Thomas F. Orecchia
(November 2003 -- Stockton, CA)
From where did your family emigrate and when? Who emigrated
(self, parents, grandparents) and what were their names?
My grandfather, Giuseppe (Joe) Orecchia came from Castello di
Annone, Piemonte. The village is on the banks of the river Tanaro
about six Miles upstream from Asti. He was the first of three
brothers to immigrate to California: Giuseppe, himself, first
came to Alameda, CA in 1906 or 1907, not through Ellis Island
but rather through the Pacific port of entry, Angle Island, San
Francisco. He worked as a shoemaker in Alameda, CA until about
1911 when he went back to Castello di Annone to marry his wife
Luisa Grana. They in turn returned to the US in July of 1912.
Within days of their arrival, my grandmother Luisa gave birth
to my father Giovani (John) Battista Orecchia and his twin sister
Nina Orecchia. Giuseppe Orecchia went on to open a shoe repair
shop in San Mateo within that same year and ran the operation
until his untimely death, due to kidney failure, in 1917. After
his death, my grandmother, with the help of her sisters and brothers-in-law,
went partners and opened the B-Street French Bread Bakery in San
Mateo. This bakery survived a a family business into the 1930s,
when my grandmother moved to San Jose with her children. Some
time in the early 1930s, my aunt Nina married a Piemontese named
Fred Pena, they have one child Norman Pena. My aunt, who is now
91 years old, and cousin Norman live in Los Altos, CA.
Giuseppe Orecchia's first brother to immigrate to the US was Paolo
(Paul) Orecchia in 1909, he in turn married another Grana sister,
my aunt Blini. Uncle Paul, lived in San Mateo, County until his
death sometime in the 1950s. I don't know too much about their
family and I would love to hear of my surviving cousins. Giuseppe
Orecchia's second brother to immigrate to the US was Gerolamo
(Jerome) Orecchia in 1920, he in turn married another Grana sister,
my aunt Annetta (Netta). They too lived until in San Mateo County
until their death. Again, I don't know of their children’s,
my cousins, whereabouts and would love to be in touch with them.
Accompanying him to the US was fellow townsman and close friend,
Micelle (Mike) Fasolis. Mike Fasolis was a close and dear friend
of the Orecchia family and lived in San Mateo County until his
death in 1990.
What led them to their destination (relatives already there,
hopes of a job at a mill, mine, etc. Please explain)?
Subsequent to my grandfather's immigration to the SF Bay area,
every one else followed him. Giuseppe's motivation to immigrate
to the US is a mystery to me. Italy was experiencing tremendous
population growth at that time. This, coupled with a sluggish
economy, led many to emigrate to the Americas.
Did they emigrate to another location before or after (Argentina,
France, England, etc.)?
No. But, interestingly, my great-grandfather, Giovanni Battista
Orecchia, did try to immigrate to Argentina in the 1880s or at
least to seek fortune. He returned to Piemonte within a few years
much poorer then he left. This story was told with much amusement
by my father when I was a child.
Did they settle among other Piemontesi and were they members
of a Piemontesi society (fraternal, mutual aid, etc.)?
Yes, apparently there was an established Piemontese community
in the San Francisco and Stockton, CA areas at the time.
Did your family maintain Piemontesi traditions
-- language, culture, history, cuisine, etc.?
Somewhat. My mother is from Sicily, so there was some clash of
culture. But among the Sicilian cuisine at home there was also
polenta, pasta al pesto, zucchini carpion and cardone al forno,
Did your family return home to visit or to live after the initial
emigration? Did they maintain contact with family back home?
My grandmother took my father and aunt back to Piemonte in 1928
for a brief visit and I know a first cousin of my father's Fred
Bossa (husband of Teresa Bossa, who also submitted an oral history)
went back to live for a time in the 1920s, but returned before
the end of the 1930s.
Do you identify yourself more as American, Italian or Piemontese?
A most important question. If you would have asked this question
to my father (who by the way was a WW2 vet) who learned to speak
Piemontese before Italian or English, would have responded, adamantly,
"AMERICAN!" Amen to that. We who live in the US do not
have the luxury of living in a homogenous country. What binds
as all together into a nation, is not commonality of blood, culture
or even religion, it is, rather, our belief in freedom, independence
and its principles as set forth by the Country's Founding Fathers.
Remembering our ethnic roots is fine, but let us all remember
to who we owe our allegiance.
Have you visited your family's town(s) in Piemonte? What was
your experience like?
Not yet. My brother Joe and mother paid a short visit there in 1989 on their way to Sicily. Being a fly fisherman, I desperately want to fish the river Tanaro, which flows through Castello de Annone. I've read that ita a good trout and grayling fishing river.
Have you studied your Piemontesi genealogy? Please explain
I'm beginning to. Racially, the Piemontese are vastly different then the balance of "Latin" Italy. We have been described as "Occitan," a sub-race of the French, but I think the light eyes, physical stature and culture of the Piemontese point to a more "Nordic" racial origin.
Do you belong to the Piemontesi nel Mondo, Famija Piemonteis or
any other organization?
Yes! My wife Isabel (who is from Neapolitan stock) and I belong
not only to the PNM but also to two Stockton, CA Italian clubs,
The Italian Athletic Club (of which I am a past President) and
the Italian Gardener's Club.