A new generation of Monterey Italians is keeping the tradition alive


Photo by Randy Tunnell: Tiffany Bonanno (the blond digging into the raviolis) is Italian by marriage. She fits right into this warm, boisterous clan. From left to right: Tom Colosi, Joe Bonanno, Beatrice Bonanno, Brian Johnson, Tiffany Bonanno, Nina Johnson.

Tom Salvatore Colosi I, my husband”s grandfather and namesake, was very happy that his grandson decided to marry an Italian Catholic girl and a Santa Clara University grad, to boot.

His father, Joe Colosi, emigrated from Messina, Sicily before Tom Colosi I was born. According to the family legend, Joe had left Italy because he had to: Joe”s father was a Don, as was his father before him. wholesale jerseys from china When Joe got his girlfriend pregnant, he disgraced the family. Don Paolo Colosi told him two things: “You will marry this girl, and then you will leave.” So he married Grandpa Tom”s mother and moved to New York.

Today, Tom Colosi is 85. He”s fit and handsome, looks about 20 years younger than he is, and still runs a mile every night. For our wedding shower, he gave us a crock pot. It”s an enormous Italian family sized crock pot. “To feed a big family,” he said, pulling me aside at the party. “Because you will have a Tom Colosi the Fourth.”

We don”t have a little Tommy yet, but in case we forget, Tom the First reminds us often. Every time he talks to my husband, they repeat some variation of the following conversation:

“What”s your name?”

“It”s Tom Colosi. C O L O S I, C O L O S I.” (The name spelling is almost sung, very rapidly.)

“I love you, Tom Colosi.”

“I love you, Tom Colosi.”

“And when you have a son, what will his name be?”

“It will be Tom Colosi.”

My husband and I think of ourselves as Italian American. But neither Tom nor I speak the language. And we”ve never been to Italy. We eat plenty of pasta, but Tom”s red sauce and my eggplant are original recipes. We share a sick fascination in mob genre stories (Tom”s family in Sicily really does have Mafia ties), but the closest we get to organized crime is watching the Tony and the gang on HBO.

Our holidays probably look and sound like those in other Italian homes lots of loud cousins, vino, raviolis and Sinatra. But these are essentially American customs.

Tom and I both struggle with what our Italian culture means beyond good food, close families and a strong work ethic. We also don”t want to lose it, whatever it is. In this, we are a lot like Monterey”s new generation of paisani.

Around the turn of the century, millions of Southern Italians left the old country and flooded the States. Many settled on the Monterey Peninsula, where the coastline and the fishing reminded them of Sicily, and many bought homes on “Spaghetti Hill.”

Pietro Ferrante, the “grandfather of Monterey Fishermen,” arrived in Monte rey in 1903. Ferrante, a native of Isola delle Femmine, is considered to be the first in Monterey to fish sardines and establish Sicilian style canneries.

“He was kind of the Godfather without the criminal element,” says Peter Coniglio, Ferrante”s grandson and a former mayor of Monterey. “He was skilled at net fishing he designed the Lompara net.”

In 1925, Ferrante built the San Carlos Cannery, where the Breakwater now stands,”and the sardine industry was born,” Coniglio says.

Other early fishing families arrived in Monterey in the early 1900s with names like Alioto, Spataro and Pennisi. Vince DiMaggio, 32 year old vice president of Creek Bridge Homes in Salinas, shows off a picture of his great grandfather, Salvatore Russo, who invented the local short wave radio in the 1930s. Russo was also a native of Isola delle Femmine. In 1940, Salvatore”s daughter, Stella, married a local fisherman named Vince DiMaggio (father of the legendary ball player Joe DiMaggio, and grandfather of the 32 year old Vince). de clared war on Italy, the DiMaggios and hundreds of other Monterey Italians had to evacuate their homes. Italian immigrants were considered “dangerous,” and had to register as “alien enemies” with curfew, travel and residence restrictions enforced.

While they weren”t forcibly removed to inland concentration camps like their Japanese neighbors, many Italians, even those who were American citizens, lost their homes and their land.

DiMaggio says he researched the World War II Italian relocation in DC, “and the official State Department reason for not interning Italians during World War II was: Number One, they pretty much looked like everybody else. And Number Two, by doing so, they would have been forced to intern Joe DiMaggio”s parents.”

For the most part, the Italians went back to their daily routines as they had been before the war. Most returned to Monterey and went back to fishing, mostly working in the canneries and restaurants.

Their kids, grandkids and great grandkids stuck around.

Local Italian Americans have names like Ferrante, Cutino, Lucido and Panet ta.http://www.cheapjerseysfreeshipping.cc They were baptized and married at San Carlos Parish and buried in the San Carlos Cemetery, and they turn out in full force for the Santa Rosalia festival every September honoring Sicily”s patron saint.

I”ve posed the same question to dozens of Italian Americans in their 20s and 30s over the past few weeks: What do you like about being Italian?

It”s a little lame, and it does elicit a few vapid replies. “I like being Italian because I am so good looking,” says my darling husband. “I”m joking.”

No, really, he”s not joking.

Most people start to answer with, “this sounds so cliche, but.” or “I”m sure everyone else says this, but.” And most of the time they do talk about family, tradition, food and a passion for life. And they are all being sincere.