My brother Anthony was four or five years old at the time the picture
was taken. He died in 1995 at the age of 96. (My sister Elizabeth, 94,
may be the oldest person in the Fresno area who was born in Maschito.)
Before he died my brother told his story of the passage from Maschito to
Fresno which took place in 1906.
An Emigrant's Story
"I remember quite a bit about Maschito. It was a small town. We had vineyards but we lived in town. That's the way it was done there. The small landowners didn't live on their farms; they lived in the village.
"At harvest time a lot of workers, Marinese, would come over from Marina, near Bari, to pick the grapes. A lot of these people also came to the Fresno area when they emigrated.
"I remember every year when the wine was ready buyers from France and Germany and the Scandinavian countries would come through. Maschito had a reputation for good wine. All the wine growers would have their samples out and the foreigners would taste. Usually they'd buy a lot. The Frenchmen would buy the wine for blending with their own, but the northerners would buy for straight consumption. I think there were more vineyards then around Maschito than there are now. I think they mostly grow wheat these days.
"We had no running water in our house. When you needed water you'd have to go fetch it. We'd get one bath a week, on Saturday afternoon. There was a communal bath house in town where everyone would go.
"One day a friend of mine and I walked to Venosa because we thought they were having a fair there. Venosa is about five miles from Maschito, but the ground is hilly and it was a long walk for a couple of little boys on a hot day. When we got there we found there was no fair after all. The walk home was really long.
"I remember my father leaving for America. My mother and my sister and
I had to stay behind until he got settled and earned some money. When the
big day finally came for us to leave, we rode in a horse-drawn buggy from
Maschito to Naples. It was an all day trip.
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"In Naples we had to stay in a hotel one night before boarding the ship the next day. That was something. I saw indoor plumbing for the first time. MY sister and I kept turning the faucets in the bathroom on and off, fascinated by how easy it was to get water. My mother had to cuff us on the ear to get us to stop. It was a lot of fun.
"On the ship we had a little compartment, I think it was just our own area blocked off with blankets for privacy. Every day, between meals, a man would come around with a big basket filled with freshly baked pizza. The first day I begged my mother for one and she bought it for me. It was the same story the next day. But on the third day she refused. I think they cost a nickel and we didn't have a lot of money. But I discovered that when the pizza man came, he'd set his large basket down right next to our compartment and take a smaller basket through the area. It was easy for me to reach out and snitch one, which I did regularly.
"We kids had plenty of food on the ship. In my case not only did I have a pizza snack every day, but most of the adults were seasick and couldn't eat their meals, so we had as much food as we wanted.
"After a week or so at sea I developed some sort of a skin rash on my arms and they put me in the ship hospital. That was fun because I was waited on all the time. The rash didn't heal completely by the time we
Vineyard on the outskirts of Maschito. Although known for the quality
of its wine, production has decreased as more land is being devoted to
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reached Ellis Island and my mother bought a pair of long gloves. She was worried I wouldn't get through the medical inspection and thought the gloves would hide the rash. They did. But the doctors apparently knew all the tricks and found it anyway. I suppose they didn't think it was too serious because I got through all right.
"In New York we lived in a cold-water tenement in the Bronx. It was not too pleasant. My father worked at various jobs and my mother did sewing at home for Jewish clothiers. The tenements had bare wood floors. The landlords were especially mean and would inspect the apartments weekly. They demanded that the floors be scrubbed regularly, so my mother had to work hard all day Saturday getting this and other chores done. Saturday was the one day she did no cooking and we had to fend for ourselves for a day. I'd go to a German bakery and buy a big bag of dayold doughnuts for a few pennies.
"On Friday afternoons I'd go around to five or six Jewish homes. My job was to light their stoves which they were not allowed to do on the Sabbath. I'd get a few pennies from each family.
"We had a little neighborhood gang. All the members of our gang were Brooklyn Dodger fans. We'd go over to Ebbets Field and sneak in. No kids ever paid. And we'd fight other groups. Nothing serious like today ... no knives or guns, just fist fights. Mostly we'd fight Jewish and Irish gangs. The Irish kids liked to fight. We'd have some good battles with them.
"We lived in New York for about 10 years before moving to Fresno. There were six of us by then - my sister Elizabeth and I born in Maschito, then Marie, Pat, Nick, and Ann, all born in New York. My father went before us again and got things lined up. Then my mother and we kids followed.
"Some families envied us. California was a dream in those days, too, and many wanted to go but couldn't afford the trip. My mother and father saved regularly, though, and accumulated enough cash. Even so, money was short. I was 14 at the time and needed a railroad ticket, but I was small for my age and sneaked by without one on the New York to Chicago run. My mother brought food with us but she'd also buy from food vendors at the various stations. There were all kinds of vendors selling all kinds of food.
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"When we got to Chicago we had to switch railroads. Here I couldn't sneak by and my mother had to buy a ticket for me. It was a lot of money in those days, maybe $40 or $50 dollars. I remember she was very upset about it.
"The trip from Chicago to Fresno was long. We had to sleep on hard wooden benches. And the baby, Ann, was only two weeks old. My mother, of course, took care of her, but my sister Elizabeth and I had to help.
"After we crossed into California I saw my first Indians. It was exciting, a real adventure.
"We finally arrived in Fresno. My father was there waiting for us at the station. We were in a new place again, far from Maschito, far from New York. But it was our new home."
Are We Italians or Albanians?
When I was a young girl I remember my sister, Marie, coming home from school one day and announcing to me with a certain tone of shock, "We're not Italians, we're Albanians!"
A street in Maschito. The family of Giuseppe La Centra lived nearby before emigrating to the United States. The pedestrians are Toni La Centra from California and Nicola Spaducci, a native Maschitan.
[ Page 15 ]
"What do you mean, Marie?" I asked with disbelief "Who told you that. It's the stupidest thing I ever heard."
"Josephine Lambrazio told me. She said the Maschitans lived in Italy but were really from Albania. That's why we don't speak real Italian."
Needless to say we couldn't wait to ask our parents questions, especially the big question - "Are we Italian or Albanian?"
The answer was unequivocal. It went something like this. "We are Italian. Yes, we still speak our dialect, but that was brought over with the original Albanians 500 years ago. Over that period there were many mixed marriages. We are definitely Italian."
My mother told her version of the founding of Maschito. Seven Albanian men, Roman Catholics fleeing the Turks, started the village. The name Maschito comes from a combination of the Italian words for "masculine" and "town" - "masculino" and "citta" - thus "mascitta" or Maschito, literally "town of males." These seven men married girls from neighboring villages but kept their language.
Andy Caglia, who with his brother Frank was born in Maschito, says his mother used to tell him the same story, lending it some credence. If it is indeed true, the offspring of those first settlers were already half Italian. Subsequent intermarriages over the centuries must have further diluted the Albanian strain so that today very little is left. The language, though, remains, the one identifying characteristic of those first settlers.
Whenever I get a chance I speak the Albanian- Italian dialect, which I learned at home from my parents. I enjoy doing so very much. I particularly enjoy meeting people who can speak it. It is a connection with our past, the language of our ancestors. I often consult a dictionary of the Albanian language and frequently recognize words that are the same or similar to those in the Maschitan dialect. However, I am quite sure the dialect we Maschitans speak today is quite different from Albanian. After all, half a millennium has passed since the first Albanians settled on Italian soil. The language has changed, as does every living language, not only in Maschito and the other Albanian -Italian villages of southern Italy, but also in Albania itself. Furthermore, over the generations the dialect has become heavily influenced with Italian words and phrases.
Those of us who still speak the Maschitan dialect are afraid we will be the last generation to do so. In Maschito itself the older people still speak
[ Page 16 ]
St. Elia in Maschito's church. A copy of this is in St. Alphonsus Church on Kearney Boulevard in Fresno.
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St. Elia in Maschito's church. A copy of this is in St. Alphonsus Church on Kearney Boulevard in Fresno.
the dialect among themselves but the younger generations speak Italian. My nephew, Bruce La Centra, who edited this booklet for me, recently visited Maschito with his wife. Bruce speaks neither Maschitan nor Italian. He says his wife, of North Dakota German-American background, who learned Italian because of a love for the country and its people, had to act as his translator. But the language she used to speak with locals was Italian, not Maschitan.
Commendable efforts to keep the Albanian language alive in Italy are being made by the University of Bari and the Albanian University in Basilicata. These efforts, however, seem like last gasps. Much as the Celtic language has virtually disappeared from Ireland, the Albanian language is disappearing from southern Italy, notwithstanding the valiant attempts of academics.
Frank and Andy Caglia, together with a number of people of Maschitan descent, have formed what they call the "Ad Hoc Committee." Its purpose is to help keep both the language and the customs of the Maschitans alive. Every September in Fresno the committee sponsors a mass and picnic in memory of the great Italian patron saint of Maschito, St. Ella, who lived during the 6th century. Many of us and our descendants look forward with great anticipation to this yearly celebration and the opportunity to meet people whose parents came from the same place as ours did.
On his trip to Maschito, Bruce La Centra says he was taken by Maschitan cousins, the Spaduccis, to see the local church, an impressive structure. Prominent among the statues was one of the illustrious St. Elia. There is also a statue of St. Elia in St. Alphonsus church on Kearney St. in Fresno, an exact duplicate of the original in Maschito.
How do we Albanian-Italians think of ourselves today? I cannot presume to speak for all of us, but I might not go too far astray if I put it this way.
We are proud of our Maschitan background.
We are perhaps a little more proud of our Italian heritage. It was, after all, Italy that gave our ancestors refuge in their time of need, Italy where our ancestors lived for 500 years, Italy whose culture we are heir to.
But today, here in the United States of America where we have prospered as we never did in Albania or in Italy, we are proudest of all of being American.
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Albanian-Italians in the Fresno Area
Interest in Maschito is probably higher than it has ever been among
local people who trace their ancestry there. Why is this so? For one reason,
those of us born here have an intense curiosity about our roots. Unlike
our parents or grandparents who emigrated from Maschito and were preoccupied
with the difficult task of carving out a life in a new country, we have
the leisure to think more about the past, to wonder, to research even to
travel to the land of our ancestors. For another reason, there are so many
families of Maschitan background in the Fresno area. I alphabetically list
some of the family names here (those that were Anglicized at Ellis Island
are shown in parentheses following the original Italian version). I do
so with a certain trepidation that I will offend some by inadvertent omissions.
Perhaps I will one day be able to publish an updated version, and with
that in mind I ask that kind readers pass on information they may have
about family names not listed here.
*Francesco Abbruzzese (who name was Anglicized to "Frank Bruce" by immigration
officials at Ellis island), was not Maschitan but from the neighboring
hilltop village of Forenza, five miles away. In a classic case of intermarriage
he wed Elizabetta Milano from Maschito, had to learn the dialect because
his wife did not speak Italian, and thus became a sort of an honorary Maschitan.
[ Page 19 ]
Books on Italy and famous Italians are so numerous it is hardly necessary
to list even a short selection. Every library is filled with them.
Books on Albania are not so plentiful. One excellent source is Encyclopedia
Britannica which gives a good account of the history of the country including
the period when the Turks began their assault and the subsequent struggle
of the Albanians under Skanderbeg to retain their liberty. I have borrowed
liberally from this account in the section on Skanderbeg.
The World Book Encylopedia is another good source of which I have made
The Italo-Albanian Villages of Southern Italy by George Nicholas Nasse,
professor of geography at the California State University, Fresno, is a
fine source of information. Professor Nasse was obliged to skip the area
in which Maschito is located when doing his research and neglects even
to include it in his listing of 36 villages, a curious omission. It is
also only fair to point out that Professor Nasse did his research from
1956 to 1960 and published his work in 1964. Because many changes in the
cultural life of southern Italy have taken place since then, the professor's
work is now somewhat dated. Notwithstanding, it is the only publication
I know of that deals in any depth with the sub)ect, and I am indebted to
Professor Nasse for much of the information I have used in this booklet.
The publication is available from the Printing and Publishing Office, National
Academy of Sciences - National Research Council, 2101 Constitution Avenue,
Washington, DC. The Library of Congress Catalog Card Number is 63-65444.
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