(January 2003 -- Milwaukee, WI)
From where did your family emigrate and when? Who emigrated
(self, parents, grandparents) and what were their names?
My Piemontesi great-grandparents were Luigi Ravizza (his mother
was Rosa Alloglio) who was born in Zanco di Villadeati in 1891
and was one of eight kids and Maria Robotti, who was born in Fubine
(her mother was Caterina Buscaglia) in 1893 and had a brother
named Paolo. Luigi came to New York in 1906, about six months
before his 16th birthday. Maria came in 1909.
What led them to their destination (relatives already there,
hopes of a job at a mill, mine, etc. Please explain)?
Luigi had two elder sisters already in New York. The oldest, Giuseppina
came in 1903 when she was 16 and Severina followed a year later
when she turned 16. She came with her husband-to-be, Frank Nervo,
who I believe was from Odalengo Grande. Maria's aunt Ernesta Buscaglia
Trossello was already here with her husband Vincenzo Trossello
(from Cuccaro) and ran a grocery store in Hell's Kitchen. I'm
not sure exactly why Luigi and Maria came, except to assume that
the agricultural crisis at home made it the best option.
Were they part of a migration chain?
Luigi was the third in his family to arrive, so yes in that sense.
When Maria's brother Paolo came in 1913 he came to Luigi and Maria,
so yes in that sense, too. When Luigi's brother Quinto came, I'm
not sure that my great-grandfather was involved much in the family
Did they emigrate to another location before or after (Argentina,
France, England, etc.)?
As far as I know they didn't go anywhere before New York, although
they both traveled through Le Havre, France, which was common
at the time. Many land-loving emigrants preferred the better French
ships and the shorter journey to New York from Le Havre (versus
Genova or Napoli).
Did they settle among other Piemontesi and were they members
of a Piemontesi society (fraternal, mutual aid, etc.)?
Yes, they both settled on the west side -- Hell's Kitchen, where
there were loads of Piemontesi in New York.
Did your family maintain Piemontesi traditions
-- language, culture, history, cuisine, etc.?
I think my grandmother spoke Piemontesi, but I'm not sure. Luigi
and Maria's kids grew up in orphanages and with relatives, so
their direct link with their parents was likely a short-lived
one. I'm not sure they inherited much of the culture because of
Did your family return home to visit or to live after the initial
emigration? Did they maintain contact with family back home?
As far as I can tell, neither Luigi nor Maria ever went home,
although there is some confusion about Luigi also arriving in
the US in 1911. So, perhaps he went back for a while before returning.
But there is no trace of this in the family lore. However, Luigi's
siblings did maintain contact, as did their children, which helped
me reconnect years later. I'm fairly certain Maria didn't go back
and I believe her mother might have come to the U.S. after Maria's
father Giacomo died in 1917, but again, not sure.
Do you identify yourself more as American, Italian or Piemontese?
All three, I guess, to some extent. When I visit Italy, I'm reminded
that I'm American first, although in Piemonte, the people are
quick to "adopt" you if you have roots there. Among
Italian-Americans, I feel different because our family wasn't
that stereotypical Italian-American family, since most of the
stereotypes are derived from the more widespread southern Italian
and Sicilian traditions.
Have you visited your family's town(s) in Piemonte? What was
your experience like?
Yes, I've been there four times and a cousin still owns the house
where my great-grandfather was born and from what I can tell is
the same house his great-grandfather lived in when he arrived
in Zanco from Frinco. It's always been great. Every one of my
cousins, who are relatively distant, treats me like a complete
member of their family and that flatters me because they are wonderful
people. I feel at home in the hills, in the fog, in the small
towns. It's so beautiful and welcoming that I find it almost hard
to imagine how conditions there could have driven hundreds of
thousands to leave only 100 years ago.
Have you studied your Piemontesi genealogy? Please explain
I have and it has been something of a passion for me. It's addictive.
I think I want to know more so that I can piece back together
a family that was shattered in the 1920s when my great-grandparents
were institutionalized and my grandmother and her brothers grew
up separately in orphanages and with uncles. My grandmother carried
the baggage of that for her whole life and I guess I feel like
it's a small gift I can give her now, even if she's not here to
Do you belong to the Piemontesi nel Mondo, Famija Piemonteis or
any other organization?
I belong to the San Francisco chapter of the Piemontesi nel Mondo,
because there isn't one in Wisconsin and I've never succeeded
in making contact with the Chicago group. The Bay Area group is
lively and active and I love getting the Boletin, which makes
me feel reconnected to people who share a common history. I only
wish I could be there for their events and their Piemonteis language
classes. I also am a member of the Societa di Mutuo Soccorso di
Giuseppe Garibaldi, which was formed in my neighborhood in Milwaukee
in 1908 by immigrants from the Marches and Piemonte. It's the
second oldest mutual aid society (of two) extant in Milwaukee.
There's not much Piemontesitá at the meetings, but they're
fun and I want to be a part of the society's ongoing history and
do what I can to keep it alive.