Our Italian Heritage, Culture and Pride – In 1916, my great-great grandfather, Giovanni Amato, packed his suitcase with the few clothes he owned, stuffed his pockets with all the money that he had saved, kissed his dear mother goodbye, and boarded a ship for America…the land of opportunity. Giovanni had a dream like so many other Italian immigrants that in similar fashion packed a suitcase, bid farewell to their loved ones, and boarded a ship bound for America. My great-great grandfather had a dream to make a good living and then, return to his hometown in Naples. Well, that dream played out much differently than he had planned.
A family in his hometown had heard of his plans to go to America so they asked if he would chaperone their young daughter on the voyage and see that she met up with her family in New Jersey. He reluctantly obliged and that young woman, Josephina, would eventually become my great-great grandmother. She too packed a suitcase with her belongings and the few dollars that her father gave her to begin a new life.
They arrived safely in America at Ellis Island. He found work in New York while she settled in with her New Jersey family. Work with the railroad led him to Baltimore and soon afterwards Josephina followed. While he and nonna established a life in Baltimore, he found a second job at Trinacria, an Italian grocery store on Paca Street. Nonno managed to save enough money to buy a few houses in Highlandtown and rented them out for additional income. He went on to own a successful pasta business which sold to local restaurants and stores like DiPasquale’s and Lexington Market. Their American dreams became a reality full of hard work, struggle, perseverance, World War I, the Great Depression, and success.
My great-great grandparents were proud Italian American citizens that raised a family of eleven children based on old world traditions and strong Catholic faith. They never went back to Italy as originally planned. Instead, they melded their Italian heritage and beliefs with their new American culture and way of life. The Amato’s were proud of the life they were blessed to have found and created together as immigrants from Italy looking for a better life.
The most appropriate way to represent our Italian heritage, culture and pride at the former Christopher Columbus Piazza in downtown Baltimore would be to create a bronze life-sized statue of a man and a woman each holding a suitcase in one hand and a small American flag in the other with a look of pride on their faces. This life-like statue would represent my great-great grandparents, Giovanni and Josephina Amato, as well as every Italian man and woman that immigrated to America…the land of opportunity, with a very similar story of a dream in search of a new life full of hope and promise.