Home‎ > ‎Media‎ > ‎

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.