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Keynote Address: 2013 Gockel International Symposium

posted Oct 12, 2014, 2:37 PM by Vincenza Scarpaci   [ updated Oct 12, 2014, 2:45 PM ]

Missouri Southern State University, Joplin, Missouri

September 19th/Thurs. 9:30 a.m.

Roads Less Traveled: Italian Immigrants in America

Middletown High School presentation October 17, 2012

posted Apr 21, 2013, 4:54 PM by Vincenza Scarpaci   [ updated Apr 21, 2013, 7:22 PM ]

The Journey of the Italians in America a talk given to advanced Italian language and advanced history students at Middletown High School,  Middletown, New Jersey

click here to view presentation 

Press Democrat--Petaluma Section

posted Aug 15, 2011, 5:11 PM by Vincenza Scarpaci   [ updated Sep 2, 2011, 5:09 PM ]

July 16, 2011

The Italian-American experience is not just about high profile entertainers, athletes, winemakers and crime celebrities. It's about regular folk doing ordinary tasks well.

Which is why former Petaluman Vincenza Scarpaci has made it her quest to invigorate interest in where Italian-American families came from and how they contributed to their adopted country.

“My work is dedicated to the toil and labor of those who built America,” Scarpaci said after a recent lecture at the Sonoma County Museum. She was promoting her latest book, “The Journey of the Italians in America,” which includes photos of two Sonoma County families.

To continue reading, Click here

Interview on Note Bene

posted Aug 15, 2011, 5:02 PM by Vincenza Scarpaci

July 27, 2011 with Fred Gardaphe, distinguished professor of Italian American Studies, CUNY, Queens College

Click here to view interview  

Montana Standard

posted Nov 13, 2010, 5:55 PM by Tom Layton   [ updated Nov 13, 2010, 5:58 PM ]

May 23, 2010

Butte plays noted role in book tracing lives of Italian-Americans

By Tim Trainor

"The Journey of Italians in America," written and compiled by Vincenza Scarpaci and published earlier this year, features five photographs from the Mining City and numerous references to Butte's ethnic Italian citizens.

"It's an interesting story," Scarpaci told The Montana Standard in a telephone interview Friday. "The Italians who ended up out west had a much different experience than I was used to."

Scarpaci grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., in neighborhood thoroughly dominated by Italians, most of who came from Southern Italy. That wasn't the case with those out west, however, who were mostly minorities in both the small and large towns, and were more likely to have emigrated from the north of the home country.

It was mostly timing that caused the geographic distances. Northerners began immigrating to the New World much earlier than those in the soul of the boot, about the time of the California Gold Rush and expansion across the country. They then spread over the wide expanse of the American West.

They didn't have it easy, said Scarpaci, noting that most were considered laborers and being Catholic was considered "a stroke against them." Children were expected to follow in the footsteps of their parents, who probably had little schooling and were often illiterate.

"In the schools, it was assumed that the men would be laborers, the women would get married," Scarpaci said. "Education opportunities did not come often."

Still, many Italians thrived and kept strong ties to the Old Country.

"That was an interesting surprise," she said. "In these remote, out-of-the-way places, they kept a strong identity with Italy. In many cases, these were second-, third-, fourth-generation immigrants who had intermarried."

The story of Italians all over the United States is told in Scarpaci's 300-page book, which features hundreds of photographs along with detailed captions and chapter introductions.

Scarpaci said telling the story with pictures allows folks to read the book "at whatever level they want to."

One picture from a Butte parade in May 1918 struck Scarpaci. In it, men are standing on a flatbed truck that holds a cannon. On the cannon, written in Italian, are the words "You will not pass the Piave."

After some research, Scarpaci found that Piave, a river in northern Italy, was an important battleground in the World War I battle with the Austrians. Months after the photograph was taken, the Italians would hold the line and defeat the Austrians, who never would "pass the Piave."
printed with permission
Reporter Tim Trainor may be reached via e-mail at tim.trainor@lee.net or call 496-5519.

primo magazine

posted Nov 13, 2010, 5:50 PM by Tom Layton   [ updated Nov 13, 2010, 6:35 PM ]

November/December 2009

The Journey of the Italians in America
Reviewed by Dominic Candeloro    all rights reserved 
This hefty book deserves a place next to “The Italian American Experience: An Encyclopedia.” Scarpaci has gone far beyond the usual Italian American communities like New York, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia to bring us the stories of Italians in Denver, Portland, and San Francisco. The book goes beyond the usual stereotyping of Italians as urban workers in the section “The Italians and the Land”. Here Scarpaci talks about Italian migrant workers and the agricultural ventures of Italians in Portland, Oregon; and the vintners of California.  

The book effectively uses some color photographs and the enamel paper stock enables good reproduction on most of the black and white pictures. However, I was disappointed in the low quality of some of the older photographs and sometimes the quantity of the caption text overpowered the images. Most challenging are the sections on “Italian American Issues” and “Where is out Heritage?” Here Scarpaci explores the meaning of Columbus, negative stereotypes, the mafia stereotype, and the future of Italianita in America. As more scholars and families preserve and research the Italian experience, future generations will gain an appreciation for how their ancestors’ journeys in North America continue to shape their lives. This photographic encyclopedia that Scarpaci has given us will aid us on that journey.

Dominic Candeloro is Library Curator at the Casa Italia Chicago

Accenti Magazine

posted Nov 13, 2010, 5:50 PM by Tom Layton   [ updated Nov 13, 2010, 6:33 PM ]

December 2009

A Photo Journey   
         by Tom Ferraro

At first glance, Vincenza Scarpaci's The Journey of the Italians in America (Pelican Publishing, 2009) looks like another solid entry in a long line of Italian-American coffee books: it is the right size and heft, the cover bears one of the astounding 1920s wedding pictures (the author's parents) many of us have on our den walls, and there are scattered throughout its pages strong examples of the requisite photographs of settlement, struggle, and success: images of entertainers and artists, politicians and sports heroes, grocers and fish mongers and food distributors, tailors and miners and construction workers of all orders; also, of nonna making pasta, fellow strikers protesting against the arrest of anarchist Carlo Tresca, women and their daughters working in the textile industry, allied soldiers liberating Italy and receiving medals; not to mention crowded tenements, religious processions, first-communion classes, roots journeys, mafia prosecutors, statue dedications, and benevolent societies.  But there are differences here that mark this book as a step forward in ethnic pictorial documentation.

    First, and perhaps most importantly, Scarpaci's gathered photographs present the heretofore unsuspected or at least under-treated dimensions of the Italian presence in North America.  The U.S. byways (Priest River Idaho, Wilmington Delaware) and Italian Canada (esp. Toronto and rural environs) are here, offsetting the emphasis on the U.S. Northeast and near mid-west.  Many of the forgotten troubles are here: the New Orleans lynching, commonplace death and devastation by illness and poverty, enclaves cut-off or bulldozed-under by urban renewal or open-pit mining, political arrests and loyalty oaths in WWII Vancouver, and, most recently, apologetics for Christopher Columbus.  But here too are certain great adventures in social rapprochement and ethnic fusion, challenging both the racism to which the early Italians in America were treated and the racial xenophobia of the Bensonhurst and Howard Beach incidents.  I find the sub-section entitled, a bit awkwardly, "interaction," to be especially interesting, academically provocative, and also moving: Jewish/Italian and Irish/Italian enterprises of course, but also dapper African American customers in a Sicilian-own bar in 1915 Jim Crow New Orleans, truck farming with the Chinese in Washington and the native born in Texas, an Italian/Japanese marriage in World War II San Francisco, multi-racial Italo-Hispanic cigar-making in Miami, plus other strong testimonials of working relationships, solidarity, and at times intimacy across putatively forbidden ethnic lines. 
    Second, Scarpaci has written congenial substantive historical overviews to introduce each of the 9 sections and the book as a whole.  Each of the approximately 400 photographs, reproduced one or two to a page, is treated to a thorough identification, contextualization, and where warranted explanation, a combination of Scarpaci's strong research and biographical information from the providers of the photographs.  The annotations are impressive, useful alike to newcomers and experts in the field.

    Third, among the genre photographs are special quiet surprises: classical singer Mario Lanza and (classically trained) pop entertainer Jimmy Durante sharing a moment, the dedication of an archway in Vancouver's Little Italy to Her Royal Majesty in Vancouver, a colour reproduction of one of Joseph Stella's stunning drawings for The Survey, the trading card for the first Italian-American major league baseball player, even a couple cover shots of Accenti!  

    What, in sum, would a multi-generational photograph album look like if "la famiglia" were the entirety of the North American Italian diaspora, if the workplace and public spaces were as urgently documented as the home, and if the familiar story of ethnic triumph (an interplay between assimilating to America and Italianizing America) were supplemented by reminders of suffering both experienced and inflicted?  Now we know.

Thomas J. Ferraro is professor of English at Duke University

La Gazzetta

posted Nov 13, 2010, 5:49 PM by Tom Layton   [ updated Nov 13, 2010, 6:04 PM ]

November 2009

The Journey of the Italians in America

          by Janice Mancuso


The history of the Italians in America begins with the history of European interest in America. Cristoforo Colombo may not have stepped on the soil of what would become the United States, but by landing on the outlying islands of the Americas, Colombo opened the door between the Old World and the New World. With it came trade, immigration, plant migration, religious freedom, differing philosophies, a new society … and the Italians.


In The Journey of the Italians in America, Vincenza Scarpaci creates a pictorial account of the Italian immigrants and their assimilation into America. The photographs—collected through notices in Italian American newspapers and on the Internet—are mostly from Italian American families, but also include images from historical, government, university, and newspaper archives. Each picture includes a detailed caption explaining the photograph, and most include additional information about the sociocultural, political, or economic conditions of the time.


The photographs in the book are divided into nine chapters—OriginsSpanning the MilesFinding a HomeItalians and the LandReligion and the Rites of PassageBecoming AmericanItalian-American Issues, and Where is Our Heritage? Each chapter begins with an informative introduction that includes an historical overview of the photographs that follow, and most chapters are further divided into categories identifying an overall topic for each group of pictures.


The book’s Introduction provides an historical synopsis of the Italians in America starting with the explorers, Jesuit priests, merchants, and craftsmen. The political and economic environment of Italy during the 1800s is noted in regard to the effect it had on Italian immigration to America. The unstable atmosphere in southern Italy, after Italy became united in 1861, caused millions of Italians to migrate to America from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.


In America, the immigrants made many adjustments, and Vincenza discusses the evolution of the Italian immigrant to American citizen. She touches on their skills and work ethics, their determination, and the challenges they faced to achieve a better life. She mentions the establishments of the Little Italies and how they “provided for some a cultural continuity, and within these locales, the concentration of immigrants supported a way of life that maintained a cultural, economic, and social identity.”


Further elaborating on the sociocultural persona of Italian Americans, Vincenza addresses the conflicts between first and second generations, “In the public schools, Italian children … were encouraged by word as well as example to give up the traditions of their parents;” the hardships of “nativism, xenophobia, and discrimination;” substandard salaries and working conditions, and that “somehow crime became an ‘Italian thing.’”


The last few pages of the Introduction describe not only the progression of the Italian Americans in America, but also the interest that third generation Italian Americans now have in their past. “The desire of people to know about their past in an effort to better understand their present lives is as old as human society. … This has meant the ability to accept the wide range of Italian influence in American life, from the anarchists and the labor organizers to the pro-fascists and the bootleggers.”


The Introduction is an important prelude to the chapters that follow. In Origins, pictures of street scenes, various groups, and family members depict the Italian lifestyle, and photographs show the migration journey that starts in Italy and ends in the United States. Spanning the Miles is an assortment of photographs illustrating how the Italians in America maintained ties to Italy and how they brought their Italian traditions to America.


The photographs—homesteaders, planned communities, tenement homes, joint housing, ranchers, farmers, business owners, and more—in Finding a Home offer a look into the various residences that housed the Italian immigrants. Italians at Work provides a broad view into the variety of jobs held by Italians. From building the infrastructure of a nation, to providing essential goods and services, to enhancing American life, the pictures show that Italian immigrants worked in all types of trades and professions, greatly contributing to the American economy.


The chapter Italians and the Land is a collection of photographs centered on the agrarian nature of the immigrants. Many worked the land for a source of income, others to provide food for their large families. Migrant workers, sharecroppers, dairy farmers, produce purveyors, importers, and store owners are just some of the ways that Italians made their living from the land.


For Italians, the Roman Catholic Church and their public devotion to God and the saints were almost inseparable from everyday life.” This opening statement in Religion and the Rites of Passage is supported by photographs of churches, festivals, religious ceremonies, an elaborate nativity, an impressive St. Joseph’s Table, and more.


Becoming American is the largest chapter in The Journey of the Italians in America, and with good cause. It’s in this chapter that the Italian immigrant becomes American. Vincenza writes, “While immigrants’ lives reflected the customs and traditions they learned in Italy, they, and especially their children, learned the traditions of American society. Both parents and children dealt with cultural contrasts as native-born educators, social workers, labor leaders, and politicians encouraged the newcomers to adopt ‘American’ lifestyles.” Within this chapter, categories include Celebrating America, Responses to Events Here and Abroad, Wartime, Seeking Justice, Tragic Loss, American Life, Socialized Needs, Political Involvement, and Interaction.


In Italian-American Issues, Vincenza writes, “Current issues, such as the celebration of Columbus Day and the popularization of the Italian crime figure in the media, are troubling to those who feel that these images damage the reputation of the entire group.” This chapter includes photographs of Columbus Day celebrations and other events honoring Columbus, and pictures relating to crime and law enforcement.


The last chapter, Where is Our Heritage? features an assortment of photographs—the Little Italies created in America, Italian Americans visiting Italy, Italians visiting America, and ways that preserve heritage—that join Italy and America. Vincenza asks, “How do we connect with our story and which story do we acknowledge?” and mentions “the tendency of present-day Italian American organizations to look to Italy to establish identity … [that] veers away from the reality of Italian-American heritage.”


Vincenza’s observations on the plight of Italian Americans raise serious concerns; and she addresses issues that are prevalent among those who wonder about the future of the Italian American community. She does note that “Ethnic identity is closely intertwined with family; it persevered because of family, and will persist because of family;” and this is clearly substantiated by the hundreds of family photographs in The Journey of the Italians in America.


An extensive index makes it easy to find names and places mentioned in the captions and the text; and the Italian and American flag designs that border the page numbers are symbolic of the cultural relationship between Italy and America. 


The Journey of the Italians in America is more than the journey of the Italians. The book is a chronicle of the growth of a united nation with an emphasis on the Italians’ contributions. Every aspect of American culture is covered, and every aspect includes the influence of the Italians. The book is an excellent learning tool, as the pictures capture interest, enticing the viewer to read the captions and the accompanying historical overview. The pictures will also attract an older child’s attention, providing a parent with the opportunity to offer information not only about the photographs, but also about Italian American history, Italian heritage, and family traditions.


©2009 Janice Therese Mancuso

Eugene Weekly

posted Nov 13, 2010, 5:49 PM by Tom Layton   [ updated Oct 12, 2014, 3:02 PM by Vincenza Scarpaci ]

November 2009

Italians in America Brings Images to Life Pictorial history uncovers details and emotions    
by Suzi Steffen

In this part of the world, unless they come from an Italian-American family, the only time people think about Italian immigrants is likely during protests around Columbus Day (known in certain ciricles now as Indigenous People’s Day).
But whether Eugeneans pack basil and garlic into pungent pesto or protest conditions for workers at the Gallo farms in California, we’re all affected by the impact of Italian immigration to the U.S. Local author and historian Vincenza Scarpaci, an immigration historian and Eugene resident originally from Brooklyn, shows this and much more in her more-than-a-coffee-table book The Journey of Italians in America.

The book is filled with photographs, images that Scarpaci tracked down or was given by Italian American families across the country and Canada. Open the book to any page, and Scarpaci’s captions bring the photos to life. Not only did peddlers bring Italian produce (things that I’d rather not be without, like zucchini, artichokes, garlic, broccoli, broad beans and peppers) through non-Italian neighborhoods, but Italian figurine peddlers sold statuettes of famous Americans and historical figures. Italians settled in Alabama, Oregon, Illinois (and not just Chicago), Texas and basically everywhere. Journey of Italians illustrates everything from Italian farm towns in Missouri to soccer teams in British Columbia, grocery stores in California, the funeral of a midwife in New Castle, Delaware, and those who helped invent the Walla Walla onion in that Washington town.

“In Walla Walla, Italian Americans are about 25 percent of the population,” Scarpaci said in a phone interview. Who knew? Of course, Italian immigrants and Italian Americans settled in and influenced San Francisco (where Little Italy, though its inhabitants have changed, still has some of the best espresso in the country), but Scarpaci noted that they also settled in places like Seattle and Portland. Eugene, she said, doesn’t have a large Italian community, but there is a Sons of Italy lodge, and when she reads from or talks about her book, Italian Americans “come out of the woodwork.”

It’s easy to see why. A faded but powerful photo of immigrant Italian stonemasons shows Pacific Northwest drivers just how the Columbia River Highway (now I-84) got its beautiful start. Scarpaci writes, “These craftsmen also laid the foundation for Vista House at Crown Point, 725 feet above the river, without the use of cement or mortar.” Every page contains more information, visual and verbal threads that help weave the tapestry of U.S. and Canadian history and life today. Scarpaci doesn’t shy away from controversies ranging from unionization and Irish/Italian violence to WWII, Columbus Day and the depiction of Italian Americans as part of the Mafia — but she also shows the daily life of women and men who immigrated to North America with hope, desperation, love or need.

Italian family in Portland 1910. courtesy: Diane Amato Partain

Washington Teamster

posted Nov 13, 2010, 5:48 PM by Tom Layton   [ updated Nov 13, 2010, 6:16 PM ]

Our guest speaker for our June 19, 2009 special "Italian extravaganza" was author, historian, professor and lecturer, Vincenza  Scarpaci. She journeyed from her home in Eugene, Oregon to be with us. We had some Italian music as background and an Italian buffet table featuring spaghetti, meatballs and ravioli in cream sauce. We had a good turnout and a fine time was has had by all. After the lunch/meeting was over, Scarpaci lingered for an hour chatting with out guests.

I was fortunate enough to get an interview with her the following Saturday as she was slated to do a book signing at the Elliott Bay Book Store. I listened to her life story in the sundappled courtyard of the El Diablo coffee Shope on Queen Anne.
Her busy and noteworthy existence began in Brooklyn in 1940. She was he youngest of three children. Her father was from Sicily, and worked two full-time jobs until Vincenza was 14-years-old. Although her parents spoke English to her and her siblings, they spoke Sicilian (their secret language) to each other. Vincenza (pronounced Vin-chen-za) has been a voracious reader her entire life, having been aught to read by her sister when she was three.
One of the highlights of her childhood was getting a library card when she was five years old. Her mother was a profound influence on her, both spiritually and intellectually. "My mother was interested in everything," she told me. Her mother is still mentally acute and in involved in life at age 101!

As early testimony to her budding curiosity, Scarpaci (pronounced Sar-pach-ce, now you can say her whole name correctly) graduated from high school at 16, attended Hofstra, claiming a BA in 1961. Next she attained her Ph.D. at Rutgers, and began lecturing in history at Seton Hall in 1966 until 1968. In 1968 until 1980, Vincenza taught U.S. history among other things at Towson State University in Maryland.
In 1980 she struck out for California and wound up in san Francisco where she worked at several jobs, volunteered, met "her sweetie" whom she married, and worked for he State of California for 10 years. that job did not conjure up fond memories and she described it as tedious and boring. However, she was committed to community issues, wrote many letters to the editor, and generally made herself known.
Much of her activism occurred while she was teaching at Sonoma State Universty, and living in Petaluma. Scarpaci moved to Eugene in 1997, where she taught summer school at the University of Oregon, and still resides there. She spent the last 5 years of her life writhing and promoting her new book "Journey of the Italians in America." I happen to have a copy of it, and whether or not you are Italian, her book makes an eyecatching addition to any library.

As I sat across from her, looking at that shock of white hair and intense gaze, I realized she does does not indulge in much trivia or idle banter. She is intense, passionate and articulate as you might expect from a person with a life resume such as hers, but also friendly and empathetic. She is an ardent supporter of unions, workers and immigrant rights.

As we were concluding our little "sit-down" she pointed out that immigrants do many jobs no one else wants to do, what she called "the crap work." Since they perform these tasks, they are considered somewhat less than human beings. Vincenza reminded me that many of these immigrants -- who have become scapegoats for American's problems -- pay taxes, pay into Social Security, patronize local business, pay rent, etc., and in general, support the services they receive.
As I dropped her off in Pioneer Square at her booksigning, it felt comorting to know that immigrants have a thoughtful advocate, and that our GTRC was fortunate to meet and hear her.

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