The author’s grandmother Antonietta Capalbo (second from left) with three of her children (from left) Oreste Capalbo, Adelina Capalbo and Nina Sposato.
My family’s journey to America began in 1904 when my great-grandparents, Luigi Guglielmello and Luisa Cristiano, made the journey from Acri, located in Calabria, to Ellis Island. Their time in America however, did not last long. After two years, they returned to their hometown of Acri. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about why they decided to return. It was most likely because most of my family then didn’t know how to read or write.
At the age of 18, their daughter Rosaria, the child born in the United States, married Giuseppe. Because Rosaria was technically an American citizen and Giuseppe had family living in America, they decided to leave Italy. They began their new life in New Rochelle, N.Y., which was home to many Italians and where they started their own family and lived their lives.
The author’s mother Adelina Capalbo in the 1960s.
Zia Rosaria was a strong woman whose greatest qualities were her generosity and kindness. She not only helped relatives from Italy who came to America, but she took it a step further by becoming a foster mom and opening up her home and her heart to children of all races and ethnicities. Those children immediately understood they had a safe and loving environment with a warm and delicious meal always ready. Her gestures instilled a sense of hope in these kids who continued to visit for many years.
When I was little, we’d visit Aunt Zia in New Rochelle. Even today, if I close my eyes, I can picture her simple home with the fenced front yard as if it were yesterday. On the inside, it was filled with love and the smells of her traditional Calabrese cuisine. I’d sit there eating delicious treats while they spoke Italian. I didn’t always understand what they said. I didn’t realize then that our Zia was the reason my relatives decided to leave southern Italy in search of a better life. Zia Rosaria is one of the reasons that I am a first-generation Italian-American woman.
It was in the mid-1960s that Rosaria urged her younger siblings in Italy to come over. Back then, in order to “move” to America, it was necessary to have a “sponsor.” Rosaria without hesitation became that sponsor for my grandmother Antonietta, my grandfather and four of their 10 children.
Tania Trozzo Spensierato in Italy with her book “Portafortuna.”
My nonna was worried about living here since didn’t know English and had never learned to write in Italian. Nevertheless, she was smart and perhaps typical of Calabrese women, stubborn. She was stubborn enough to give this new world a try, even if she was scared. Stubborn enough to work without speaking a word of English and without knowing how to read or write.
My mother understood the great potential of this land and encouraged my father to move here in 1968. The women in my family, with their significant others, laid not only a foundation of generosity but of hard work too.
Later on, my parents moved to Pennsylvania, where others from our hometown of Acri had settled. They found jobs and lived in West Manayunk, or today’s Belmont Hills. They held Italian traditions in high regard while striving for the American dream. This generation quickly evolved and they didn’t just hope for more, they worked for it. They strived to build a strong foundation so their children could live better lives.
I hope that as a descendant of these strong women in my family, I fulfill those dreams while keeping my Italian roots. I imagine how difficult it was for those like my grandmother who didn’t read or write, and yet they were courageous enough to strive for more. Their lack of formal education didn’t stop them from pursuing a better life. As a romance author, of which one novel was traditionally published in Italian this past summer, I’d like to think that my love stories are inspired by those before me. Each book, in fact, has a fierce female character. How could they not be, when that’s all that I’ve known?
I wonder what stories of courage and of hardships, could these bold women have written down. It’s not just because of them but also for them and our future generations that I use my voice.
Tania Trozzo Spensierato is the author of the novels “Lucky Charm” and “Portafortuna,” as well as the “Breathe” series of books for young adults. She was born in the Philadelphia suburbs and lived in Italy for 10 years. She lives near Philadelphia with her husband and three children.
OUR IMMIGRANT STORIES ARE PROUDLY SPONSORED BY STAMPONE O’BRIEN DILSHEIMER LAW