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Bobby Tanzilo
(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 anymore.

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 this.

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 why.
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 see it.

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.

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