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.”


  1. A moving story of what forms intended love can take. My own thoughts are I'm not sure poverty alone is reason enough to break family ties. I can understand doing so if the effects of poverty are so great that basic needs are not being met but only for that reason.

    "I am an Italian American. My roots are deep in an ancient soil drenched by the Mediterranean sun, and watered by pure streams from snow capped mountains.
    I am enriched by thousands of years of culture. My hands are those of the mason, the artist, the man of the soil. My thoughts have been recorded in the annals of Rome, the poetry of Virgil, the creations of Dante, and the philosophy of Benedetto Croce.
    I am an Italian American and from my ancient world, I first spanned the seas to the new world. I am Cristoforo Colombo.
    I am Giovanni Caboto known in American history as John Cabot, discoverer of the mainland of North America.
    I am Amerigo Vespucci, who gave my name to the new world, America.
    First to sail on the Great Lakes in 1679, founder of the territory that became the State of Illinois, colonizer of Louisiana and Arkansas, I am Enrico Tonti.
    I am Filippo Mazzei, friend of Thomas Jefferson and my thesis on the equality of man was written into the Bill of Rights.
    I am William Paca, signer of the Declaration of Independence.
    I am an Italian American, I financed the Northwest Expedition of George Rogers Clark and accompanied him through the lands that would become Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. I am Colonel Francesco Vigo.
    I mapped the Pacific from Mexico to Alaska and to the Philippines. I am Alessandro Malaspina.
    I am Giacomo Beltrami, discoverer of the source of the Mississippi River in 1823.
    I created the Dome of the United States Capitol. They called me the Michelangelo of America. I am Constantino Brumidi.
    In 1904, I founded in San Francisco, the Bank of Italy now know as the Bank of America, the largest financial institution in the world. I am A.P. Giannini.
    I am Enrico Fermi, father of nuclear science in America. liasion
    First enlisted man to win the medal of Honor in World War II, I am John Basilone of New Jersey.
    I am an Italian American. I am the million strong who served in America's armies and the tens of thousands whose names are enshrined in military cemeteries from Guadalcanal to the Rhine.
    I am the steel maker in Pittsburgh, the grower in the Imperial Valley of California, the textile designer in Manhattan, the movie maker in Hollywood, the home maker and the breadwinner in 10,000 communities.
    I am an American without stint or reservation, loving this land as only one who understands history, its agonies and its triumphs can love it and serve it.
    I will not be told that my contribution is any less nor my role not as worthy as that of any other American.
    I will stand in support of this nation's freedom and promise against all foes.
    My heritage has dedicated me to this nation. I am proud of my full heritage, and I shall remain worthy of it.
    I Am An Italian American...

  3. Life is an absolute wonder if you can think of it that way. Never restrict your mind from thinking the beautiful and enduring thoughts of love, hope, peace, gratitude and respect. Our powerful positive imagination helps us to experience the beauty of life in the most magical way. We are the sculptors of our mind. It’s our choice to give it the shape that we want. We can make the best Roman sculptures or we can make just make a blob of clay with no shapes at all. So, go ahead and make some beautiful masterpieces of thoughts wrapped with love, care, affection, joy, honesty, compassion with your passionate dreams intertwined in them.
    ♥ Stay happy and always be grateful ♥~


Comments welcome.