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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, as well.

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 why.
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.

Il testo in italiano


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