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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.