became pope in March of 2013. For the most part, Lucy and I find the Italians that we meet are extremely happy with their new pontiff. True, the Holy Father is head of the Catholic Church for the entire world, but Italians have always been rather possessive about the pope, since the Vatican is in Rome and at least 90 percent of the popes have been Italian.

Pope Francis greets the public after Easter Mass in Rome April 22.
Photo courtesy of Albert Yu.
Of course they like the fact that he speaks Italian and that his parents were from Italy, but their fondness for Pope Francis goes far beyond nationalism. Opinioni, a political polling company, reported recently that more than four in five Italians had a “positive” or “extremely positive” opinion of the new pope. Italy’s Center for Studies on New Religions reported that around half of the 250 priests it surveyed reported a significant rise in church attendance since Francis took office. The phenomenon has been dubbed by the media “The Francis Effect.”

“He has been able to get into the hearts of many people, even those who are not Catholic,” said Launa Raveggi, an Italian woman I see regularly during my afternoons of research at the parish archives in Pescia. “He has a great ability to communicate.

His humble lifestyle, compassion for the poor and willingness to speak out against the excesses of the rich, including other church officials, are often cited as reasons for his popularity. He was noted for his simple lifestyle while archbishop of Buenos Aires, and he has since refused the opulent trappings that usually come with his position. In Argentina, he gave up his chauffeur and took the bus to work, and as pope, he refuses to use the famous “Popemobile,” a Mercedes-Benz, choosing instead to travel in a 30-year-old Renault. He doesn’t wear glitzy gold or rich velvet robes; his papal wardrobe often consists of sensible black shoes and a white cassock so thin you can see his black trousers through it. He resides in a small suite in the guesthouse rather than the luxurious papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace in Rome.

The Italian economy has not yet recovered from the recent recession, and many Italians often tell me their lives have been changed because of the current economic “crisis.” A pope who lives simply, like many Italians have traditionally done, is someone to whom they can relate. “My wife and I think
that his way of being humble has an immense media power,” said Massimiliano Caniparola, an Italian friend of many years. “The gestures he has done and continues to do bring people closer to the Church.”

I didn’t realize how important his simple lifestyle was to the Italian people until I saw a headline in an Italian paper stating that the pope uses a normal toilet like everyone else. It could be translated as “He never ceases to amaze us: The pope pees just like all of us do. Even in the bathroom, the pope gives us a lesson.”

Of course his leadership is admired elsewhere in the world as well. American Catholics think the church has benefited from his leadership. A CBS News pool revealed that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) say he has helped the church, while 27 percent describe his leadership as mixed. Not a single Catholic in the poll said Pope Francis’ leadership has hurt the church. In contrast, Pope Benedict, who stepped down last year, fared much worse in the CBS polls; 52 percent of Catholics viewed his leadership as mixed; only 26 percent said he helped the church.

I also asked Andrea Salvoni, a rare Italian Protestant who attends the Valdese church with us in Lucca for his opinion. “Would four words be enough?” he said. “Peccato che sia Catholic (It’s a pity that he’s Catholic).”

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Author Joe DiPietro presents an immigrant story from another side

Saturday, April 19
America is a country full of immigration stories about ambitious but penniless foreigners who forsake the security of family, friends, familiar customs and a common language to start over for the hope of making a better life for themselves and their children. But Joe DiPietro gives this plot a thought-provoking twist in his play “Over the River and Through the Woods,” and though it was four years ago that I saw the production at Tacoma Little Theatre, the message has stuck with me.

Joe DiPietro
The main character in the play has an Italian grandfather who immigrated—against his own wishes—as a teenager to America. The grandfather, Frank, speaks about the cruelty of his own father, who would only buy him the very simplest of toys every year at the Christmas bazaar in their little town in Italy. What kind of a man is so stingy that he would deny his son the merest pleasure of having a nice toy?

“Every Christmas morning,” Frank said, “on the cobblestones in town, there would appear this—this sea of vendors—their carts covered with toys—and what I remember the most is the colors—bright reds and blues and oranges—like a rainbow of toys. And my father would carry me in his arms and take me to the first cart, and he’d point to some tiny, dark toy, while I’d point to the biggest and most colorful, but my father would shake his head “no” and we’d move on to the next . . . and we’d do that again and again until we had gone to each cart. And then he’d buy me some little gray toy I barely wanted, and I’d start crying, and he’d carry me back into our house. I always resented him for that—hated him for that.”

And when Frank’s father finally did scrape together a few lire, what did he do with it? He put his scared 14-year-old son on a ship to America, all alone, “and said ‘good-bye, that’s where you’re gonna live.’ I hated him for that, too.”

Starting life from scratch in an unfamiliar country is a daunting task, but most immigrants at least do it by choice. They realize full well what they are doing and why. It took Frank most of his life to understand what his own heartless father had been thinking. Frank found a good job, married and had children of his own, though he still remembered with bitterness the hardships he had been through first as a little boy growing up desperately poor, and then being sent away when he was still barely out of childhood. Shortly after Frank came to America, though, his father got tangled in a fishing net, hit his head on the side of the boat and was never found.

“Eight years from the day he sent me away,” Frank told his grandson, “I returned to my hometown so my mother and sisters could meet my new family. It was during the holidays, and on Christmas morning, I took your mother in my arms and carried her outside, and there they were—all the vendors, like they never left—with all their blue and red and beautiful toys. And your mother pointed to the brightest and prettiest, and any one she’d point at, I bought for her. And when we came back in, our arms full with this rainbow of toys, my mother took one look and said: ‘That’s what your father wished he could do! But we barely had enough to buy food on Christmas. That’s why he had to send you away. So you could make for yourself a life he could never give you.’ ”

Every spare centesimi his father saved had gone to send his son to America, where he could escape the condemnation of a life of poverty and desperation. Instead of despising his son, as Frank had assumed, his father had loved him so much that he had been willing to trade a life with his son and grandchildren nearby for the knowledge that he had done the best he could do to give them a future.

“I always thought my father was a bastard who wouldn’t give me anything,” Frank concluded. “Turns out—he was giving me all he had.”

The story is partly autobiographical, so these events likely actually occurred. And while DiPietro came from an Italian family, the story has broader application. In a New York Times interview, DiPietro said, “This is my family, but it’s all ethnic groups.”